Can cola really help dislodge food stuck in the throat?

Many internet users claim that cola can be a solution for dislodging food stuck in the throat, or more precisely, in the esophagus. But does this trick really work?


The festive season is a stressful time for the emergency services, which are often already overloaded during the rest of the year.

So it’s hardly surprising to see the proliferation of tips and tricks that could avoid placing extra stress on these vital services during the holiday celebrations. One of the tips circulating on the Internet explains how to avoid a trip to the emergency room for an endoscopy after swallowing some food and getting it stuck in the esophagus. The iconic beverage, like any other fizzy drink, is said to disintegrate the stuck food, resolving the problem in no time at all.

A team of emergency physicians from Amsterdam UMC has been investigating this tip, which is attracting growing interest from the public and health professionals alike.

“Emergency physician Elise Tiebie, the driving force behind this project, saw online that this was really a rumour, from tip websites to Wikipedia as well as an anecdote in a British newspaper about paramedics saving a life by using cola. I’ve even heard doctors recommending it,” says Arjan Bredenoord, Professor of Gastroenterology at Amsterdam UMC and lead author of the study, quoted in a statement.

Based in five Dutch hospitals, the authors of the study set out to test the usefulness – and effectiveness – of such a trick, which is supposed to dissolve stuck bits of food to clear the esophagus.

They tested it on 51 patients awaiting endoscopy, about half of whom were given several sips of cola in the emergency waiting room. The other half received nothing at all. The scientists specify that if patients still couldn’t swallow their saliva, they were given an emergency endoscopy to remove the piece of food.

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No improvement

Published in the Christmas Issue of the BMJ, the results show that there was no improvement with cola consumption. The study does state, however, that complete passage of the food was reported more often in the intervention group, but that “this difference was not significant”.

Still, it should be noted that this tip does not appear to be dangerous, with health professionals pointing out that “there were no side effects or complications of cola use”.

The scientists conclude that “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.”

Every holiday, the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES) reiterates its advice for a safe festive season, even if it doesn’t necessarily concern food stuck in the esophagus.

Last year, it recommended keeping button batteries out of the reach of children to avoid them swallowing them, following hygiene, storage and preparation rules to avoid food poisoning, and taking particular care not to ingest decorative plants such as holly, mistletoe or poinsettia, which can be used to decorate cakes.

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