Hexane is an industrial solvent widely used for extracting oil from seeds and vegetables. Much of the natural ‘soy protein’ used in many processed foods such as vegetarian products, infant formulas or protein bars is extracted by hexane. Hexane is a byproduct of gasoline refining and is used as solvent or cleansing agent.
Exposure to hexane could result in dizziness, central nervous system damage, muscular weakness, giddiness, blurred vision, muscle cramps, irritation, abdominal pain, numbness, fatigue, nausea, and headache. FDA has classified hexane as a dangerous air pollutant and a potent neurotoxin and carcinogen. Every year, million pounds of hexane are released into the environment harming the eco-system as well as our air, water and soil.
According to EPA, grain processors are responsible for two-thirds of all hexane emissions, releasing 21 million pounds of this dangerous pollutant into the atmosphere every year. Keep in mind that nearly all other main ingredients in conventional soy-based infant formula are hexane extracted. Hexane can be used in other consumer products such as special glues, cleaning agents (for textile, or furniture), and leather products (shoes).
Hexane explosions have killed many farmers all around the world in countries such as Italy, and Mexico. OSHA has set the permissible exposure limit for hexane as 500 ppm. However, according to research by Cornucopia Organization ‘Workers who are chronically exposed to hexane levels ranging from 400 to 600 ppm, with occasional exposures of up to 2,500 ppm, have developed polyneuropathy, a neurological disorder’. In many cases exposure to hexane can result in distal symmetrical muscle weakness and nerve damage. A published peer-reviewed article in Environmental Health Perspectives hypothesizes that occupational exposure to hexane may contribute to the development of Leber hereditary optic neuropathy, a disease that causes loss of vision. Chronic exposure to hexane may also lead to blurred vision, restricted visual field, and optic nerve atrophy.
Almost all non-organic soy based products have traces of hexane in them. Researchers currently have detected 10 ppm of hexane in vegetable oils and 21 ppm of hexane in soy meal products such energy bars, infant formulas, and veggie burgers. According to researchers, ‘soy processors use hexane to divide the beans into fat and protein. The beans are cracked, heated, and rolled into flakes, which are soaked in a hexane bath to extract the oil. Then the oil and defatted flakes are each steamed to evaporate the hexane. The crude soy oil is shipped to vegetable oil manufacturers—most vegetable oils are made from soy—to have the remaining proteins and free fatty acids removed’.
In order to protect yourself and your family against the potent neurotoxin ‘hexane’ make sure you are buying organic foods. Most non-organic formulas, protein bars, or veggie burgers have traces of hexane in them. Keep in mind that 95% of all soybeans in US have been genetically modified and most soybeans have traces of GMOs in them.
Make sure to buy organic soy and be aware of brands that claim they use ‘natural’ soy protein. Natural DOESN’T mean ‘organic’ and when you are buying vegetable oils make sure the label says ‘solvent free’.
Unfortunately, the giant agricultural companies have turned into the giant agribusinesses by relying heavily on toxic pesticides, chemicals, or petroleum-based fertilizers. It is up to us, the consumers to support organic farmers and move towards a healthier and more sustainable food production system.