January 28, 2004

A Dialogue: Blood Sugar and Neurotransmitter Levels

Thrasymakhos: Ah. Proof that demand for some commodities is effectively unbounded!

Glaukon: What are you talking about?

Thrasymakhos: Diet coke. You're buying two bottles of diet coke. And not just two normal bottles. Two 20 oz. bottles. That's 40 oz. of diet coke you're buying, at once.

Glaukon: It's not diet coke.

Thrasymakhos: It isn't?

Glaukon: It's real coke.

Thrasymakhos: Why?

Glaukon: I have three straight hours of office hours ahead of me. I need the caffeine. I need the blood sugar.

Thrasymakhos: So you're risking a permanent case of the shakes and incipient diabetes just so you can sound coherent, interested, and energetic through all your office hours?

Glaukon: Hey. Let nobody say that we Berkeley faculty are not dedicated to our teaching mission.

Posted by DeLong at January 28, 2004 12:11 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post

Diet Coke? Sounds Patriotically American to me.

**Real** Evul PC Liberals drink espresso, lattes, and other furrin drinks. When, of course, they're not downing shots of vodka and making toasts in Rushin to Stalin himself!!!!!!! [maybe I've hit my caffeine max for the day....]

Posted by: Barry on January 28, 2004 12:20 PM


Sugar free Red Bull is a lot less sweet than Red Bull, and with no sugar high to interfere with your caffeine buzz.

Posted by: Faisal Jawdat on January 28, 2004 12:35 PM


It's too late for you anyway. Little Greek men appear to be dialoguing in your head.

But having (in my undergraduate days) seen people fall asleep on various parts of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript library, I say power up.

Posted by: Chris Marcil on January 28, 2004 01:31 PM


Well, here in Chicago, the seasonal buzz drink (for me, at least) is hot chocolate. Perhaps that doesn't apply to Californians, though.

Posted by: Julian Elson on January 28, 2004 02:11 PM


And remember, Drink Slurm! It's refreshingly addictive!

Posted by: Nicholas Weaver on January 28, 2004 02:17 PM


If you want to have more stamina, you should stick with the sugar-free drinks. What happens with the high-sugar drinks is you get a massive inrush of simple carbohydrates into your bloodstream. Your body reacts to the big blood-sugar spike by releasing a big dose of insulin, the primary effect of which is to sweep all the blood-sugar into your fat cells to be stored.

Worse, because the sugar spike was so high, the insulin feedback is more steep than nature intended. You end up going hypoglycemic -- and that will make you feeling desparately tired. Much worse than if you had nothing. The human body was not evolved to eat 39 gram doses of simple sugar at a shot.

As with most addictive drugs, the higher your initial high, the worse your crash is going to be. That's life.

I remembered the years I went through before discovering Atkins. I would have a typical high-carb lunch (pasta and sugar-coke). At 3PM sometimes I would go out to the car to take a nap. I thought I was just getting old. Haven't had that problem since going low-carb.

This is not an endorsement -- just a description of what happend and what happens. Worth what ya paid for it.

Posted by: Alan on January 28, 2004 02:19 PM


Alan is right. If you want to maintain energy, the sugar calories in 40oz of coke are INSANE. Eat a sandwich. To maintain energy for several hours, solid starchy carbohydrates (bread, rice, anything similar) are best. Liquid sugar is horribly, terribly evil. If you absolutely must have it, I suggest drinkable yogurt.

The best kind of drinkable yogurt is Lifeway Kefir (low-fat flavored). Not best in taste, they're really all pretty similar that way. But it has less added sugar, and much more protein.

Posted by: Ian Montgomerie on January 28, 2004 05:00 PM


But what about the phenylalanine in artificially sweetened drinks? It's a neurotransmitter and a biological precursor to epinephrine and norepinephrine. I used to work with people who would take phenylaline pills, have incredible bursts of productivity for an hour, and then spend the rest of the night working like three-toed sloths.

I don't know if there is enough of it in a bottle of Coke to have much of an effect, though.

Posted by: rps on January 28, 2004 05:31 PM


Interestingly enough, Glaukon is pretty similar to glukus--the Greek word for sweet and seen in our word glucose. So Glaukon is the perfect spokesman for sugar-filled beverages. And, of course, blindness (glaucoma!) is a side effect of diabetes.

Posted by: Maureen on January 28, 2004 08:13 PM


We've recently done some ceffeine analysis on our site and found that diet coke is indeed much better (46 mg per 12 oz) than regular coke (only 34 mg per 12 oz.

You only got about 153.32 mg of caffeine. You could have had a 12 oz coffee and got about 180 mg.

Posted by: K-Cebo on January 28, 2004 09:54 PM


What are you worrying about? Paul Erdos used amphetamines regularly. His friend Ron Graham bet him $500 that he couldn't stop for a month. Erdos won, but complained "But I didn't get any work done. I had no ideas, just like an ordinary person. You have set mathematics back by a month." And went right back to his pills.
If results are all that count, perhaps we should join him.

