WELLINGTON - A New Zealand woman's 10-litre (2.2 gallon) a day Coca-Cola habit was a major factor in her death, a coroner found Tuesday, urging the soft drink giant to put health warnings on its caffeinated products.
Natasha Harris, a 30-year-old mother of eight from Invercargill in southern New Zealand, drank huge amounts of the fizzy beverage for years before her death in February 2010, coroner David Crerar found.
He said Harris suffered from a number of health conditions which could be linked to the "extreme" amounts of Coke she downed, playing a role in the cardiac arrhythmia that finally killed her.
"I find that when all the available evidence is considered, were it not for the consumption of very large quantities of Coke by Natasha Harris, it is unlikely that she would have died when she died and how she died," he found.
He added that Harris's Coke habit "was a substantial factor that contributed to the development of the metabolic imbalances which gave rise to the arrhythmia".
A pathologist found Harris, who did not drink alcohol, had an enlarged liver due to fatty deposits caused by excessive sugar consumption and low potassium levels in her blood, which can affect cardiac function.
Her family said she complained of a "racing heart" before her death and they considered her addicted to Coke, which she drank throughout her waking hours.
"(She would) go crazy if she ran out... she would get the shakes, withdrawal symptoms, be angry, on edge and snappy," her mother-in-law Vivien Hodgkinson told the inquest into her death last year.
Harris's family told the inquest she had all her teeth removed after they went rotten due to excessive soft drink consumption and at least one of her children was born with no enamel on its teeth.
Crerar said the family had not considered her Coke habit dangerous because the drink did not carry any health warnings.
He recommended "that Coca-Cola give consideration to the inclusion of advice as to quantity of caffeine on labels (in) its products and... adding appropriate warnings related to the dangers of consuming excessive quantities of the products".
He also said authorities should examine whether health warnings were needed and consider lowering the maximum amount of caffeine allowed in carbonated beverages.
However, the coroner also said all the ingredients of Coke were "entirely legal (and) are enjoyed by millions".
"Coca-Cola cannot be held responsible for the health of consumers who drink unhealthy quantities of the product," he said in a written finding.
Coca-Cola Oceania said in a statement that experts had been unable to agree on what caused Harris's heart attack and Crerar had acknowledged that he could not be certain what was behind it.
"Therefore we are disappointed that the coroner has chosen to focus on the combination of Ms Harris' excessive consumption of Coca-Cola, together with other health and lifestyle factors, as the probable cause of her death," it said.