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The Bursted Bubble: Carbonation and Our Health

If the word "refreshing" brings to mind images of a sweet, bubbly soft drink, you're not alone. You can thank the marketing teams that made consuming Coca-Cola and other bubbly soft drinks a national past time now valued at more than $75 billion in revenues each year.

Once brewed as medicinal tonics and consumed infrequently, the carbonated soft drink category is for many nowadays the default beverage choice, even despite the known health risks connected with excessive sugar consumption. Sodas, once minimally sweetened with pure cane sugar, are now excessively sweetened with high fructose corn syrup—which is six times sweeter than sugar and has been connected with obesity and type 2 diabetes, among other health risks.

Artificial sweeteners like aspartame (found in the number one selling soft drink: Diet Coke), have been connected with serious health risks including neurological disorders, migraines, and cancer. And new research connects an ingredient that gives cola its dark color also with certain types of cancer.

But the one element to our fizzy fix that we don't often talk about is the bubbles themselves—the carbon dioxide that's added to sodas and waters—to tickle our tongues. It's the element to the products most consumers crave, but it may not exactly be the best thing for us either.

Bubbles—whether occurring naturally or added in production of a soft drink or sparkling water—are formed from carbon dioxide—the same gas we expel through our lungs in the breathing process.

Generally speaking, products containing carbonic acid—the bubble gas—are fairly acidic. You've likely heard of using cola to remove rust or dissolve bone—it is the acidity from the carbonation (and also the phosphoric acid added to most sodas) that does this. An overly acidic body is prone to a number of diseases.

Carbonic acid expands once in our bellies and, acutely, can cause hiccups and belching. It can also aggravate existing stomach and digestive disorders like irritable bowel syndrome. Bubbles can also decrease the stomach's ability to digest food properly by making digestive acids less effective, in essence causing digestive disorders as well.

The acidic nature of carbonation has been shown in some clinical studies to also leach the body of calcium and other vital nutrients. Low calcium levels means the body will pull it from reserves—in our bones—which contributes to the onset of osteoporosis, a condition of particular concern to post-menopausal women.

Tooth enamel may also be diminished by excessive consumption of carbonic acid. When pH levels drop below 5.2, tooth enamel dissolves. The human body does not produce more tooth enamel once we're born, and diminished tooth enamel can lead the way to serious tooth and gum diseases.

Some carbonated products may also contain salt to boost flavor and texture, which can contribute to the onset of high blood pressure.

Avoiding artificially or excessively sweetened carbonated beverages is most certainly recommended, limiting your intake of other bubbly products such as sparkling water and even naturally fermented kombuchas can decrease the body's acidity levels and the health issues connected with carbonic acid consumption. Instead, try consuming these products as they were initially intended: as an occasional treat or medicine and not a daily habit.

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