Don’t Outlaw Diet Coke
I totally love Diet Coke. It’s fizzy, it tastes good, and it’s better than all those dangerous and illegal drugs that I of course have never seen and would never, ever use.
Diet Coke not only has caffeine, but it’s also got aspartame, better-known as NutraSweet. Now, you might not know much about aspartame except that it kills rats if you inject them with 100 times their body weight of it, and it causes insanity in college students who stay up too late on Friday nights drinking beverages that contain it.
But aspartame is also chemically related to the amino acid glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are what your brain uses to send information across synapses, the gaps between the end of one nerve cell and the beginning of the next. Normally, if you have plenty of neurotransmitter molecules available for your synapses, then zowie! You’re zooming along the cognitive highway, ready to dance or do linear algebra or reorganize your closet or embarrass yourself with karaoke. Or all four. At the same time. Just like tonight.
One of aspartame’s breakdown products mimics glutamate. Both have an “excitatory” effect, which makes it easier for nerve cells to activate and fire. That’s why Diet Coke zaps you awake better than regular Coke, which contains caffeine but doesn’t also contain a faux neurotransmitter.
So the next time you hear someone at a party say that majoring in neuroscience and behavior is a waste of time — well, first, consider going to more interesting parties. And second, remember Diet Coke. Without neuroscience, yes, we would still have Diet Coke. But we wouldn’t quite understand why it is so yummy.
And we wouldn’t be able to impress people by proving that we actually can spell “nurosyense” … uh … “nervosience” … oh, foo. I think that my Diet Coke is wearing off. Maybe I’ll just go to bed. 🙂
Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.