≡ Menu

Is Coca-Cola Actually Good for an Upset Stomach?

is coke good for an upset stomach?
Pin It

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, outside of a very specific condition called a gastric phytobezoar. Before we talk about gastric phytobezoars, though, let’s address a few common assumptions that are made about Coca Cola.

Many people believe coke can help you replenish electrolytes if you have been vomiting or experiencing diarrhea. However, 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 it’s not really going to rehydrate you.

coke

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.

Coca Cola is also capable of treating a gastric phytobezoar. This is a condition whereby indigestible plant matter gets lodged in the stomach. It can cause severe abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and in severe cases, perforation and bleeding. Coca Cola has been shown to effectively treat this condition (see this paper for one example). While it is not clear exactly why the coke works in this instance, it likely has something to do with the corrosive properties of certain acids in the drink.

If you want to see evidence of the corrosive power of coke, just have a look at this video:

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. Also, if the stomach discomfort is due to a buildup of acid (i.e. if you have heartburn or GERD), coke will not help, and it may actually aggravate the situation.

Coke can, however, provide relief if your nausea is caused by something as simple as gas buildup. It can also break down indigestible matter that is causing blockage. Finally, as a feel good remedy, there may be a placebo effect that can allow for some relief.

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.

UPDATE: Many people have added comments here suggesting that coke is more beneficial than we make it out to be in this article. This may well be true, but please, try to point us to some credible scientific evidence (outside of gastric phytobezoars, that is). Anecdotal evidence is valuable here, too, but we would really like to see something more substantial. Photo credit: flickr user funkyah

Pin It

{ 30 comments… add one }

  • Linda February 11, 2013, 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!

    • phil March 11, 2013, 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 😉

  • Marlys February 11, 2013, 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.

    • phil March 11, 2013, 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.

  • Katrina March 10, 2013, 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!

    • phil March 11, 2013, 4:58 am

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

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

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

  • Tina September 25, 2013, 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 :)

  • Diana Trimble November 18, 2013, 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!

    • Aubrey July 28, 2015, 2:18 pm

      the Coke that was developed by a chemist ( scary in itself) is not the Coke of today. I can see the corrosive properties working to unblock a food issue but there is no way except through a placebo that Coke can aid in any health benefits other than the above mentioned. Anything that can dissolve a nail or eat the paint off of your car should not be ingested into your body. Common sense would tell you that. Not to mention the caramel coloring in soft drinks creates a carcinogen during production. Corn syrup rounds out this toxic cocktail which is almost always a marker of poor-quality, nutrient-poor disease-creating industrial food products or “food-like substances” It also suppresses a hormone that tells your brain you are full and causes a lower insulin release which tells you you are not as full as you are making you eat more and wha la obesity !! So if you ‘want’ to drink a coke just say you want a coke… don’t use my stomach hurts as an excuse to have one. This is not your grandmother’s coca cola !!!

  • Timbo July 23, 2014, 1:42 pm

    Wow it took Coke a year to do to that egg what vinegar could do in just a day! Moral is: Coke good. Vinegar bad.

  • Heather August 8, 2014, 4:17 pm

    Cola I drink it when I’m being sick it seems to line my stomach and I do not vomit x

  • David Shelby August 25, 2014, 3:57 am

    Phil Paoletta and Sam Gruber (the authors) are not medical doctors, but merely travelers. Getting medical advice from a traveler is akin to getting financial advice from a bank robber.

    • phil July 30, 2015, 6:09 am

      We are completely transparent about this. We also make a point to cite credible news articles and scientific journals in order to draw the conclusions that we do. We are not just pulling information out of our asses here.

  • Mommy Fey September 29, 2014, 9:52 am

    A pediatrician recommended using coke a cola for my son’s who were not able to hold down anything in their stomachs. We’ve tried pedia-lite and Gatorade to help replenish but they could not hold in long enough, the only thing that worked was coke and crackers. This has worked each time and we hardly drink pop in our family.

  • Marita Ryan November 1, 2014, 8:00 am

    10 years a go when my 2 year old son was shooting out both ends I took him to the local doctor and he gave me a prescription and said you can purchase this at the pharmacy or put your son on a 50 cent can of coca cola. He had a can of coca cola on his desk and showed me the ingredients and pointed to the food acid 338 and said that will fix him. He said you can water it down, drink it through a straw, have it flat or just drink it as you open it, whatever you feel comfortable with. I took a punt and put my 2 yr old son on the can of coca cola and have never looked back. I swear by it. My older son only this year drank a can after vomiting, then vomited again 10 mins later, drank another can, felt great then played a grand final of basketball the next day. After spreading the word I have been told that a can of coca cola is also good after a blood nose, when you have tonsillitis, and a fantastic cleaner of the toilet. I often use it to clean my jewellery. When trekking in Nepal 25 years ago I drank a bottle of coke every day as we tried the Annapurna circuit and not knowing all of this, I look back and think I was the only one in our group not to get diarrhoea. So I always drink it when I travel out of Australia, the ever reliable red can of coca cola. My dentist did tell me 40 years never to drink it, as it stains your teeth, but I enjoy it too much to worry about that. My teeth are still pretty white! So tell me what is food acid 338? Only last week a friend told me they swear by fanta to do the same thing, I don’t like fanta but wonder whether it contains the same food acid as it is made by coca cola.

