First of all, to Natasha Harris's family -- my condolences on your loss -- especially to Natasha's children.
It's been in the news today. Natasha Harris, a 30 year old resident of New Zealand, died of a cardiac arrhythmia. The coroner in the case, David Crerar, ruled,
"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,"
Question number one: according to the published reports, Harris was consuming remarkable quantities of liquids -- on the order of greater than 2 gallons (256 fluid ounces, or 32 cups, or 16 pounds of liquid) per day. That's almost 3.5 times the recommended adequate intake level -- in Coke alone! Suppose Harris was only drinking plain water at that rate -- what would have that level of consumption have done to her electrolyte levels?
Question number two: the published reports don't indicate which Coca-Cola product Harris was consuming. Assuming that she was drinking a full-sugar, full-caffeine product, let's look at the caloric intake first.
Assuming (based on published reports) that Harris's consumption was in the range of 256 ounces (2 gallons) per day, and that Classic Coke is 12 calories per ounce, Ms. Harris would have been consuming over 3,000 calories per day in Coke alone. By most accounts, (assuming she was drinking a full-calorie version of Coke) she was taking in about 130% of her daily energy needs from Coke alone.
Second, the caffeine intake. According to the product description, Classic Coke has about 2.9 mg of caffeine per ounce. At Ms. Harris's reported consumption, that would work out to about 742 mg per day. At an average level of 10.6 mg/ounce of brewed coffee, that's the equivalent of drinking 70 eight-ounce cups of coffee.
When ingested chronically in excessive amounts, caffeine produces a specific toxidrome (caffeinism), which consists of primarily CNS, cardiovascular, and GI hyperstimulation.
Crerar is quoted:
The family's response is foolish. Surely even the dimmest person should know that consuming that much sugar --empty calories -- isn't conducive to good health. The coroner's point about adding caffeine quantities has some validity -- putting caffeine as a percent of daily recommendation may help consumers make better choices, along the line of the recommended sodium intake on US labels. The last point is just silly.
Crerar said the family had not considered her Coke habit dangerous because the drink did not carry any health warnings.
He recommended "that Coca-Cola give consideration to the inclusion of advice as to quantity of caffeine on labels (in) its products and... adding appropriate warnings related to the dangers of consuming excessive quantities of the products".
He also said authorities should examine whether health warnings were needed and consider lowering the maximum amount of caffeine allowed in carbonated beverages.