The Medical Dangers Associated with Consumption of Carbonated Drinks

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About this sample


Words: 4129 |

Pages: 9|

21 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

Words: 4129|Pages: 9|21 min read

Published: May 7, 2019

The principal of Venice High School in California stated “economics should never take precedence over the health of the students” (Soda Ban). The same goes for the health of the country. Soft drinks are a common household product normally accepted as safe, but lately there has been a great deal of discussion about how safe they actually are and how common of a product they should be. On September 16, 2003 the California State Assembly decided to ban soft drink sales in all grade schools and restrict them in middle and high schools (Molony, 19). In 2005, an organization called the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) petitioned the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the government organization responsible for making sure that products marketed in the United States are safe for human consumption, to place warning labels on soft drinks and carbonated beverages in order to raise awareness of dangerous ingredients approved by the FDA in commonly consumed products.

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Soda is filled with sweeteners that are dangerous when consumed without moderation, and the companies that produce them realize this, but still try to push for their products to be purchased and used constantly. Since they are able to generate billions in taxable revenue, they are able to influence the government and make money mutually, while harming the health of the impressionable consumer. It is apparent that warning consumers of potentially dangerous products with labels is justified, and that the processes of ingredient approval would benefit from longer term research and approval from independent studies and sources.

The problem with pop is that it contains large amounts of refined sugars like high fructose corn syrup, and some drinks contain large amounts of caffeine, which is a widely accepted stimulant drug. Some drinks could possibly even contain benzene, a known carcinogen. Soft drinks, when first introduced, were meant to be an occasional treat, similar to candy or ice cream. The danger of soft drinks is trivial when consuming them in this fashion. However, soft drinks are now consumed with a frequency comparable to consumption of water, accounting for about one fourth of all beverages in America (Jacobson). The average American consumed 37 gallons of carbonated beverages in 2004 (Warning Labels). Their prevalence makes it difficult for consumers to resist or exercise moderation. Some may feel it is easier to pop open a can of Coke than to pour a glass of water or orange juice. Many are constantly reminded of their favorite soft drink through advertisements, whether they are on television or the radio, or in stores or restaurants. The soft drink industry is a lucrative market that is taking advantage of the impulsive lifestyle of today’s average American. However, it is persuading people to consume more unhealthy products more commonly.

On average a can of soda contains 40 grams of refined sugars, many containing more. 40 g of sugar (10 tsp) also happens to be the recommended daily maximum by the United States Department of Agriculture (Jacobson). Sugar is high in calories (16 per tsp) and contributes to tooth decay (Salter). The Director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Michael Jacobson, warned of the formidable threat the high sugar content of soft drinks saying, “Studies have been done over the past few years demonstrating that soft drinks are a contributor to obesity, not the only cause, but a significant one”(Warning Labels). The most common and threatening of these refined sugars is high fructose corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a very problematic and unhealthy sweetener used in soda and an alarming number of other food products, including, but not limited to soft drinks, candy, non-100% juices, flavored yogurts, popsicles, ketchup, cereals, pasta sauce, and canned soup. HFCS is made of cornstarch and unhealthy amounts of fructose, which occurs naturally as a component of sugar and in fruits in modest amounts. Carbohydrate intake releases insulin, which manages the use and storage of energy, produces leptin, and suppresses appetite. Fructose does not stimulate insulin production and therefore does not reduce appetite. The function of high calorie intake without appetite suppression and consumption of other foods and sugars for appetite suppression cause excess energy to be stored in the form of fats, thus the consumption of empty calories.

To emphasize the seriousness of this miniscule fact, nine percent of all of America’s calories come from sodas, fruit drinks, and sport drinks, all empty calories, not including other HFCS-laden products. In 1970, that value was only around three percent (Jacobson). The same year, the average consumption of HFCS per person was one half of a pound. In 1997, each American consumed an average of 62 and a half pounds (Kleiner). Since most of the HFCS consumed is contained in soft drinks, this statistic also reflects a major increase in consumption, dependence, and widespread popularity of high fructose corn syrup. At the same time, it is proven to be detrimental to one’s health with such immoderate consumption. High fructose corn syrup, however, is not the only chemicals used in sodas that could be dangerous to consumer health.

