Ever since the 1830s, the consumption of soft drinks has steadily increased, with technological advances of the past few decades only making things worse. Policy makers and health care providers realized that the high consumption of sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages belongs to that category of dietary behaviors that has been identified as an important issue to address in the prevention and management of obesity and other related diseases.
If drinking Coca Cola or other soft drinks is part of your daily routine, prepare to experience the following:
1. You’ll unconsciously influence your dietary choices
When your parents told you to drink milk because it was healthy, they told you so because milk is truly a rich source of protein, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and vitamin A. However, numerous studies have indicated that a high level of soft drink consumption (especially coke), is associated with the displacement of healthier food and beverage choices. What this means is that if people are drinking coke on a regular/daily basis, they are more likely to be deficient in a large number of vitamins, minerals and dietary fibres due to their dietary choices (Harnack et al. 1999; Ballew et al. 2000).
As a matter of fact, other longitudinal studies at the population level have found that milk consumption has decreased over time and that this has directly correlated with an increase in soft drink consumption (Lytle et al. 2000; Blum et al. 2005; Striegel-Moore et al. 2006).
Conclusion: The displacement of milk and reduced intake of calcium as a consequence can easily have short-and long-term implications for overall bone health, so make sure that you limit your intake of Coke to 1 small cup a day, or even less/none if possible.
2. You’ll likely develop dental caries and dental erosion
The regular consumption of soft drinks has also been associated with enamel erosion and dental caries due to their large sugar content and high acidity. In a joint report conducted by the WHO and FAO in 2003, evidences indicated a close relationship between soft drink consumption and risk of dental erosion to be ‘probable’ while the evidence pertaining to free sugars causing dental caries were found to be ‘convincing.’
A recent review of soft drinks and dental health concluded that it is the low pH of these drinks that may lead to the erosion of enamel surface while the high sugar content is believed to be metabolized by plaque micro-organisms to generate organic acids that bring about demineralization leading to dental caries (Tahmassebi et al. 2006).
Therefore, the Australian Dental Association discourages the frequent consumption of both soft drinks and diet soft drinks, or any kind of sports drinks and fruit juices for that matter, due to their high sugar and/or acid content. (Australian Dental Association 2002).
3. You’ll likely develop bone fractures
Consumption of cola and other soft drinks has also been associated with a decrease in bone mineral density and an increase in the frequency of bone fractures in both children and adults (Petridou et al. 1997;Wyshak 2000; McGartland et al. 2003). Wrist and forearm fractures were found to be more and more frequent in children between the age of 9 and 16 due to the overwhelming presence of soft drinks and their high caffeine content. (Ma and Jones 2004).
Cola and other carbonated soft drinks were also found to be detrimental to bone mineral density in women due to their high caffeine content (Tucker et al. 2006). The reason for that is because Caffeine has been identified as a catalyst for increasing the excretion of calcium in the urine, which is a leading and potential contributor to osteoporosis (Kynast-Gales and Massey 1994).
Excessive consumption of Cola and other carbonated soft drinks may lead to low bone mineral density, bone fractures, osteoporosis (causes bones to become weak and brittle) and even hypocalcemia (low serum calcium).
4. You’ll increase your chances of developing chronic diseases
Other alarming studies have also surfaced in the past few years. According to the US Framingham Heart Study, the consumption of greater than or equal to 350 ml soft drink per day (that would be 1 can) was already associated with an increased risk of obesity, an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, impaired fasting glucose, increased waist circumference, high blood pressure, higher low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (higher LDL levels put you at greater risk for a heart attack from a sudden blood clot in an artery), and even hypertriglyceridemia (high cholesterol levels) (Dhingra et al. 2007).
Similarly, the US Nurses Health Study II found that those women who consumed one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day had an elevated risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared with those who consumed less than one of these beverages a month. (Schulze et al. 2004).
Both the US Framingham Heart Study and the US Nurses Health Study II agreed on the fact that the consumption of greater than or equal to 350 ml soft drink per day may lead to the development of a series of chronic cardiovascular diseases, such as metabolic syndrome or high blood pressure, just to mention a few.
5. You’ll likely experience adverse side-effects due to increased caffeine intake
Cola-type soft drinks containing caffeine have the largest share of the beverages market all over the world. Caffeine, whether we admit or not, is a mildly addictive drug that occurs naturally in tea, coffee and chocolate, but it is soft drinks that serve as the very main source of caffeine in children’s diet. The levels of caffeine content in soft drinks are in the range of between 40-50 mg per 375 ml can, which is the equivalent to one cup of strong coffee.
Caffeine insensitivity (the extent to which someone is responding to the effect of caffeine) is also a side-effect of excessive caffeine intake. Ideally, the smaller one is, the less caffeine one would require to reap the stimulating benefits, such as increased energy and attention, enhanced mood and motivation as well as enhanced motor activity. However, we must note here that these effects can only be reaped if taken in small doses – 20-200 mg (Smith et al. 2000).
Negative effects have also been determined, especially in young children and adults, that may include more harm than potential benefits: disturbed sleep patterns, bedwetting, and anxiety along with a number of withdrawal symptoms such as headache, fatigue, decreased alertness, or even depressed mood and irritability can be experienced 6–24 hours after caffeine abstinence. (Juliano and Griffiths 2004).
