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Pop: Chug it or Chuck It?

Pop. Is it your favorite drink? What Would Your Doc Say? Should we take pop out of the schools? Refuse to advertise it? Refuse to sell it in stores? OK — both of those might go a bit far.

But physicians are perhaps wavering on their medical stance as to whether pop is harmful or not, and we now go so far to say that it might actually be good for you! Pop can be found in many a local school and other easily accessible vending machines in the wider CU area, so it’s time you and your health care provider have a heart to heart talk on this.

Sales of pop appear to not be flagging. Aside from the perceived health hazards physicians propose when chatting with primary care physicians at Provena Covenant Medical Center in the doctor’s lounge over our morning coffee, perhaps a second look is warranted. Some people apparently get a fair amount of actual water from some pop consumption, others get caffeine benefits, others may actually be avoiding kidney stones, and others are able to cut calories through the consumption of a very low calorie beverage they actually enjoy. So could this add up to being a good thing, as opposed to the negative effects of the caffeine, the phosphorous, the salt, and the calories of sugared beverages?

The Argument that Pop is GOOD for you

Prevents kidney stones. According to The Journal of Urology online on April 19, 2010, Dr. Brian Eisner of the University of California San Francisco presented at the April meeting of the Urological Association and revealed the relatively shocking information that kidney stone (nephrolithiasis) patients might get some help in avoiding stone formation by drinking diet soda.
The proposed mechanism: In the study, researchers investigated the possible link between decreasing kidney stone formation and some pop. The diet versions of several popular citrus-flavored sodas — like 7Up, Sunkist and Sprite — contained a compound called citrate. Citrate, in turn, is known to inhibit the formation of calcium oxalate stones, the most common form of kidney stone.

Just to put this in a bit of medical perspective, there are multiple accepted theories regarding calcium stone formation. In many cases, stone formation occurs when normally dissolved substances, like calcium oxalate, become so overloaded in the urine they can no longer be dissolved in the urine and crystal formation (e.g., calcium oxalate crystal) occurs, and if lodged in the kidney, by some process of being stuck there, they grow large, and can no longer be passed through your urinary tract, but become stuck as a rock. Other factors are important: not enough urine, so normal levels of calcium and oxalate that should be dissolved instead precipitate out and lead to a cluster of crystals called a “stone.” Too much calcium, too much oxalate, a high protein diet, low citrate, too much sugar, too much sodium, too little potassium high acidity in the urine from substances like Vitamin C, and medical conditions such as diabetes and obesity all affect whether you are going to have a stone. A common treatment for kidney stones is potassium citrate supplements; some of us just call these supplements lemonade (but watch the sugar!).

The pops mentioned above have phosphorus and citrate. Diet sodas contain small amounts of alkalis, and lowering the pH of the urine should help too. For more information on foods known to promote bladder health go to

Caffeine. Our socially-acceptable stimulant, and while we sophisticatedly sip our caffeine in coffees and teas, kids get it in pop.

Caffeine is actually a xanthine alkaloid that gets metabolized in our liver to three main components known as dimethylxanthines: mainily paraxanthin, and theobromine and lastly theophylline. Each of these is further metabolized and secreted into the urine. So each caffeine containing product we consume has a variety of the chemical components that we think of collectively as caffeine. Thus the buzz has big variety to it, and therein, a lot of the appeal.

And the buzz keeps coming. Caffeine can persist in your system for at least 12 hours. And not just if you intended to drink a caffeinated beverage, most of us fail to realize how much caffeine we get from hidden sources. Some of the decaffeinated products have enough residual caffeine to keep a pretty hefty dose left in the drink, the sort of five to one ratio. And just to keep the dieters happy, diet pop has about the same amount of caffeine as sugary pop. So maybe you weren’t just happy because you dieted well, you were smiling the cup-o-jo smile.

