Sodium nitrate side effects

Contents

Sodium thiosulfate Side Effects

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Jan 30, 2019.

  • Overview
  • Side Effects
  • Dosage
  • Professional
  • Pregnancy
  • Pricing
  • More

For the Consumer

Applies to sodium thiosulfate: intravenous solution

Along with its needed effects, sodium thiosulfate may cause some unwanted effects. Although not all of these side effects may occur, if they do occur they may need medical attention.

Check with your doctor immediately if any of the following side effects occur while taking sodium thiosulfate:

Symptoms of overdose

  • Agitation
  • blurred vision
  • hallucinations (seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there)
  • mental changes
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea and vomiting
  • pain in the joints
  • ringing in the ears

For Healthcare Professionals

Applies to sodium thiosulfate: compounding powder, intravenous solution

Gastrointestinal

Frequency not reported: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, osmotic disturbances

Nervous system

Frequency not reported: Headache, disorientation, salty taste in mouth, warm sensation over body

Cardiovascular

Frequency not reported: Hypotension

Psychiatric

Frequency not reported: Psychotic behavior including agitation, delusions, and hallucinations

Musculoskeletal

Frequency not reported: Arthralgia, hyperreflexia, muscle cramps

Hematologic

Frequency not reported: Prolonged bleeding time

Other

Frequency not reported: Tinnitus

Ocular

Frequency not reported: Blurred vision

Genitourinary

Frequency not reported: Diuretic effects

1. Cerner Multum, Inc. “Australian Product Information.” O 0

2. “Product Information. Sodium Thiosulfate (sodium thiosulfate).” American Regent Laboratories Inc, Shirley, NY.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Some side effects may not be reported. You may report them to the FDA.

Medical Disclaimer

More about sodium thiosulfate

  • During Pregnancy
  • Dosage Information
  • Pricing & Coupons
  • Drug class: antidotes
  • FDA Alerts (3)

Consumer resources

  • Sodium Thiosulfate
  • Sodium thiosulfate Intravenous (Advanced Reading)

Professional resources

  • Sodium Thiosulfate (Wolters Kluwer)
  • … +1 more

Related treatment guides

  • Cyanide Poisoning

This information from Lexicomp® explains what you need to know about this medication, including what it’s used for, how to take it, its side effects, and when to call your healthcare provider.

Brand Names: Canada

Seacalphyx

What is this drug used for?

  • It is used to treat cyanide poisoning.
  • It may be given to you for other reasons. Talk with the doctor.

What do I need to tell my doctor BEFORE I take this drug?

  • If you have an allergy to sodium thiosulfate or any other part of this drug.
  • If you are allergic to this drug; any part of this drug; or any other drugs, foods, or substances. Tell your doctor about the allergy and what signs you had.

This drug may interact with other drugs or health problems.

Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of your drugs (prescription or OTC, natural products, vitamins) and health problems. You must check to make sure that it is safe for you to take this drug with all of your drugs and health problems. Do not start, stop, or change the dose of any drug without checking with your doctor.

What are some things I need to know or do while I take this drug?

  • Tell all of your health care providers that you take this drug. This includes your doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.
  • Have blood work checked as you have been told by the doctor. Talk with the doctor.
  • If you are allergic to sulfites, talk with your doctor. Some products have sulfites.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan on getting pregnant. You will need to talk about the benefits and risks of using this drug while you are pregnant.
  • Tell your doctor if you are breast-feeding. You will need to talk about any risks to your baby.

What are some side effects that I need to call my doctor about right away?

WARNING/CAUTION: Even though it may be rare, some people may have very bad and sometimes deadly side effects when taking a drug. Tell your doctor or get medical help right away if you have any of the following signs or symptoms that may be related to a very bad side effect:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction, like rash; hives; itching; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin with or without fever; wheezing; tightness in the chest or throat; trouble breathing, swallowing, or talking; unusual hoarseness; or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Very bad dizziness or passing out.
  • Feeling confused.
  • Any unexplained bruising or bleeding.

What are some other side effects of this drug?