Cola-type soft drinks contain caffeine in the range of between 40-50 mg per 375 ml can that, if over consumed, can easily lead to the development of kidney stones and caffeine insensitivity along with a large number of withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, fatigue, decreased alertness, depressed mood and irritability.
6. You’ll risk the development of cancer due to the presence of Benzene
There has been a recent movement towards regulating Benzene levels in drinking water and bottled water both nationally and internationally. However, the presence of benzoic acid in soft drinks is not that strictly regulated that has spurred some environmental and public concern towards a more closer regulation of this chemical in these drinks. The reason why benzoic acid is so hazardous is because it works as a catalyst when it comes into contact with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and metal ions (such as iron or copper) to form the chemical known as Benzene, a known cancer-causing chemical(carcinogen). The chemical reaction usually takes place when when we are exposed to heat or light.
The Food and Drug Administration initiated public trials to test the level of benzene in soft drinks all across the country. 4 out of 100 products were found to contain levels of benzene above the 5 ppm barrier, which is the officially acceptable limit for drinking water. (CFSAN/Office of Food Additive Safety 2007).
Since 2005, these products were significantly reformulated and the FDA believes that the levels of benzene found in soft drinks should no longer be a cause for alarm. However, there are still companies that either cannot or would not devote extra time and effort to monitor the level of acceptable benzene content in their products. Therefore, general recommendations are that you should not consume more than 1 can of cola a week. Better safe than sorry, right?
Due to high levels of Benzene in cola and other carbonated soft drinks, you are more likely to develop cancer if more than 1 can of soft drink is consumed per week. Benzene is a known cancer-causing chemical (carcinogen).
So is Coca-Cola bad for you?
People consider sugary drinks to be a significant contributor to many health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. Research has shown that drinking a can of Coca-Cola can have damaging effects on the body within an hour.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of the United States population will drink at least one sugary beverage on any given day. Young adults are the most regular consumers of sugary drinks.
There are 37 grams (g) of added sugar, which equates to almost 10 teaspoons (tsp), in a single can of cola.
For optimal health, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend consuming no more than 6 tsp of added sugar daily. By drinking just one serving of cola a day, a person will easily exceed this amount.
A 2015 study attributed 184,000 global deaths each year to the consumption of sugary drinks.
In this article, we look at the effects of cola on the body.
An infographic by the British pharmacist Niraj Naik shows the damage that a 330 milliliter (ml) can of Coca-Cola can inflict on the body within 1 hour of consumption. Naik based the infographic on research by health writer Wade Meredith.
According to Naik, the intense sweetness of Coca-Cola resulting from its high sugar content should make a person vomit as soon as it enters the body. However, the phosphoric acid in the beverage dulls the sweetness, enabling people to keep the drink down.
Blood sugar levels increase dramatically within 20 minutes of drinking the cola, explains Naik, causing a burst of insulin. The liver then turns the high amounts of sugar into fat.
Effects similar to heroin
Within 40 minutes, the body has absorbed all of the caffeine from the cola. This caffeine causes the pupils to dilate and the blood pressure to increase. By this point, the Coca-Cola has blocked the adenosine receptors in the brain, preventing drowsiness.
Just 5 minutes later, the production of dopamine has increased. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. According to the infographic, the way that Coca-Cola stimulates these centers is comparable to the effects of heroin. It triggers a person’s urge to drink another can.
An hour after drinking the beverage, a sugar crash will begin, causing irritability and drowsiness. The body will have cleared the water from the cola, along with vital nutrients, in the urine.
According to Naik, the infographic applies not only to Coca-Cola but to all caffeinated fizzy drinks.
“Coke is not just high in high fructose corn syrup, but it is also packed with refined salts and caffeine,” writes Naik on his blog, The Renegade Pharmacist.
“Regular consumption of these ingredients in the high quantities you find in Coke and other processed foods and drinks can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. […] However, a small amount now and then won’t do any major harm. The key is moderation!”
In a press statement, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola says that the beverage is “perfectly safe to drink and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle.”
In 2018, a mini literature review highlighted more ways in which sugary drinks can affect health.
The review authors examined the effects of sugar sweetened beverages on the brain. They found that these drinks increased levels of certain compounds and chemicals that interfered with brain activity, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia.
They also found that regularly consuming sugary drinks may affect the quality and duration of a person’s sleep cycle. Some compounds also had effects on memory and motor coordination, which may contribute to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
However, many of the studies in this review took place in rats. The full extent of the effects of sugary drinks on humans is not yet clear.
The authors of a 2018 study involving 2,019 participants found that they could not even rule out the consumption of diet sodas as a risk factor for diabetes. They note that their findings support the suggestion that sugar-sweetened beverages, such as cola, play a role in the development of this chronic disease.
A 2016 study on rats found that the rodents that drank Coca-Cola showed signs of decreased kidney and liver function in comparison with the rats that did not drink soda.
Again, further research would be necessary to confirm the effects of Coca-Cola in humans.