HOME > Chowhound > Food Media & News >


How much Coke is too much


What I find interesting about this story is that they talk about her regularly consuming twice the daily recommended amount of caffeine. And while drinking up to 10 liters a day of Coke sounds like tragic health practices, per serving Coke comes no where near the highest quantities of caffeine that exist.

According to the Mayo clinic, 200-300 milligrams of caffeine a day is "moderate" (2-4 cups of coffee - they don't say what size "cup"), and 500-600 is "heavy". Now, 12 ounces of Coke is 35 mg of caffeine. Compare this to Hershey's special dark chocolate (20 mg), Coldstone's Mocha ice cream (52mg), Starbucks Venti coffee (415mg).

Say that 1200mg is twice the daily recommended amount (and the Mayo Clinci does not advocate consuming 500-600 as is) - that's 3 Starbucks ventis. And as someone who used to work at Starbucks, there are way more people doing that than apparently dying of caffeine overdoses.

I'm not looking to defend drinking as much Coke as this woman was doing - but linking the consumption to her death still feels like it's missing a number of pieces. Can you OD on sugar?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I don't think it's unreasonable to link drinking 10 liters of coke a day to her death.

    Other stories have attributed the coke to metabolic imbalances, including potassium deficiency.

    "[Her habit] "was a substantial factor that contributed to the development of the metabolic imbalances which gave rise to the arrhythmia".

    2 Replies
    1. re: C. Hamster

      If anything, I think the crazy amount of sugar she was consuming is more interesting. Not to mention that her health problems led to one of her children being born without tooth enamel.

      Clealry the Coke wasn't helping anything here - but stepping back, I'd have to say that the sugar looks like a bigger culprit than the caffeine (not that that helped).

      1. re: C. Hamster

        Yep, I agree. Caffeine might be the addictive element but the whole Coke package is what probably did her in.

      2. the sugar rotted all her teeth out

        Sugar got her liver

        Sugar and caffeine lowered her potassium which can lead to high blood pressure and heart problems

        1. She drank 2.6 gallons a day! Wow! That's amazing!

          That much fluid can cause problems.

          1. As someone who just this past hour had her first full-sugar Coke in over a year, I'm backing slowly away from the can right now. What a sad story.

            1. An excessive amount of any drink can be deadly, even water.

              10 Replies
              1. re: chowser

                That's a false comparison. The mechanism of death from excess water is unrelated to that caused by overdosing on toxic substances. There is nothing toxic in pure water — it is essential to sustain life. That is not the case with Coca-Cola.

                1. re: GH1618

                  I think that Chowser may have been referring to H20 intoxication depleting electrolytes and possibly leading to death if untreated.

                  1. re: Lillipop

                    I know. That's the point. There is nothing intrinsically poisonous about water. Death from overconsumption of water is not comparable to death from overconsumption of harmul substances. To argue that you can die from "an excessive amount of any drink" is to try to ignore or minimize the health hazards of colas. This is not a good thing — it's a distraction from the substantive question.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Yes, you're right--sorry I was being flippant. The part that got me was the idea of labeling Coke that excessive amount can be bad for you. If a person's teeth are falling out, she's in terrible health, etc. from the soda, having a warning label won't do anything. The health hazards of coke in this woman's case was apparent, well before she died.

                        1. re: chowser

                          Yes, it's an extreme case, far from typical. Yet less extreme, but significant, overconsumption of sugar (largely through soft drinks) is typical, and is associated with widespread health problems in the general population. The title of this thread speaks to the general problem, not merely the extreme case.

                          I have started a new thread in this category on the subject.

                        2. re: GH1618

                          The effects of the Coke would probably be insidious as compared to the H20 which would be sudden onset and acute.

                          1. re: Lillipop

                            In this extreme case, you mean? Yes, but isn't the problem with hyponatraemia largely that the sodium concentration is reduced when the system is flooded with fresh water? Coke contains salt. How does this affect things?

