Today we’re taking a look at America’s favorite junk food: soda. We’ve all heard the news reports and scientific studies, and we probably all have that one health nut friend who tells us just how terrible soda is for us, and while soda drunk without moderation is certainly very bad for you, just how much would it take to actually kill you?
A long-term study in Sweden tracked 42,000 participants over the course of 12 years and kept tally of how much soda and sweetened juices each person drank per day. At the end of the study, 3,600 men suffered heart failure, and those who drank more than two cups of soda a day were at a 23% greater risk of heart failure than those who didn’t. But we all know soda is bad for you in the long term, and the links between sugar and heart disease have been established for decades now. The real question is just how bad is soda really, and how much would it take to kill you in one sitting?
The main ingredients of any soda are carbonated water, sugar, phosphoric acid and caramel- so let’s take a look at each ingredient by itself and see what it might take to deliver a fatal dose to the average person.
Nobody likes to hear that they’re drinking acid, but luckily the phosphoric acid used in soda and many other food products is considered a ‘weak acid’. While concentrated it can certainly be harmful, and in fact one of the old wives tales about soda being used to clean rust is not entirely untrue- phosphoric acid by itself is used in heavy industry to remove rust from machine parts.
However, this is the concentrated form of phosphoric acid, and in fact what you drink in a soda or eat in other foods, such as the jelly and jams to which it is added, is so weak that the saliva in your mouth is enough to neutralize it. Still, the long-term effects of phosphoric acid consumption have been shown to lead to osteoporosis, as the acid leaches calcium from your bones and weakens them.
But how much would it take to kill you in one sitting? To find out, we have to look at Phosphoric Acid’s LD-50 rating, a scientific measuring tool used to rate a substance’s toxicity. Since people vary in physiologies due to genetics, body mass, and general health, scientists use an LD-50 rating, aka Lethal dose 50 rating, to determine how much of a substance it would take to kill 50% of people who ingested it. Scientists use the values discovered to be lethal to test animals such as rats and rabbits for obvious ethical reasons, and while these cannot be directly taken at a 1:1 value versus human beings, they provide a very accurate and safe standard to go by.
According to its material safety data sheet, Phosphoric Acid has an LD50 rating of 1,530 milligrams per kilogram if ingested orally- this means that any concentration reaching 1,530 milligrams per kilogram of a person’s weight will be deadly to half of people who ingest this amount. With the average human being weighing 137 pounds, or 62 kilograms, this means that you would have to ingest 94,860 milligrams to have a 50% chance of dying! That’s .1 kilograms, or .2 pounds of concentrated phosphoric acid.
The average soda contains about 60mg per 12-oz can of soda. So in order to keel over dead from phosphoric acid poisoning 50% of the time, you would have to drink a whopping 1,581 12-oz sodas in one sitting!
Let’s move on then to some of soda’s other ingredients, namely: the caramel food coloring added to nearly every soda. Here again old wives tales and internet rumors fly unchecked, with nearly all of them telling us that the artificial coloring used in sodas is carcinogenic and dangerous to humans. Yet a 1992 study, with results repeated over the subsequent decades, found that long-term exposure of caramel food coloring to rats discovered no long-term toxicological effects.
During the study, five groups of rats were fed five different concentrations of the food coloring in their food and water, representing concentrations similar to what the average human might consume, and two levels above and below that standard. After several 13 week observation periods, the scientists could find no direct toxic effect from the caramel food coloring. Turning once again to caramel food coloring material safety data sheet, we find that there is no LD50 value listed, making a guess to just how much it would take to kill a human impossible.
Before you start feeling better about that 2-soda-a-day habit you’ve been trying to kick though, let’s look at soda’s most infamous ingredient: sugar. Sugar’s long-term health effects are very well known, and while for decades the sugar industry lobbied both the American consumer and congress to keep its terrible health effects from being known, various independent studies in the 70s and 80s began to tear down the illusion the sugar industry had manufactured that it was fat, and not sugar, that was the real health concern. Today we all know better, and yet sugar remains one of our favorite ingredients, with the average American consuming a whopping 66 pounds every year!
So how much sugar would it take to kill you in one sitting? First, it’s important to note that your body needs sugar to survive, and thus it is specially adapted to use sugar to produce energy, making it one of the less toxic ingredients in soda. But the human body has its limits- sugar’s material safety data sheet states that it has an LD50 rating of 30 grams per kilogram, and the average 12 oz. can of soda contains about 39 grams of sugar. Using our average human weight of 137 lbs, or 62 kilograms, you would have to consume 2000 grams of sugar at once to run the risk of death- or about 47 cans of soda! Almost as many cans as it would take to kill you from phosphoric acid poisoning.
That leaves us with good old water. Our bodies are mostly water, our planet is ¾ water, just how dangerous could water in soda really be for us then? The answer just might surprise you.
Every year emergency rooms around the world treat millions for water intoxication, or the overindulgence of water. In 2007 a California woman died from drinking too much water after competing in a radio station sponsored contest called ‘Hold your wee for a Wii’. After three hours of drinking water, she passed out and was rushed to an emergency room, only to die minutes later. But what exactly happened, and how was water the culprit?
Your body contains a certain amount of electrolytes diluted across your cells and blood stream. These electrolytes form electrically charged particles in body fluids, which are vital for transmitting the electrical energy needed for all the muscles in your body to work effectively. When you overindulge in water you dilute the concentration of electrolytes present in the body, making it harder for electrical signals to travel, potentially causing muscles like those in your heart to simply stop working. As a matter of fact, the balance of electrolytes in your body is so finely tuned, that just a 2% dilution can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, nausea and cramping.
For the average human being to run the risk of water intoxication, they have to consume 6 liters of water, or 1.5 gallons, in a relatively short amount of time. With water making up 90% of a soda, that’s 10.8 ounces per 12 ounce can- meaning in order to run the risk of death you would have to drink 203 ounces of soda, or just 17 cans of soda at once. If you find this surprising, don’t worry- most people are unaware of the danger of water toxicity, to include professional and amateur athletes who make up over half of all water intoxication cases reported annually.
So there you have it- after looking at all the various ingredients in soda, we’ve discovered it would only take 17 cans at once to kill you. After all the rumors and clickbait spam articles across social media, who would guess that in the end it wasn’t a scary chemical that was the most lethal in soda, but rather that thing that we drink by the glassful every single day: water.
Do you plan on cutting back on sugary drinks? Or do you plan on drinking them to your hearts content? Let us know in the comments! Also, be sure to check out our other video called Vegans vs Meat Eaters – Who will live longer?! Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe. See you next time!