Caffeine is a stimulant drug added to many regular and diet soft drinks. Six out of the seven most popular sodas contain caffeine (Jacobson). Caffeine works by stimulating the central nervous system, respiratory and skeletal muscles, cardiac and smooth muscles, and by dilating coronary vessels. People commonly enjoy caffeine for the quick boost in energy in the morning. Oddly enough, caffeine improves cognitive effects when used around breakfast time or near time of awakening but has been shown to have less effect or impede performance at later times in the day. Positive effects of caffeine include increased energy, imagination, efficiency, self-confidence, alertness, motivation, concentration, and diuresis (Kennedy, 320). However, caffeine has many detrimental after effects. These effects are active at very low and common doses, such as those contained in a single can of caffeinated soda. Caffeine causes or promotes sleeplessness, anxiety, osteoporosis, mental illness, depression, Cardiovascular Diseases (CVD), and anemia (Finnegan).

Caffeine is a mildly addictive drug. It is possible that the soft drink industry adds caffeine for a slight addictive quality for their beverages. They have always denied this suspicion, claiming that the caffeine is added for flavoring. Caffeine actually causes withdrawal symptoms with regular use, even at low doses. Withdrawal symptoms include headaches, irritability, sleepiness, mental confusion, insomnia, hand or limb tremor, nausea, anxiety, restlessness, gastrointestinal disturbance, heart palpitations, and increased blood pressure. Although it is not commonly known information, caffeine can have extremely detrimental effects on reproduction.

In 1981 the FDA stated, “Pregnant women should avoid caffeine-containing foods and drugs, if possible, or consume them only sparingly”(Label Caffeine). Studies showed that high intake of caffeine by pregnant women showed increased possibilities of low birth weight or spontaneous abortion of their children (Finnegan). This information is little known because the FDA does not require any manufacturers to warn consumers of the dangers of caffeine and in turn consumers must do their own research to learn of statements such as its own 1981 warning. Although the FDA and federal government are required to state important information such as this, the proliferation for public access is nobody’s responsibility. This is not the first time the FDA has withheld or made important information difficult to obtain from the public.

In 1990, the FDA first discovered benzene, a dangerous carcinogen, in some drinks. They tested over sixty sodas, sports drinks, juice drinks, and even bottled waters. Benzene was found in amounts ranging from three to twenty parts per billion.

The legal limit of benzene for drinking water or other consumption is five parts per billion, so the FDA’s tests showed that some drinks contained up to four times the legal limit, and clear violations of law and safety (FDA Finds). The FDA did not inform the public. They quietly informed manufacturers of their discovery, advising them to change their formulas.

The benzene in sodas can be formed by the combination of ascorbic acid, which is just vitamin C, and sodium, or potassium benzoates, which are simply preservatives added to keep the drink fresh (Children’s). Defenders of the FDA and the beverage industry claim that the formation of benzene is possible, but extremely unlikely. Defenders argue that a catalyst such as light or heat is required to start the combining reaction, but if the drink is stored in warm conditions, most likely in a garage or left in a car on a hot summer day, there may have been enough heat for the reaction to occur. The rarity of these exact conditions is unknown, as no testing for specific reactions in soft drink containers has been conducted, although the chemical properties show the possibility of the reaction.

On February 24, 2006 an organization called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) discovered a list of soft drinks and juices that still contained the potentially dangerous combination of benzene-forming ingredients. Kevin Keane, spokesperson for the American Beverage Association (ABA), attempted to defend the FDA commenting, “People shouldn’t overreact. It’s a very small number of products and not major brands” (FDA Finds). However, the EWG’s reconnaissance disproved this lie with its list of products found to contain the magic ingredients for benzene formation. The most notable major brand products on the list were: Fanta Orange and Pineapple which is produced by the Coca Cola Company worldwide, Hawaiian Punch and all of its other flavors and products, Hi-C Blast Orange Supernova which is on the menu at some chains of fast food giants such as McDonalds and Subway, Monster Energy including Lo-Carb products and other flavors, Rockstar Energy including Diet product, also produced by the Coca Cola Company, Sierra Mist produced by Pepsi Co., Sunkist, and Sunny Delight including all of its other flavors and products (Children’s). For 16 years the FDA has failed to enforce a health risk they themselves proclaimed was dangerous, and currently has no plans to create any regulations. Some are aware of these risks and consume diet soda as an alternative.

