People consider sugary drinks to be a significant contributor to many health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. Research has shown that drinking a can of Coca-Cola can have damaging effects on the body within an hour.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about half of the United States population will drink at least one sugary beverage on any given day. Young adults are the most regular consumers of sugary drinks.
There are 37 grams (g) of added sugar, which equates to almost 10 teaspoons (tsp), in a single can of cola.
For optimal health, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend consuming no more than 6 tsp of added sugar daily. By drinking just one serving of cola a day, a person will easily exceed this amount.
A 2015 study attributed 184,000 global deaths each year to the consumption of sugary drinks.
In this article, we look at the effects of cola on the body.
An infographic by the British pharmacist Niraj Naik shows the damage that a 330 milliliter (ml) can of Coca-Cola can inflict on the body within 1 hour of consumption. Naik based the infographic on research by health writer Wade Meredith.
According to Naik, the intense sweetness of Coca-Cola resulting from its high sugar content should make a person vomit as soon as it enters the body. However, the phosphoric acid in the beverage dulls the sweetness, enabling people to keep the drink down.
Blood sugar levels increase dramatically within 20 minutes of drinking the cola, explains Naik, causing a burst of insulin. The liver then turns the high amounts of sugar into fat.
Effects similar to heroin
Within 40 minutes, the body has absorbed all of the caffeine from the cola. This caffeine causes the pupils to dilate and the blood pressure to increase. By this point, the Coca-Cola has blocked the adenosine receptors in the brain, preventing drowsiness.
Just 5 minutes later, the production of dopamine has increased. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the pleasure and reward centers of the brain. According to the infographic, the way that Coca-Cola stimulates these centers is comparable to the effects of heroin. It triggers a person's urge to drink another can.
An hour after drinking the beverage, a sugar crash will begin, causing irritability and drowsiness. The body will have cleared the water from the cola, along with vital nutrients, in the urine.
According to Naik, the infographic applies not only to Coca-Cola but to all caffeinated fizzy drinks.
"Coke is not just high in high fructose corn syrup, but it is also packed with refined salts and caffeine," writes Naik on his blog, The Renegade Pharmacist.
"Regular consumption of these ingredients in the high quantities you find in Coke and other processed foods and drinks can lead to higher blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. [...] However, a small amount now and then won't do any major harm. The key is moderation!"
In a press statement, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola says that the beverage is "perfectly safe to drink and can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet and lifestyle."
In 2018, a mini literature review highlighted more ways in which sugary drinks can affect health.
The review authors examined the effects of sugar sweetened beverages on the brain. They found that these drinks increased levels of certain compounds and chemicals that interfered with brain activity, increasing the risk of stroke and dementia.
They also found that regularly consuming sugary drinks may affect the quality and duration of a person's sleep cycle. Some compounds also had effects on memory and motor coordination, which may contribute to the development of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children.
However, many of the studies in this review took place in rats. The full extent of the effects of sugary drinks on humans is not yet clear.
The authors of a 2018 study involving 2,019 participants found that they could not even rule out the consumption of diet sodas as a risk factor for diabetes. They note that their findings support the suggestion that sugar-sweetened beverages, such as cola, play a role in the development of this chronic disease.
A 2016 study on rats found that the rodents that drank Coca-Cola showed signs of decreased kidney and liver function in comparison with the rats that did not drink soda.
Again, further research would be necessary to confirm the effects of Coca-Cola in humans.
Research has confirmed many risks of regularly consuming Coca-Cola and other sugary drinks.
These beverages increase blood sugar levels rapidly and affect the pleasure centers of the brain in a similar way as heroin. More recent research adds to the evidence of a link between sugary drinks and diabetes and seems to confirm the adverse effects of these drinks on brain, kidney, and liver activity.
However, consuming Coca-Cola and sugar-sweetened beverages in moderation is unlikely to have a severe effect on health.
What can I drink instead of soda?
By swapping soda out for a low sugar alternative, you can not only reduce your sugar intake, but by making the right choices, you can also add many beneficial antioxidants to your diet.
Try unsweetened iced tea, iced coffee, or fruit infused water, or blend the two and have a fruit-infused iced tea. Add a splash of fruit juice to sparkling water or seltzer or try some coconut water without added sugar for a sweet treat.
Homemade smoothies with no added sugar are always a fun addition to a healthful diet, but remember that variety is the key to keeping things interesting.Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.