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Is Coca-Cola Actually Good for an Upset Stomach?

is coke good for an upset stomach?
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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. 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 there is a good chance that it’s not going to help you feel better, either.

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.

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! Remember, there is always the placebo effect, and sometimes, that can be enough to beat nausea.

On the flip side, there are videos like this one, which show coke to be corrosive:

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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{ 14 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!

  • 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.

  • 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)

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