    • Steve November 6, 2014, 5:42 pm

      I had cancer on my face and after major operation and large dose of radio-therapy over six weeks had severe dehydration for over three months. To stupid to ask pharmacist about electrolyte replacement powders! Seldom drink fizzy drinks and one day while I was out and about, needed fluids, and all I could get was a large bottle of Coke. Drank it all over a few hours and next day the dehydration was massively reduced. Most physical symptons relieved. Have been experimenting with it now for a month and it definitely relieves my dehydration. Even though I am now using electrolyte replacements Coke helps enormously
      Friend who has a Masters in Chemistry and 30 years practical says this-
      Acidity of Coke is due to phosphoric acid. Phosphate is massively important in the body for the Krebs cycle. Get the Krebs working again and maybe everything else begins to work. Coke may also contain some other electrolytes that help.
      I know it works for my health problem and would recommend people try it ( carefully)

  • Dorothy December 10, 2014, 8:31 am

    I have heard many people saying it works i will try it and see the difference.

  • Liem December 22, 2014, 2:33 pm

    CocaCola is a very fizzy drink. I never really have CocaCola seeing I’m losing weight. The only Coke I have is Diet or Zero. Lately, I’ve just recovered of a bug. I’ve had diarrhoea but not being sick. I’ve been nauseated but not so strong that I wanna be next to a toilet. On Monday around 10:00 AM, the bug started. I had it all day. Later I had a can of Diet Coke, it did not help!!!! Seeing it was my cousin’s birthday, I went over and my aunt gave me a can of CocaCola. I’ve been feeling better. Not 100% though but my stomach pain and diarrhoea gradually started to fade. The next morning, I woke up fine.

    Concluding this:
    Don’t have Diet Coke, because it never helps me. Have the original CocaCola. Or Zero seeing that helped me when I had a winter vomiting bug last year. Lol xx

  • LauraLyn January 3, 2015, 10:48 am

    I swear by coke. Many days it is the only way I make it to/through work. I have chronic nausea and vomiting… Coke is usually the only beverage I can keep down when I’m nauseated, which is particularly bad in the mornings (no I’m not pregnant). If it’s not too bad or I’ve already had a full can, sparking water is an ok second. Yes, sometimes it makes me burp & that helps. I have allergies and a post nasal drip, is the acid eating up the mucus to ease my tummy? Maybe. But then why wouldn’t any other acidicy beverage (such as Pepsi) do the same. It does not.! I do not know why it works but it takes that “sour” feeling away. Placebo? Perhaps. But I projectile vomit and have since I was an infant. Attributing it all to placebo would be pushing it a little. When I was young my mother would give me cola syrup sold at the pharmacy specifically for nausea. It works well, not as well as the real thing but I wish I could still find it. People say to drink ginger ale because of the ginger in it. Problem is the vast majority of ginger ales do not even have ginger in it and the ones that do are not in significant amounts. Ginger beer has more ginger, but if you’re going to do ginger, just eat some ginger or ginger chews and avoid all the sugar. I am not saying coca cola is going to HEAL anybody but it is a great band aide. The colder the better. NOT flat. Not diet. Although, if you have chronic stomach issues like I do, drinking it on a daily basis will cause weight gain.

  • stephen m January 11, 2015, 1:44 pm
    • David April 25, 2015, 2:24 pm

      I also found Coca Cola to be helpful for an upset stomach on occasions. However, I found out that a key cause for me getting and upset stomach was that my sugar intake was too high (a known cause for IBS which may be what I had). When I limited the amount of sugar I consumed, my stomach became better without having to resort to coca cola. So while coca cola may help momentarily, if you need to take it on a regular basis, I think something else may be wrong and it may actually conflate the problem (such as high sugar intake).

  • Ron April 20, 2015, 3:50 pm

    Phil,
    when I grew up they used to make (and may still) coke syrup to be used for upset stomachs…meaning it very little water, sugar or carbonation. My mother gave it to me when I was sick and it did work…tasted crappy, but it did work.

  • Marvin May 27, 2015, 7:49 pm

    My wife says they give the old folks in nursing home two tablespoon of coke syrup for upset stomach.

