Coca-Cola might rot your teeth and load your body with sugar and calories, but it's actually an effective and safe first line of treatment for some stomach blockages, researchers say.
Yes, the same corrosive elements in the soft drink that wear down tooth enamel also seem to be quite good at dissolving stubborn, indigestible material that can build up in the stomach, studies show.
Researchers reviewed studies on the unconventional treatment that have been published over the past 10 years. In total, they looked at 24 papers covering 46 cases of patients with gastric phytobezoars, which are hard masses made up of indigestible parts of fruits and vegetables, like cellulose. These build-ups can cause pain and they tend to develop in people who have trouble moving food through their digestive tract, either because of a previous gastric surgery or some other condition.
For exactly half of those patients who tried using Coca-Cola to relieve their stomach woes, the soft drink was all that was needed to break down the blockage. And for 19, the beverage worked in combination with another endoscopic technique (such as mechanical lithotripsy). In just four cases, patients needed surgery to have the obstruction removed. Those numbers mean Coca-Cola has 91.3 percent success rate, the researchers said.
Scientists have not yet thoroughly explained how the soft drink dissolves bezoars, but it likely has something to do with its high acidity. Coca-Cola, due to its carbonic and phosphoric acid, has a pH of 2.6 and resembles the natural gastric acid that's thought to be important for fiber digestion, the researchers said. In addition, the sodium bicarbonate and carbon dioxide bubbles in the beverage might enhance the dissolving effect.
"Coca-Cola ingestion should be the treatment of choice considering that less endoscopies and accessories are needed and patients stay less at the hospital," the researchers wrote. "Moreover, availability, low cost, rapid way of action, simplicity in administration and safety renders Coca-Cola a cost-effective therapy for gastric phytobezoars."
And for diabetics or those worried about their calorie-intake, the researchers noted that diet soda or Coca-Cola Zero could be used to the same effect.
The review of the studies was detailed online last month in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics.