Calcium disodium EDTA is a common food additive and an ingredient in cosmetic and industrial products. It’s used in food to preserve flavor, color and texture. However, like many food additives, it has become quite controversial.
This article reviews calcium disodium EDTA, its applications, safety and side effects.
Calcium disodium EDTA is an odorless crystalline powder with a slightly salty flavor (1).
It’s a popular food additive, used as a preservative and flavoring agent.
Calcium disodium EDTA works as a chelating agent. This means it binds to metals and prevents them from participating in chemical reactions that might cause discoloration or flavor loss.
The FDA has approved calcium disodium EDTA as a safe food additive but has set limitations on the amount of the substance a food can contain (2).
Calcium disodium EDTA is poorly absorbed by your digestive tract and the maximum Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) is 0.9 mg per pound (1.9 mg per kg) of body weight per day (3).
Calcium disodium EDTA is a crystalline powder with a slightly salty flavor. It’s a popular food additive that prevents spoilage and preserves flavor and color.
Calcium disodium EDTA is found in food, cosmetic and industrial productions. It’s also used for chelation therapy.
Calcium disodium EDTA can be used to preserve texture, flavor and color of many food products.
It’s also used to promote stability and increase the shelf life of certain foods.
The following are common foods that contain calcium disodium EDTA (2):
- Salad dressings, sauces and spreads
- Pickled vegetables, such as cabbage and cucumbers
- Canned beans and legumes
- Canned carbonated soft drinks
- Distilled alcoholic beverages
- Canned crab, clam and shrimp
Calcium disodium EDTA is widely used in beauty and cosmetic products. It allows for better cleaning use, as it enables cosmetic products to foam.
What’s more, as it binds with metal ions, it prevents metals from accumulating on the skin, scalp or hair (
Soaps, shampoos, lotions and contact lens solutions are examples of cosmetic and personal care products that may contain calcium disodium EDTA.
Calcium disodium EDTA is also found in many industrial products, such as paper and textile, due to its ability to prevent discoloration.
In addition, it’s frequently used in products like laundry detergents, industrial germicides and other cleaning products.
Chelation therapy uses calcium disodium EDTA to treat metal toxicity, such as lead or mercury poisoning.
The substance binds to the excessive metal in your blood, which is then excreted through urine.
While calcium disodium EDTA is only FDA-approved to treat metal poisoning, some holistic healthcare providers suggest chelation therapy as an alternative treatment for conditions like autism, heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
However, current research is unsupportive, and further studies are needed before any conclusions on chelation therapy and certain health conditions can be made (
Calcium disodium EDTA is used in many food, cosmetic and industrial products, due to its preserving and stabilizing abilities. It’s also used for chelation therapy to treat lead and mercury toxicity.
Although research is limited, there is currently no scientific data that associates consumption of calcium disodium EDTA with an increased risk of cancer (8).
Additionally, studies have shown that it’s very poorly absorbed by the digestive tract in both animals and humans (
One older test tube study from 1981 that looked at chelating agents, including calcium disodium EDTA, concluded that calcium disodium did not have cancer-causing potential. Researchers even observed that the substance decreased the carcinogenicity of chromium oxide (
Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the FAO/WHO expert committee on food additives have declared that there is no concern for increased cancer risk with consumption of EDTA (3, 11).
However, a recent animal study found that in rats with pre-existing intestinal inflammation, EDTA worsened inflammation and induced colorectal cancer at doses as low as 21 mg/kg (which is still far above the accepted 1.9/kg level for humans).
The researchers hypothesize that EDTA may disrupt the intestinal barrier and increase intestinal permeability, so people with inflammatory bowel diseases may want to avoid this additive (
Though research is limited, scientific evidence currently does not suggest that calcium disodium EDTA has cancer-causing effects.
Multiple older studies have evaluated the possible effects of calcium disodium EDTA on reproduction and its association with birth defects.
In one four-generation rat study, calcium disodium EDTA doses of up to 114 mg per pound (250 mg per kg) of body weight per day did not result in increased rates of reproductive or birth defects in any of the three generations of rat offsprings (
In another rat study, animals who received oral calcium disodium EDTA were at no higher risk of delivering offspring with birth defects than the control group (
On the other hand, another rat study found that increasing doses of calcium disodium EDTA administered to pregnant rats was linked to several birth defects like cleft palate, curly tails and abnormal ribs.
However, incorporating zinc into EDTA had protective effects as no malformations were seen in these offspring (
Lastly, an older case report describes findings of no adverse birth defects in the baby of a woman who was treated with chelation therapy of calcium disodium EDTA for lead toxicity during pregnancy (
Multiple animal studies provide mixed evidence and there is very limited human research to provide definite conclusions on whether or not there is an association between calcium disodium EDTA and reproductive or birth defects, though at low doses typically obtained from food, there is likely no association.
Based on current research, the only potential negative effect of calcium disodium EDTA as a food additive appears to be digestive upset.
Many rat studies have shown that large oral doses of the substance caused frequent and loose bowel movements along with decreased appetite (
However, these side effects only seem to transpire if calcium disodium EDTA is consumed in high amounts — amounts that would be very difficult to achieve through a normal diet.
Chelation therapy — which is not the focus of this article — requires higher doses, which may cause more and potentially more serious adverse effects (
Calcium disodium EDTA as a food additive may cause diarrhea and decreased appetite if consumed at high doses. However, such high doses would be difficult to achieve through a typical diet.
For most individuals, eating foods that contain calcium disodium EDTA appears to be safe.
While many packaged foods contain this preservative, the absorption rate of oral calcium disodium EDTA is minimal.
In fact, your digestive tract absorbs no more than 5% (11).
Additionally, it’s estimated that a typical person consumes only 0.1 mg per pound (0.23 mg per kg) of body weight per day — much less than the ADI of 1.1 mg per pound (2.5 mg per kg) of body weight established by the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (19).
Though high doses have been associated with digestive distress, the amount that you get from food alone is so small that it’s very unlikely that you would experience these adverse effects.
Many packaged foods contain calcium disodium EDTA. However, the amount found in food is found in such small amounts that it’s unlikely to negatively impact your health.
Calcium disodium EDTA is found in food, cosmetic and industrial products and used to treat metal toxicity.
The ADI is 0.9 mg per pound (1.9 mg per kg) of body weight per day — much higher than what is typically consumed.
At these levels, it’s considered safe without serious side effects, based on the currently available evidence. There are established serious side effects if used in large doses that are typically needed to treat metal toxicity. However it is unlikely that anyone will obtain such large doses from food alone.