Mother's 10-litre-a-day coke habit helped kill her: coroner

Natasha Marie Harris . Photo / Supplied
Natasha Marie Harris . Photo / Supplied

DRINKING up to 10 litres of Coca Cola a day contributed to the death of a 30-year-old New Zealand woman, a coroner has found.

Invercargill mother Natasha Marie Harris died of cardiac arrhythmia caused by poor nutrition and the effects of caffeine, Southland Coroner David Crerar said.

He said Coca Cola should warn consumers of the harm to their health if they drink excessive amounts of caffeine.

In his decision released today, Mr Crerar also recommended the Ministry of Health consider clearer labels on soft drinks warning of the dangers of excessive sugar and caffeine.

Ms Harris, a mother of eight, died on February 25, 2010 after suffering years of ill health.

At an inquest into her death in April, Mr Crerar was told Ms Harris drank only Coke and consumed between six and 10 litres a day. That amount contained about twice the recommended safe daily caffeine intake.

Her partner Christopher Hodgkinson told the inquest that in the six months before her death, Ms Harris had "no energy and was feeling sick all the time".

"She would get up and vomit in the morning."

She also smoked about 30 cigarettes a day and hardly ate, sometimes eating only a snack at lunch.

But Ms Harris always needed Coke, Mr Hodgkinson said.

"(If unavailable she would) get the shakes, withdrawal symptoms, be angry, on edge and snappy."

His mother Vivienne Hodgkinson told the inquest all Ms Harris' teeth were rotten and had been pulled out. Some of her children were born without enamel on their teeth.

Mr Hodgkinson said despite Ms Harris suffering from tiredness, lethargy and a racing heart, she did not consult a doctor because she was afraid of them.

Mr Crerar said a daily caffeine intake of 400mg or less was considered safe for a healthy adult, and a daily consumption of 500mg was widely believed to lead to health problems.

One litre of Coke contains 97mg of caffeine, and Ms Harris was drinking up to 10 litres a day.

Coca Cola told the inquest there were a number of possible causes of cardiac arrhythmia and it was not possible to conclude that drinking Coke was "a probable cause or a definite contributor to her sudden death".

"Natasha Harris knew, or ought to have known and recognised, the health hazard of her chosen diet and lifestyle," Mr Crerar said.

"The fact that she had her teeth extracted several years before her death, because of what Christopher Hodgkinson and Vivienne Hodgkinson believed was Coke-induced decay, and the fact that one or more of her children were born without enamel on their teeth, should have been seen by her and her family as a warning."

He recommended the Ministry of Health, in consultation with ESR and other experts consider if warning labels on carbonated beverages gave gave sufficient protection to customers.

"The hazards to the health of consumers of excessive quantities of sugar and caffeine contained in carbonated beverages could be more clearly emphasised."

For other caffeine drinks, the ministry should also consider either lowering the caffeine percentage limit or creating a more specific warning warning label, Mr Crerar said.

"I recommend that Coca Cola give consideration to the inclusion of advice as to the quantity of caffeine on labels to its products and of the adding to the labels appropriate warnings related to the dangers of consuming excessive quantities of the products."

- Otago Daily Times

Topics:  coke editors picks health new zealand

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