Adult diet soda consumption is on the rise, as they are realizing how unhealthy regular soda can be. Reports that criticize the unhealthiness of regular soda often advocate diet soda as an alternative. However, diet soda has its own disadvantages and questionable ingredients to consider. The difference between diet soda and normal soda is that diet soda replaces refined sugars with artificial sweeteners that contain no calories or actual sugar, yet have many times the sweetening power of actual sugars. Artificial sweeteners come at a cost, have had a rocky past and present. Over 69 million Americans age 18+ consume beverages or other products containing the artificial sweeteners aspartame or saccharin (Sweetness). Because of the sweetening power of artificial sweeteners, it is also required in lower quantities, reducing costs for soda manufacturers. However, most of them have been proven dangerous. Scientific studies that revealed dangerous substances have been approved by the FDA in exchange for political lobbying, such as the artificial sweetener aspartame. Some sweeteners have even been banned after being proven dangerous and then unbanned again later.

An example of an artificial sweetener that followed a questionable path is saccharin. Saccharin is an artificial sweetener that was discovered in 1879, but didn’t see widespread use until World War I and II when sugar was rationed. Afterwards saccharin use boomed due to having 300 times the strength over sugar and lack of calorie content (Sweetness). As a result, diet soda production and sales boomed as well. In 1958, the Delaney Clause was added to the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The clause stated, “No new food additive can be used if animal feeding studies or other appropriate tests show it caused cancer” (Sweetness). Qualifying additives were added to the GRAS, or list of food additives Generally Recognized As Safe. After adverse effects such as mild digestive disturbances and allergic-type responses such as skin reactions were linked to saccharin, more research was conducted under suspicion that saccharin may be a carcinogen. In 1977 after multiple studies involving lab rats were concluded, saccharin’s chance of being a carcinogen was greater, but still uncertain (NRCNS).

The National Research Council (NRC) lambasted the weak studies by some organizations including and especially the FDA, and conducted its own, which also signaled saccharin as potentially dangerous, but was also considered inconclusive. As a result, saccharin was banned on April 15, 1977. Despite the fact that the chemical was basically proven dangerous, the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act was passed in November 1977. This act placed a moratorium on the saccharin ban until further studies could conclude the safety of the sweetener. The moratorium is still in effect today, despite evidence pointing towards saccharin being a carcinogen (Sweetness). The FDA has done nothing in the past 29 years besides commenting that they do not recommend saccharin for regular use, while still allowing it to be sold commercially. Fortunately saccharin is now only used in a small variety of products. Since saccharin and cyclamate, a zero-calorie, high potency sweetener in use since the early 1950’s, were both banned, another artificial sweetener was demanded to replace them, due to the booming market for diet sodas and other sugar-free or low calorie products (Salter). However, history was bound to repeat itself and more questionable products are being used today.

The modern example of this type of questionable product is aspartame. Aspartame was discovered by accident and patented by G.D. Searle and Co in 1965 (History). It is a low calorie sweetener that is 200 times as potent as sugar (Salter). Aspartame wasn’t approved for use in beverages until 1983 due to extremely questionable research conducted by Searle, and was only approved by bribes to the FDA and connections to the government. In 1976, Searle paid the FDA $500,000 to have their studies validated by a private organization called the University Associated for Education in Pathology (UAREP), although the studies showed shortened life spans and other serious effects such as seizures in various lab animals. This paid validation would increase the chances of approval for the sweetener. At the time Donald Rumsfeld, the current Secretary of Defense and a known Republican Party supporter was president of G.D. Searle.

The day after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, January 21, 1981, Rumsfeld promised that aspartame would be approved by the end of the year. By April, Reagan had appointed a new FDA Commissioner, Arthur Hayes, who was more easily influenced to approve aspartame for commercial use than the previous FDA Commissioner. The same month Hayes was appointed Commissioner, aspartame was approved for commercial use. At time of approval, there were no independent, controlled human studies, or long-term human studies, but in the period between 1973 and 1986, G.D Searle and Co. had made almost $200,000 in Republican party campaign contributions (History).

