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The Surprising Hidden Ingredient In Lemon-Lime Soda

It can actually be used for a lot of other things...

If you're a lover of lemon-lime soda (Sprite, Fresca, Squirt, and others of the like) then there's something you need to know about. The citrus flavoring found in most lemon-lime soda brands is actually from a chemical called nootkatone, which is a natural oil found in cedar trees and grapefruits. And yet, while it is natural and safe to consume according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it apparently is toxic for insects such as ticks and mosquitos.

On Monday, Aug. 10, the EPA approved nootkatone as a chemical to be used that will repel and kill ticks and mosquitos on Monday, Aug. 10. According to research, nootkatone will repel dangerous insects that can carry serious diseases like Lyme disease, malaria, and West Nile. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) says a high concentration of this natural chemical could even kill them.

"CDC is proud to have led the research and development of nootkatone," says Jay C. Butler, MD and deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, in the EPA's press release. "Providing new alternatives to existing bite-prevention methods paves the way to solving one of [the] biggest challenges in preventing vector-borne diseases—preventing bites."

Before you balk at the idea of drinking such a chemical, do not fear—you've likely already had it. Nootkatone is a natural organic compound and smells like grapefruits, hence the use of it in citrusy beverages. It is also used in perfumes, colognes, and soaps. Using it in soaps, in particular, can be an effective way for people to repel these dangerous insects throughout the day.

This isn't the first time a natural oil has been used for bug repellent. Citronella, peppermint oil, lemongrass oil, and other types of plant oils have been used. But according to the New York Times, nootkatone is different because it doesn't lose its potency within an hour and even has the potential to last as long as synthetics.

So if you start to find bug repellent soaps and sprays in the market (likely as early as 2022) that smell like your favorite lemon-lime sodas, now you know why!

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Kiersten Hickman
Kiersten Hickman is a freelance health and nutrition journalist. Read more about Kiersten
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