What is an Excitotoxin?
So, what are excitotoxins anyway? Well, at this point, I would think that you have at least heard of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Aside from its name, do you know anything about MSG? And I’m not referring to its longtime association with Chinese takeout. How about Aspartame. Other than it being a synthetic sweetener, how much information do you have about the effects of this substance?
Have you ever heard of the term excitotoxin? If you haven’t, it is long past time that you found out about them. According to The Free Dictionary the term excitotoxin is defined as: A neurotransmitter (e.g. glutamate or aspartate) that can cause brain cell injury or death if its action is unabated. Brain damage is mediated by excitotoxins during prolonged seizure activity and stroke…. Brain damage is Mediated by excitotoxins is a fancy way of saying that it is through excitotoxins that the brain is damaged during longer lasting seizures and during stroke.
Basically, excitotoxins trigger receptors in your tongue. The receptors in your tongue activate the attached neurons. Since there is nothing that stops the action of the toxin. Or deactivate the neuron as it were. It causes the attached neurons to reach such a state of excitement, they die. Kind of like a light bulb that receives a surge of electricity and blows out as a result.
Why it’s Important to know about excitotoxins
So, what does this have to do with diet? Simply that both MSG and aspartame are excitotoxins. Aspartame has been known by the names of Equal and Nutrisweet among others. So, even if you are unfamiliar with the word aspartame, I am positive you have come across it before.
Why would food manufacturers add such products? It’s easy, it creates addiction. What I described to take place with the neurons after a person ingests an excitotoxin is the same that happens with other known addictive substances. Essentially allowing the manufacturer to make you become addicted to their specific product. Meaning that other brands just won’t do.
Being a type 1 diabetic, I was duped into thinking that diet soda was a good idea (not that any commercial soda is such a good idea) because it didn’t contain sugar. Little did I know at the time that the artificial sweeteners (largely aspartame) were a lot more damaging than regular cane sugar would have been. Around the same time that I started drinking diet soda, loaded with aspartame, I ended up on prescription medication for depression. I had no say in whether or not I took the medication as I was a minor child at the time. You know, It makes me sick to think of the advice I have been given by the medical profession in this country (no pun intended). But I digress.
A New Taste?
Basically, the food manufacturers created a new flavor that they called Umami and kept swearing that it existed even though there was no proof. There was a study at the University of Miami (funded in part by the largest MSG manufacturer). The articke explains that the study identified the taste buds that respond to the presence of glutamate in foods. The author also brings up the fact that glutamate isn’t really something that is able to be tasted (Samuels, 2009). So, if glutamate isn’t something that can be tasted, how can Umami be classified as a taste? it seems to be more accurately described as a glutamate sensor.
Of course, it has been discovered that glutamate is a neurotransmitter that needs to be present in very specific amounts in order to do its job properly. Which is not surprise considering that is how the rest of our body functions. There are many substances that a human requires in minute amounts in order to function. But at a higher dose would cause damage, and in some cases, prove fatal. So again we are stuck dealing with a system that will allow for these substances is small amounts per serving. But if one was to eat more than that one serving, could be eating toxic amounts. How many people do you know only eat one serving of anything? I had thought to use chips as an example. But I don’t think it is any different with cookies, soda, and a wide variety of other foods.
How to Avoid Excitotoxins.
The next logical thing to discuss is how to avoid excitotoxins. The easiest way is to not eat any processed foods. A fresh food diet that consists of whole foods tends to be free of excitotoxins. Another option is to see if the food you are wanting to eat has been evaluated by the environmental working group. A part of their site is dedicated to reviewing food products for cleanliness. If you are new at watching what you eat, their site is a great resource.
Samuels, J (march, 2009). “New Propaganda About MSG”. Retrieved from https://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/modern-foods/new-propaganda-about-msg/
FDA Food Additive Status List: https://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm091048.htm