Aspartame is composed of 40% aspartic acid, 50% phenylalanine, and 10% methanol (Roberts). Phenylalanine, which is labeled on diet soda cans with warnings, is not dangerous, rather it is an important amino acid found in protein. It is labeled on the can to warn people who are Phenylketonurics, people with a disorder in which they cannot metabolize phenylalanine. Phenylketonurics is required by law to be tested for at birth and cannot develop with age (Beck). The controversy surrounding aspartame most likely stems from its methanol, also known as methyl alcohol, or wood alcohol, content. Methanol is a known poison, unable to be detoxified by the body. It can have adverse effects on the brain, optic nerves, or retina. In large amounts it can cause blindness, but this drastic of an effect cannot occur with the amount used in soda (Roberts). Methanol metabolizes into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen. It can collect in the brain and cause further problems there (Sweetness). By 1985, aspartame was the subject of 80% of the FDA’s complaints, or 4800 out of 6000 (Roberts).

Symptoms reported directly after consuming aspartame products or after long term consumption included headaches, some being severe, seizures or convulsions, vision impairment, dizziness, rashes, fatigue, depression or personality change, and memory loss. The FDA sent the first 592 complaints, which had already accumulated in mid-1983 from late 1984 to the Centers for Disease Control, or CDC (Sweetness). They were written off as rare sensitivities and it was recommended to the FDA by the CDC that it was not worthy of widespread risk. A concerned doctor, Dr. H.J. Roberts, noticed that he was able to help some of his patients by advising them to halt use of aspartame. Many patients reported complete disappearance of the symptoms commonly associated with aspartame, including seizures after ceasing use. He then questioned 397 self-proclaimed major users of aspartame to see how detrimental to overall quality of life aspartame was. 47 percent of the surveyed patients said the impact was slightly detrimental, relating to minor inconveniences normally associated with symptoms of aspartame. Seventeen percent said the impact was severe, to the point where symptoms became severe enough for consumers to lose jobs or decrease their lives’ overall well being. Ten percent said they were “incapacitated” by the aspartame, suffering severe health problems, and it had an extreme adverse effect on life in general. Only twenty-six percent said that their lives were not impacted by aspartame (Roberts). The FDA has repeated the same mistake of approving dangerous sweeteners multiple times.

First aspartame, and now an upcoming sweetener, sucralose (patented as Splenda), the rapidly ascending successor to aspartame, were both approved despite questionable results in pre-approval research. The FDA shows neglect in post approval due to its lack of independent controlled human studies (instead, they just studied lab rats within the FDA and manufacturer jurisdiction, rather than using a variety of credited associations with controlled human testing), lack of long-term studies (even for periods of 1-2 years), and lack of monitoring after approval, until complaints were received, and even then, lackluster, non-independent monitoring was administered. Effective monitoring could have included further testing and independent studies relative to the complaints rather than a simple evaluation of statistics.

Sucralose was discovered to cause severe shrinkage of thymus glands and partial swelling of kidneys and liver in lab rats. It contains chlorine in a pure form, which is dangerous, unlike the chlorine contained in table salt, which has the chemical formula “NaCl” (Sucralose Toxicity). This signifies the need of very long term research from multiple parties and long-term human use. Long-term effects will not be a known until people start having them. While aspartame appears to be somewhat random in the intensity in which it affects people, it is obviously dangerous to some users, and it is so widely used that people experiencing these symptoms may not even suspect aspartame as the cause. Again, the FDA has allowed the approval of a potentially dangerous substance, after it has been proven that the government works with corporations in exchange for campaign support.

Since these artificial sweeteners are dangerous, this does not mean that safe alternatives don’t exist. However, the FDA is also keeping safe alternatives out of the game, possibly to keep the support of its sponsoring companies. Fed up with dubious artificial sweeteners, some health advocates have discovered Stevia. Stevia is a plant native to Brazil and Paraguay that can be made into an all-natural, zero-calorie sweetener that is up to 400 times more potent than sugar called steviocide. Natives to these countries have used it for over 400 years. Stevia has seen over 20 years of complaint-free commercial use in Japan (Stevia is even used in Diet Coke in place of aspartame), China, North and South Korea, Brazil, and Paraguay (Stevia Leaf).

