If you've been reading some recent news reports, you just might be. A review article published this month in the International Journal of Clinical Practice has garnered some media attention, often with sensationalistic headlines to scare people into thinking that drinking their favorite cola beverage just might cause muscle problems or paralysis. Why? They suggest that cola consumption may cause a potassium imbalance.

Now, here's what you need to keep in mind if you see a story like this in your local paper:

• This study is a collection of case histories. Why is that important? Case studies are documented by medical professionals who may observe certain symptoms of disease or a physiological problem due to unusual circumstances.

• The article looked at extremes - people who consume anywhere from 2 to 9 liters of cola per day over an extended period of time, sometimes for years. This is not moderate consumption by far. And it is far beyond the daily consumption of an average American.

• The body of science just doesn't support that moderate cola consumption causes muscle problems or paralysis due to a potassium imbalance.

And just what is potassium anyway? It's a necessary electrolyte that helps with a lot of body functions, including the regulation of muscle activity, including muscle contractions. Our bodies need potassium, and when it is out of balance, things may go awry. Some dietary sources of potassium are tomato juice, bananas and raisins.

So just keep these facts in mind if someone tells you about the latest "cola scare." If you look at the bigger picture, what's important is moderation in our diets. Colas - and all beverages - can be part of a balanced lifestyle when consumed as part of a diet that includes moderation and variety.