First, what is the definition of excitotoxins? Excitotoxins are a class of chemicals (usually amino acids) that overstimulate neuron receptors. Neuron receptors allow brain cells to communicate with each other, but when they’re exposed to excitotoxins, they fire impulses at such a rapid rate that they become exhausted.
Know Your Food
Despite public outcry, processed foods remain loaded with excitotoxins, all of which have been linked to brain cell death, migraines, seizures, ADD/ADHD, heart palpitations, tremors, infertility, problems with sexual development, violent behaviors, and hormonal disorders. Here’s a list of the 6 most dangerous excitotoxins you need to avoid.
1. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
This salt form of glutamate, or glutamic acid, has been known to trigger headaches for decades. It is also known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Glutamate easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, stimulating cell receptors that triggers cell death. While the body naturally produces glutamate when needed to trigger cell termination, flooding the body with dietary glutamate can seriously disrupt normal cellular function, especially in the brain. Avoid foods with MSG, but don’t think food is MSG-free just because you don’t see it in the ingredients list. MSG also may appear under these names:
- Natural flavor(s)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Autolyzed protein
- Plant Protein
- Textured Protein
- Yeast extract
- Nutritional yeast
- Anything with glutamate
These ingredients always contain processed free glutamic acid:
- Glutamic acid (E 620)
- Glutamate (E 620)
- Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
- Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
- Calcium glutamate (E 623)
- Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
- Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
- Natrium glutamate
- Yeast extract
- Anything “hydrolyzed”
- Any “hydrolyzed protein”
- Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
- Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
- Autolyzed yeast
- Textured protein
- Soy protein, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate
- Whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate
These ingredients often contain or produce processed free glutamic acid:
- Carrageenan (E 407)
- Bouillon and broth
- Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
- Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
- Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
- Barley malt
- Pectin (E 440)
- Anything “enzyme modified”
- Anything containing “enzymes”
- Malt extract
- Soy sauce
- Soy sauce extract
- Anything “protein fortified”
- Anything “fermented”
The following ingredients are suspected of containing or creating sufficient processed free glutamic acid to serve as MSG-reaction triggers in highly sensitive people:
- Corn starch
- Corn syrup
- Modified food starch
- Lipolyzed butter fat
- Rice syrup
- Brown rice syrup
- Milk powder
- Reduced fat milk (skim; 1%; 2%)
- Most things low fat or no fat
- Anything “Enriched”
- Anything Vitamin enriched
Note: “E” numbers are use in Europe in place of food additive names.
The following ingredients work synergistically with MSG to enhance flavor. If they are present for flavoring, so is MSG.
- Disodium 5’-guanylate (E 627)
- Disodium 5’-inosinate (E-631)
- Disodium 5′-ribonucleotides (E 635)
Aspartate, or aspartic acid, acts very similarly to glutamate. This non-essential amino acid triggers NMDA receptors in cells, another of the cellular receptors used to initiate cell death. Most humans receive aspartate through consuming aspartame, an artificial sweetener often hidden in many processed foods. It has been linked with serious neurological effects such as headaches, sleep disorders, and seizures. Aspartame comes in the form of Nutrasweet.
3. Domoic Acid
Another non-essential amino acid, domoic acid occurs naturally in shellfish. Excessive overconsumption has shown to lead to the development of epilepsy, especially in the elderly.  If you’re a seafood eater, pick wild-caught varieties of fish like salmon, trout, and tuna. This way you are receiving your omega-3 fatty acids without the excitotoxins and pollutants common in shellfish and farm-raised seafood.
Also known as ODAP, this protein is another excitotoxin that behaves in similar manner as glutamate. It naturally occurs in the grass pea and similar plant species. Overexposure to grass pea and L-BOAA leads to neurolathyrism, a disorder that affects motor skills and movement and can lead to paralysis.
Cysteine is industrially created by hydrolysis of human hair and poultry feathers. This excitotoxin is important for artificial flavor creation. It reacts with sugars in a process known as the Maillard reaction, resulting in meaty and savory flavors. High cysteine levels are associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.
This protein compound occurs in cheese at naturally high levels. 20% of casein is glutamic acid which makes for a tasty treat; however, it also increases glutamate overload. Casein is often used by food producers to improve flavor, although it is also frequently used to increase protein levels in fitness products.
Excitotoxins (MSG, aspartame, and cysteine) have been linked to adverse effects. Some of these may be irreversible. Some people have reported allergic reactions like hives, shortness of breath, and rashes. Others have reported the well-known MSG headache, as well as rapid heartbeat and stomach cramping. The most serious reactions involve depression and paranoia.
Have you had a reaction to MSG or any of these excitotoxins? Please share your experience so we can better understand the dangers of these ingredients.