Soft Drink Caramel Color Increases Cancer Risk

caramel color increases cancer risk

Soft drinks containing a certain type of caramel color increases cancer risk


New research finds that a byproduct from the manufacturing of caramel color increases cancer risk of consumers of one or more cans of soda per day.

All over the world people drink a lot of soft drinks. Regularly drinking these sugary drinks negatively affect your health. Sodas increase the risk of diabetes as well as the risk of obesity which can cause other diseases. Even if the calories themselves might be cause for concern, sugary drinks also contain other compounds directly dangerous to your health. New research from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health find that consuming one or more sodas per day can increase your risk of cancer.

Soft Drink Caramel Color Increases Cancer Risk

To manufacture caramel color used in soft drinks factories use ammonium compounds. An unintended effect of these compounds is the formation of a substance called 4-MEI (4-methylimidazole). A compound that after testing by the U.S. National Toxicology Program have been classified as a possible human carcinogen.

In this study researchers built on an existing survey investigating the levels of 4-MEI found in soft drinks and juices by performing tests on 110 samples purchased in California and the New York area. To determine how high levels of 4-MEI people are exposed to and how this affect cancer risk researchers used data from the NHANES population survey to find the average daily consumption of various beverages.

Researchers found that the levels of 4-MEI varied a lot depending on the sample tested even in the same beverage purchased from different venues.

“For example, for diet colas, certain samples had higher or more variable levels of the compound, while other samples had very low concentrations,” says Tyler Smith, lead author of the study

This variation was also found regionally. Soft drinks purchased in the New York area and those purchased in California differed substantially. This might be the result of stricter rules in California on how much 4-MEI is allowed in soft drink.

The excess cancer risk from exposure to 4-MEI varied with the drink tested from about one in a million to one in ten thousand. The soft drinks in this test with the highest levels of 4-MEI were: Malta Goya, Pepsi, Diet Pepsi and Pepsi One. With an average US consumption of these sodas, calculated from the NHANES survey, researchers estimate an increased risk of one excess case of cancer per 10,000 people. Considering how many people in the US regularly consume soft drinks it adds up to many additional cancer cases.

Image credit: Sean Loyless via, CC BY 2.0