With a staggering annual world production of 552 billion liters and a global average per capita annual consumption of 83 liters, cola beverages refuse to be cowed down by incessant campaign against its consumption by an assortment of groups with different interests. Health freaks frown upon cola because it can potentially cause tooth decay, bone demineralization, metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Added to this is the implication of HFS, the corn based sweetener used in the manufacture of the product in many countries, in obesity epidemic being witnessed across the world. The pesticide controversy that raged in India some time back really shook the soft drink industry and just when it was coming out of the shock, there was the direction from the Supreme Court of the country to declare the recipe on each bottle. How this can be accomplished on every bottle and who will be benefited by this are moot questions in a country where 'industry' is a dirty word deserving no consideration. It is the sheer will power and sagacity of the industry that it is able to survive under such an hostile environment.
Now comes another 'googly' that aims at tarring the industry further. A new charge sheet has been prepared against cola drinks blaming it for a fancy health disorder with a nice sounding name, "hypokalaemia". It is supposed to mean that cola drinks deplete the body of the vital mineral potassium when taken in 'excess'. No one knows what is moderate and what is excess when it comes to consumption of cola! In the US the average per capita annual consumption is estimated at 212 liters while in India it is less than 10. Probably one will think that the US consumer is indulging in excessive intake of this product and can be right candidates for hypokalaemia while Indians will never be able to catch up with them in the foreseeable future, probably because of economic reasons.
Hypokalaemia is manifested when the potassium level in the blood falls alarmingly, which normally does not happen in healthy individuals. But if a recent report from a university in Greece is to be believed, 'excessive' intake of any cola drink can cause the above situation and low potassium in blood can adversely affect vital muscle functions. Symptoms can range from mild weakness to eventual paralysis under extreme conditions. Though much details are not available regarding this 'discovery', what is known is that the findings were based on 9 patients who visited one hospital with symptoms of hypokalaemia and they were found to be taking 3-9 liters of cola drink every day! It is beyond any body's comprehension as to how a sane person can take 9 liters of a drink in a day regularly, unless he is on a starvation diet! Each liter of the drink provides about 400 kC of energy and 9 liters can deliver a whopping 3600 kC in a day! It is no wonder that such a person can have a plethora of health problems including hypokalaemia and by no stretch of imagination this can be considered a real life situation warranting international out cry to warn on cola consumption.
The protagonists of hypokalaemia cite the effect of caffeine on potassium depletion to support their case against cola. Stray reports do suggest that 180-360 mg of caffeine can cause potassium drain from the body. Since each liter of cola is supposed to contain about 130 mg of caffeine, a logical deduction seems to have been made regarding possible effect of cola consumption in causing hypokalaemia. Effect of caffeine on potassium depletion is attributed to redistribution of this mineral into the cells, release of catecholamine, increase in renal excretion of potassium and/or hyper ventilation with respiratory alkalosis. Some even believe, without any substance, that combination of glucose, fructose and caffeine found in cola drinks is causing depletion of potassium.
Of course the soft drink industry will weather this storm also because the findings are based on flimsy grounds and prepare for the next round in this war of attrition, probably about the supposed ill-effects of caramel which gives cola the typical brown color or other ingredients that go in the making of the product. There may even be demand for including in the label a warning that it is injurious to health! However such reports, from where ever they emanate, should not be rubbished and the industry must engage with its critics, provide credible evidence regarding the safety of their products and gain consumer confidence on its ability to ensure their safety without any compromise.