All drugs may cause side effects. However, many people have no side effects or only have minor side effects. Call your doctor or get medical help if any of these side effects or any other side effects bother you or do not go away:

  • Upset stomach or throwing up.
  • Headache.
  • Bad taste in your mouth.
  • Feeling of warmth.

These are not all of the side effects that may occur. If you have questions about side effects, call your doctor. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

You may report side effects to your national health agency.

How is this drug best taken?

Use this drug as ordered by your doctor. Read all information given to you. Follow all instructions closely.

  • It is given as an infusion into a vein over a period of time.

What do I do if I miss a dose?

  • Call your doctor to find out what to do.

How do I store and/or throw out this drug?

  • If you need to store this drug at home, talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about how to store it.

General drug facts

  • If your symptoms or health problems do not get better or if they become worse, call your doctor.
  • Do not share your drugs with others and do not take anyone else’s drugs.
  • Keep all drugs in a safe place. Keep all drugs out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Throw away unused or expired drugs. Do not flush down a toilet or pour down a drain unless you are told to do so. Check with your pharmacist if you have questions about the best way to throw out drugs. There may be drug take-back programs in your area.
  • Some drugs may have another patient information leaflet. If you have any questions about this drug, please talk with your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care provider.
  • If you think there has been an overdose, call your poison control center or get medical care right away. Be ready to tell or show what was taken, how much, and when it happened.

Consumer Information Use and Disclaimer

This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this medicine or any other medicine. Only the healthcare provider has the knowledge and training to decide which medicines are right for a specific patient. This information does not endorse any medicine as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this medicine. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this medicine. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from the healthcare provider. You must talk with the healthcare provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this medicine.

Last Reviewed Date

Copyright

Sodium Nitrite-Sodium Thiosulfate

Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate is a combination medicine that is used as an antidote to cyanide poisoning. Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate works by helping cells in the body convert cyanide to a form that can be removed from the body through urination.

Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate is used in an emergency to treat cyanide poisoning. This type of poisoning can occur if you are exposed to smoke from a house or industrial fire, if you swallow or breathe in cyanide, or if you get cyanide on your skin.

Sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate may also be used for purposes not listed in this medication guide.

If possible before you receive sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate, tell your caregivers if you have anemia, low blood pressure, or heart disease.

In an emergency situation it may not be possible before you are treated to tell your caregivers about your health conditions or if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Make sure any doctor caring for you afterward knows that you have received this medication.

If possible before you receive sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate, tell your caregivers if you have:

  • anemia (low red blood cells);
  • a genetic enzyme deficiency called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency;
  • low blood pressure; or
  • heart disease.

FDA pregnancy category C. Tell your doctor if you are pregnant. It is not known whether sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate will harm an unborn baby. However, the benefits of treating cyanide poisoning may outweigh any risks posed by this medication, for both you and your baby.

It is not known whether this medication passes into breast milk or if it could harm a nursing baby. You should not breast-feed shortly after you have been treated with sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate. Ask your doctor how long you should wait before breast-feeding again. If you use a breast pump during this time, throw out any milk you collect. Do not feed it to your baby.

In an emergency situation, it may not be possible before you are treated with sodium nitrite and sodium thiosulfate to tell your caregivers if you are pregnant or breast feeding. Make sure any doctor caring for your pregnancy or your baby knows you have received this medication.

Sodium nitrite Side Effects

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 30, 2019.

  • Overview
  • Side Effects
  • Dosage
  • Professional
  • Interactions
  • More

Applies to sodium nitrite: intravenous solution

Warning

  • This drug may cause low blood pressure and a red blood cell problem called methemoglobinemia. These may be life-threatening. This drug is only for use when cyanide poisoning is life-threatening. This drug must be used with care if it is not known if cyanide poisoning has happened. Talk with the doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if you have inhaled a lot of smoke or if you have any of these health problems: Anemia, heart problems, lack of a certain enzyme called congenital methemoglobin reductase deficiency, or lung problems.

What are some side effects that I need to call my doctor about right away?

