Diet Coke Debunk


The Daily Mail yet again fearlessly exposes another health risk. Not.

They’ve reprinted a meme going around the Intertubes authored by the self-styled ‘Renegade Pharmacist‘ and taken it to a whole new level of Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B). Which really is quite a feat given the meme is such complete horseshit in the first place.

I’m very glad the Retrograde Pharmacist is not my pharmacist – he clearly slept through all his biochemistry classes and is unable to understand basic science or critically evaluate data. The Mail claims:

Revealed: How a can of DIET Coke makes your body store fat, rots teeth and affects you in the same way as cocaine within ONE HOUR

Let’s take a look at the claims and give them a bit of recto-rigour.

It tricks your taste buds and attacks your teeth. The phosphoric acid attacks the enamel in your teeth, while the artificial sweeteners like aspartame hit your system. Aspartame may trigger taste receptors and tricks your body into thinking it has just had processed sugar.

The Fail quotes someone from a woo supplement vendor who compounds the Retarded Pharmacist’s nonsense by adding:

As soon as you taste the sweetness of Diet Coke, your body prepares for the sugar load and causes you pancreases releases [sic] insulin. The insulin surge decreases the pancreases [sic] sensitivity to insulin, putting you at risk of developing diabetes type 2. The insulin triggers your body to store fat around your middle, and increases your risk of developing heart disease.

Does it buggery. I’ve written about aspartame a number of times before and this is just more Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B) on the same theme. Some of the above might be plausible were aspartame to trigger insulin release but it doesn’t.

An FMRI study in 2005 showed when you drink aspartame you might think you are tasting sugar – but the hypothalamus (which controls lots of stuff including hunger) does not light up in the same way it does when you are drinking sugar.

Quite simply, your taste buds say ‘sugar’ but the relevant part of the brain doesn’t recognise it as such – so aspartame doesn’t trigger the insulin response claimed.

Now let’s look at phosphoric acid. Yes, it’s an acid which will erode enamel – but at the concentration in a drink it will only have an effect only if you swish it around for days. The pH of diet coke is 3.39 – about the same as apples, apricots, cherries, mangoes – you get the picture.

The real damage to teeth comes from sugar in beverages, of which diet coke has none. Sugars in sodas send Our Microbial Overlords into ecstasy and they show their appreciation by pissing acid all over your teeth.

So Claim 1 is Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B), then. Let’s look at Claim 2.

Can switch on fat storage mode. Like regular Coke this can trigger insulin, which sends your body into fat storage mode. Data from a number of studies, including Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study also reported greater risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Well, that’s Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B) as well, not least because it because it doesn’t trigger the insulin response. There are data supporting links between sugared beverages and the above diseases but Diet Coke doesn’t contain sugar.

Even if it did the study quoted shows an association between aspartame and obesity, not causation. It suggested that obese people will switch to diet drinks, and the obese are indeed more susceptible to type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease – and this is a great example of correlation not being causation. I’ve written about this before.

Oh dear… Let’s continue.

Can cause addiction. The combination of caffeine and aspartame creates a short addictive high similar in the way cocaine works. Excitotoxins are released which may exhaust your brains by overstimulating its neuroreceptors, especially if consumed on a regular basis.

First let’s get this into proportion. There are 42mg of caffeine in a can of diet coke, 100mg in a single espresso.

OK, caffeine and cocaine are both addicting, both work on the dopamine pathway but the similarities end there. Cocaine works on the brain in an entirely different way to caffeine: it ties up the dopamine transporter, a protein that dopaminergic cells use to retrieve dopamine molecules from their surroundings – the resulting dopamine backup causes the sort of euphoria that can cause people to do incredibly desperate and destructive things for their next fix, no matter what their background or socioeconomic status.

Comparing it with caffeine in a diet soda is sensationalist bullshit that trivialises a serious issue – and one that continues to destroy lives.

In the commentary this nonsense is further compounded by:

The aspartame has reached your brain, where it is a neuro toxin [sic], which in some people may trigger migraines and other neurological problems

Aspartame is metabolised in the small intestine into aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. It doesn’t get into your brain.

And ‘excitotoxins’? Must be bad, huh? These are excitatory neurotoxins and as we all know, when it comes to toxins the dose maketh the poison. The post even gets the data wrong: the study cited backing up this claim relates to glutamate, not aspartate. Different molecule, dickhead.

On to claim 4:

Can deplete nutrients, make you hungry and thirsty for more. It will never quench your thirst as it dehydrates rather than hydrates your body. A lack of vital water can lead to brain fog, poor concentration, fatigue and feeling irritable

More Utter, Utter Bollocks (µ²B). ‘Can deplete nutrients’ – do they mean the electrolyte content of the blood is diluted, resulting in low blood sodium levels (hyponatremia)? If they do (which they probably don’t as I don’t think they have a Scooby what they’re on about) how can it simultaneously dehydrate you? And for it to dehydrate you it would need to be so hypertonic as to be undrinkable.

Is this like another Daily Mail favourite, Schrodinger’s Immigrant? You know, the one that’s simultaneously stealing out jobs while lounging at home scrounging benefits?

Am I saying Diet Coke is fundamental to a healthful diet? No. If consumed to excess I’m sure – like anything else – it won’t be good for you somehow. The dose maketh the poison. But were it to have any of the effects described above it would have been banned. And it hasn’t.

So, once again the Fail prints sensationalist bullshit that they can’t be arsed doing the most basic fact checking on. Fearless reporting or wicked scaremongering designed to frighten the public and sell newspapers? You decide.


Thanks for reading this. As well as the sarcastic posts check out the News and the Resources pages. You can also find out more about Rectofossal Ambiguity or contact me with questions.

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