                            1. re: GH1618

                              The H20 depletes the electrolytes and interferes with functions such as the electrical rhythm of the cardiac cycle it causes ICP/increased cranial pressure etc.The Coke may contain 50 mg.of sodium per 12 ounces.The daily requirement is 2000 mg.so even at 2 gallons/256 ounces per 24 hours which would equal 256 ounces of Coca Cola x 4mg. sodium per ounce of Coca Cola =1024 mg of sodium which is still well under the suggested daily amount.That amount equals 21 12 ounce cans of Coca Cola consumed which is close to the amount the article stated.Water intoxication is H20 that is consumed in copious amounts within a small time frame such as 4-5 gallons in a two hour time frame.Where do you think that fluid is going since it is not being excreted normally via the kidneys and urinary tract/perspiration etc.? Lungs...cells....brain cells etc. Cerebral edema and fluid in the lungs is critical stuff that can kill people if not treated quickly. So to summarize if the information given in the original article is accurate then the individual was not over consuming sodium from her Coca Cola consumption. She was consuming almost 800 mg. of caffeine and around 3000 sugar calories daily from Coca Cola.But that is for another post right?:)

                              1. re: Lillipop

                                Great explanation — thank you.

                  2. Acidic level of Coke is so potent that one can use it as 'household' cleaner for things like stained toilet bowls!!
                    I can imagine how 8 litres per day of that 'cleaner beverage' would do to the human body. Not to mention the amount of sugar in that volume!!

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      I thought the same thing when I read how much she drank. And isn't this kind of a DUH!

                      "While Crerar agrees that Coca-Cola should not be held responsible "for the health of consumers who drink unhealthy quantities of the product," he does suggest in his report that Coca-Cola consider adding labels to its drinks warning consumers against the hazards of excessive consumption."

                      How sad that people have to be warned that drinking 2.5 gallons of soda is harmful to your health. ::::shaking my head:::

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        I agree.

                        But the fact that all her teeth dropped out was one heck of a warning, no?

                        1. re: C. Hamster

                          One would think so, C. Hamster. One would think so.

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            This is I guess more of where the caffeine becomes an issue (more than whether that was the primary culprit) - because while the sugar and other chemicals were eating at her, the caffeine was what was causing the addiction. Drinking caffeine regularly and just stopping cold brings on some of the worst head aches - and if you know the Coke will make you feel better. Sigh.

                            1. re: cresyd

                              Yup, I know some who have that addiction in my workplace - iced coffee or hot coffee almost all day. And if they don't have it, they're cranky and headachy and irritable.

                              But if you know it's tearing you up inside, rotting your teeth, and essentially killing you from the inside out, wouldn't you do everything in your power to break that addiction, including hospitalization?

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                I say I would - but I can understand how it can get to that point. You just stop noticing that what you're doing is "weird" and then by the time the health issues kick in, it seems like such a huge problem to deal with that it's easier to be in denial.

                                Ultimatley the story is a shame because more than anything this just had to be a woman who wasn't going to the doctor (or dentist) often enough, or listening to her doctor, or some other failure of the medical system. University students cramming for exams and downing can after can of RedBull for a few weeks aren't dying....this clearly is just a case of such long term abuse.

                    2. But what gets me is that the family is sounding like the woman wasn't to blame, because after all, there was 'no warning about the effects of drinking too much soda' on the products. Harumph. Lawsuit in 3, 2, 1...

                      1. I'd think that with a kilo of sugar a day going into you, your appetite for normal meals would be so low as to cause malnutrition.
                        If you drank 10 liters of orange juice, or milk, or just about any healthy beverage every day, it would be hard on your system, too. I'm not defending Coke, but grossly overdoing any food can be bad for you.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: jmcarthur8

                          Well also as Coke has sodium in it, it's really not the same as drinking water. So, I could also see her becoming rather dehydrated (unless she was drinking that much Coke plus water).

                        2. "...but linking the consumption to her death still feels like it's missing a number of pieces."
                          Exactly. It seems that there are a number of reasons.
                          She was subsisting on Coke and very litle else, and she had health problems for years. Did no one in her family think that this was a problem? Did she see a doctor?

                          I can't help but think there were underlying factors such as an eating disorder that contributed to this behavior. But we only know what the story tells us, so saying more is just speculation on my part.

                          I do not agree with the suggestion that Coca Cola needs to put a warning label on the product. That is just ridiculous. What's next--warning labels on water that it will make you wet if spilled on your lap? Insanity.

