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Does Diet Soda Really Affect Your Brain?

By Beth Greenwood

The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine says that the average teenage male drinks over 800 cans of soda pop each year, and that Americans now drink twice as much as they did 25 years ago. Some people choose diet soda to cut back calorie intake. That may be a problem for some, because diet soda contains chemicals that may affect the brain. In addition, the bottles and cans soft drinks come in may contain other chemicals that can leach into the liquid.

Diet Soda Ingredients

Each diet soda has a recipe; different drinks contain varying amounts of flavorings, preservatives or caffeine. Diet Pepsi and Diet Citrus Blast, two sodas made by the Pepsi Company, are fairly typical. Diet Pepsi contains carbonated water, caramel color, aspartame, phosphoric acid, potassium benzoate, caffeine, citric acid and natural flavor. Diet Citrus blast contains carbonated water, citric acid, grapefruit juice concentrate, aspartame, modified food starch, sodium citrate, natural flavor, sodium benzoate, pectin, glycerol ester of wood rosin, acesulfame potassium, potassium sorbate and calcium disodium edta.


Dr. H.J. Roberts published studies on the effects of aspartame in the late 1980s. Roberts’ research has been recently bolstered by a study done by Dr. Timothy Barth and noted in an article written for “Psychology Today” in 2001. Barth found aspartame users were more likely to have long-term memory problems than those who abstained. The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine notes that an adult who drinks four or five aspartame-sweetened soft drinks each day can experience depression, anxiety, insomnia, headaches and even seizures.

BPA and Food Dyes

Bisphenol-A, or BPA, is a chemical that is used to make plastics hard. It is also used to line cans, such as the cans for soda. Acidic foods like sodas increase exposure to BPA. BPA has been found to affect behavior: hyperactivity, increased aggressiveness and impaired learning have all been traced to BPA, according to the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine. A study published in the September 2007 issue of “The Lancet” found that when children were given fruit drinks containing food colorings and sodium benzoate, there was also a clear increase in hyperactivity.


Among the other chemicals that may affect the brain, many diet soft drinks contain caffeine. Even moderate doses of caffeine, which is a central nervous system stimulant, can cause insomnia, headaches, nervousness and dizziness. Caffeine affects adenosine, a chemical in the brain that is a neurotransmitter, and may interfere with adenosine in multiple places in the brain.


A number of chemicals in both diet soft drinks and their containers may affect the brain; many of them act on the brain in negative ways. The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine recommends that parents substitute club soda with some fruit juice for soft drinks of any kind.

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