WARNING/CAUTION: Even though it may be rare, some people may have very bad and sometimes deadly side effects when taking a drug. Tell your doctor or get medical help right away if you have any of the following signs or symptoms that may be related to a very bad side effect:

  • Signs of an allergic reaction, like rash; hives; itching; red, swollen, blistered, or peeling skin with or without fever; wheezing; tightness in the chest or throat; trouble breathing, swallowing, or talking; unusual hoarseness; or swelling of the mouth, face, lips, tongue, or throat.
  • Signs of methemoglobinemia like a blue or gray color of the lips, nails, or skin; a heartbeat that does not feel normal; seizures; very bad dizziness or passing out; very bad headache; feeling very sleepy; feeling tired or weak; or shortness of breath. This effect is rare but may be deadly if it happens.
  • Signs of too much acid in the blood (acidosis) like confusion; fast breathing; fast heartbeat; a heartbeat that does not feel normal; very bad stomach pain, upset stomach, or throwing up; feeling very sleepy; shortness of breath; or feeling very tired or weak.
  • Very bad dizziness or passing out.
  • A fast heartbeat.
  • A heartbeat that does not feel normal.
  • Feeling confused.
  • Blurred eyesight.
  • Seizures.
  • Numbness and tingling.
  • Fast breathing.
  • Shortness of breath.

What are some other side effects of this drug?

All drugs may cause side effects. However, many people have no side effects or only have minor side effects. Call your doctor or get medical help if any of these side effects or any other side effects bother you or do not go away:

  • Dizziness.
  • Flushing.
  • Headache.
  • Upset stomach or throwing up.
  • Belly pain.
  • Bad taste in your mouth.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sweating a lot.
  • Feeling tired or weak.

These are not all of the side effects that may occur. If you have questions about side effects, call your doctor. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects.

You may report side effects to the FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088. You may also report side effects at http://www.fda.gov/medwatch.

Applies to sodium nitrite: compounding powder, intravenous solution

Frequency not reported: Hypotension, tachycardia, palpitations, dysrhythmia, severe hypotension, cyanosis, vasodilation resulting in syncope

Dermatologic

Frequency not reported: Urticaria, diaphoresis

Frequency not reported: Nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain

Frequency not reported: Methemoglobinemia

Local

Frequency not reported: Injection site tingling

Metabolic

Frequency not reported: Acidosis

Frequency not reported: Syncope, headache, dizziness, seizures, confusion, coma, lightheadedness, generalized numbness and tingling

Frequency not reported: Anxiety

Respiratory

Frequency not reported: Tachypnea, dyspnea

Frequency not reported: Fatigue, weakness, death

Frequency not reported: Blurred vision

1. Cerner Multum, Inc. “UK Summary of Product Characteristics.” O 0

2. “Product Information. Sodium Nitrite (sodium nitrite).” Hope Pharmaceuticals, Scottsdale, AZ.

3. Cerner Multum, Inc. “Australian Product Information.” O 0

More about sodium nitrite

  • During Pregnancy
  • Dosage Information
  • Drug Interactions
  • Pricing & Coupons
  • Drug class: antidotes
  • Sodium Nitrite
  • Sodium Nitrite Injection (FDA)
  • Cyanide Poisoning

Is Sodium Nitrate Bad for You?

Most of us are aware that food companies use additives to extend the shelf life of their products. But how many of us know what these preservatives are, and, more importantly, what they do to our bodies?

Sodium nitrate is a kind of salt that has long been used to preserve foods. Ever heard of cured meat? Well, you can find it in many foods including bacon, beef jerky, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat, salami, and smoked fish. It creates a distinct flavor, controls lipid oxidation, and acts as an antimicrobial.

Sodium nitrate can be found in plants and unregulated drinking water. Nitrogen is turned into sodium nitrate in soil and is necessary for plant growth. Plants absorb sodium nitrate from the soil in varying amounts. Vegetables with high levels of sodium nitrate include spinach, radishes, lettuce, celery, carrots, cabbage, and beets. According to a 2009 study, approximately 80 percent of dietary nitrates in a person’s diet are obtained from vegetable consumption.

