What Is an Excitotoxin?
Some time back, I learned about a dangerous food item called “excitotoxins.” Basically, it is a chemical released into the brain that kills neurons. Once killed, a neuron, like anything else, cannot be revived, and areas of the brain or functionality can be damaged. The list of disorders that may be attributed to excitotoxins include Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s; each of my parents had one of those. Plus, I read that these are especially harmful to anyone like myself, who’s had a stroke, or similar events. Fantastic. And I don’t think I have to go over my fear for my kids.
In fact, some doctors link MSG with obesity. Some claim this is because of its addictive qualities, but Dr. Russell Blaylock believes that excitotoxins create lesions in the hypothalamus. This region of the brain can impact abnormal development, including obesity.
What’s Really Going on With MSG?
First of all, MSG is used in many, many restaurants with allegedly one purpose: as a flavor enhancer. (It is not a preservative, as you might heard.) However, another controversial property that MSG has been accused of is being addictive. Are restaurants and food manufacturers deceiving you into coming back for more because you are physically addictive to this substance?
So let’s look into what these substances really are. MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. Glutamate that seasons food is an amino acids, but it is also the name of the most commonly used neurotransmitter in the brain. Glutamate is also the name of a neurotransmitter in the brain, used by “every major excitatory function in the vertebrate brain, accounting in total for well over 90% of the synaptic connections in the human brain.” It is the “glutamate” part of the MSG equation that causes trouble, which is why there are a variety of names for it.
What Does Mainstream Medicine Say About MSG?
Naturally, the FDA does not think that these food sources are a problem or they wouldn’t be allowed in most packaged foods that you find or in restaurants. However, one of the big tools that the FDA uses is “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS. This can mean that the food or substance has been deemed safe by virtue of no known reporting of problems or dangers.
While in theory, GRAS should work, the fact that studies on safety and other issues may only be published when the results are beneficial to the producers. Corruption, as well as many other factors in true science.
The Mayo Clinic does report that ” the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG,” while researchers seem to have found no “definitive” link. Here are those symptoms as listed by Mayo Clinic:
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
The problem is not so much that these symptoms are often minor. For those of us raising children who have difficulty verbalizing or communicating, or understanding pain and discomfort, the harm that these substances are doing may go undiscovered.
What Foods Contain Excitotoxins?
Sadly, the list is long. MSG is a spice that is apparently cheap, an easy way to enhance flavor, and is in use everywhere. (BPA is another reason you want to avoid canned soups!) A thorough reading of labels is required if you want to keep it off your shelves, and keep those growing brains in your house – and your own – safe.
- MSG, aka monosodium glutamate
- Monopotassium glutamate
- Natrium glutamate
- Hydrolized: vegetable protein, protein, oat flour, corn gluten, or plant protein
- Plant protein extract
- Sodium caseinate
- Calcium caseinate
- Yeast: extract (vegemite, marmite etc), nutrient, or food
- Textured protein
- Autolyzed yeast
May Contain Excitotoxins:
In addition, the following may have excitotoxins. Some of these, such as malt and boullion, contain glutens, so you may be off them already. Pay attention to substitute food, as these often do contain them.
- Malt extract and flavoring
- Flavoring or flavors
- Natural flavoring
- Natural pork, beef or chicken flavoring
- Soy protein isolate , soy protein, and soy protein concentrate >> Maybe, maybe not. There is confusion, but you should avoid soy anyway.
- Citric acid
- Whey protein and whey protein isolate
- Protease and protease enzymes
- Anything protein fortified or enzyme modified
- Anything fermented
- Enzymes anything
If you’re keeping up with this blog and past posts on what we eat, I’ve discovered just about anything you can buy in a package or box is out.
If I Avoid These Substances, I’m Avoiding MSG, right?
Well, not if you eat out. On doing some deeper research on this topic, I’ve come to the conclusion that almost ALL restaurants use MSG in some form or other. They may even say they are MSG-free and not be aware that items such as “spices” may actually be or contain MSG. Eating myself into brain damage has truly sucked ALL the fun out of date night, and let’s not even talk about the idea of taking the kids out to eat. We strictly pack for them.
And, because glutamate can be used without the “monosodium” part, you may NOT have MSG in a food that does contain glutamate. The “no MSG” on your label is technically accurate, but the harmful substance may still be lurking inside the package.
Reality Check: Avoiding MSG Is Hard!
I’m going to say it: THIS SUCKS! It truly is the stuff of curl-yourself-in-a-ball-and-lose-it fits. It means that you are stuck home cooking 3 meals a day, if not more, and there’s almost nothing I dislike more than cooking.
But, it is information with which you can arm yourself. Your family’s health is your responsibility after all. Now that you know this, you can choose what to do: ignore it altogether, cut down excitotoxins as much as possible without losing your mind, or seriously considering eliminating them all together and increase your chances for a longer, healthier life – and a sharper-brained child.
There is one, true way to avoid excitotoxins: eat fresh, home cooked foods as much as possible. Sure, it’s difficult, but even one more meal made from fresh ingredients every week can help!
Excitotoxins, MSG and Autism
If you’re ready to go deep, this PDF posits a relationship between glutamate, the amino acid, and its effect on the neurotransmitter glutamate, that may contribute to the development of autism. I believe many more factors are involved but glutamate may be part of the toxic burden that trigger our genetically primed kids. Glutamate was actually put in baby food before the 1970s but has been removed. If this were a strict causal relationship, early autism rates should go down. Instead they are going up, but it’s still interesting to understand the relationship of the the development of neurons and how toxins can impact them.
The leading research on excitotoxins was done by Dr. Russell Blaylock, and part 1 of his video is below, or you can watch the whole thing at once below:
To learn more, read Dr. Blaylock’s book, available at my Amazon link: “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills” or download it on kindle:
This Kindle book features an interview with Dr. Blaylock:
This Kindle book goes into a little more depth, with more detailed lists of what foods contain MSG and what foods dont: