The Dangers of Sodium Nitrites

Source:  The Dangers of Sodium Nitrites    Tag:  causes of methemoglobinemia
NaNO2 - The Dangers of Sodium Nitrites
By: Danielle Pennycook

     Does high processed meat consumption have health risks? Almost all meat in the stores these days contain preservatives and there are many articles stating that it has adverse health effects. The main preservative used in meat is sodium nitrite, NaNO2. Most people consume processed meat sometimes and the question is if it is safe for us.

     Sodium nitrite is on oxidative agent and reacts with the meats myoglobin to keep it in a stable oxidative state2 . The stable oxidative state makes the meat more pink and last longer. Sodium nitrite also prevents the growth of botulism causing bacteria from growing and spreading. The prevention of botulism is important to the publics safety but since sodium nitrite can be toxic the FDA limits meat to have only 120 ppm3 . In rats the LD50 of sodium nitrite if digested is 180mg/kg, less than a gram would kill a rat and if the LD50 is similar to humans it'd take about 7 grams for someone 130 pounds4 . So the sodium nitrite wont kill us but there are researched articles that state it causes gastrointestinal cancer, brain tumours and type 1 diabetes. One research experiment found that high levels of consumed cured meat will increase a pregnant mothers risk of having a child with a brain tumour5

     Sodium nitrites when in presences of amines can react and form nitrosamines, which is a known carcinogenic. Nitrosamines can cause cancer which is the main concern about processed meat, not the sodium nitrite itself. If sodium nitrites in presence of amines when in high temperatures or an acid environment like your stomach it can react and form nitrosamines. Nitrosamines are very reactive and can react with the myoglobin in people to produce NO-MetMb which causes methemoglobinemia. Methemoglobinemia inability for red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body6 . Research says that vitamin C(ascorbic acid) and vitamin E(alpha-tocopherol) inhibit endogenous formation of nitrosamines and decreased the risk of brain tumours. 

     I think sodium nitrite is safe if it is consumed in moderate amounts and you have a healthy diet with vitamins. There are preservative free meat that use natural alternatives like vegetable oils that are a healthier choice. 


1. Processed Meat Declared to Dangerous for Human Consumption (2013).

2. Parthasarathy, D. Bryan, N. (2012). Sodium Nitrite: The “cure” for nitric oxide insufficiency. 

3. Sodium Nitrite Q&A. March 28, 2015)

4. Sodium Nitrite (2013). The Merck Index. Firteenth Edition. RSC Publishing.

5. Preston-Martin, Susan (1996). Maternal Consumption of Cured meat in relation to paediatric brain tumours. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers.

6. Ipatenco, S (2014). The Harmful Effect of Sodium Nitrite in Food. March 28, 2015)