Turkey, Coke and other Christmas mysteries

4 minute read

Tis the season to bust at least one myth about Coca-Cola.

For your Back Page wordsmith, the best thing about the Christmas season is the sense of mystery.

For example, why do radio programmers think listeners only want to hear The Pogues’ festive ditty, Fairy Tale of New York, in December? It’s still a cracking song in July and March as well.

Speaking of The Pogues, just how did that band’s frontman, the late, great Shane MacGowan – who back in 1991 was given just six weeks to live – manage to make it all the way to 65? Now there’s a medical mystery for the ages.

Then there’s Christmas turkey. Why? Never met anyone who actually likes it. Yet come 25 December folks are gobbling down the flesh of dead gobblers like nobody’s business.

Which brings us, circuitously, to the ubiquitous sugary beverage of Coca-Cola.  While some people believe the soft-drink maker actually invented the Christmas icon of Santa Claus (it didn’t), the company did play a significant role in shaping the image of a jolly, bearded, overweight kiddy-frightener dressed in a red and white suit.

And for a decidedly average thirst-quencher (just our opinion), Coke somehow leads the world in provoking conspiracy theories about its properties.     

Such as, if you leave a human tooth in a glass of Coca-Cola overnight, the tooth will be totally dissolved by the morning. Scary, and not true. If it were true, it might explain Shane MacGowan’s teeth.

Or, if you drink a glass of Diet Coke and eat a Mentos your stomach will explode. Not prepared to test this out personally, but if that really was the case, I reckon we might have heard a bit more about it from DoHAC et al.

There’s many more such urban myths out there, but the latest one doing the rounds is that the carbonated brown elixir can help clear a blocked oesophagus. 

This furphy, which can be found on dubious health tip websites as well as on Wikipedia, was given further impetus after a British newspaper reported an anecdote involving paramedics allegedly using the soft drink to save the life of a choking person. 

So Dutch researchers from Amsterdam UMC decided to put in the hard yards and test the efficacy of the cure and published their findings in the Christmas edition of the BMJ.   

Their trial involved more than 50 patients recruited across five hospital EDs in The Netherlands. The patients all had food stuck in their oesophagi and were waiting for endoscopies.

While they waited, half of the cohort were given sips of up to 200ml of Coca-Cola while the other half were not.

If the patients still couldn’t swallow saliva after six hours, an emergency endoscopy was carried out and the piece of food was removed. For those with partial blockages only, the wait could be up to 24 hours.

The study results show that Coca-Cola did not help in this process. Both in the sufferers who received the Coke treatment and in those who waited without, there was an improvement in 61% of all patients.

“There was no improvement when using Cola to loosen stuck food in the oesophagus, often the food dislodged on its own after a while and otherwise, we performed an endoscopy,” the study’s lead author and professor of gastroenterology at Amsterdam UMC, Arjan Bredenoord, told media.

“Hopefully this puts this myth to rest.”

So if a piece overcooked turkey breast does happen to stick in your craw this Christmas, best to reach for the phone, not the bottle of Coke.

Send hard-to-swallow story tips to penny@medicalrepublic.com.au.  

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