Too much cola causes muscular weakness

Greek researchers have published a paper in International Journal of Clinical Practice about a growing incidence of muscular problems brought on by too much cola consumption.
"Evidence is increasing to suggest that excessive cola consumption can also lead to hypokalaemia, in which the blood potassium levels fall, causing an adverse effect on vital muscle functions."

A research review carried out by Dr Elisaf and his colleagues has shown that symptoms can range from mild weakness to profound paralysis. Luckily all the patients studied made a rapid and full recovery after they stopped drinking cola and took oral or intravenous potassium.

The case studies looked at patients whose consumption ranged from two to nine litres of cola a day.

Excessive Cola Consumption Can Lead To Super-sized Muscle Problems, Warn Doctors (via /.)


  1. One of the muscles that fails when your potassium is out of whack, by the way, is the heart.

  2. Wolfram Alpha to the rescue! Over 25 cans of Coke (though as few as 5.6 cans. I’ve gone a month drinking 12 cans a day during crunches. But after a while it got in/under/on my nerves, and your teeth feel as though they are disolving.

  3. The average U.S. diet is deficient in calcium, magnesium, and potassium, to varying degrees, as well as iron if you’re female. (If you’re male, it’s very easy to get too much iron, which can cause odd side effects like discoloration of the fingertips….)

    We hear all about vitamins, but there aren’t any in which the typical U.S. diet is deficient. Minerals are another story. Take your mineral supplements. Calcium, magnesium, potassium, and iron are all important for good mental as well as physical health.

    For potassium, however, supplements aren’t sold in quantities greater than 3% of the U.S. RDA each, which is frustrating (but there’s a good reason; a small number of people can be seriously harmed by sudden potassium spikes; long story.) Sso eat a couple bananas a day, and take calcium and magnesium supplements, and iron if you’re female.

    And brush your teeth after every meal. You seriously batter your immune system when you keep abundant bacteria colonies in your mouth. Those hurt you and make you susceptible to infection, unlike your gut flora (intestinal bacteria) which help you and don’t bother your immune system.

    Everyone learns to wash their hands and wash their produce in high school health class, but there’s a lot of low-hanging wellness fruit they don’t teach for some reason.

  4. Always check the NHS Knowledge Service first:

    “What does the NHS Knowledge Service make of this study?

    [T]hese case reports were collected over 15 years and it is important to bear the following in mind:

    * The authors do not give a clear description of how these reports were checked for quality, so it is not possible to comment on this. Other medical conditions that the patients may have had are not reported. In addition, the authors only searched one database for studies, so it is possible that other reports of this condition listed in other databases have been missed.
    * Because only single case reports were identified, it is not clear how frequently people who consume similarly large amounts of cola experience these side effects. No comparison is made with people who consume large amounts of coffee or tea. If caffeine is the cause here, the rates of hypokalaemia in coffee drinkers would also be of interest.

    Further study is needed to establish if heavy soft drink consumption causes hypokalaemia. Muscle weakness and tiredness was a symptom for many of these patients, but the more concerning symptom of irregular or slow heart beat was relatively rare. Fatal heart problems did not occur. This suggests that some of the news coverage of this study may be unnecessarily alarmist.”

  5. Fitzroy, thanks for the NHS link! Very useful and interesting.

    I’m a little disappointed by the lack of actual information. Also, as the NHS pointed out, at these levels of cola consumption, you really want to worry about the tons of sugar you consume and all the bad stuff that will come from that.

    I read the discussion over on /. a little. Basically it seems we don’t really know which aspect of these patients’ behaviour caused the low potassium: was it the sheer amount of fluid? Caffeine intoxication? A combination of the two? Something else? If it was caffeine intoxication, why don’t we hear of lots more cases like this involving excessive coffee consumption?

    Generally the whole thing seems unnecessarily alarmist.

    But now I’m trying to find out about the whole diet soft drink – weight gain link. There was that study that found among a large sample size of people that there was a higher incidence of obesity among people who consumed soft drinks. The two most logical explanation in order of descending plausibility are: people noticed they were getting fatter and so switched the diet soft drinks or the sweetness of diet soft drinks cause more appetite and thus more obesity. This last part I’m really interested in. Does anyone know or further research along those lines?

