We all know soda isn’t the healthiest choice of beverage, but can it actually cause cancer? New research out of Johns Hopkins University suggests just that. A chemical known as 4-MEI, which gives some sodas its color, has been found to cause lung tumors in animals. The chemical is also present in a variety of beverages that contain caramel color.
“There is variation in the levels, and some beverages had higher levels than others,” says senior author Keeve Nachman, PhD, director of the Food Production and Public Health Program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
Nachman reports that on a typical day, 44 to 58 percent of people over the age of 6 have at least one can of soda per day – maybe more. This could potentially be exposing them to 4-MEI.
“This exposure may increase the risk of cancer in soda drinkers,” he says. “Risks related to 4-MEI were highest for routine consumption of a beverage called Goya Malta, and lowest for the Coke products.”
The chemical’s health hazards for humans remain unclear at this point. Nachman says that studies conducted by the U.S. National Toxicology Program found 4-MEI to cause lung tumors in mice; however the substance has never been studied in humans. At this point, the NTP refers to it as a possible human carcinogen.
For the study, the CLF teamed up with Consumer Reports to examine 4-MEI in 110 soft drink samples. The samples came from stores in California and New York. They then took these results and combined them with data related to population beverage consumption. One notable finding was that, in some cases, two samples of the same beverage rendered different levels of the chemical, depending on the state from which it came. This leads researchers to believe that some of California’s regulations, specifically Proposition 65, might be responsible for the lower levels.