Posted by: Jonathan Goldberg on January 29, 2004 06:41 AM


The amount of phenylalanine in artificially-flavored softdrinks is very small. Aspartame is made from phenylaline, and it is just a contaminant which is difficult and pointless to separate. The reason there is a warning is that some people have a rare disease called phenylketoneuria, which prevents them from properly metabolizing it. Even small amounts of the substance could cause problems if they're not taking the right supplements.

BTW, phenylalanine is indirectly metabolized to ephinephrine. It is first metabolized to tyrosine, then dopa, then dopamine, which is then finally metabolized to epinephrine. They were probably having a dopamine high, much like the experience produced by a small dosage of amphetamine. Some phenylalanine is also metabolized to phenethylamine--another stimulating neurotransmitter.

And Goldberg is absolutely correct. One of the greatest mathematicians of the 20th century was an amphetamine "abuser." Kind of puts the war on drugs in perspective, eh?

Posted by: John Jacob on January 29, 2004 09:39 AM


Tell me wrong if need be (I am no expert on this), but I believe fruit provide a nice fructose high (and, during digestion, often a bit of an alcohol buzz too) that is both potent and relatively safe. After all, plants whose fruit would kill or blind their users have probably long disapeared from the face of the planet...

Posted by: Jean-Philippe Stijns on January 29, 2004 12:38 PM


Yes, certainly fruit has a lot of sugar in it, and you could probably cause no ill effects giving large amounts of a fructose solution (like coke) to a fruit-eating bat. However, humans didn't evolve to eat large amounts of fruit. Our ancestral diet had meat and complex carbohydrates in it--not large quantities of sugar. I'm also quite skeptical that you would get much alcohol produced by anerobic bacteria in the gut--the bioavailability of sugar is quite high.

Furthermore, the negative health effects from eating large amounts of sugar would be selective, if and only if it caused a change in differential reproduction. Diabetic animals would die quickly, but this would matter only if they had been unable to reproduce or sufficiently take care of their young.

Furthermore, there are studies correlating high sugar intake to adverse health effects, so evolutionary arguments regarding whether eating a large amount of sugar *should* be dangerous are irrelevant. Sugar either causes health problems or it doesn't. Since it does, if you have an argument that it shouldn't, your argument is wrong.

Posted by: John Jacob on January 29, 2004 03:59 PM


>humans didn't evolve to eat large amounts of fruit

Surprising if true; one can still observe other animals, including very successful predators, eating all the fruit they can wrap their lips around in every ripe season.

There's nothing quite like being out berrying and finding a big pile of.... bear scat.... fresh.... and entirely composed of berry seeds.

I don't think drinking Coke is much like gorging on fresh fruit, though.

Posted by: clew on January 29, 2004 04:48 PM


... are there any studies that look at high sugar intake not from refined corn, cane, beet?

Posted by: clew on January 29, 2004 04:49 PM


Down here at UCSD we have a very competitive market in coffee, with little independent carts all around campus. Think about what all of us first-years would be like without this wonderful stuff.

Posted by: Chris on January 29, 2004 05:21 PM


While waiting to get into law school I worked in a coke warehouse (I was the world's lowest-paid teamster.) What diet coke does to a concrete floor isn't pretty.
Balzac is a good example of a coffee-fueled writer. I used to start my day with a pint of espresso, but I've cut back to 6-12 cups a day of instant, sometimes even decaf.

Posted by: arbitraryaardvark on January 29, 2004 05:26 PM


"one can still observe other animals, including very successful predators, eating all the fruit they can wrap their lips around in every ripe season."

Humans do eat fruit now, and did during our evolution. It's a question of what were the staple foods, and whether chronic intake of sugar was selective in human evolution. Since the diet did not consist primarily or even largely of fruit, the answer is probably no.

"are there any studies that look at high sugar intake not from refined corn, cane, beet? "

Irrelevant. While sugar from beets and cane is mainly sucrose, which is metabolized to a mixture of glucose and fructose, the sugar refined from corn is mainly fructose, just like you would find in most fruit. That is the sugar most commonly found in soft drinks.

Posted by: John Jacob on January 29, 2004 07:13 PM


My brother won't drink Pepsi anymore since he worked at Burger King many years ago. It seems that they used it to clean the grill...

Posted by: Tomm on January 29, 2004 07:17 PM


Interesting that the professors at Berkeley actually make themselves available and care about their disposition during their office hours. My professors would just act annoyed at the interruption, giving very short answers and glaring looks until you got the idea and never returned.

That and the 50+ class sizes made those recommendations for grad school literally impossible to get.

Ahhh, if I could do life over.

Posted by: andrew on January 30, 2004 03:18 AM


I have been a stranger in a strange land.

Posted by: Bevington Sarah on May 3, 2004 03:46 AM


Those whose paths are not the same do not consult one another.

Posted by: Karpf Josh on May 20, 2004 01:38 PM


The truth is outhere

Posted by: Conry Ben on June 3, 2004 07:24 AM


Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.

Posted by: Alegant Marci on June 30, 2004 07:46 AM


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