A Troubled Supplement Industry: Why I Do Not Recommend Grapefruit Seed Extract

A Troubled Supplement Industry: Why I Do Not Recommend Grapefruit Seed Extract

Here at Fix Your Gut we try to be as logical as possible. There are important medications that help many people and there are some that we believe may have unnecessary risks. The same can be said about supplements. There are supplements which help people immensely, and there are some that give natural medicine a bad name.

Many people in the natural health field chant the mantra, “if something is natural it must be good for you and cause no issues.” We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. We as a group are already under enough scrutiny as it is. Just because something is natural does not automatically mean it works, is healthy, or safe. The same can be said if something is artificially produced; it does not necessarily mean it is automatically unsafe. We need to weigh everything objectively.

Grapefruit seed extract appears to be one of those supplements that you might want to avoid and find better alternatives for your health. Why might you ask? Let us find out together.

What is Grapefruit Seed Extract?

Who knows? No, really who knows?

Not knowing the active components in any supplements or medications and their mechanism of actions should always be met with caution. We are aware of the antimicrobial compounds in oil of oregano, carvacrol and thymol. 1 2 Carvacrol inhibits bacterial growth and thymol reduces bacterial production of energy (shutting down mitochondrial ATP production.)3 4 5

For grapefruit seed extract there is not a lot of information on the proposed antimicrobial components themselves from the extract and what may be true about the state of the extract is a cause of concern.

GSE was discovered by the German researcher Jacob Harish in the 1980’s. His discovery is claimed to have come from him noticing that grapefruit seeds would not break down properly in his compost pile. There are conflicting reports of his discovery as well. It is also noted that the idea of the antimicrobial properties of grapefruit seeds came from him ingesting grapefruit seeds and noticing they have a bitter taste. He later had the extract tested for its antimicrobial properties and developed a product known as Citricidal with the help of the University of Florida researchers Steven Otwell and Dr. Wayne Marshall. 6 7

Sounds great right? The main issue with GSE is when you try to get down to what components of the extract have anti-microbial properties and why it works. Is it from the synthetic extraction of the extract from the grapefruit seeds or what is formed from the extraction itself?

Two Theories – One Bad Supplement

There are two theories to explain the antimicrobial components of GSE:

  1. The antimicrobial components of grapefruit seed extract are from adulterants that are added during the production of the extract.
  2. The antimicrobial component of grapefruit seed extract stems from the final product formation of benzethonium chloride, an antimicrobial agent with reported issues.

Let us tackle the first theory, the addition of antimicrobial adulterants that are found in grapefruit seed extract supplements.

That include:

  • Benzethonium chloride – I will discuss this compound in more detail during the second theory. It is believed by most that it is added or is found in GSE supplements as a consequence of poor production methods, instead of a compound that is formed from the extraction of grapefruit seed components. 8 9 10 11
  • Triclosan – a known synthetic endocrine disruptor with anti-microbial properties discovered as a production adulterant in studies of GSE. 12 13
  • Parabens – esters of PABA which can be produced from natural or synthetic sources that have antimicrobial properties. Parabens have been linked to allergic reactions, weak xenoestrogen properties, and increases oxidative damage and stress from sun overexposure. 14 15 16 17 18 19
  • Cetrimonium bromide – a quaternary ammonium surfactant with antimicrobial properties. Though the amount of bromide in the compound is little, bromide should still be avoided because of its ability to displace iodine in the thyroid gland and cause disruption. A known skin irritant in some people, it has also been discovered to be a gastrointestinal irritant in animals. 20 21 22 23

Multiple studies have shown that these adulterants are found in tested GSE products and are more than likely the cause of its antimicrobial properties. Now granted a lot of products that are tested could have differing degrees of chemicals that we would not like to discover because of production processes, that being said this is still very alarming.

So what is the theorized antimicrobial component of GSE? Benzethonium chloride.

The production method of GSE is: 24 25

  1. Grapefruit pulp and seed is dried and ground to a fine powder.
  2. The powder is dissolved in purified water and distilled to remove the fiber and pectin.
  3. The distilled slurry is spray dried at low temperatures forming a concentrated flavonoid powder.
  4. This concentrated powder is dissolved in vegetable glycerine and heated.
  5. Food grade ammonium chloride and ascorbic acid are added, and this mixture is heated under pressure. The amount of ammonium chloride remaining in finished Citricidal is 15-19%; the amount of ascorbic acid remaining is 2.5-3.0%.
  6. The ammoniated mixture undergoes catalytic conversion using natural catalysts, including hydrochloric acid and natural enzymes. There is no residue of hydrochloric acid after the reaction.
  7. The slurry is cooled, filtered, and treated with ultraviolet light.

