Caffeine Health Risks
Written by Faith Anderson on February 13, 2013
Health Warnings About Caffeine Side Effects
Under New Zealand’s food labeling system, warnings are required on drinks containing more than 145 milligrams per kilogram of caffeine, which includes many energy drinks, but not most soft drinks. In his report regarding Natasha Harris’ death, Crerar recommended that soft-drink makers consider including labels on their products advertising caffeine levels and warnings about the potential adverse health effects consumers may experience if the beverages are consumed in excessive quantities. This report was issued in the wake of significant criticism regarding popular energy drinks like Monster and 5-Hour Energy, and the potentially life-threatening risks these highly-caffeinated beverages pose for teens and young adults, after the death of a 14-year-old Maryland girl who drank two Monster Energy drinks within a 24-hour period.
Excessive Coke Consumption Can Be Fatal
At a 2011 inquest into Harris’ death, Vivienne Hodgkinson, the mother of Natasha Harris’ boyfriend, indicated that Harris always needed to have Coca-Cola available, and that if she ran out of the soft drink, she would “get the shakes, withdrawal symptoms; be angry, on edge and snappy.” The pathologist who examined Harris after her death found that she likely suffered from hypokalemia, or low potassium, which contributed to her health problems. It was also determined that Harris had an enlarged liver from excessive sugar consumption. Another pathologist offering expert testimony said that excessive Coke consumption “can be dramatically symptomatic, and there are strong hypothetical grounds for this becoming fatal in individual cases.”
Protecting Consumers From Caffeine Dangers
The coroner who issued the report also heard evidence that Harris was of normal weight, that she didn’t eat much or drink any alcohol, and that she smoked about 30 cigarettes a day. She drank only regular Coke, preferring the taste over diet or caffeine-free, had no energy in the months leading up to her death, felt ill all the time, and often vomited and experienced a racing heart. It was only after considering all these additional factors that Crerar indicated that Harris’ excessive consumption of Coca-Cola likely played a significant role in her death. For its part, the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council said that the coroner’s recommendations were well-intentioned but ill-informed. The chief executive of the company, Katherine Rich, said that tea, coffee and chocolate also contain significant amounts of caffeine, and that New Zealand residents are unlikely to support the idea of receiving health warnings every time they buy a chocolate bar or walk into a cafe.