The Risks of Getting Too Much

Nitrates are a natural part of any normal diet. However, some research suggests that high levels can cause problems such as colorectal cancer. Other diseases such as leukemia, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, heart disease, and ovarian, stomach, esophageal, pancreatic and thyroid cancers, may be linked to excessive consumption of sodium nitrate.

The nitrate levels that are associated with these diseases are hard to get from natural foods. Also, foods that naturally contain nitrates also contain things such as vitamin C, which may protect the body from developing the diseases listed above.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), your daily intake of sodium nitrate shouldn’t be more than 3.7 milligrams per kilo of body weight. So, for example, a person who weighs 150 pounds should not consume more than 0.25 grams of sodium nitrate per day. However, since the amount of these preservatives is not listed on food labels, it is hard to know how much you are getting on a daily basis.

Nitrate poisoning is a serious issue that affects infants and can cause a blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia. Infants can get nitrate poisoning when the water used to make formula or baby food comes from unregulated wells. According to one study, up to 15 million Americans rely on unregulated wells for their drinking water.

Can Sodium Nitrate Be Good for You?

Sodium nitrate is a natural part of any diet, and while excess amounts can be bad for you, it also has a place in medicine.

For example, a study in the New England Journal of Medicine concluded that dietary supplements of inorganic nitrate can reduce blood pressure.

Sodium Nitrite

Generic Name: Sodium Nitrite (SOW dee um NYE trite)

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 30, 2019.

  • Overview
  • Side Effects
  • Dosage
  • Professional
  • Interactions
  • More
  • This medicine may cause low blood pressure and a red blood cell problem called methemoglobinemia. These may be life-threatening. This medicine is only for use when cyanide poisoning is life-threatening. This medicine must be used with care if it is not known if cyanide poisoning has happened. Talk with the doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if you have inhaled a lot of smoke or if you have any of these health problems: Anemia, heart problems, lack of a certain enzyme called congenital methemoglobin reductase deficiency, or lung problems.

Uses of Sodium Nitrite:

  • It is used to treat cyanide poisoning.

What do I need to tell my doctor BEFORE I take Sodium Nitrite?

  • If you have an allergy to sodium nitrite or any other part of sodium nitrite.
  • If you are allergic to any drugs like this one, any other drugs, foods, or other substances. Tell your doctor about the allergy and what signs you had, like rash; hives; itching; shortness of breath; wheezing; cough; swelling of face, lips, tongue, or throat; or any other signs.

This medicine may interact with other drugs or health problems.

Tell your doctor and pharmacist about all of your drugs (prescription or OTC, natural products, vitamins) and health problems. You must check to make sure that it is safe for you to take sodium nitrite with all of your drugs and health problems. Do not start, stop, or change the dose of any drug without checking with your doctor.

What are some things I need to know or do while I take Sodium Nitrite?

  • Tell all of your health care providers that you take sodium nitrite. This includes your doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists.
  • Have blood work checked as you have been told by the doctor. Talk with the doctor.
  • Check your blood pressure as you have been told.
  • Be careful if you have G6PD deficiency. Anemia may happen.
  • Use with care in children. Talk with the doctor.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or plan on getting pregnant. You will need to talk about the benefits and risks of using sodium nitrite while you are pregnant.
  • Tell your doctor if you are breast-feeding. You will need to talk about any risks to your baby.

How is this medicine (Sodium Nitrite) best taken?

Use sodium nitrite as ordered by your doctor. Read all information given to you. Follow all instructions closely.

  • It is given as an infusion into a vein over a period of time.

What do I do if I miss a dose?

  • Call your doctor to find out what to do.

If OVERDOSE is suspected:

If you think there has been an overdose, call your poison control center or get medical care right away. Be ready to tell or show what was taken, how much, and when it happened.

How do I store and/or throw out Sodium Nitrite?

  • If you need to store sodium nitrite at home, talk with your doctor, nurse, or pharmacist about how to store it.