There are now hundreds of brands of caffeinated beverages, most of them pops. According to Dr. Kennedy-Hagan, RD, LDN from Eastern Illinois University not all pops are high in caffeine. In fact “A 12oz can of 7Up, Sprite, Mug Root Beer or Fanta soda, either sweetened or diet, contains no caffeine. Other popular sodas, such as various varieties of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Mountain Dew range from 35-54 mg caffeine per 12 oz serving. Consuming one can per day is minimal, but the caffeine in a 6-pack would add up if consumed throughout the day.” Which may be a good thing as medical studies show that pop in the range of 100-150 mg consumption will show improved attention, mood, psychomotor performance, and working memory. Although these studies have been done in adults, and they never really study withdrawal symptoms on top of the symptoms of the initial focus!

Coffee can ward off diabetes, but apparently you have to drink 6 or more cups a day, so you do have to be committed. But, it may not be the caffeine itself in this case that is the important ingredient, The women in one retrospective study of almost 30,000 people showed that decaffeinated drinkers were even less likely to get diabetes. Or perhaps it’s some of the other beneficial properties of drinks like coffee and tea which contain a significant number of anti-oxidants such as polyphenols (caffeic acid and chlorogenic acid), catechins, and flavonoids. The polyphenols are known to raise homocysteine, and these anti-oxidants freely drip through your fancy filters, so fuss away with preparation, you won’t be ruining your coffee’s benefits. And a new rat study showed that the liver is detoxified by glutathione S-transferase which is an enzyme found in coffee. So all that avoidance of coffee during your ‘cleanses’, and now you find out it was good for your liver all along!

And the most perplexing new data to me, as a physician, is the new study showing the cancer fighting ability of coffee’s antioxidant components which apparently can increase DNA repair and promote more tumor suppressor proteins! Pop, as opposed to coffee and tea, doesn’t have any of these.

And don’t panic if you do use caffeine for fighting fatigue and find you have now been instructed to stay off: iron, B vitamins, decreased smoking, increased exercise, and increased sex all fight fatigue. So dilute your pop with some vitamin water and you may be on your way to a caffeine free energized life.

The Argument that Pop is BAD for you

The Bad effects of caffeine, are not as numerous as the good effects, non-regular drinkers of coffee can have a brief increased blood pressure after coffee consumption. But this may be due to other compounds in coffee that activate the sympathetic system and thus is not likely to happen when you swig a pop with caffeine. And if you are struggling with your blood cholesterol know that the diterpenoids in unfiltered coffee can raise plasma bad (LDL) cholesterol and lower god (HDL) cholesterol.

Read the labels and try to figure out which artificial sweeteners you are getting exposed to in your favorite pop. Aspartamine (NutraSweet®), a dipeptide, is a low calorie artificial sweetener that is 180 times sweeter than sucrose… and now seems to be in just too many foods to be healthy for us, if you use the “a good diet is a varied diet” mantra. Newly in some drinks is Sucralose, known commercially as Splenda, and it tastes less artificial but not less of a synthetic lab generated sweetener.

Waistline effects: In the e-Alert “Junk in the Trunk” (8/7/07), I told you about a study that followed health records for more than 6,000 soda drinkers for four years. Subjects who drank one or more sodas each day were nearly 45 percent more likely to develop obesity, increased waist circumference, impaired fasting glucose, higher blood pressure, high triglycerides, and higher LDL cholesterol. The really surprising result from that study was that it showed over-drinkers of pop had identical weight gain whether they consumed sugar laden or diet soda. And that weight gain is not only bad for your look; it potentially harms mood, memory, and the effectiveness of contraception pills.

Phosphorous So What’s your verdict? Restrict pop? Start drinking more? Switch to tea or coffee? So many good choices! And what about pop access for the kiddies? At the local high schools: Centennial High School, Central High School, Mahomet, St. Thomas Moore, and Judah Christian High school only have said they have machines with only water and juice in them, no pop at all. However, with the right change you can guzzle pop during lunch at Urbana or St. Joseph High Schools (unless you push the juice or water buttons!).

Like all things at the end of the day, it’s all relative. Goldilocks had it right, too much or too little, never probably a good solution. Kennedy-Hagan says that “Moderation and balance are important to good health and longevity. It is up to you to pay attention to your body and the choices that you make so that you can enjoy life.” If you want to analyze your pop consumption in light of your whole diet the researchers at the U of I have a good tool for you to use. You can access the Nutrition Analysis Tool at the University of Illinois.

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