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02/12/2013

Death by Coca-Cola?

Cola
Natasha Harris drank 10 litres of Coca-Cola every day until dying of a heart attack at the age of 30. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma)

NatashaharrisA 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.

Natasha Harris, a stay-at-home mom with eight kids, died of a heart attack in February 2010. She was 30.

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:

"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."

 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


Comments

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Although Coke isn't a good thing for anyone to drink, my husband drinks it, if she had drank 10 liters of coffee a day it probably would have had similar results - the shaking, moodiness, increased heart rythm. Okay, not the teeth rot perhaps - but too much caffeine would put anyone at risk. People need to take responsibility for their own actions.

Darwinism at work. I feel bad for her kids, those poor little ones, who was born with no enamel on their teeth.

Just because Coke doesn't kill you if you drink it in moderation, doesn't mean that it has any redeeming values otherwise.

There is no nutritional value, none. Yes, it has carbs, but the worst kind, that give you an energy spike and then a sudden drop in energy.

Clearly this woman developed a fix with Coke were she depended on a constant sugar/caffine high that she needed to maintain throughout the day. This does in fact do long term damage.

It is shameful that the corporation needed to challenege the coroner's finding which are not really controversial.

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