Consumers for Health Choice
- the voice for choice in the UK and Europe


Three substances approved for use in food supplements by the European Commission and the Food Standards Agency are exposed today as fatal to humans.

Sodium Hydroxide, Potassium Hydroxide and Calcium Oxide – also known as Caustic Soda, Caustic Potash and Quicklime – are all contained in a list of "safe" substances for supplementation in the EU's Food Supplements Directive, supposedly devised to protect consumers.

Sodium Hydroxide and Potassium Hydroxide are widely used as constituents of drain and oven cleaners, while Calcium Oxide is commonly used to destroy carcasses of humans and animals.

Thus, the Directive licenses three potentially fatal chemicals, while seeking to ban hundreds of vitamins and minerals in beneficial doses, at levels recognised by UK and international scientists as perfectly safe.

The revelation, say campaigners, should force a full review of the Directive by the UK and the EU. More than 1,000,000 consumers signed a petition handed to Government last week, urging politicians to resist the draconian restrictions, which will force many people to resort to pharmaceutical drugs.

Highlighting the "ludicrously flawed" legislation, Consumers for Health Choice said the Directive will actually allow the inclusion of poisons, while banning hundreds of safe, proven, vitamin and mineral products, that have been on the UK market for decades.

It was CHC who commissioned the report into the list of so-called "approved substances" from Phylax Ltd., consultants in toxicology.

The independent report says: “The list contains three substances that if included in food supplements could prove fatal if ingested. These substances.…as their names imply….are caustic substances with well-established toxic effects when administered orally or by skin exposure or in aerosol form.

"All the three caustic substances have been used in the past as constituents of pastes used to destroy skin growths such as warts but are rarely or ever used today.

Due to the caustic nature of these substances, humane practice precludes modern, conventional animal toxicity testing…. References to the damaging effects of these substances are listed in standard texts dealing with the hazards of industrial chemicals."

Sue Croft, Consumers for Health Choice, said: "In the past Calcium Oxide has been combined with sodium hydroxide as a constituent of London Paste, used to destroy skin tissue.

"This report just illustrates the superficial and farcical nature of the way Government and the EU has approached the whole subject. If they want to regain consumer confidence, it's not enough to say 'we'll drop these three, then' – they must go back to the drawing board, and simply start again."

The Food Supplements Directive, due to become law in the UK next year, contains a list of nutrients and nutrient sources for use in dietary supplements. At present over 300 safe and popular nutrients and nutrient sources, which have been on the UK market for decades, are not on the permitted list and unless comprehensive safety dossiers are submitted and approved for each, they will be banned.

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* A summary of the toxicologist's report on the Food Supplements Directive is attached. Dr Lister is available for interview.

For further information\interviews contact:

Alan Murray\Alex Ross at MurrayPR on 01403 248666 or 07887 877077 or

Sue Croft at Consumers for Health Choice on 01275 371812 or 07860 286425

Note to editors:

By DR. R.E. LISTER BSc ( Hons Pharmacol), PhD, CBiol, FIBiol
Phylax Ltd – Consultants in Toxicology

Sodium Hydroxide (Caustic Soda, NaOH)
This substance is widely used in industry as a constituent of powerful cleaning agents such as lye and domestically as a constituent of drain and oven cleaners. Its use in these latter applications has declined due to its obvious dangers and it has been replaced largely by less corrosive agents.

Animal Studies
Acute Toxicity
LD50 Mouse i.p. 40 mg/kg (2)

Other Studies
Oral intubation of a 4% solution in rabbits caused mucosal and sub-mucosal necrosis within 10 seconds, a 12% solution eroded into the muscle, and a 28% solution caused perforation. Similar results are seen in cats. A 5% aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide applied to the skin of rabbits for 4 hr produced severe necrosis; however, a 1% solution (pH 13.4) failed to cause gastric, oesophageal, or other damage. (1)

Human Experience
Human exposure by ingestion leads to symptoms and outcomes similar to that for Potassium Hydroxide (q.v)

Potassium Hydroxide (Caustic Potash, KOH)

This chemical possesses similar caustic properties to sodium hydroxide and is used for similar purposes.

Human Toxicity Excerpts:
Acute poisoning: Ingestion of potassium hydroxide is followed by severe pain, vomiting, diarrhoea, & collapse. The vomitus contains blood and desquamated mucosal lining. If death does not occur in the first 24 hours, the patient may improve for 2-4 days and then have a sudden onset of severe abdominal pain, board-like abdominal rigidity, and rapid fall of blood pressure indicating delayed gastric or oesophageal perforation. Oesophageal stricture can occur weeks, months, or even years later to make swallowing difficult. Carcinoma is a risk in later life. (5)

Calcium Oxide
This is a constituent of lye, a powerful chemical disinfectant used to destroy carcases of humans and animals that may pose a risk to health. It has been used in the past combined with sodium hydroxide as a constituent of London Paste, used to destroy skin.

Human Toxicity Excerpts:
Ingestion of calcium oxide causes swallowing to become painful and difficult almost immediately burning pain extends down the oesophagus to stomach. Contaminated areas of lips, chin, tongue and the pharynx become oedematous and covered with exudate. There is profuse salivation and because of pharyngeal and oesophageal oedema, it may become impossible after a few hours to swallow even saliva. Mucous membranes are at first white but later brown, oedematous, gelatinous, and necrotic. Vomitus is thick and slimy due to mucus; later it may contain blood and shreds of mucous membrane. Death may ensue if not treated (6)


  1. American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, Inc. Documentation of the Threshold Limit Values and Biological Exposure Indices. 6th ed. Volumes I,II, III. Cincinnati, OH: ACGIH, 1991. 1416.
  2. Lewis, R.J. Sax's Dangerous Properties of Industrial Materials. 9th ed. Volumes 1-3. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996. 297
  3. National Institute Of Safety and Health (NIOSH); Criteria Document: Sodium Hydroxide p.46 (1975) DHEW Pub. NIOSH 76-105
  4. Mor'on F et al; Int J Tissue React 5(4): 357-362 (1983)]
  5. Dreisbach, R.H. Handbook of Poisoning. 12th ed. Norwalk, CT: Appleton and Lange, 1987. 211
  6. Gosselin, R.E., H.C. Hodge, R.P. Smith, and M.N. Gleason. Clinical Toxicology of Commercial Products. 4th ed. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1976.,p. II-72

December 2, 2002