Caramel Coloring In Cola Drinks Found To Cause Cancer

cola causes cancer

A new study finds that cola drinks containing “caramel coloring” causes cancer.

According to a laboratory test carried out by Consumer Reports on 110 separate cola drinks, a manufacturing reaction potentially produces carcinogens. Drinking one of these colas per day is enough to expose an individual to a cancer-causing chemical called 4-methylimidazole (or 4-MEI for short). 4-MEI is formed in the process of manufacturing the caramel color used to produce the common caramel color found in most colas and other kinds of beverages.

In California, a law requires drinks that contain a “considerable level” of 4-MEI to carry warning labels where one person in 100,000 can be at risk of exposure to 29 micrograms of 4-MEI every day. Consumer Reports tested 110 samples of soda drinks and found that most of them contained about 9.5 micrograms per liter to 963 micrograms per liter. The levels of 4-MEI in colas vary from brand to brand and state to state, but according to the research, the 4-MEI levels were “consistent across lots of the same beverage purchased in the same state and/or area.”

The researchers also said that “routine consumption of certain beverages can result in 4-MEI exposures greater than 29 micrograms a day.” Twenty-nine micrograms per day is equal to a toxicity level known to cause cancer in lab mice and rats at the U.S. National Toxicology Program. The study proclaimed that they had enough data and reasons to recommend some cola brands instead of others because of the carcinogen risks they contain. Researchers added that “state regulatory standards appear to have been effective in reducing exposure to carcinogens in some beverages.”

So what kind of cola is okay to drink and what kind will give you cancer? According to the researchers, Coca-Cola had very low levels of 4-MEI. Contrasting that, a cola called Malta Goya had the highest 4-MEI concentration.

Lead author Tyler Smith, a program officer with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, said that 4-MEI levels can vary widely across one brand of cola, however.

“[4-MEI levels can] vary substantially across samples, even for the same type of beverage. For example, for diet colas, certain samples had higher or more variable levels of the compound, while other samples had very low concentrations.”

[Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images]