  • Karla June 11, 2015, 11:38 am

    This whole article is extremely misleading. At the very top it’s “Is Coca-Cola Actually Good for an Upset Stomach?” Then you talk about tummyaches, then dehydration, then diarrhea. Those are all often separate issues. Coke is good for nausea. I learned this after going through a spell where I would get frequent nausea and would by a generic anti-nausea syrup at the pharmacy. I saw that the ingredients were basically sugar, flavor, and phosphoric acid – so… essentially Coke!

    You also write, “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.”

    So what you’re saying is Coke may relieve an upset stomach. Even the NYT article you linked to is oversimplified and outdated. The newest research says drinking fluids with moderate caffeine is not dehydrating (http://www.webmd.com/balance/caffeine-myths-and-facts?page=3#2). I’m sorry but this post was poorly written.

    • phil June 11, 2015, 11:49 am

      Hi Karla,

      Yes, we say that coke is capable of providing relief if gas buildup is causing nausea. We also say that coke is incapable of providing relief beyond that. If you have some scientific evidence that shows otherwise (a link to a study or paper), please share it with us. In terms of hydration, the reason coke is not effective for significant rehydration has to do with the lack of electrolytes and the overload of sugar, not caffeine.

      Finally, yes we did address several different claims here. That’s because coke gets thrown around a lot in these conversations, and we wanted to evaluate the issue from all angles. What we found is that coke can relieve nausea in certain instances (gas buildup), but that seems to be the ceiling for it.

  • Wendy June 21, 2015, 4:45 am

    I have an autoimmune disorder that means my body gets really inflamed a lot of the time – I used to look about 6 months pregnant by the end of each day. I have to eat a really healthy diet but this didn’t seem to help much. About 6 months ago I got into the habit of drinking a can of (full) coke each day. I no longer get bloated and I look about 7 pounds lighter! Consequently I don’t get the horrid stress which comes with the inflammation. I wish it wasn’t so but coke has been a miracle worker for me.

  • Melissa July 21, 2015, 11:47 pm

    I know with me, I have severe tummy issues. Just recently I got the stomach bug, and still have it unfortunately. And my mom was nice enough to stop by to bring me stuff for it, and usually if it’s really bad I get a prescription for zofran for the nausea. Well, being that I’m unemployed and between doctors, no zofran for me. My mom came with 7 up and I couldn’t keep it down for nothing. Day three with it and 8 pounds lighter, she tells me I should go to the ER and I say no. Her husband has a bottle of coke in his hands, as he’s opening it, I say I’ll trade you that with ten bucks. He said, I’m not taking your money, you can have it. I downed it and within an hour, um, relieved myself and felt so much better. The nausea is gone now, but I had them buy a little six pack of coke for me and with a tummy pill and nighttime meds, I have a feeling I will be waking up tomorrow feeling a lot better.

  • Serena July 25, 2015, 9:13 pm

    I just wanted to say that when you said that there was no scientific evidence that coke, ‘like any other soda (like ginger-ale) ‘ can help an upset stomach, it was pretty ignorant and honestly just bad writing. It was ignorant in that scientists, as logical minds, wouldn’t research every single soda out there just to find out if coca cola had any qualities that may help a stomach ache. This is because, the outcome of this experiment would not depend /at all/ on any soda other than coca cola. And it was bad writing in that, /neither does your post./
    It was also ignorant in that ginger ale /does/ in fact, /scientifically/ help ease upset stomachs. I not going to explain the whole thing to you, but I am sure a quick google search will clear this up. Hint: ginger itself helps upset stomach

    It was also bad writing in that, if your goal was for me to read the whole thing, which, I am pretty certain, as you are a writer, it was your goal, you have failed. I stopped reading right there because I stopped seeing this post a valuable source of information.

    I want you to know that I am writing this because I want to help you out. Remember what I said about how that addition was not even necessary to put in your post? The addition that turned me, and presumably a number of other readers, completely off to your entire post, could have been omitted with a bit of modest proofreading. Many people go on the Internet looking to fight, to pick people apart, and I did pick you apart a bit. I am aware, also, that this comment may be viewed as gratuitous. I come to the Internet looking to help and be helped. That’s what this is.

    • phil July 26, 2015, 6:24 am

      Hi Serena,

      Thanks for contributing. You have complained about poor writing, but I am also struggling to read your comment, so that makes two of us. The fact is that – as it stands now – coke has more value anecdotally than scientifically. Perhaps more research needs to be done. With respect to ginger, you are right. Ginger itself can ease an upset stomach. Unfortunately, most brands of commercial ginger ale have a negligible amount of ginger in them, and like most soft drinks, it’s all about the sugar. As I mentioned in the article, carbonated soft drinks may be able to relieve gas buildup. As far as other properties driven by the ingredients themselves, there is not a lot of evidence for it. That could change, of course, but for me to use the word scientific, it has to be based on credible, peer-reviewed studies.

Leave a Comment