Consumer information use

  • If your symptoms or health problems do not get better or if they become worse, call your doctor.
  • Do not share your drugs with others and do not take anyone else’s drugs.
  • Keep a list of all your drugs (prescription, natural products, vitamins, OTC) with you. Give this list to your doctor.
  • Talk with the doctor before starting any new drug, including prescription or OTC, natural products, or vitamins.
  • Keep all drugs in a safe place. Keep all drugs out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Throw away unused or expired drugs. Do not flush down a toilet or pour down a drain unless you are told to do so. Check with your pharmacist if you have questions about the best way to throw out drugs. There may be drug take-back programs in your area.
  • Some drugs may have another patient information leaflet. Check with your pharmacist. If you have any questions about sodium nitrite, please talk with your doctor, nurse, pharmacist, or other health care provider.
  • If you think there has been an overdose, call your poison control center or get medical care right away. Be ready to tell or show what was taken, how much, and when it happened.

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Medical Disclaimer

  • Side Effects
  • During Pregnancy
  • Dosage Information
  • Drug Interactions
  • Pricing & Coupons
  • Drug class: antidotes
  • Sodium Nitrite Injection (FDA)
  • Cyanide Poisoning

by Rachael Link, MS, RD

Since being classified as carcinogenic in 2015, processed meats have garnered a good amount of public interest, and emerging research has continued to link processed meat intake to more and more deadly conditions. So what is it about processed meats that makes them so detrimental to health? Part of the problem lies in their content of a compound called sodium nitrite.

While processed meat is pumped full of many unhealthy and downright dangerous ingredients, sodium nitrite stands out as one of the worst. This is because it can be converted into a compound that may be associated with cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and even diabetes. Not only that, but a toxicity of sodium nitrite can deprive your cells of oxygen, resulting in some potentially deadly side effects.

If that doesn’t convince you to rethink your daily bacon breakfast, keep reading to find out more about this dangerous compound and how it may affect your health.

What Is Sodium Nitrite? What Are Nitrites?

Sodium nitrite is an ingredient frequently found in processed meats that acts as a preservative and protects against the growth of harmful bacteria. Other sodium nitrite uses include adding a salty flavor and boosting the reddish-pink color that’s characteristic to processed meats.

Nitrites are one of the primary ingredients in sodium nitrite. Nitrites are a chemical compound composed of one nitrogen atom with two atoms of oxygen. When you consume foods with nitrites, they can turn into nitric oxide, which plays an important role in health and disease. (1)

Unfortunately, nitrites can also turn into nitrosamines, which are harmful compounds that have been linked with many adverse effects on health. Nitrosamine formation takes place when nitrites are in the presence of amino acids and are exposed to high heat, which is why nitrite-rich processed meats are more likely to contain these disease-causing compounds.

Limiting your intake of foods high in sodium nitrite is essential when it comes to minimizing your risk of chronic disease and optimizing your health.

Sodium Nitrite Dangers

1. Contains Cancer-Causing Compounds

When combined with high heat, nitrites can form nitrosamines, which are cancer-causing compounds that can have deleterious effects on health. In fact, just recently the World Health Organization officially classified processed meats as “carcinogenic to humans” based on increasing evidence that demonstrated a link between processed meat consumption and a higher risk of cancer. (2)

One review comprising 61 studies, for instance, showed that a higher intake of nitrosamines and nitrites was associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer. (3) Other studies, including meta-analyses, cohort studies and research reviews, have found similar associations between sodium nitrite and cancer, reporting that a higher intake of processed meats may be linked to an increased risk of colorectal, breast and bladder cancers. (4, 5, 6)

2. May Raise the Risk of Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic autoimmune condition in which the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Insulin is an important hormone that’s responsible for transporting glucose (sugar) out of the bloodstream and into the cells and tissues, where it can be used as fuel. A lack of insulin causes high blood sugar levels, which can lead to diabetes symptoms like frequent urination, unintentional weight loss and fatigue.

