Are Coke and Pepsi Related to Cancer?

Cola manufacturers changing formulation of caramel coloring

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) It's such a part of our cultural landscape - that brown color that fizzes and tickles your nose and back of your throat when you pop open a bottle of Coke or Pepsi - that it's even become a part of our lexicon. We describe something as "cola-colored."

The manufacturers of Coca-Cola and Pepsi are tweaking the formulation of America's top-selling sodas, to avoid having to label their products as containing carcinogens.

The potential cancer-causing agent is a mouthful in and of itself - 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). 

"Choose water over soda, it's better for your health and waistline."

This compound makes up the caramel coloring - that rich cola color. 4-MEI was found to cause a form of leukemia in mice and was labeled a carcinogen as a result. 

The chemical was included in the 2010 California Proposition 65 which requires businesses to list toxic chemicals on their products, and 4-MEI is one of them. 

dailyRx called Coca-Cola and a representative told us, "Coca-cola has asked its caramel suppliers to modify their manufacturing of their product formulations to meet the requirements of the state of California Prop 65. It's important to note that while we've asked them to modify the process, those modifications wont' alter the taste of Coke."

In a bolder statement, Coke spokeswoman Diana Garza-Ciarlante told the Associated Press news agency that the company wanted to ensure that its products "would not be subject to the requirement of a scientifically unfounded warning."

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a human would have to drink the equivalent of 1,000 cans of Pepsi or Coke a day to match the amount given to animals in the study that labeled the chemical a cancer-causing agent.

The manufacturing process will not be changed in Europe.

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Review Date: 
March 9, 2012
Last Updated:
March 9, 2012