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What Are Excitotoxins?

If you knew that the consumption of many store products could cause brain damage and other related disorders, would it have an influence on your buying habits?

An increasing number of scientists and clinicians who have conducted research are releasing information showing just how dangerous these substances are and why they are  a major culprit in the growth of prevalent neurological disorders including seizures and migranes, autism, allergies, particular disorders of the endocrine system, certain types of obesity, infections, and abnormal development in the nervous system.

These toxins are also linked to having an effect on the development of diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and Huntington’s Disease. Many of these types of substances are found in processed, packaged foods found in your grocery store.

What are some products containing excitotoxins?

Here is a list that is not exhaustive: soda pops, “juice” drinks, crackers, rice cakes, bagels, breads, cereals, “energy drinks”, cereals, food “bars”, salad dressings, pasta mixes, soups, candy, desserts, “fruit” snacks, sugar-free gums, cocoa mixes, prescription and over-the-counter drugs, shake and topping mixes, sauces, vitamin and herbal supplements, and many others.

Pioneering research on excitotoxins

According to Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., pioneering neurosurgeon and medical expert on the subject, “Excitotoxins are biochemical substances (usually amino acids, amino acid analogs, or amino acid derivatives) that can react with specialized neuronal receptors – glutamate receptors – in the brain or spinal cord that can be responsible for causing death or injury to a wide array of neurons.”

Glutamate neurons make up an extensive network throughout the cortex, hippocampus, striatum, thalamus, hypothalamus, cerebellum, and visual/auditory system. As a consequence, glutamate neurotransmission is essential for cognition, memory, movement, and sensation (especially taste, sight, and hearing).

“Glutamate and its biochemical “cousin” aspartic acid or aspartate, are the two most plentiful amino acids in the brain. Aspartate is also a major excitatory transmitter and aspartate can activate neurons in place of glutamate”, as reported by Dr. Blaylock.

Although glutamic acid (also called “glutamate”) is the naturally occurring, primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brains of humans and animals, these substances are found to occur only in minute amounts. Since 1948, the amount of MSG added to foods has doubled each decade. By 1972, over 200 thousand metric tons were reported as added to foods. Since first approval, over 800 million pounds of aspertame have been consumed from billions and billions of products.

The FDA is amiss in acknowledging these findings, and has continued to allow certain substances on the food market such as aspartame (found in NutraSweet and Equal), MSG, and hyrdrolyzed vegetable protein. You can find these substances in nearly all processed foods – particularly in those labeled low and non-fat and also can be found in a vast amount of vegan and vegetarian foods.

If you are in doubt about something, read the label. Label reading is one of the only ways to familiarize yourself with ingredients in products. The more you can avoid purchasing processed products, the better your chances are of avoiding these dangerous toxins.

Short-term effects of these substances are subtle. It is important to note that repeated exposure over long periods of time (or cumulative) is generally when the most damage occurs to health. But occasionally, certain individuals are especially sensitive to the effects of excitotoxins, and can develop severe symptoms quite suddenly such as allergic reactions that range from irritability to cardiac irregularity to sudden death.

Why are these substances being added to foods?

Many additives in foods are intended for their preservative qualities. Excitotoxins don’t actually preserve foods – they only make them taste better. The bottom line is, adding these toxins to food is really only for the purpose of “improving ” the flavor. And some people question whether these foods actually do taste better or not.

Use caution when purchasing anything in a package, can, or container as it may contain excitotoxins without consumer awareness. Any ingredient listed as the following can contain a dangerous excitotoxin: spices, natural flavoring, yeast extract, textured protein, soy protein extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein. In other words, excitotoxins are amino acids which react with specialized receptors in the brain. When excitotoxins encounter these receptors, the result is destruction of certain brain cell types.

One of the most commonly found excitotoxins is MSG (monosodium glutamate). When located in the brain, this excitotoxin is considered a normal neurotransmitter. It is the most commonly used neurotransmitter, in fact, by the human brain. Then why are excitotoxins considered so dangerous? When naturally occurring monosodium glutamate is found in the brain, it is in very minute amounts. Any amount larger than concentrations of 8 to 12 ug is considered toxic and can cause erratic movement in neurons and abnormal firing behavior.

Clearly, rethinking what we are putting into our bodies is very important. With so many processed foods on the market, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, confused, and mislead about whether or not these products are safe for consumption. Read the facts before you buy.

Recommended reading on this subject:

Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by Dr. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.

Living Dangerously: Are Everyday Toxins Making You Sick? Pat Thomas

The Unhealthy Truth by Robyn O’Brien