TUESDAY, June 25 (HealthDay News) -- Excessive soda consumption
appeared to be the culprit in the case of a 31-year-old woman
suffering from fainting spells and an irregular heartbeat after she
spent more than half her life drinking only colas in place of
water, a new study contends.
The reason behind her hospitalization was a dangerous drop in
overall levels of potassium -- a key mineral whose absorption by
the body is aided by water but crippled in the face of excess sugar
or caffeine consumption, the case study authors said.
Colas are typically high in both high-fructose corn syrup and
caffeine, the Monaco-based researchers noted.
"[So] the first thing to highlight is that the case we reported
is exceptional," said study lead author Dr. Naima Zarqane, a
cardiologist at Princess Grace Hospital Centre in Monaco. "The
patient had only drunk colas from the age of 15, and this is quite
"What is positive," Zarqane added, "is that once she stopped
consuming colas, everything became normal again. So, there are no
grounds for consumers to panic. Nevertheless, parents should be
vigilant about their children's intake of colas."
The research team is scheduled to present the findings this week
at a European Society of Cardiology meeting in Athens, Greece.
In a review of previous studies, the researchers found six other
reported cases highlighting the ill health effects of excess cola
consumption, which ran the gamut from skeletal muscle damage to
cardiovascular complications. In one instance, the patient
In the new study of the woman with repeating fainting spells --
officially known as "traumatic syncope" -- a physical exam turned
up no obvious smoking gun. The patient had no previously identified
health issues, nor a family background of sudden death, and she was
not taking any chronic medications.
However, blood tests soon revealed extremely low potassium
levels -- a condition called "hypokalemia" -- while an
electrocardiogram (EKG) revealed problematic heart rate
When asked about her diet, the patient noted that she had
stopped drinking water at the age of 15, at which point she instead
began to consume about two liters of cola per day.
After cola consumption was completely eliminated from her diet,
the patient's potassium levels returned to normal, while her heart
reverted to a healthy routine rhythm.
Zarqane and her associates surmised that her health issues were
a direct result of excessive cola consumption, given that high
levels of sugar can stop water absorption in the gut, prompting
diarrhea and massive potassium loss. What's more, caffeine can
similarly impede potassium absorption by sending kidney function
out of whack.
But though the team advised that cardiologists be aware of
complications linked to soda consumption, they acknowledged that
"there is clearly a need for more research on the topic, as
currently we have only seven case reports on the subject."
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data
and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in
a peer-reviewed journal.
For his part, Dr. Kishore Gadde, director of the obesity
clinical trials program at Duke University Medical Center, said
that it's important to understand that ultimately the key culprit
here is not too-low consumption of potassium but rather the
diarrhea that causes a high degree of potassium loss.
"It is extremely rare that people develop hypokalemia due to
inadequate dietary intake of potassium," he noted. "Mostly,
hypokalemia is caused by excessive loss of potassium," which is
brought on by diarrhea, excessive sweating and undue use of
laxatives or prescription diuretics, he said.
And in that light, Gadde suggested that too much caffeine intake
could be just as problematic as too much sugar.
"People who consume very large quantities of coffee and other
caffeinated beverages, especially the so-called 'energy drinks,'
may be at risk of drop in blood levels of potassium," he
Athletes are particularly vulnerable, Gadde said, given the
excess sweating that accompanies vigorous activity. "(And) people
who are trying to lose weight often switch from sugary beverages to
diet beverages, which can also increase risk for lowering of
potassium levels when consumed in large quantities due to
cumulative increase in daily caffeine consumption," he said.
Moderation, he concluded, "is the key to consumption of sodas
and other caffeinated beverages."
That point was seconded by Lona Sandon, a registered dietitian
and an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University
of Texas Southwestern at Dallas.
"Common sense and critical thinking should tell us that relying
solely on soda for fluid intake is not healthy," Sandon said.
"Heavy reliance on any one single food or beverage is not
For more about healthy hydration, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and