Note that this type of diabetes is different from type 2 diabetes, which can occur at any age and can be caused by a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors. Type 1 diabetes, on the other hand, occurs when the immune system mistakenly begins attacking the body’s own insulin-producing pancreatic cells and is usually diagnosed during adolescence, with adults accounting for only one-fourth of new type 1 diabetes diagnoses. (7)

Some studies have found that an increased intake of nitrites may be associated with a greater risk of type 1 diabetes. A study published in Diabetes Medicine, for example, found that a higher intake of nitrites was associated with a higher risk of developing type 1 diabetes in children. (8) Meanwhile, other studies on populations in Colorado and Yorkshire, England have shown that drinking water with high levels of nitrates was linked to a higher risk of type 1 diabetes. (9, 10)

3. Impairs Oxygen Transport

Methemoglobinemia is a condition characterized by the presence of methemoglobin in the blood, which is a type of hemoglobin that contains a different form of iron. Because your blood contains ferric iron instead of ferrous iron, it’s unable to deliver oxygen to your cells and tissues efficiently, resulting in symptoms like a bluish coloring of the skin, headaches, fatigue and developmental delays.

A growing body of research has shown that nitrites can contribute to this deadly condition, with many research studies showing that it could be caused by drinking contaminated nitrite-rich water or eating high-nitrite meats. (11, 12, 13) For this reason, some recommend moderating consumption of high-nitrate baby foods, such as bananas, spinach, carrots and beets, to help prevent methemoglobinemia in infants. (14)

4. May Be Linked to Alzheimer’s

According to some studies, the potential sodium nitrite hazards may extend well beyond causing cancer and diabetes. In fact, some evidence suggests that a high intake of sodium nitrite may even be linked to brain health.

An animal study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that nitrosamine exposure caused impaired motor function and learning, neurodegeneration, and an increase in the levels of certain proteins in the brain that build up and form plaque, contributing to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. (15) Multiple other studies have shown that a diet rich in processed meats may be associated with a higher risk of cognitive deficits and neurological conditions. (16, 17)

However, current research is still limited on the potential effects of sodium nitrite on brain health. More well-designed studies on humans are needed to determine what role nitrite intake may play in the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Foods High in Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite in food is especially prevalent in processed meats. Certain types of vegetables also contain sodium nitrate, which can be converted to sodium nitrite in small amounts. However, these vegetables do not seem to pose the same health risks as the nitrites in food sources like processed meats.

A few examples of foods that are high in sodium nitrite include:

  • Ham
  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon
  • Salami
  • Sausage
  • Corned beef
  • Bologna
  • Beef jerky
  • Lunch meat
  • Salted and cured meat
  • Smoked meat

Nitrites vs. Nitrates

To really understand what sodium nitrite is, it’s also important to understand what are nitrates vs. nitrites and how each one can impact health.

Nitrates and nitrites are two compounds with a very similar chemical structure. Nitrates consist of a nitrogen atom bonded to three oxygen atoms while nitrates are made up of a nitrogen atom with only two oxygen atoms.

Nitrates are found in many sources but are especially prevalent in vegetables. In fact, it’s estimated that 80 percent of nitrate consumption comes from vegetables while fruits and processed meats account for the remainder. (18) Your body also produces nitrates, which are excreted in the saliva. For this reason, the levels of nitrates in your saliva are often 10–20 times higher than the amount found in your blood. (19)

Nitrates in food can turn into either nitric oxide or nitrites. Nitric oxide has actually been associated with some positive effects on health. In particular, nitric oxide may act as a vasodilator to help prevent high blood pressure symptoms and can even improve exercise performance. (20, 21)

Some of the nitrates that you eat will be converted into nitrites, although this amount is usually very small. Like nitrates, nitrites can also turn into nitric oxide. However, when exposed to high heat and in the presence of amino acids, nitrites can turn into nitrosamines, which can come with a host of negative health effects and may even be linked to a higher risk of cancer and other chronic conditions.

Sodium Nitrite vs. Sodium Nitrate

Sodium nitrate is a type of natural salt made up of sodium, nitrogen and oxygen. It’s also sometimes called Chile saltpeter, earning its name because large deposits can be found in Chile.

In the past, sodium nitrate was used to help preserve and enhance the flavor profile of meats. However, when food manufacturers discovered that sodium nitrate reacts with the bacteria found in meat to form sodium nitrite, they began adding sodium nitrite directly to meat instead to help aid in preservation.

