One of the most serious and largely unknown threats to our health today is the presence of excitotoxins in most packaged foods. This is something that negatively affects every person who lives and eats in “civilized” countries, even those of us who eat a so-called healthful diet. Therefore, it is imperative that we take action to protect ourselves and those around us. The first step is to boost awareness of this critical issue.
In his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills (Health Press, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1997), Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., provides hundreds of pages of research (with 493 citations, mostly from medical journals) indicating the great danger these ingredients pose and where they are present in our food supply.
Excitotoxins stimulate neurons to death, causing varying degrees of brain damage. Hypothalamus cells can be destroyed after a single dose. Children are especially vulnerable as excitotoxins alter brain development, making them more susceptible to learning and emotional problems as well as to violent behavior.
The most famous excitotoxin is MSG. Many people know that MSG can cause headaches, nausea and a general sense of ill ease. This is sometimes called the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. MSG was discovered in Japan (derived from kombu, a seaweed) and has been widely used by American food manufacturers since World War II.
The amount of MSG added to foods has doubled every decade since the 1940’s, reaching over 250,000 metric tons by the early 1970’s. MSG was voluntarily removed from baby foods in 1969 after evidence of brain damage (children were found to be most vulnerable) was presented to Congress. But it continues in adult foods. However, since so many people know of MSG’s harmfulness, manufacturers have turned increasingly to other excitotoxins.
Excitotoxins have been linked through rigorous scientific studies to learning, behavioral and emotional problems, hormonal imbalances, brain defects, tumors and lesions. These chemicals contribute to or aggravate Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Strokes, Migraines, Seizures, Hypertension, Diabetes, Meningitis, Encephalitis and more. Excitotoxins typically cause a slow destruction of brain cells that are specifically sensitive to them, such as neurons that normally use small amounts of glutamate for a transmitter. Excitotoxins literally stimulate these neurons to death.
Excitotoxins are the food industry’s way of disguising and substituting for MSG. Unfortunately, many of these chemicals—like aspartame (NutraSweet), cysteine and hydrolyzed vegetable (or plant) protein—are even more dangerous than MSG. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, for instance, contains three known excitotoxins plus MSG. It is a mixture made from junk vegetables unfit for sale that are boiled in a vat of acid and then neutralized with caustic soda. The resulting sludge, which is very high in MSG, is scraped off and powdered. It is contained in a number of spice blends.
Why do food manufacturers use such chemicals? Because they taste good and this encourage consumers to keep buying their products. People can even become addicted to a certain kind of excitotoxin, insuring extreme brand loyalty. This occurs often with soft drinks, almost all of which contain excitotoxins. As a consumer, it is important to read labels carefully to avoid such brain damaging chemicals, but it would be even better if manufacturers would remove these ingredients from their products and thus from our food supply.
What food additives contain these chemicals? In his appendix, Dr. Blaylock lists many of them. Those that always contain excitotoxins include aspartate, L-cysteine, MSG (including glutamate or glutamic acid), hydrolyzed (vegetable or plant) protein, plant protein extract, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, yeast extract, textured protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed oat flour and kombu.
Additives that frequently contain excitotoxins include malt extract, malt flavoring, bouillon, broth, stock, flavoring, natural flavoring, natural beef or chicken flavoring, seasoning and spices.
Additives that sometimes contain excitotoxins include carrageenan, enzymes, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate and whey protein concentrate. Also, protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins.
As I look at labels in even health food stores, the excitotoxin additives I find most frequently are natural flavors, spices, spice extract, (autolyzed) yeast extract, (natural) enzymes, and carrageenan. The majority of prepared foods both in health food and conventional grocery stores seem to contain one or more of these ingredients as flavor enhancers.
You owe it to the wonderful human body you’ve been given and to your health in general to eat foods that are healthful and nourishing to your body, mind, and emotions. Because excitotoxins can cause damage on all three of these levels, you will want to read labels carefully and to avoid them.
In general, the best foods to eat are organic (or biodynamic), fresh, and locally grown. Organic because not only do you avoid harmful chemicals this way, but you also get foods much higher in nutritional (especially mineral) content. Organic soil is regularly enriched instead of depleted and poisoned by mono-crops with chemical (trace mineral poor) fertilizers. Fresh foods are best because they still have the maximal life force present (nurturing you at a much higher level). Locally grown in important because not only do you support the farmers in your area (many of whom may be struggling to survive against big business), but you also balance your body for the environment you live in. Locally grown food has been shown to put people more in harmony with their environment, to help them to ground more, and to improve health in general.
So feast on the abundance of healthful meat, vegetables, fruit, nuts, and grains that nature provides, and your body will thank you. Leave most packaged foods and the excitotoxins in them alone, and you will be healthier, happier, and live a longer life.