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Holiday advice: Drinking cola won’t help if food sticks in your throat

Cola, a beverage often associated with the festive Christmas season, has garnered a reputation for its supposed ability to alleviate a blocked esophagus, when food gets stuck in your throat.

However, recent research conducted by Amsterdam UMC has undermined this widely held belief.

Why study cola and throat blockages?

Elise Tiebie is an emergency physician and the driving force behind this study. She discovered numerous online sources, including tip websites, Wikipedia, and even a British newspaper anecdote about paramedics relying on cola to save lives.

Professor Arjan Bredenoord, a renowned authority in Gastroenterology at Amsterdam UMC and the lead author of the study, expressed his surprise. He said, “I’ve even heard doctors recommending it.”

Consequently, Bredenoord and his team sought to investigate the veracity of these claims, ultimately dispelling this long-standing myth.

Understanding esophageal blockages

Sometimes, after swallowing, a piece of food can become lodged in the narrow passage of the esophagus, resulting in a distressing sensation of pressure. In severe cases, individuals may struggle to even swallow their saliva.

This obstruction is typically caused by a constricted esophagus, which may be due to scars resulting from previous inflammations or a narrowing caused by a tumor.

Bredenoord emphasizes the potential dangers of this condition, stressing the importance of seeking appropriate medical treatment.

“This can be really dangerous, so it’s important that people get the correct treatment. That’s why we wanted to check if this works,” adds Bredenoord.  

With this imperative in mind, the researchers set out to assess the efficacy of cola in resolving esophageal blockages.

Treatment options and the role of cola

In some instances, food particles dislodge on their own, naturally relieving the blockage. However, such spontaneous resolution is not guaranteed, necessitating a visit to the emergency room.

In cases where there is a suspicion that the obstruction persists, an emergency endoscopy is usually performed. During this procedure, a camera is introduced through the mouth into the esophagus to remove the stuck food using a net or forceps.

Previous suggestions have proposed that cola may aid in dislodging throat blockages, potentially averting the need for emergency endoscopy.

To investigate this claim, Bredenoord and his team conducted a comprehensive study across five Dutch hospitals, meticulously evaluating the safety and effectiveness of cola in dissolving esophageal obstructions.

Studying cola and throat blockages

51 patients, awaiting endoscopy, were divided into two groups. Half were given small sips of cola in the emergency room, while the other half waited without consuming cola.

If patients still experienced difficulty swallowing saliva, an emergency endoscopy was performed to remove the blockage.

The study’s findings definitively demonstrate that cola does not possess the purported ability to alleviate food blockages in the esophagus.

In both groups, whether they received cola or not, there was an improvement in 61% of patients. Furthermore, no side effects or complications were observed with the use of cola.

“There was no improvement when using cola to loosen stuck food in the esophagus, often the food dislodged on its own after a while and otherwise, we performed an endoscopy. Hopefully this put this myth to rest,” concludes Bredenoord.

Implications and advice

In summary, this research debunks the popular perception surrounding the efficacy of cola in this context, while also underscoring the importance of seeking appropriate medical intervention for esophageal blockages.

This is especially true during this time of year when dietary excesses are common. Let us celebrate the holiday season with accurate information and prioritized health.

The full study was published in the journal The BMJ.


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