Ask The Doctor

Break the Cola Habit To Avoid Osteoporosis

Dear Dr. Garner, 

I am a healthy 55-year-old woman who loves to drink soda, either diet or regular. I eat right and exercise each day. But after a workout, I find that a glass of Coca-Cola satisfies me more than plain water.

My mother tells me I am destroying my bones, and she says osteoporosis runs in our family.

Is there any danger for me to drink about two liters of soda a day?

Soda Drinker in Sunset Park


Dear Soda Drinker,

What I am about to say pertains to all cola-containing drinks so you cannot escape the facts by switching to Pepsi.

Studies have demonstrated that females who are heavy cola drinkers have a higher risk of developing osteoporosis than women who don’t drink cola.

One study involving 2,500 women at Tufts University, Medford, Mass., found that women who were frequent cola drinkers, no matter what their age or what their calcium intake was, had a significantly higher risk of developing osteoporosis.

The more cola a woman drank, the more likely she was to have a lower bone density.

While it is not certain what the cause of this is, a chief suspect is a chemical known as phosphoric acid. You can find this ingredient written on all cola bottles. It is thought that cola can make the blood too acidic, which causes calcium to be released from the bones to balance the acidity and thus weakens the bone.

Carbonated soft drink consumption has increased more than 300 percent between 1960-1990. Over 70 percent of the carbonated beverages consumed were colas.

Those drinking colas with caffeine have a double whammy – the caffeine may further weaken bone.

Cola Alternatives

Some good alternatives to colas include:

  1. Tea, iced or hot. For some reason, the caffeine in tea does not negatively affect bones
  2. Calcium-fortified water
  3. Calcium-fortified juice
  4. Milk, a great source of calcium and vitamin D.
  5. Good old water

As with most things, moderation is the key. Drinking cola in moderation will most likely not cause you harm. Just try not to overdo it.

Before we part, let me just give some brief information regarding osteoporosis.

  1. Each person age 45 and above should keep her or his height measurement on the kitchen wall, just as we did for our children. Measure your height once a year. If there is decrease, you most likely have osteoporosis.
  2. All women at the time of menopause should get a bone density test. Men should also ask their doctors about the test. It takes a few minutes and is absolutely painless.
  3. The first sign of osteoporosis is often a fracture.
  4. Major risk factors for osteoporosis are: alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, a diet low in calcium, drinking cola drinks (women) and something we cannot control – being small framed or thin.

Certain pills, such as those used by women with breast cancer, steroids and antacids among others, can put someone at increased risk.

It is critical for women to take supplements. Speak to your doctor about taking vitamin D and calcium.

Finally, a woman is at an increased risk if she has a family history of the disease, is over 65 years old and is white or Asian.

Mothers with young daughters, especially between the ages of nine and 18, should encourage exercise, calcium and vitamin D intake as these are the critical bone-building years.

If you have osteoporosis, there are now medications that can prevent further decline in your bones. These can be given orally or by injection, even once a year.

With the proper approach, the disabling deformities and fractures from osteoporosis can be avoided.

Thank you for bringing up this important topic, and remember the key to cola consumption is moderation.

Dr. Garner is a Fidelis Care provider who is affiliated with New York Methodist Hospital, Park Slope. He also hosts “Ask the Doctor” on NET-TV, Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on Time Warner Channel 97 and Cablevision Channel 30.

One thought on “Break the Cola Habit To Avoid Osteoporosis

  1. Importantly, soft drinks and their ingredients have been studied in-depth over decades and repeatedly deemed safe. These beverages can absolutely be a part of a balanced, active life – and do not have the adverse health effects purported here. With regard to bone density and health, research fails to establish causation with respect to diet soft drink consumption and calcium depletion. Moreover, other scientific studies have disproved this claim, finding that soft drink intake does not displace calcium in the diet. It’s also important to get the facts straight with respect to phosphorous, an ingredient in soft drinks, which is criticized here. The reality is soft drinks contain a very small amount of phosphorous – an amount that does not cause weak or brittle bones. In fact, there is more phosphorous in chicken, cheddar cheese and milk than in soft drinks.

    We would also add that, contrary to the claim that soft drink intake has increased, it has actually declined substantially. As CDC data confirms, soda contributes just 4% of calories in the American diet, and all sugar-sweetened beverages combined attribute just 6%.

    Bottom line: soft drinks are safe, as world-renown toxicologists and regulatory agencies around the globe have confirmed.
    -American Beverage Association

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