Is drinking Coke to kill bugs an urban myth?

Talk to almost any open water swimmer or canoeist and they all seem to say have a can of coke after being in the water to prevent picking up any bugs or stomach upsets.  It’s even mentioned in some events race information but does it actually work or is it an urban myth?

At the end of my Thames swim, I like many others around me, could be seen drinking a can of full fat coke – the only time I ever do this as it’s a truly horrible drink!  But two days after the event I still got sick.  Fever, chills, headaches, nausea, body aches and diarrhoea.  It wasn’t pleasant and resulted in a course of harsh antibiotics to cure it (don’t worry I am fine now:)).

On looking at the Human Race events page it seemed like I wasn’t alone and over 50 of the 1100 entrants had commented that they were ill too which to me indicates a significant number as most people wouldn’t have commented.  My assumption is that all the heavy rain the night before washed some nastiness into the water and was not helped by the very fast flowing current.  By the sounds of it I got lucky as some people were much sicker than me.

So it got me thinking – is drinking coke an urban myth or is there actually some truth in it?  So I embarked on some limited internet research on the matter.  The main things I found are:

  1. Coke is phosphoric acid – a chemical commonly used for rust removal and is more acidic than lemon juice or vinegar
  2. Coke has a very high sugar content to hide the acidity
  3. Coke was invented by a pharmacist in 1886 and was originally sold as a cure for stomach upsets and diarrhoea
  4. Other uses for Coke seem to be cleaning windows, neutralising jelly fish stings, cleaning cooking pans, washing and of course making an explosion using mentos (lots of videos on You Tube if you are interested!)
  5. Pepsi doesn’t have the same properties (although I think it does taste better)

The science bit behind it seems to be because Coke has some carmative properties. Carmative means that it prevents the formation of gas in the intestines, or helps prevent the expulsion of the gas (i.e. farting). The carmative properties also decrease the pressure in the lower esophagus which can decrease the chance of acid reflux and heartburn.

So based on my limited research I would still say it’s not conclusive but there could be something in it so I think I will keep drinking a can of coke after my events anyway – just in case!



  1. Very interesting and I’ve even seen a lot about a coke being consumed during a bike or run event instead of a sports drink. Good post and glad to hear your feeling better.

    1. Thanks
      I read that too. Its not for me though – I prefer the sports drinks or plain old water with a little salt. Coke won’t help address the electrolyte loss but more to the point I don’t fancy burping my way around the bike or run!

  2. it didn’t work because you took it before you got ill, as there was no illness when you drunk it, as it was created to cure doesn’t mean it prevents.

  3. jane cobb · · Reply

    Your stomach acid is lower pH than Coke. The fact that somebody originally claimed that it was to cure stomach upsets doesn’t make that real, sales people have always used snake-oil methods of selling. Besides which, the original Coke was a very different concoction which include cocaine amongst other things. Until I see some hard scientific trials evidence, as far as I’m concerned it’s nothing more than an urban myth.

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