  6. In my neck of the woods (Eastern Canada), a woman was misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis, even though she had all the right symptoms: she eliminated cola from her diet, and the MS symptoms disappeared.

  7. @ SkullHyphy:

    I’m one of those people that believe, sans medical evidence, that practically any activity can be habit-forming. Particularly when the activity involves ridiculous amounts of caffeine and sugar.

    Personally, I’ve endured long stretches of cola “addiction,” but mainly because too much coffee gives me heartburn. I still drink coffee, though, and the stronger the better. Peet’s coffee is God’s corporate answer to Starbucks.

    Cola is bad for you, no question. It seems a little hasty to proclaim that it causes muscular weakness, but anything that gets people to give up orally administered garbage is probably a good thing, even if the underlying science is bogus.

  8. @10 SkullHyphy:
    “But why did they drink that much soda? That’s the real question.”

    I’d argue the question is “Why does anyone do something minimally harmful to a self-destructive degree?”

    People drink enough plain water to give themselves water toxicity, on occasion. People eat enough carrots to turn themselves orange with beta carotene. People, as a rule, do all kinds of stupid stuff.

    With soda, the question is pretty easy to answer – there’s a powerful reward of sugar and caffeine. Combine it with bad habits, and perhaps a life situation that makes the distraction/reward powerfully attractive, and hey presto – stupid amounts of cola consumed.

    I went to highschool with someone who was consuming three to four liters of Coke daily, plus the odd can or three. He had to drop it cold turkey after he damaged his tooth enamel; I’m guessing he was predisposed to weak enamel and the cola was just the last straw, but either way he’s brushing with Sensodyne for the rest of his life.

  9. The lack of information in this article is annoying. Are they referring only to cola drinks? What about other sodas? What about orange or grape soda? Is it caffeine and/or sugar that is the cause?

    I drink a lot of carbonated beverages that I make myself with a DIY home carbonation setup. But it’s usually just carbonated water or maybe a weakly sweet lemon ginger ale. So I’d be really interested to know if carbonation is a causative factor here. I’d like to see a longitudinal study on people who drink lots of Pellegrino.

  10. I have genetically inherited hypokalemia, which results in periodic paralysis depending on what I eat or drink and when. Late meals, skipped meals, starchy foods, glucose/fructose — all these things can give me stiff hands, sore legs, neck and arm and shoulder cramps, or worse.

    I have been completely paralyzed a number of times, with three or four where I was close to death. The meal that sent me to the ER with a heart rate of 45 and dropping was KFC with fries and two or three glasses of Pepsi. However, I had never been diagnosed, and never realized that food had anything to do with my attacks, until the ER doctor made the diagnosis, put me on a supervised potassium drip and basically saved my life.

  11. Thanks #16 David D.

    Your hypokalemia description may hold a key to solving why I sometimes wake up stiff and sore all over. I better cut back on cola and sweets.

  12. Considering this comes from the International Journal of Clinical Practice it sounds awfully unscientific. Of course this could just be bad editing and a poor choice of headline.

    What is Coke? It is causing it? What in Coke is causing it is a better question, and likely the answer is sugar. 9 x 40g = 360g a DAY in ONLY cola. That’s a third of a kilo, not including sugar you get from other sources. Go look at what 1kg of sugar looks like in the supermarket, and try and eat it in 3 days! In which case, Cola isn’t the problem, it is sugary drinks in which there are plenty.

    For the Record:

    And my fav:

    I find usually very smart people do not understand this very simple logical fact and make grandiose statements. They very well may be right, however their argument is wrong. Climate Change is one of my favorite examples of this. Flame on! (Sorry I couldn’t resist!)

  13. Also think about Freakanomics.

    Perhaps there is also a statistical correlation between the people that would freaking drink 9 cans of coke in a day and those that smoke 20+ cigerates a day, or the fact that those people are more predetermined to be obese which may be causing it, or be more likely to eat other unhealthy foods, of which anyone factor may be the cause of.

    There are many possibilities and factors and we are talking about samples and statistics here in a study where these are not controlled environments.

  14. Does the Cola contain bromides in the form of brominated vegetable oil? Cause I suspect bromine poisoning. Anyone who drinks that much ‘product’ is going to have problems. Lab rats probably don’t receive doses that high.

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