Caramel Coloring in Sodas May Be Deadly

Health researchers may have finally put the nail in the coffin of our national addiction to cola consumption.  As a cardiologist, I couldn’t be happier.  My colleagues and I have known for sometime that colas (and other soft drinks) are a significant detriment to your heart and overall health.  And it’s not just about sugar or artificial sweeteners…here’s why.

Your Favorite Cola Ups Your Risk for Heart Disease and Cancer

The National Soft Drink Association (NSDA) reports that Americans drink about 600, 12-ounce cans of soda per year, or 13.15 billion gallons.  The 2 most popular soft drinks in the U.S., the ones people drink most often, are colas – you know their names.  That means that those billions of gallons of soda being drunk each year are primarily colas.  That’s at least 1, maybe 2, colas a day for most people, including children.

In the past few years, health researchers have reported that all carbonated soft drinks contribute to these health problems:

  • Bone loss – phosphorus content in sodas leaches calcium from bones.
  • Contributes to tooth decay and development of diabetes – sugar content.
  • Erodes tooth enamel – acidic nature of sodas.
  • May contribute to neurologic damage – diet sodas containing aspartame (Equal).
  • Contributes to gastrointestinal erosion and problems like ulcers – acid content.
  • Contributes to inflammation throughout entire body – from sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.
  • Ups your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 30% from inflammation of blood vessels by sugar and/or artificial sweeteners.
  • Ups your blood pressure – sodium and caffeine content of sodas.
  • Raises LDL “bad” cholesterol levels – from sugar interacting with animal fats in your diet.  Think how many times you combine a fast food burger with a soft drink.

And if all that damage to your health wasn’t enough to make you stop drinking sodas, along comes a study out of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health to offer another reason.  This one targets primarily colas and other dark-colored soft drinks.

Researchers there found that the caramel coloring used in colas, and other dark colored soft drinks, exposes you to a chemical called 4-MEI, a possible human carcinogen.  The concentrations of 4-MEI are higher in colas though some batches tested varied higher or lower in their 4-MEI content.

Currently, there are no set regulations on 4-MEI from the U. S.  Food and Drug Administration but Consumer Reports magazine had petitioned the FDA in 2014 to set limits for its content.  They proposed that consumers were being unnecessarily exposed to 4-MEI, a potential carcinogen, in their daily consumption of popular colas.

California, however, has become proactive in protecting Californians in listing 4-MEI under their Proposition 65 environmental toxins law.  This law limits California consumers exposure to toxic chemicals.  It requires that any food or beverage sold in California have a health warning label for products that contain over a certain amount of 4-MEI.

Prop 65 has apparently resulted in lowering the amounts of 4-MEI in colas sold in California as tests done on colas in other parts of the country show higher levels.  Tests done on colas purchased in New York revealed much higher levels of 4-MEI than California colas.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

As a cardiologist, the answer to me is obvious. Stop drinking colas and other soft drinks, as well as consuming foods with caramel coloring. You’ll need to read labels to be sure.  But, I also understand that once in a while you might like a cold drink while working out, or as an afternoon pick me up.

If you can’t give up soft drinks altogether, at least switch to light colored “lemon-lime” or “grapefruit” type sodas, one that doesn’t contain aspartame.  A good substitute, if you must drink soft drinks, is Zevia brand soft drinks.  They don’t contain sugar, aspartame, or sucralose, rather they’re sweetened with stevia and are low on sodium.

Another option is to buy seltzer water and flavor it with a little fresh, unsweetened fruit juice. It has the fizz of a carbonated beverage without all the chemical additives and health risks.

You can also make a big pot of your favorite flavor, caffeine-free herbal tea, sweeten it with stevia, and refrigerate it to have something cold on hand to drink.

As a consumer, you may wish to make your voice heard to the FDA. You can submit your comments online at  There you will find existing petitions and express your comments about setting limits on how much 4-MEI is used in the beverages and foods Americans consume.


About Dr. Mark Rosenberg

Dr. Mark A. Rosenberg, MD Dr. Mark Rosenberg received his doctorate from Georgetown University School of Medicine in 1988 and has been involved with drug research since 1991. With numerous certifications in several different fields of medicine, psychology, healthy aging and fitness, Dr. Rosenberg has a wide breadth of experience in both the public and private sector with particular expertise in both the mechanism of cancer treatment failure and in treating obesity. He currently is researching new compounds to treat cancer and obesity, including receiving approval status for an investigational new drug that works with chemotherapy and a patent pending for an oral appetite suppressant. He is currently President of the Institute for Healthy Aging, Program Director of the Integrative Cancer Fellowship, and Chief Medical Officer of Rose Pharmaceuticals. His work has been published in various trade and academic journals. In addition to his many medical certifications, he also personally committed to physical fitness and is a certified physical fitness trainer.
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