Before reaching for that can of soda, consider that the carbonated beverage may actually cause pain, according to researchers at USC.
On Sept. 29, The Journal of Neuroscience published a study conducted by USC professor Emily Liman that says the consumption of carbonated beverages triggers electrical impulses in our body that cause small amounts of pain.
A rather serendiptous moment in her laboratory led Liman to explore the interaction between pain and soda.
“We had one student in the lab working on molecules involved in mustard detection and one student who was working on responses to acids by taste cells. One day we took the solutions from the mustard detection and applied them to the taste cells,” Liman said.
The two graduate students involved, Yuanyuan Wang and Rui Chang, continued to assist Professor Liman throughout the progression of the study.
Liman said the sensory perception that one experiences when drinking soda is first sourness and then a burning sensation.
It was previously thought that this burning sensation was caused by the chemical nature of the carbonation, particularly the bubbles found in such beverages. The study, however, proves that it is the carbon dioxide within the composition that leads to the burning.
The study used the cells of mice that were taken from the part of the brain that contains pain sensory cells. The cells were then floated in carbonated saline to observe which ones reacted to the carbon dioxide.
“TRPA1 molecules sense mustard and other noxious chemicals. These cells have receptors in our nasal and oral cavities; mustard binds to these receptors caus[ing] the generation of the electrical impulse. The same was found in the case of carbon dioxide,” Liman said.
Liman said that even though the consumption of carbonated drinks causes pain and alerts our body to tissue damage, given the relatively small quantities of compounds within these drinks, tissue damage is unlikely to occur, even if someone is a regular soda drinker.
Chang said he doesn’t think this discovery will change students’ drinking habits.
“[The pain] is not expressed in the taste, there are other pathways in our body for us to feel like we’re drinking soda,” he said.
Sabrina Hsu, a sophomore majoring in psychology who said she is a regular soda drinker, said she doesn’t believe she will stop drinking soda.
“Generally people do what they want, regardless of what studies find,” Hsu said.