At a picnic this weekend, I listened as an extended family member nagged at kids to stay away from the cola and other types of soda pop being served. "They rot your teeth," one grandmother admonished her grandkids. But she herself was drinking a big glass of Diet Pepsi, and didn't seem aware of the irony of her pronouncement: It's actually older women who are most at risk of health problems from drinking cola and other fizzy soft drinks.
Every six months or so, it seems, a new warning comes out about the dangers of drinking too much soda. And you may feel you've heard it all. But a couple of new studies have led experts to begin calling for a public health campaign to warn women about cola consumption.
Women are at greater risk of osteoporosis, or bone thinning, as they get older. Most of us already know that. But many people don't realize that drinking a lot of cola and other soft drinks increases osteoporosis risk -- or causes the disease to progress faster. The phosphoric acid that makes fizzy drinks fizz actually eats away at bone, making it more porous.
This news, while worrying, has been known for a while. But now scientists are sounding the alarm that soft drinks weaken muscles as well as bones. According to a [new study] (http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090519075420.htm), drinking large amounts of cola (the study focused on people who drank two quarts or more a day) causes potassium levels in the blood to fall, which can lead to a severe deficiency. And potassium deficiency, as athletes know, makes you feel weak and dizzy, and causes muscles to atrophy.
Researchers aren't sure yet exactly how soft drinks are causing the potassium deficiency; they theorize that flooding the kidneys with caffeine and sugar causes them to filter out too much potassium from cells. This is a dangerous double whammy for older women, who have a higher risk of falling and hip fracture than men do.
Of course, the real message health and nutrition experts are trying to convey is that we need more calcium and other bone- and muscle-building nutrients in our bodies, and fewer empty calories. To get you started, check out this list of great ways to sneak calcium into your diet.
So what to do when soda's out but you're thirsty and milk just won't cut it? Try water, lemonade, or iced tea -- with milk.