Study Suggests Pop-Tarts and Other Fan Favorites could Harm your Immune System

  • By Meredith Schneider
  • May 26
Study Suggests Pop-Tarts and Other Fan Favorites could Harm your Immune System
  • Pop-Tarts, Cheez-Its, and other fan favorites contain food additives.
  • Although that’s not a surprise, one such additive may be responsible for hindering your immune functions.
  • What products contain this chemical, and how can you prevent it from affecting your life?

A recent study by the Environmental Working Group suggests that some of your favorite household staples and snacks could be the culprit when it comes to immune dysfunction based on the additive tert-butylhydroquinone.

What is tert-butylhydroquinone?

A synthetic food antioxidant, Tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) is added to processed foods to reduce the amount of oxidative deterioration that can happen. The Center for Food Safety defines it as “a food additive, generally used as an antioxidant in animal-derived food products and in fats or oils. It can retard rancidity in fats and oils and extend their shelf life.” In other words, it is a highly effective preservative, and it exists in a lot of the foods we consume.

What items in my kitchen have tert-butylhydroquinone in them?

While many items containing this particular preservative have been labeled as non-threatening by the CDC and other major players in the food industry, it is something you will want to be aware of.  It can be found in pantry staples such as Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies Treats, and Cheez-Its, as well as over 1,250 other processed food items currently on store shelves. tBHQ is used in vegetable oils and animal fats, so it may exist in store-bought meats as well.

What makes tert-butylhydroquinone unhealthy?

When tBHQ is ingested, this chemical is processed by the body through enzymatic reactions in the liver. In order to operate optimally, tBHQ often bonds with other additives like propyl gallate, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). So, if tBHQ is in your food, there may be a laundry list of other chemical additives to be concerned about.

So why now? The pandemic threw a spotlight on the situation. While some people experienced minor COVID-19 pain, symptoms varied greatly and weren’t static when it came to people who considered themselves healthy. Olga Naidenko, EWG’s vice president for science investigations and the lead author of this recent study shares, “Before the pandemic, chemicals that may harm the immune system’s defense against infection or cancer did not receive sufficient attention from public health agencies. To protect public health, this must change.”

Immune systems in younger, developing bodies are more susceptible to chemical impact; however, immune toxicity is a huge issue in adults. Cites the study: “The antioxidant preservative tert-butylhydroquinone (tBHQ) showed activity both in ToxCast assays and in classical immunological assays, suggesting that it may affect the immune response in people.”

Effects directly attributed to the substance include slow immune response, lower antibody levels post-COVID-19 vaccination, general inflammation, and more.

The National Library of Medicine links vision and liver issues, as well as tumors, neurotoxic issues, and other causes for concern with consumption of tBHQ. People who consume diets high in fat show almost twice the approved intake in their systems.

With these harmful allegations at hand, the Kellogg Company has released a statement supporting their inclusion of the substance in their products. “tBHQ is a common antioxidant, approved for safe use by the FDA, that many companies use in numerous products to help protect food’s flavor and freshness,” defends Kellogg spokesperson Kris Bahner.

While the company cited older studies to prove that tBHQ is non-toxic or non-carcinogenic, other research suggests otherwise and multiple other non-biased studies are required to confirm this information. Additionally, dosage level is a huge factor in these food additives, but high levels of tBHQ have been directly linked to forestomach tumors and other health hazards.

What other items in my home might be at risk?

Other non-food items that contain trace amounts of tBHQ include skin care products and paints and varnishes, among other things. This is because it slows the deterioration of these items that often break down when exposed to oxygen. While paints and varnishes seem like an expected item with harmful chemicals in them. The good news? Scientific data continues to suggest that tBHQ concentrations of 0.1% and less are safe in these products.

We feel very strongly that health can really begin with your skin barrier. If you have cause for chemical concern with any of your skincare or makeup products, consider working cleaner products into your routine. With the passing of California’s new Toxic-Free Cosmetics Act (Assembly Bill 2762), companies are now almost being forced to work clean, simple ingredients into their products.

According to the Environmental Working Group, “The list of banned chemicals includes the toxic fluorinated chemicals known as PFAS, mercury and formaldehyde, as well as endocrine-disrupting phthalates and long-chain parabens, preservatives used in skincare products.” While the bill covers 24 chemicals, it isn’t targeted specifically to tBHQ in the instance that it is regulated to the proper amount. This is because many studies suggest the antioxidant properties of tBHQ can directly benefit your skin’s appearance.

The good news? The events of the past year are truly nudging this movement along. Many other regions and states are getting involved in the fight against detrimental skincare, which disproportionately affects women, especially women of color.

What next?

If you’re on the hunt for natural antioxidants to add to your skin or healthcare routine, The Swell  Score has a variety of clean, performance-enhancing and self care products to choose from. To help offset any chemical additives that may have a bearing on your immune system function, be sure to incorporate healthy (and tasty) options like SuperBeets Immune, Vitamin D options, and our favorite Mighty Maca Plus superfood drink.

As always, balance is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Ensuring that your diet consists of an array of foods is important, and organic and unprocessed  foods will always be a better choice to reach for first. Ensuring that you are getting the recommended amount of sleep is a huge factor in supporting your immune system. To consume foods containing tBHQ without the worry of side-effects, make sure to keep processed foods at a reasonable temperature, as the food additive has a melting point of 126.5 degrees Celsius.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.