Excitotoxins

Many foods are laced with additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartate (a component of NutraSweet) and because these chemicals are taste enhancers, diet and vegetarian foods are particularly targeted.

Your food can be a killer. Not just the notorious junk food, but the stuff that’s supposed to be nutritious and good!

Many foods are laced with additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartate (a component of NutraSweet) and because these chemicals are taste enhancers, diet and vegetarian foods are particularly targeted.

Most health-conscious people are aware of the dangers of this taste enhancer. What they fail to realize is that these compounds are often disguised as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, soy protein isolate and textured protein. Even “natural” seasoning and spices can be 12 to 40 percent MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein is probably the worst and also contains aspartate and cysteic acid.

In the 1950s, studies showed that MSG caused serious damage to the retinas of the eye and to the hypothalamus regions of the brain in mice. Scientists coined the term “excitotoxins.” Monosodium glutamate, aspartate and cysteine are the most common “natural” amino acids, but there are over 70 man-made products available (most are used for research.) The natural occurring glutmates in tomatoes and cheese, for example, do not pose any danger. It’s only the man-made ones that need to be avoided.

Our brains use glutamate and aspartate as neurotransmitters and the concentrations are critical. There are even special carrier molecules called glia that transport glutamate away from the nerve ending and into glial cells, which store the chemical until it is needed again. Unfortunately the hypothalamus area of the brain is not protected by a blood/brain barrier, so glutamate from MSG in food can pass into the blood stream and into the brain. In adults the glia pump is very effective, but in infants small excess amounts of these transmitters can do great damage.

Brain Bloat

Large amounts of excitotoxins from any source cause brain cells to swell up and die immediately. Excitotoxins interfere with the sodium pump, thus allowing excess sodium, and consequently water, into the cell. Low doses of excitotoxins kill cells by a different method. At first all seems well, but about two hours later the cells swell and die. Calcium is the culprit.

Somehow excitotoxins cause the gate to the calcium channel to lock open. How excess calcium kills the cell is currently an area of much speculation and experimentation. Vitamins E and C are the best defense against free radicals and they easily cross the blood/brain barrier. Glutamate also causes neurons to become very excited and fire repeatedly, which in turn uses a great deal of energy. The brain uses glucose to help make adenosine triphosphate (ATP the cells energy currency) and supplies can be quickly depleted and the exhausted cells die. Hypoglycemics therefore need to be careful.

Naturally everyone has different reactions to excitotoxins. Possible reactions include: headaches, eye inflammation, brain edema, central nervous and vascular system problems. Those who are allergic to monosodium glutamate are lucky. They know to watch their intake. But for the rest of us the damage is insidious. Even non-toxic levels of glutamate cause nerve cells to develop improperly. The hair-like dendrites at the receptor end of the neuron fail to grow completely. These “short” dendrites often lead to “mis-wiring” in the developing brain. Unfortunately the placental barrier is not a complete barrier against excitotoxins and the cysteine types pass through unchecked. High blood levels of monosodium glutamate in the mother can also cause that excitotoxin to cross the placenta.

The main period of brain development is from the first week after conception to six or seven years old, but new circuits are being laid down throughout one’s life; this process is called plasticity, and it makes learning possible. Over-stimulation of this brain tissue can have serious effects.

Some scientists think that excitotoxins added to foods for new-borns and young children can cause disabilities ranging from a slight dyslexia problem, to un-controllable rage and on to severe cases like autism, schizophrenia, seizures and cerebral palsy. It was also discovered that MSG can damage the brain in times of critical development without showing any immediately obvious damage (except by autopsy). However, later in the adult, abnormal behavior and endocrine dysfunction appeared.

Remember that these excitotoxins are only in food to enhance the taste.

Hydrolyzed vegetable protein adds a beef flavor to soups, sauces and fast foods. Other combinations are used to give soups, sauces and dressings a creamy texture. It’s better to make your own from organic produce.

You might also like

ADHD and Essential Fatty Acids

Catalonian-Style Seitan Stew with Lemon, Saffron, and Almonds

Melon Meets Its Match