This week I decided to move away from coffee and talk about soda. How many of you drink soda? If you do, then I would suggest reading this post because it may change your mind about drinking it.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) released a report in March 2012 linking Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, Pepsi and Diet Pepsi to a cancer-causing chemical that you will never find on the label. Did I mention that these sodas are the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 6th best-selling sodas in the world? That is pretty scary!
The chemical, 4-methylimidazole, usually known as 4-MI or ammonia sulfite, is produced when certain forms of ammonia are used to create the artificial dye that gives some of the most popular beverages their caramel coloring. Some of these beverages include Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola, Snapple Group Inc.’s Dr. Pepper, and Whole Foods’ 365 cola. The CSPI even points out that the caramel color does not have to be made using 4-MI, which raises the question of why so companies still use this carcinogen form of caramel color?
There have been several studies conducted by the National Toxicology Program that found “clear evidence” that 4-MI causes cancer in animals. A lot of people argue that just because it caused cancer in animals does not mean it will also cause cancer in humans. I do not know about you, but I still would not risk drinking this beverage with 4-MI in it.
It is currently illegal to sell any food or beverage containing an amount of 4-MI that could increase the risk of cancer by more than 1 case per 100,000 people without a warning label. The CSPI claims that the level of 4-Mi in Coke and other sodas presents a risk equivalent to 4.8 people in 100,000. They also estimate that the amount of 4-MI in these sodas tested is causing about 15,000 cancers a year among the US population!
In 2011, the state of California added 4-MI as a carcinogen on their stringent Proposition 65 list of chemicals known to cause cancer. This prompted Coca-Cola to announce that they would be switching to a new lower-MI formulation of caramel coloring to avoid cancer labels on their products sold in California. The label would say something along the lines of “Warning: This product contains a chemical known to the state of California to cause cancer.”
In a disclaimer by officials representing Coca-Cola said in their official statement that:
“We have asked our caramel manufacturers to modify their production process to reduce the amount of 4-MI in the caramel, but that will have no effect on the formula or on the great-tasting, high-quality products that consumers expect from us. These modifications will not affect the color or taste of Coca-Cola.”
The American Beverage Association noted that California added the coloring to its list of carcinogens with no studies showing that it causes cancer in humans. The listing was only based on a single study in lab mice and rats. In a statement released to the media, the American Beverage Association wrote, “This is nothing more than CSPI scare tactics, and their claims are outrageous.” The statement then continues with, “The science simply does not show that 4-MI foods or beverages is a threat to human health.”
This statement got me wondering how relatable animal studies are to human studies so I decided to research it. According to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, they are pretty relatable. Mice and rat’s response to carcinogens are very similar to humans. In fact, most major forms of human cancer have been reproduced in such animals through exposure to chemical carcinogens.
Furthermore, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry states, “Of the approximately 200 agents known to cause cancer in humans, nearly all have also shown to cause cancer in rats or mice.” It goes on to say that how many of the several hundred other chemicals that cause cancer in animals that are also human carcinogens is still unknown. And more importantly, for many chemicals suspected of causing cancer in humans, no human studies have yet been done.
Therefore, 4-MI may in fact cause cancer in humans, but it is still unknown. In my opinion it is better to be safe than sorry so maybe California was right in adding 4-MI to its list of carcinogens. I know CSPI’s estimate of how the amount of 4-MI in sodas is causing about 15,000 cancers a year in the US may not be accurate, but what if it is?
The FDA is even agreeing with the American Beverage Association. FDA’s spokesman, Doug Karas, states, “A consumer would have to consume well over a thousand cans of soda a day to reach the doses administered in the studies that have shown links to cancers in rodents.”
Last February, several experts wrote to the FDA asking to remove the 4-MI in soda. To read the letter, click here.
The chief of health and medical editor for ABC News, Dr. Richard Besser, said that there may not be a genuine cancer risk in these sodas, but these drinks have other major health indications.
Besser told Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America”, “If you wanted to do one thing for your health, just one thing that you could do today that would have the biggest impact, it would be cut out your sodas, cut out your sweetened beverages because cancer is not the risk.”
“You’re more likely to die from diabetes that’s linked to obesity that’s linked to all these sweetened beverages than you ever have to worry about the caramel,” he continued. “It’s unbelievable. You will lose pounds just from that one simple change.”
Overall, whether or not the 4-MI used to produce the caramel color in soda causes cancer, it is still important to avoid drinking soda because of the other health risks it is linked to due to the high fructose corn syrup. One can of coke contains about 10 teaspoons of sugar.
Next time you want a coke, think to yourself if it is really worth all the health risks.