                          9 Replies
                          1. re: iluvcookies

                            There was a horrible case of a woman in a radio contest who died of ODing of drinking too much water in a short amount of time. And no, I don't think that water needs a warning label on it - but it really goes to show that just having an idea of what "over indulgence" means is important.

                            1. re: cresyd

                              I remember that story, "Hold your wee for a Wii"... it's pretty sad that someone would go through that for a child's toy.

                              In cases like this it's impossible to blame the Coke, the water, or any single external force.

                              I was being a little sarcastic about the warning label for the water though--anything can harm a person so where do we draw the line? How did humans live for all these years without warning labels on everything?

                              1. re: iluvcookies

                                Dihydrogen monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and kills uncounted thousands of people every year. Most of these deaths are caused by accidental inhalation of DHMO, but the dangers of dihydrogen monoxide do not end there. Prolonged exposure to its solid form causes severe tissue damage. Symptoms of DHMO ingestion can include excessive sweating and urination, and possibly a bloated feeling, nausea, vomiting and body electrolyte imbalance. For those who have become dependent, DHMO withdrawal means certain death.


                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                      I totally read the paragraph in Sheldon's voice. Then I wanted a cup of hot cocoa, made with half and half, heated to precisely 183 degrees, with 7 marshmallows, no more no less.

                                      1. re: iluvcookies

                                        The entire cast cracks me up, but Sheldon's and Leonard's interactions are the best.

                              2. re: cresyd

                                Hyponatremia isn't that uncommon, especially among amateur endurance athletes who down water at every stop. The worst part is the symptoms are similar to dehydration so they think they need more water and keep drinking.

                              3. re: iluvcookies

                                Maybe a message on the bottom of Coke bottles: "Open Other End".

                              4. Good, that a coroner is willing to stand up to Coke. Coke is full of sugar, and sugar (the fructose component) is poison. But it's an isidious poison, like alcohol. If sugar caused death on the spot, we would have no difficulty calling it a poison, but it takes awhile to kill. So does alcohol, usually, but we call it a poison. We can tolerate a little bit of poison, so consume these anyway. How much is too much? Hard to say, exactly, but she drank way, way too much.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: GH1618

                                  I don't understand what you are saying. Sugar is like alcohol, both are poisons, and coroners should stand up to those who make products that include them?

                                  1. re: Shrinkrap

                                    I'm saying that I think there is a lot of denial in the population generally about the harmful effects of sugar and particularly sugar-sweetened drinks. Here we have a coroner saying that someone was killed by overuse of soft drinks, and that's a good thing. I doubt it will have much effect on people's habits, but at least it gives some support to people who are warning about the adverse health effects of sodas.

                                2. A very tragic story.

                                  One could replicate the same effect in the kitchen, adding sugar to water, carbonated water, or lemon juice and drinking it all day, for years on end.

                                  I'd like to know what her family was doing while this was happening: Just observing safely, afraid to get involved ?

                                  1. I don't doubt that I have no more experience than anyone else, with regard to the general population, but with the folks I see, it is never just one, or even two things.


                                    "The Coroner acknowledged that he could not be certain what caused Ms Harris' heart attack. Therefore we are disappointed that the Coroner has chosen to focus on the combination of Ms Harris' excessive consumption of Coca-Cola, together with other health and lifestyle factors, as the probable cause".....

                                    Makes sense to me.

                                    When my daughter was very young, she heard me talking about a patient who attributed all his psychotic symptoms to being "addicted" to Coke. Or maybe it was Pepsi. No matter. At 23, she is still "traumatized" by the idea of loss of control.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: Shrinkrap

                                      My mom is a dietician and during my youth made a comment about onion rings to the point where I can't eat them today without feeling some kind of guilt. Some of that stuff from childhood sticks, some doesn't.

                                      Where I think that Coke is being a bit "over-reactive corporation" is that ultimately the statement "10 liters a Coke today for years is not recommended" probably isn't going to hurt Coke's brand. However, Coke is talking about 'other lifestyle factors' - where the main problem being that she drank too much Coke in her lifestyle and quite possibly wasn't taking doctor's advice about her health or going to the doctor at all. But Coke is just saying "not our fault at all in any way" - which I think results in a bit of an eye roll from me.

