Just when I get done warning people about the dangers of energy drinks, Bolivia turns around and gives me something new to worry about: Coca-enhanced soft drinks.
A month ago, a private firm introduced Coca Brynco, Bolivia's first mass-produced soft drink, to the Rural Development Ministry. The recipe for the drink includes coca leaves, which are infamous for being the principal ingredient in cocaine.
Unlike the United States, Bolivia allows limited cultivation of coca for legal use in cooking, folk medicine and Andean religious rites. Unadulterated coca is a mild stimulant that can be used to suppress hunger pangs and ease altitude sickness.
It wasn't until the beginning of the 20th century that Coca Cola began removing the cocaine ingredient from their soft drink recipe. The U.S. government had finally decided to do a little investigating and figured out that cocaine, in addition to being addictive, was dangerous to our health.
Apparently, Bolivian President Evo Morales - who supports the manufacturing of the drink - didn't hear about that. I'm going to send him a book on the history of cocaine and its side effects, which include heart failure, ruptures of blood vessels in the brain and death.
This latest government-approved business venture is a perfect example of how leaders in South America don't always realize that you don't enhance the citizenry by simply making as much money as possible, in whatever way possible. You enhance a nation by teaching its people to be well-informed, productive and healthy.
But so far, Morales and the company manufacturing Coca Brynco don't seem to be interested in the best interests of Bolivian citizens. At the time the firm presented the drink to ministers, they had already distributed about half of the 25,000 bottles of the drink that had been produced for the launching of the beverage nationwide, according to Johnny Vargas, the production and quality control manager for bottling firm, Tipo.
Morales, meanwhile, has long supported the coca growers union and frequently urges the international community to stop "stigmatizing" the coca leaf. Recently, he and Bolivia foreign minister David Choquehuanca led an effort to remove coca chewing leaf from the United Nations prohibited list.
The U. S. filed a formal objection with the United Nations, claiming that the proposal to lift the ban on the coca leaf would weaken the integrity of the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.
I'm inclined to agree with the U.S. government on this one. Coca is a stimulant, plain and simple, and it has no place in a mass-produced soft drink.
Dr. Manny Alvarez is a Cuban-American OB-GYN who serves as a senior medical contributor for the Fox News Channel and senior managing health editor of FOXNews.com. To read more from Dr. Manny, click here.