Today, most processed meats contain sodium nitrite to prevent spoilage and inhibit the growth of bacteria that cause botulism. Sodium nitrite also adds a salty flavor to foods and gives meat a characteristic red/pink hue.

Alternatives to Sodium Nitrite Foods

The easiest way to cut down on your intake of sodium nitrite foods is to simply swap out the lunch meat and processed junk for unprocessed types of meat. Opt for raw meat that hasn’t been smoked, cured or salted, and use healthy methods of cooking, such as steaming, poaching, roasting or stir-frying. With just a little creativity, there are also plenty of ways to give your favorite recipes a healthy twist to minimize your intake of sodium nitrite.

Instead of additive-laden hot dogs, try using baked chicken tenders for a healthier take on the hot dog. If you’re feeling even more adventurous, try out some meat-free hot dog alternatives, like carrot dogs topped with seasonings and veggies to add a punch of flavor.

You can also try tempeh bacon or mushrooms in place of regular bacon in your next BLT sandwich or morning omelette to skip the sodium nitrite and get an extra dose of important vitamins and minerals instead.

For sandwiches on the go, trade in your processed deli meats for lentil or bean burgers, hard-boiled eggs, tuna, or roast beef. You can also experiment with other nutritious ingredients like hummus, fresh veggies and legumes.

If you can’t imagine giving up the hot dogs or bacon, you can also check your local grocery store for “nitrite-free” varieties of your favorite foods. However, you should still keep your intake of these foods in moderation as they may still contain other questionable ingredients and additives that can be harmful to your health.

History

Food preservation methods like curing date back thousands of years to ancient times. Ancient Greeks and Romans, for example, used salt to preserve meat and fish. These cured meats even played a central role in religious ceremonies, where salted meats would be used as an offering to the gods.

In North America, the Plains Indians practiced smoking meat by hanging fish near smoldering wood for anywhere between a few hours and a few days. This was especially important for tribes in the north, who would catch large amounts of fish during spawning season, preserve them and consume them all throughout the winter.

Years later during the Age of Discovery, sailors relied on salted meats during long voyages. By the 19th century, new products were being rapidly developed and rolled out. Canned salt meat products like corned beef helped innovate the way that we preserve and consume food. Around the beginning of the 20th century, producers discovered that sodium nitrate interacts with the bacteria in meat and is converted to sodium nitrite, which spurred many manufacturers to begin adding sodium nitrite directly to their products.

In the 1970s, scientists made the shocking discovery that sodium nitrite is converted to nitrosamine when it’s heated above 266 degrees Fahrenheit. The USDA took action by setting limits on the amount of nitrites that can be added to processed meats. Additionally, food manufacturers are required to include vitamin C in products that contain nitrites, which can help reduce the formation of nitrosamines.

Other Precautions

In addition to increasing the risk of chronic disease and and blocking oxygen transport, sodium nitrite can also cause acute toxicity when consumed in very large amounts. According to the World Health Organization, 10 grams of nitrites is considered fatal, but doses of just two grams daily have resulted in death. (22) Symptoms of toxicity can include nausea, vertigo, bluish skin, vomiting, convulsions and headaches. (23)

Also note that sodium nitrite is just one of the harmful compounds found in processed meat, and unfortunately, opting for nitrite-free meats doesn’t make them healthy. In fact, processed meat consumption has been associated with a higher risk of many types of chronic disease, including heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), high blood pressure and cancer. (24, 25, 26, 27) Other potentially dangerous compounds found in certain types of processed meats besides sodium nitrite include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, sodium chloride and heterocyclic amines.

Final Thoughts

  • Sodium nitrite is an ingredient frequently found in processed meats that’s used to prevent the growth of bacteria and enhance the color and flavor of products.
  • When exposed to high heat in the presence of amino acids, nitrites can turn into nitrosamines, which are harmful compounds linked to a variety of adverse health effects.
  • A higher intake of nitrites may be associated with an increased risk of cancer, type 1 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease and methemoglobinemia.
  • Limit your intake of sodium nitrite and processed meat, and select more whole, nutritious foods as part of a healthy, low-sodium diet.

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