                                      1. re: Shrinkrap

                                        Have you ever heard of Caffeinism? While I won't say every person with psychotic symptoms is due to that some very well could be. There are only 6 documented cases written about in a professional journal. Caffeine intakes were very high in all cases. From my understanding it is not only high doses but also length of time on high doses. However, it can cause psychotic symptoms.



                                        I would include the journal article however you have to pay for it. I read it awhile back for psych paper. Though the first link does refer to it. Also a Google search will bring up quite a lot on the subject.

                                      2. The article does not state the exact cause of her demise or did I totally miss that? This was a young woman of excess: EIGHT children at age 30? 2.5 gallons of Coca Cola ingested per day. I am assuming there was some obesity involved secondary to the over consumption of calories from the Coca Cola.There are reasons that nurses ( such as myself) and physicians question caffeine intake/usage when obtaining a patient history.The caffeine causes dehydration and what was her electrolyte panel results? The stuff causes cardiac arrythmias which can become deadly...kidney problems.....maybe she was diabetic and loved living dangerously? Would not surprise me.

                                        8 Replies
                                        1. re: Lillipop

                                          According to the coroner: "I find that, when all of 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."

                                          While there may have been other issues, the coroner does specifically call out her consumption of Coke.

                                          1. re: cresyd

                                            When I was a kid and worked on the oil rigs we'd clean the windows in the trailers around the rig with newspaper and Coke. That would remove the worst of the oil film then soapy hot water.

                                            1. re: Puffin3

                                              When my late brother and I were little kids I remember we would get a Coke or Pepsi at the store next to our house on hot summer days and experiment with putting some in a container then throwing a penny in there to *dissolve* or sneaking some meat out of the fridge and throwing it in a container with some soda and patiently waiting for it to *dissolve*. I don't think anything actually dissolved but the fizz and the science aspect for two dumb little kids was fun.

                                              1. re: Lillipop

                                                It is fairly acidic, prob did dissolve to some extent

                                            2. re: cresyd

                                              The immense amount of caffeine must have interferred with her cardiac cycle and stopped her heart.

                                              1. re: Lillipop

                                                Based on my non-medical reading of the cornoners report, the fault was more tied to the overall composition of the drink than the caffeine alone. 10 liters of Coke equals about 985 ml of caffeine a day. A non-red eye Starbucks Venti is 415 ml of caffeine - and I know plenty of people cabable of drinking two or three of those a day.

                                                If her death was strictly tied to just the caffeine, then I think we'd be seeing far more deaths related to caffeine.

                                                1. re: cresyd

                                                  Coffee, tea, chocolate and caffeinated drinks are the main sources of caffeine, which is consumed in almost all ages and socioeconomic levels. Caffeine acts as a non-selective adenosine receptor antagonist in the central nervous system. Its main effects are as psychostimulant, acting in addition on the respiratory, muscular and cardiovascular systems. Basically, caffeine is metabolized by the hepatic cytochrome P-450 1A2 enzymes (CYP1A2). Several drugs can interact with its metabolism. The observed interindividual differences of its effects can be explained by variations in its metabolism. The main therapeutic use of caffeine is bronchodilator in respiratory diseases. Other possible uses are under investigation. Acute or chronic consumption of caffeine can induce several adverse effects, including intoxication that can be lethal. Finally, caffeine can be considered a drug of abuse. It has positive reinforcing actions, produces tolerance, and a withdrawal syndrome after stopping its consumption. Caffeine can cause different mental disorders such as dependence, which is not included in the DSM-IV-R, withdrawal syndrome and intoxication. Depending on its use, caffeine can be considered a nutrient, a drug or a drug of abuse.

                                                  1. re: Lillipop

                                                    I completely agree with all of that.

                                                    According to the Mayo Clinic once you get to 500-600 mg a day, you're in the realm of "very high" and susceptible to potential problems.

                                                    With this specific case though, I do believe that the caffeine served as an addictive substance that maintained and (most likely over the course of her lifetime) steadily increased how much Coke she consumed. But I do not believe that the caffeine alone was responsible for her death - and rather the massive amounts of sugar and other chemicals she was consuming combined with the caffeine.

                                          2. Any amount is too much IMO.