Drinking Coke together with lung cancer drug Tarceva may help improve the medication's effectiveness, a new study found.

The effectiveness of Tarceva (erlotinib) depends on the the level of pH in the patient's stomach. The higher the pH, the lower Tarceva's absorption rate is. This means that the drug cannot be fully absorbed into the body, limiting its cancer-fighting powers.

Unfortunately, patients prescribed with Tarceva are most commonly recommended to take a heartburn drug such as Prilosec or Nexium. Such medications raise the pH level of the stomach, making it highly alkaline.

"The result is less stomach acid and less absorption of Tarceva, making the drug less effective in treating the cancer," says Dr. Alan Mensch from Northwell Health's Plainview Hospital in New York. Mensch is not involved in the study.

Insert Coke Into The Picture

The study authors thought of a way to reverse the core problem, which is the alkaline pH of the stomach.

Study lead author Dr. Roelof van Leeuwen and colleagues wondered if drinking an acidic soda beverage such as Coca-Cola Classic may provide a solution.

The researchers then examined 28 patients diagnosed with non-small-cell lung cancer who were taking both Tarceva and Nexium (esomeprazole). They asked these patients to drink approximately 8 ounces of water with their medications for seven days. Next, they instructed the patients to drink the same amount of Coke for the succeeding seven days.

For the next two weeks of the study, the participants drank water and Coke in reverse order.

The patients were admitted at the hospital during the seventh and 14th day so the researchers can obtain necessary drug-related samples for the study.

The Wonders Of Coke

Drinking cola resulted in a clinically significant rise of Tarceva bioavailability in patients who were also taking Nexium. For those who did not take Nexium, the impacts of the cola were on the borderline.

Specifically, the authors found that the absorption rate of Tarceva increased by 39 percent in patients who drank Coke and Nexium. The rate of Tarceva absorption for those who did not take Nexium but drank Coke only exhibited a slight rise of 9 percent.

The researchers think that drinking Coke is an easily implementable way to maximize the effectiveness of Tarceva when the patients are also prescribed with an anti-acid drug.

How About Other Sodas?

The researchers say more studies are warranted to determine if other acidic drinks can produce the same favorable effects as that of Coca-Cola Classic among Tarceva-taking patients.

The authors also think that this technique may be helpful in enhancing the effects of other related cancer medications whose effectiveness depends on the level of stomach pH.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on Feb. 8.

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