The family of a 30-year-old mother who died suddenly say her 7.5 litre-a-day Coca-Cola habit was partly to blame.
Mother-of-eight Natasha Marie Harris died on February 25, 2010 after a cardiac arrest, Coroner David Crerar heard at an inquest yesterday in Invercargill.
Pathologist Dr Dan Mornin told the court Ms Harris' main cause of death was cardiac arrhythmia, but she also had severe hypokalemia - lack of potassium in the blood - probably relating to excessive consumption of soft-drink.
He said although it was difficult to confirm this from post-mortem tests, it was consistent with her symptoms of tiredness and lack of strength and with other cases of heavy soft-drink consumers.
Dr Mornin said it was probable a combination of factors, including poor diet, played a role in her death.
The court heard Ms Harris had a poor diet and was a heavy smoker, with a 30-a-day habit.
But her family is convinced her Coca-Cola consumption played a part in her death - and they say the popular drink should carry warning signs.
A Coca-Cola Oceania representative, who was in court as an observer, told the inquest the company did not believe there was any basis for finding the consumption of Coke caused Ms Harris' death.
"We deeply sympathise with the tragic death of Ms Harris, but we are firmly of the view her death was not due to the purchasing of Coca-Cola."
She said medical evidence referred to other contributing factors and the "possibility rather than a probability" of the role Coke played.
Evidence on how much Coca-Cola Ms Harris drank varied. Her partner, Chris Hodgkinson, at one point claimed it was 10 litres a day, and at another point said it was five 1.5 litre bottles each day.
Other witnesses said Ms Harris would drink upwards of 4 litres of Coke a day and police said 7 litres a day was a mid-range figure of her consumption.
"The first thing she would do in the morning was have a drink of Coke and the last thing she would do in the day was have a drink of Coke by her bed," Mr Hodgkinson said.
He told the court she had been unwell up to a year before her death, including vomiting six times a week.
Dr Mornin said it was likely her vomiting was caused by having too much caffeine in her body.
Mr Hodgkinson said he had known Ms Harris since she was 16. She had always drunk Coke, but in the past seven or eight years she had increased her consumption to five bottles a day.
Mr Hodgkinson said she was addicted to Coke and without it would become moody, irritable and "quite nasty" and be low in energy.
But he did not suspect the beverage could be making her ill.
"I never thought about it. It's just a soft-drink, just like drinking water."
University of Otago researcher Dr Lisa Te Morenga said after the inquest that a person drinking up to 10 litres of any liquid a day would endanger their health.
"Even drinking that much water a day would be detrimental, as our maximum capacity for water is something like 4 litres a day."
Every litre of Coca-Cola contained 100g of sugar, so drinking 10 litres a day equated to eating 1kg of sugar, Dr Te Morenga said.
Mr Hodgkinson told the court Ms Harris drank no other beverage and very little alcohol.
Since she had been unwell, she did not eat breakfast, ate only snacks at lunch and often went without dinner.
All her teeth had been removed because they were rotting, prompting a dentist to remark about drinking too much Coke.
Mr Crerar asked Mr Hodgkinson if he knew that not having a balanced diet was bad for a person.
He replied: "Yeah, I suppose so. It's different being able to afford it with eight children. We ate what we could, when we could."
Mr Crerar also suggested that even if Coke bottles had warning labels on them, Ms Harris may not have heeded the advice, as she was a smoker and all cigarette packets carried health warnings.
Ms Harris' mother-in-law, Vivien Hodgkinson, said after the inquest none of the family had known of the dangers because there was no warnings, but now "fizzy drink in general doesn't come into our house".
The family were hoping to obtain compensation from Coca-Cola for the children, who were now in care.
"It's destroyed the whole family. There's eight little children aged under 12 and their dad had to sit down after school and tell them their mother was dead. It's been very traumatic for everyone."
Mr Crerar reserved his decision.
7.5 litres a day
@ $1.50 per 1.5l bottle*
= 5 bottles per day
= $7.50 per day
= $2737.50 per year
* Based on $3 for two on special at Countdown yesterday
@ $13.60 a pack of 20
= $20.40 day
= $7446 a year