Death by Coca-Cola?
A New Zealander's addiction to Coca-Cola -- up to 10 litres a day -- was a "substantial" factor in her death, a coroner concluded today while also urging the soft drink giant to introduce health warnings on its products.
Her addiction was extreme. Coca-Cola was the first and last thing Harris drank every day. If she didn't get her fix, she would "go crazy," "get the shakes," "be angry, on edge and snappy." At one point, Harris' teeth became so rotten she had to have them removed; at least one of her kids was born with no teeth enamel at all.
So how might drinking too much Coke kill you? According to a pathologist, who testified at an inquiry, Harris likely suffered from low potassium levels, which can cause abnormal heart rhythms. Aggravating factors were also her overall poor health and nutrition -- Harris ate very little and smoked up to 30 cigarettes a day, her family has said. The pathologist also said that toxic levels of caffeine found in Coke may have been a factor.
On Tuesday, coroner David Crerar agreed that Harris' "extreme" Coca-Cola consumption played a "substantial" role in causing her abnormal heart rhythms.
"I find that when all the available evidence is considered, were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died," he said.
Crerar suggested Coke consider including warning labels about the "dangers of consuming excessive quantities of the products." He said Harris' family didn't think her consumption habits were dangerous because Coca-Cola products don't have any such warnings.
For its part, Coca-Cola has pointed out that drinking anything in large quantities could be deadly, even water -- and yes, people have died of excessive water consumption too. The company also released this statement in response to the coroner's findings:
Jennifer Yang is the Toronto Star’s global health reporter. She previously worked as a general assignment reporter and won a NNA in 2011 for her explanatory piece on the Chilean mining disaster. Follow her on Twitter: @jyangstar
"The coroner acknowledged that he could not be certain what caused Ms Harris's heart attack. Therefore we are disappointed that the coroner has chosen to focus on the combination of Ms Harris's excessive consumption of Coca-Cola, together with other health and lifestyle factors, as the probable cause of her death.
This is contrary to the evidence that showed the experts could not agree on the most likely cause."