Is Coca-Cola Actually Good for an Upset Stomach?

January 23, 2013

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Coke is often touted as a popular remedy for an upset stomach. You’ve probably heard this before. Sip on some flat coke and your nausea will go away. Really? In this post, we will explore whether there is any truth to this idea.

To start with, there is no scientific research that supports the claim that flat coke, or any other soda for that matter (like ginger ale) can help ease a stomachache. What’s more, coca-cola – carbonated or flat – will not help your body replenish fluids. Many people believe coke can help you replenish electrolytes if you have been vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. But coke doesn’t have significant quantities of potassium or sodium, which are both helpful in restoring an electrolyte balance, and the beverage actually has far too much glucose (sugar) for it to be beneficial in rehydration. For more on this, see this article from the New York Times.

So, Coke is not going to cure your traveler’s diarrhea and there is a good chance that it’s not going to help you feel better, either.

Does this mean coke has no use when it comes to curing your stomach ache? Well, let’s say that you don’t have a case of traveler’s diarrhea. You aren’t vomiting from food poisoning and you aren’t rapidly losing fluids. You just have a stomach ache. Perhaps you are a bit nauseous. You are not sick, perse. Things are just a bit out of whack.

In this case, flat coke (slight carbonation is fine and may actually help in this instance) may help you feel better. It may help you feel better because you have become habituated to it as a remedy, but also because it can help relieve some of the pressure and gas buildup that may be causing you to feel nauseous in the first place. Sometimes a burp is all you need to start feeling better.

In conclusion, coke – flat or otherwise – is not going to cure the bacterial infection that is affecting your GI tract. It certainly won’t help with something more serious like a parasite or an amoeba. It can, however, provide relief if your nausea is caused by something as simple gas buildup. Sorry to disappoint you if you are a big believer in the coca-cola stomach remedy, but hopefully we didn’t completely rain on your parade!

Feel free to push back with your own anecdotes in the comments. Also, feel free to direct us to any evidence that we may not have come across or mentioned in the article.

Photo credit: flickr user funkyah

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda February 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Ah, so now I understand why it does help sometimes! I thought it was all a myth, but that makes sense. I wonder if there was ever any truth in the claims for it as a medicine? or perhaps it was the cocaine & when they took it out it was less of a medicine!

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phil March 11, 2013 at 4:55 am

Linda, haha, yes, I think that some of the earlier ingredients may have made a huge impact on coke’s ability to make someone feel better ;)

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Marlys February 11, 2013 at 6:02 pm

I suppose if it’s not diet Coke, it could help replenish the body with sugar after diarrhea and some needed fluids. But I would still prefer it carbonated.

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phil March 11, 2013 at 4:56 am

The problem is that the ratio of sugar to other ingredients is too high, so it is not very effective for rehydration.

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Katrina March 10, 2013 at 7:45 pm

I always thought it was non-caffeinated beverages like 7UP, ginger ale, or even sparkling water that you drink to help settle your stomach, not lower GI tract issues. I have had that help. Never occurred to me to try caffeine + sugar for hydration; wrongness!

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phil March 11, 2013 at 4:58 am

Then you’ve been doing things the right way, Katrina :)

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Lisa | LLworldtour March 17, 2013 at 2:57 pm

I can’t remember the last time I had Coke and thankfully will continue to avoid it! Blech! :)

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Tina September 25, 2013 at 4:33 am

I never drink coke but had been suffering badly with the Norovirus for 3 weeks and nothing helped. Finally I tried flat Coke and to my utter disbelief within 15 minutes I felt better!! Since then I’ve felt fine. Strange but true :)

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Diana Trimble November 18, 2013 at 6:22 am

This is definitely not an urban myth, coca cola (not flat) is even being used in hospitals to help people with gastric blockage. Not hard to figure out why when you consider that the phosphoric acid in coke can dissolve the shell off an egg! There is absolutely no reason why it should be flat though, in fact the bubbles help. Personally I do not drink coke regularly but always use it if my gut is feeling off. First I might burp a lot and then my stomach feels soothed. Other fizzy drinks such as ginger ale (which some people claim works as well) do not have the same effect. Coca cola was invented by a chemist and was originally sold as a tonic. I think this explains a lot. It should not be drunk on a daily basis however!

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