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Coca-Cola is not just a soft drink. It is the most international of all brand names and has been a marketing success story for generations. The taste of Coke has a worldwide appeal.

Coca-Cola is not just a soft drink. It is the most international of all brand names and has been a marketing success story for generations. The taste of Coke has a worldwide appeal.

How does the genie in the bottle attract so many different people from around the globe? Looking back about 100 years when the first cola recipe was created might help answer that question.

A pharmacist first mixed ingredients that were sure to make this a popular intoxicating drink. Back then the decisive ingredients, besides wine, were cocaine and caffeine from African cola nuts. With cocaine at that time being recommended as a cure for opium addicts, the Coca-Cola company got a lot of loyal customers longing for the next bottle. (Cocaine disappeared from Coke in 1903.)

Today other components make up cola. For example, a combination of sugar and caffeine increases levels of serotonin in the blood. Serotonin is a physiological "happy mood" facilitator. But if this was the only secret there would be no difference between a heavily sugared cup of coffee and a cola! The same foods that lighten our mood on long dark winter nights when we eat gingerbread and drink spiced tea can be found in cola. The main ingredient is an extract of nutmeg, which the liver changes to substances that are chemically related to Ecstasy, the rave drug. The worldwide success of cola is based on pharmacological substances that promote euphoric feelings. But how can this euphoria last when we take a closer look at research results?

Damage to the genetic make up of liver cells can be found in mice after drinking cola instead of water for four weeks. The type of DNA damage that occurs is considered to be a crucial step in the development of cancer and is still discussed as one probable cause of cardiovascular disease. Nutmeg extract can also harm genes.

Cola Attack

"Thirst-quenching" cola makes rats very thirsty. Rats that were exposed to cola for a short four-week trial had two to three times higher fluid intake compared to rats that drank only water. The "cola" rats had smaller appetites, lost the shine from their fur and developed diarrhea and tooth decay.

Hundreds of studies have proven cola’s detrimental effect on teeth. The combination of sugar and acids–like phosphorus acid in cola–triggers tooth loss and tooth decay. Drinking cola and using toothpaste have the worst effect of all, probably because the acid drink damages dental enamel which can be further damaged by toothpaste. The most vulnerable points are areas where dentures are fixed to healthy teeth. Because the dental enamel is already damaged to a certain degree, the brown pop has an easy job doing its acidic work.

Cola seems to have an unhealthy effect on kid’s bones, especially those of young girls. The more soft drinks girls in a US study drank, the more they suffered from bone fractures. This might be because of the high phosphate content of cola, which can lead to hormonal reactions that make no bones about depleting the skeleton of calcium.

Studies have found high levels of aluminum in the brain of Alzheimer’s patients. This may indicate a connection between aluminum packaging and Alzheimer’s disease. The oxidized cover of canned pop, especially cola, is not good enough to withstand the forces of citric or phosphorus acid, common ingredients in soft drinks.

Cola is a highly concentrated sugar solution, which leads to increased water excretion. Furthermore, cola increases diarrhetic potassium loss because the soft drink encourages renal potassium excretion.

Parents Beware!

Family and physicians should be on the alert for kids, especially girls and young women, who regularly drink excessive amounts of cola. Because cola suppresses the appetite it is often used by anorexics. Bulimic patients ease vomiting with its help. Patients look for the serotonin induced ‘good mood’ feeling they get after a couple of cola.

In the ’70s the American Family Physician journal placed cola and chocolate among the 10 food items that caused the most allergies. Since the colanut tree and the coconut tree belong to the same botanical family an allergic crossover reaction is possible. Symptoms such as headache, migraine, asthma, gastrointestinal disorders, hay fever and eczema might indicate a cola allergy.

Considering the variety of components that go into cola and its vast global distribution, it is astonishing that only a few studies have been conducted to investigate the allergic potency of this highly consumed non-alcoholic beverage. Why? We can only guess that the lack of research into the world’s most popular soft drinks might be due to the fact that this refreshing ice-cold drink is too hot to handle!

Chemical Review A Secret Recipe

  • 88% water, decarbonized, softened and treated with chlorine.

  • 10.5% ultraviolet-treated sugar (mixture of highly processed sugars, sucrose and high fructose corn syrup).

  • 1% carbon dioxide from industrial or natural sources. The cleaned, dried, condensed and liquefied carbon dioxide is a preservative and makes the tongue tickling bubbles.

  • 0.2% sugar coloring for the brown hue. This highly-processed glucose syrup needs to be acid resistant, so it is bound to ammonium bisulfide.

  • 0.05% orthophosphoric acid. Acids increase salivation and thirst while they hide the sweetness of the high amounts of sugar. Orthophosphoric acid enhances taste and increases shelf life. This highly aggressive acid has to be stored in special containers until it gets mixed into the cola brew.

  • 0.025% citric acid, (only in some soft drinks) another preservative which protects the cola color and aroma against oxidation. Citric acid is biotechnologically processed from mold cultures. Therefore an allergic reaction to spores cannot be ruled out.

  • 0.025% sucrose acetate isobutyrate (SAIB), a weighting agent that keeps essential oils of the mix in a solution.

  • 0.02% caffeine and theobromine from different sources like decaffeinating processes or extracts from cola nuts, coca leaves, mate tea or coffee beans.

  • 0.18% flavor mix. Besides flavors, this mixture contains substances that increase solubility, thickening agents, stabilizers and more preservatives.

The following ingredients in the flavor mix are the heart of cola:

  • 34.5% cola nut seed extract

  • 15% lime distillate

  • 10% citrus peel distillate

  • 88.5% cocoa distillate

  • 7% coffee distillate

  • 5% mate distillate

  • 4% tangerine leaf tincture

  • 3% carob tincture

  • 3% bitter orange tincture

  • 2% coca leaf tincture, cocaine free

  • 1.7% ginger tincture

  • 1% cumin distillate

  • 1% elderflower tincture

  • 1% nutmeg flower tincture

  • 1% calamus tincture

  • 1% mimosa bark extract

  • 0.5% hyssop tincture

  • 0.05% cinnamon extract

  • 0.3% vanilla extract


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Isabela Vera

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