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Addicted to cola: Did soda kill a mother of eight?

A father blames his harried partner's 10-liter-a-day Coca-Cola habit for her early death — and a pathologist is backing him up

Natasha Marie Harris, a 30-year-old mother of eight, died in February 2010, and a court in her hometown of Invercargill, New Zealand, is still struggling to determine why. Harris' partner, Christopher Hodgkinson, told an inquest on Thursday that he believes her excessive consumption of Coca-Cola was the key factor — and a pathologist backed him up, to a point. Here, a brief look at Harris' story, her soda addiction, and the role it might have played in her too-early death:

How much soda did Harris drink?
The police say she drank seven liters of Coke a day, but Hodgkinson insists it was more like 10. "As a family we would buy four 2.5 liters a day, the maximum on special," he told coroner David Crerar. "The Coke would be for Natasha to consume over the course of the day. 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." If she ran out, trouble ensued, he added. She would get moody, listless, and angry — in other words, she was addicted.

Didn't someone realize her soda addiction was a problem?
Apparently not. Harris' death was sudden, and while she'd been afflicted by health problems for at least a year, including gynecological issues and chronic nausea (vomiting six times a week), everyone — Harris, her family, even Hodgkinson — assumed her illnesses were triggered by the stress of raising eight children. "It's just a soft drink, just like drinking water," Hodgkinson told the court. "I didn't think a soft drink was going to kill her." Are these people for real, asks April Peveteaux at The Stir. "I admit, after my first baby, I upped my caffeine intake dramatically," but 18 pints of Coke a day? And soda is like water? Someone "needed a nutrition class." 

Could Coke really have killed her?
Cardiac arrhythmia was originally given as the official cause of death and an autopsy found that she had a diseased liver. Dr. Dan Mornin, a pathologist, told the coroner Thursday that based on her symptoms, Harris probably had severe hypokalemia, or lack of potassium in the bloodstream, tied to her copious amounts of daily Coke. Other heavy soft-drinkers have exhibited similar lack of energy and strength, and the vomiting was probably due to caffeine toxicity from her massive intake of the drug. The coroner will weigh the evidence and issue a verdict.

What does Coke say?
When Hodgkinson first blamed Coke in 2010, Coca-Cola New Zealand called his claim "patently untrue." Now the company is hedging a bit, noting that "grossly excessive ingestion of any food product, including water" could be harmful. "We believe that all foods and beverages can have a place in a balanced and sensible diet combined with an active lifestyle."

Sources: Fox News, Otago Daily Times, The Stir, The Telegraph

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