Fizz in soda pop isn't bad for you, but the sugar is


October 14, 2005|By JUDY FOREMAN

Does drinking carbonated beverages harm the bones or teeth?

The carbonation per se isn't bad. But fizzy soft drinks can give you gas and heartburn, while the sugar in nondiet drinks adds useless calories and can give you cavities. You'd be better off drinking a glass or two of bone-enhancing low-fat milk instead.

Scientists have wondered whether the phosphoric acid in many soft drinks might damage bones. But they've looked and found that "there really isn't any evidence that carbonated beverages affect bone health," according Dr. Michael Holick, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at Boston University Medical Center.

For that reason, said Dr. Suzanne Jan de Beur, director of endocrinology at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, "I don't tell patients not to drink soft drinks."

Even though soft drinks don't directly harm bone, they can have an indirect effect if you substitute them for calcium-rich milk, said Dr. Felicia Cosman, clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation. If you get enough calcium from milk or other foods, she said, soft drinks probably won't have much impact on bones.

As for teeth, "tooth enamel is harder and more dense than bone," so the damage to teeth is probably slight, said Dr. Thomas Van Dyke, a professor of periodontology and oral biology at the Boston University School of Dental Medicine.

A person would have to drink extreme quantities of carbonated beverages for the carbonic acid to leach calcium out of teeth, he said. The sugar, though, is horrible for teeth because bacteria that eat the sugar produce an acid that creates cavities.

If you simply must drink sugary soft drinks, at least drink them through a straw. A report in the May/June issue of General Dentistry noted that drinking through a straw positioned toward the back of the mouth can help reduce cavities.

My doctor has me use a kit to test for hidden blood in the stool. Is it legal to mail those things?

Yes, it is, according to Postal Service regulations, which specify how such samples are to be labeled and packaged.

People having been legally mailing stool samples for years, said David Bull, a spokesman for Beckman Coulter, which makes the widely used Hemoccult for fecal occult blood testing, a screening test for possible early colon cancer and for anemia.

Though Hemoccult is the industry leader, more than a dozen other companies make stool sample kits that patients send through the mail for testing.

Other potentially hazardous biological materials regularly wend their way across the country via FedEx and other commercial carriers. Diagnostic specimens sent this way, usually by laboratories and hospitals but not individual patients, must comply with standards set by IATA, the International Air Transport Association, said Lourdes Pena, a spokesperson for FedEx.

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