The proposed principal active antimicrobial component of GSE is a concentration of benzethonium chloride at roughly 8-17%. However, most researchers believe that this compound is not produced during the production of GSE as the final product, but, in fact, is an adulterant that is added during its production. 26

That being said, benzethonium chloride is still something I would not want to ingest at that concentration, even for the anti-microbial properties because of the issues associated with its use both as an antiseptic and a disinfectant.

How much benzethonium chloride does the FDA allow in first aid products you may ask? The FDA allows .1 – .2 % which is a significant difference between the 8 – 17% found in most GSE supplements. 27

The concentrated amount of benzethonium chloride of GSE cannot be that reported high; it would cause major issues at that dosage per the MSDS reports from the FDA. So let us say there is at least 1% benzethonium chloride in a dosage of a GSE supplement. That dosage would still be too much and could cause gastrointestinal upset, inflammation, eye inflammation if it comes into contact with the eyes, and allergic reactions. 28 29 30 31 32

Finally, the MSDS of Citricidal lists the main active antimicrobial ingredient as diphenol hydroxybenzene. The following well-researched quote from a blurb about the dangers of GSE explains the error of the listing of this chemical in more detail: 33

“The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Citricidal lists it as “Diphenol hydroxybenzene”. This is completely misleading (and a potential safety hazard) as neither benzethonium chloride nor benzalkonium chloride can be described this way. Neither is it an accurate or informative description of the components of grapefruit seed.

In addition people with chemistry training will recognise that the description “diphenol hydroxybenzene” is not the correct way to name a chemical compound. ‘Hydroxybenzene’ is a benzene ring with a hydroxy group attached, ‘phenol’ is also a benzene ring with a hydroxy group attached. So “diphenol hydroxybenzene” just loosely says that we have some benzene rings with hydroxy groups stuck on them somewhere! All a completely untrue description of GSE.”

Grapefruit seed extract should not be used without caution in my belief and here at Fix Your Gut we do not recommend it as an antimicrobial supplement. There are too many mysteries that surround the extracts mechanism of action, contamination during supplement processing, and the concentration of the proposed final antimicrobial product benzethonium chloride.

  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19075694
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17374894
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17374894
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3873673/
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8602337
  6. https://articles.beeyoutiful.com/2009/01/29/the-skeptic-meets-grapefruit-seed-extract/
  7. http://citrosept.com/history/
  8. http://www.hebebotanicals.co.nz/grapefruit-seed-extract-gse-let-the-buyer-beware/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11453769
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16719494
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16159196
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10399191
  13. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20562219
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10399191
  15. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508430_2
  16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/576658
  17. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23909435
  18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16938376
  19. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18656963
  20. http://datasheets.scbt.com/sc-278833.pdf
  21. http://ijt.sagepub.com/content/16/3/195
  22. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=4&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwj9gcS2_4TLAhXFHx4KHYQ1AGwQFggxMAM&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov%2Fpmc%2Farticles%2FPMC501258%2F&usg=AFQjCNEu9CPkt4lihIpjjCN_Ribhm2-ysg&sig2=48m6WEtukwSmzYGnXtN0SQ
  23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20411504
  24. http://www.itmonline.org/jintu/grapefruit.htm
  25. http://chemicaloftheday.squarespace.com/most-controversial/2010/1/27/the-truth-about-grapefruit-seed-extract.html
  26. http://www.itmonline.org/jintu/grapefruit.htm
  27. http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/sccp/documents/out250_en.pdf
  28. http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/sccp/documents/out250_en.pdf
  29. http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/ipcsneng/neng0387.html
  30. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiXjaL6gIXLAhXDkh4KHc3ZD8AQFggcMAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.fda.gov%2Fdownloads%2FAdvisoryCommittees%2FCommitteesMeetingMaterials%2FDrugs%2FNonprescriptionDrugsAdvisoryCommittee%2FUCM410289.pdf&usg=AFQjCNG3-16M5cBmXonEifug716MaKSvtw&sig2=aPH3uzVY0pQqPLZvKU49KA&bvm=bv.114733917,d.dmo
  31. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=8&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiXjaL6gIXLAhXDkh4KHc3ZD8AQFghQMAc&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ampakcompany.com%2Fdocs%2FBenzethonium_Newsletter-Ampak.pdf&usg=AFQjCNGbMe42_UwXgIEeYx7wt78tbQ733Q&sig2=wgtV6QjP9nY8-0Gf7ZKTsA&bvm=bv.114733917,d.dmo
  32. http://www.naturalingredient.org/files/Citricidal%20Brochure.pdf
  33. http://www.hebebotanicals.co.nz/grapefruit-seed-extract-gse-let-the-buyer-beware/
  1. Pretty conflicting comments up there eh?

  2. Very good product. I will continue to take it. My family have used it for over 22years, without any issues.

  3. Awesome article. I have experimented with GSE. Perhaps I’ll throw it out now…I remember reading about the potential dangers but sometimes anecdotal success stories can blind you.

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