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Don’t Outlaw Diet Coke

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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.

A brain synapse after exposure to Diet Coke.

A brain synapse after exposure to Diet Coke. With apologies to Bear, Connors, and Paradiso, "Neuroscience: Exploring the Brain."

One of aspartame’s breakdown products mimics glutamate.Β  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. πŸ™‚


Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

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  1. September 13, 2009 at 11:04 am

    Be careful with that aspartame. Personally, I trust nothing that I was told to avoid in pregnancy. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go slink off into the corner before you get all primal and start firing neurotransmitters at me πŸ˜‰

  2. Rinth de Shadley
    September 13, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    Hi, Mary! πŸ™‚

    You’re probably right about aspartame. They say the same thing about MSG, which gives me a headache. But don’t worry about me going primal. I’m strictly non-violent unless the TV is broken when there’s a new episode of “Gossip Girl.” πŸ™‚

  3. Cass
    September 14, 2009 at 2:51 am

    LMFAO!!! Hilarious!!! Your brain works in mysterious ways Rinth!!! hahaha! πŸ™‚

    • Rinth de Shadley
      September 14, 2009 at 3:20 am

      Thank you, Cass! Since you’re one of the funniest writers (and most amazing photographers) I know, that means a lot. I hope that you’re feeling better today — your blog said that you were a little under the weather.

  1. March 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm

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