Currently, Stevia is only allowed to be sold as a “dietary supplement” in the US or for personal use. The FDA refuses to approve steviocide for commercial use in the US, against its own laws. An advocate of Stevia, Rob McCaleb of the Herb Research Foundation lambastes the FDA on its illegal refusal to approve Stevia despite its hundreds of years of demonstrated safe use before 1958 as a natural plant saying, “Stevia is a food, which is already recognized as safe because of its long history of food use. Foods which have long history of use are exempted by law from the extensive laboratory tests required of new food chemicals” (Stevia Leaf).

This is where economics come into play. Stevia is a plant, therefore it cannot be patented. Most artificial sweeteners are patented, such as aspartame (patented as Nutrasweet) and sucralose (patented as Splenda). Incidentally, since steviocide is basically able to be grown and has the potency of an artificial sweetener, it is actually cheaper than any artificial sweetener. The FDA demanded and received more evidence for Stevia’s approval than any other sweetener it has approved. With Stevia out of the way, patent holders of other sweeteners like Splenda and Nutrasweet, endorsed by major companies, are able to continue gaining profit. Either way, the soda companies can’t complain about their success.

In 2004, the Coca Cola Company alone made $22 billion dollars in sales (Jacobson). Soda companies like the Coca Cola Company advocate the use of the controversial ingredients discussed above in order to minimize costs and maximize profits, and keep their business in the interests of all of their supporters. The soft drink industry’s profits, like any other, are taxed, so the government can expect to see a great deal of money from these companies, encouraging them to side with the companies where they can. It is obvious that soda companies are not looking out for the consumer’s health when they advocate drinking soda over water, like when a marketing spokesperson from Coca Cola said “You kill your beverage sale opportunity when you quench your customer’s thirst with free water. Offering water upon request only increases sales of revenue generating beverages” (Jacobson).

As stated earlier, soft drinks were originally meant to be an occasional treat when they were first conceived but have been adapted to our society as if they were water. Using the cheap FDA-approved sweeteners reduces the cost to prices lower than healthier drinks. Coke from a 2-liter bottle costs about 28 cents per quart. Pepsi from a 2-liter bottle costs about 37 cents per quart. Milk from a gallon bottle costs about 75 cents per quart. Tropicana Orange Juice costs about 95 cents per quart. Cranberry juice cocktails cost about $1 per quart (Jacobson). Companies take advantage of the consumer impulsiveness by reminding them to drink their products instead of healthier drinks, which do not see nearly as much advertisement or endorsement by government health agencies. In 2000, the soft drink industry spent over $700 million on media outlet advertising alone. In 2004, Coca Cola Company spent $2.2 billion on its promotions alone, the same year it earned ten times that amount in sales (Jacobson).

The current steps that are being taken toward improving public health are justified, since it would be nearly impossible to reform the soft drink industry. If warnings, similar to the phenylalanine warning found on diet soda cans, were placed to advise consumers of questionable material content, the consumer may choose a healthier product or limit their use to healthier levels. Even if many choose to ignore the labels, some uninformed consumers will take the advice and use the products more responsibly. If the idea of limiting soft drink sales in schools catches on, children will get used to drinking healthier beverages. In the long run, this could help reduce America’s obesity problem, as children will be consuming a lower quantity of unhealthy beverages and with less frequency. These are feasible steps that can be taken now toward improving public health in the future, in a society that is always searching for instant solutions.

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In the end there are many ways our government could be helping the country with its health problem, but continues to support the widespread proliferation of unhealthy food items. The FDA could create stricter regulations, improve research on current sweeteners, or approve newer and healthier ones. The soft drink industry continues to urge consumers to use its products on a regular basis like water. This way the demand stays high and the dangerous chemicals appear to be safe, overshadowed by the incorporation into daily lives where they are causing subtle damage. The detrimental effects of soft drinks are generally miniscule in moderation, showing that moderation is a key. However, it seems that a school ban is the first step taken to improve the moderation of consumption, as eating habits during development can drastically affect health. Warning labels on sodas would help consumers make better decisions, and perhaps also help moderate use.

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The Medical Dangers Associated With Consumption of Carbonated Drinks. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 22, 2024, from
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