These days the world becomes familiar with a substance called 4 methylimidazole the substance that made Coca-Cola and Pepsi to announce that they will change the manufacturing formula .Which substance in Coca-Cola and Pepsi causes cancer? But scientists are familiar with this substance just a while ago:
In 1956 is proven that the animals exposed to a high dose of 4 methylimidazole get convulsive seizures, restlessness, mouth foaming and paralysis.
In 1969, 1986 and 1987 other scientific studies have shown the same convulsive activity of 4 methylimidazole with generalized convulsions of the body.
In 1993, the same effects appeared on goats and mice. Thus neurological side effects of 4 methylimidazole were confirmed on a large number of animal species.
In 2006 it was investigated the possible mutagenic effect of the substance on the bacterial species and the experiments gave negative results.
In 2008, the National Toxicology Program of the US published the results according to which it is clearly shown that the 4 methylimidazole causes cancer in mice and rats.
Do not expect similar studies that show the carcinogenic effect of 4 methyl imidazole in people from one simple reason: no one would allow such an experiment with a potentially carcinogenic substance because such a study would be unethical.
Why is this substance used at all? 4 methylimidazole actually gives the “caramel color” of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and other products. There is no nutritional or preservative value and it is added solely for cosmetic reasons. In early ’90 -is, Pepsi and Coca-Cola created colorless “diet” versions of their products, clear and transparent like water, but with the same taste as their usual drinks. Such products were probably not selling well (“water” with the taste of Coca-Cola or Pepsi), and soon were abandoned. So, these beverages can be produced without this color, and with exactly the same flavor.
When it comes to toxic substances you will probably think that a tolerable daily dose would not have any effects. However, this rule does not apply to carcinogenic substances – for them there is no allowable threshold or theoretically are set extremely low doses as the maximum permitted daily dose in order to protect the population. The permissible daily dose for 4 methylimidazole, according to the state of California, only in one Coca-Cola or Pepsi tin can is exceeded 5 times!
However, the state of California does not prohibit the use of 4 methyl imidazole, but obliges the manufacturers to put a clear label on the packaging that says “The product can cause cancer.” Coca-Cola and Pepsi to avoid the obligation, plan to change the formula, but only in California! The companies plan to make the same change after few years in other countries in the US, but not in Europe.
There are many ways in which the industry is trying to diminish the whole situation. First, they claim that it is not true that 4 methyl imidazole is carcinogenic. However, if it were not so, imagine how many lawsuits would have been filed in the US against those who “talk bad “about their products for allegedly causing cancer! If it isn’t true, why not just sue them?
Secondly, they’re trying to make confusion about the substance, so instead of using the full name 4 methylimidazole, they call it “4 MEI”, “caramel” or “caramel coloring”. Yes 4 methyl imidazole is a color and it is used to obtain the caramel look, but it has nothing to do with natural caramel. 4 methy imidazole isn’t a natural substance and you can’t find it in nature. 4 methyl imidazole isn’t a caramel. 4 methyl imidazole is a color.
Third, they say that this substance is not only used by them and that it is contained in other food products. The manipulation here is clear: “Here, 4 methyl imidazole is everywhere, everybody uses it, and so nothing is dangerous.” It is true that it is contained in other foods, artificially added. Therefore not only Coca-Cola and Pepsi should write “Contains a substance which causes cancer”. This label must appear on all such products, or even better, the use the 4 methyl imidazole should be banned entirely in food and we should not be heartened by the fact that many products have it. Other harmful substances are also present everywhere and many people use them, but that does not make them less dangerous. Such substances are rightly prohibited.
As a doctor, I cannot describe my initial shock when I found out what kind of substances are used in the food manufacturing processes, substances for which it is more than clear that cause diseases that are deadly. In the before mentioned drinks, 4 methyl imidazole is just one part of the story. Perhaps more dangerous it is the fact that in one glass of Coca-Cola there are 10 teaspoons of sugar, or the fact that these drinks contain phosphates that cause osteoporosis and bone weakening. The list of potentially dangerous substances in those drinks is actually very long: aspartame, sodium benzoate, BPA … There is not one healthy (or healthy minded) reason which would justify the consumption of such drinks.
Each of us is responsible for personal health. Maybe someone expects that owners of huge companies or legislators will care more about your health and that of your children more than you do. I do not. I do not expect that someone will recognize that his drinks cause cancer. The world is as it is, and it remains only to protect ourselves until better times come and ethics is established in business. Our generation is unlikely to wait that day.
The author is a medical doctor and has two Masters of environmental influences on health, acquired at Cambridge and Harvard.