Sunday, March 13, 2011

Caramel Coloring, E150D, or Coca Cola Brown: Not So Carcinogenic as Some People Would Have It

You probably have read it in the NEWS: "Caramel Coloring in Cola carcinogenic!" Well, after yesterday's post on aspartame, I thought it might be advisable to have a closer look at this one, as well. After all, it suddenly appeared more likely that the sulfite ammonia caramel in your diet coke would kill you than the overly dreaded artificial sweetener aspartame.

Although almost none of the webpages, which covered the carcinogenicity of caramel coloring cites the original source of this information, it is yet not difficult to find the respective study (Moon. 2001) on PubMed. It was published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry and contains the following small table with data about the amount of 4(5)-Methylimidazole (a byproduct of the production process) in five commercially available cola softdrinks:

cola soft-drink     amount (μg/mL)         in one bottle (μg/591 mL)
brand 10.36±0.02212.76
brand 20.32±0.01189.12
brand 30.30±0.01177.30
brand 40.32±0.02189.12
brand 50.36±0.00212.76

Now, on their own, this figures are hardly significant. Put into the context of the findings of a previous study (NTP. 2007) on the toxicity of this particular chemical, however, they may be disquieting, yet far less alarming than the media would have it:
[...] carcinogenic incidences were observed in experimental mice when they were fed diets containing 0, 312, 625, or 1250 ppm 4-methylimidazole for 2 years. The amounts of 4-methylimidazole in these diets were equivalent to average daily doses of approximately 4, 80, and 170 mg/kg of body weight to mice. If a person weighing 60 kg consumes one bottle of cola soft drink, only 3.3 μg/kg 4-methylimidazole is ingested. Therefore, the amounts ingested from these beverages may not be significant.
As with my previous blogpost on aspartame. I do by no means want to trivialize the toxic potential of these chemicals; nor is it my intention to encourage the use of any chemical substances in foodstuff, BUT I want YOU not to fall victim to each and every fear monger, trying to tell you that XYZ will kill you instantly, when the very science he references tells otherwise. In fact, if you are a man you probably would not have to worry at all, since the NTP study showed "no evidence of carcinogenic activity of 4-methylimidazole in male F344/N rats" at either of the injected dosages over a 2 year period. And in case you are a women, you better open another bottle of coke immediately, because you still have 999x0.5l bottles of Coca Cola to drink today (and for the next 2 years) to "feed" the cancer ;-)