Monday, November 10, 2008

Avoiding Excitotoxins

Why I am Excited about Excitotoxins

The Dark Side of Aspartame & Processed Food
When we buy processed food or eat out, we are exposing our bodies to hundreds of food additives. In this edition, I would like to highlight the problems associated with a group of additives knows as excitotoxins (named after their property of over-stimulating and injuring the nervous system).

Glutamate containing products (MSG and its chemical siblings) and aspartame are the two biggest groups of excitotoxins in our diet. They are associated with increasing the risk of obesity, cancer, seizures, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Depression.


Aspartame (i.e. Equal or NutraSweet™) is a sweetener made from two amino acids, phenylalanine and the aspartate. Common example include most diet soft drinks, sugar free gums, children’s' medications, and thousands of other products claiming to be 'low calorie', 'diet', or 'sugar free'. Aspartame related complaints accounts for approximately 70% of all complaints to the FDA and is implicated in everything from blindness to headaches to convulsions. The FDA has essentially ignored these concerns.

Not only can too much of the amino acids in Aspartame overstimute the brain, but once aspartame breaks down it produces several more toxic compounds:

1. DKP (diketopiperazine - chemically similar to a powerful brain tumor causing agent)
2. Formic Acid (i.e. ant venom)
3. Formaldehyde (i.e. embalming fluid)
4. Methanol (causes blindness in higher amounts)

MSG & Glutamates

While the presence of Aspartame is relatively easy to identify, MSG like compounds are much harder to spot. Restaurants and food processing companies have long known they can enhance taste and sales with monosodium glutatmate (MSG). A well known MSG Symptom Complex can involve numbness, a burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, and weakness. Those with asthma may experience these symptoms as well as difficulty in breathing.

Hidden Sources of MSG
Unfortunately, the excitotoxins that make MSG a problem are found in many sources that are not labeled as MSG. The glutamate (MSG) manufacturers are always on a mission to hide the MSG added to food. Below is a partial list of the most common names for hidden MSG:

According to Dr. Blaylock the following Food Additives that ALWAYS contain MSG *

Monosodium Glutamate
Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed Protein
Hydrolyzed Plant Protein
Plant Protein Extract
Sodium Caseinate
Calcium Caseinate
Yeast Extract
Textured Protein (Including TVP)
Autolyzed Yeast
Hydrolyzed Oat Flour
Corn Oil

Also, remember that the powerful excitotoxins, aspartate and L-cysteine, are frequently added to foods and according to FDA rules require no labeling at all.

* Food Additives That FREQUENTLY Contain MSG *

Malt Extract
Malt Flavoring
Natural Flavors/Flavoring
Natural Beef Or Chicken Flavoring

* Food Additives That MAY Contain MSG Or Excitotoxins *

Soy Protein Concentrate
Soy Protein Isolate
Whey Protein Concentrate

Also: Protease Enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins.

Excitotoxins & Obesity
Animals exposed to MSG were found to be short, obese, and had difficulty with sexual reproduction. This appears to be related to a lesion in the hypothalamus (part of the brains’ appetite and metabolism center). Could the US epidemic of obesity be related to early exposure to food additive excitotoxins? Obesity associated with excitotoxin exposure is not necessarily related to the number of calories consumed. Sadly, many drink diet soda with aspartame (NutraSweet®) which like MSG is an excitotoxin and can produce obesity.

Excitotoxins & Cancer
Rats fed aspartame had a 25 x increase (2500% increase) chance of having brain tumors compared to rats that were on a normal diet. Several possibilities explain the high rate of cancer in these animals. One is that aspartame breaks down in the body into a substance called diketopiperizine or DKP, which chemically closely resembles a group of cancer-causing chemicals. aspartame also contains methanol, which breaks down in the body into formaldehyde and formic acid. Formaldehyde had been shown to accumulate near DNA, causing serious damage that is accumulative. That means that drinking even one diet cola a day can cause formaldehyde buildup in cells, so that the amount of the toxin increases daily.

Breast cancer - a new study on aspartame conducted by the Ramazzini Foundation demonstrated that aspartame causes an increase in cancers. There was a dose – dependent increase in lymphomas, leukemias and breast cancers when consumed at levels consumed by humans in diet soft drinks.
Excitotoxins like Aspartame & MSG can cause seizures, depression and addiction
Aspartame intake produces an unnatural amino acid balance. Unlike amino acids consumed in natural protein sources, aspartame gives large amounts of excitatory amino acids without the natural balance which protects the brain. Large doses of phenylalanine are toxic to the brain and aspartic acid acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain - stimulating the neurons in the brain to "fire." Both aspartic acid and phenylalanine cause the brain to get out of balance with the inhibitory amino acids. This imbalance can lower the threshold of seizures and cause depression. This altered brain chemistry may also be responsible for the addictive nature of aspartame.

Neurodegenerative diseases

Alzheimer's and autism and ADD and Parkinson's disease have increased dramatically. Why? Normally the brain is protected from toxins in the blood by the Blood Brain Barrier. MSG – Glutamates open the Blood Brain Barrier and create a highway for toxins like heavy metals and excitotoxins to damage our brains. When you add MSG to the diet, you add a toxin which dramatically increase the toxicity of other toxins in the environment and food.

Watch the 60 Minutes Video on MSG

Bottom line

The inconvenient truth is that the vast majority of what we eat needs to be unprocessed food. Buy organic meat, fruit, vegetables and grains and make most of our food at home.

We must definitely avoid all aspartame and diligently seek to avoid MSG containing products.

We need to eat out less and when we do we need to understand it is impossible to avoid all the glutamates used in the restaurant industry.

Finally, we should add supplements which help protect the brain against excitotoxins.

Magnesium – low magnesium dramatically increases MSG toxicity. I recommend taking take 400-1200 mg daily (back off if you get loose stools)

Other key players to protect against neurotoxins are: vitamin E, milk thistle, ginkgo biloba, curcumin (as in the Indian spice turmeric) and lithium Note the recommended dose for lithium is 5-15 mg a day and this can be ordered form the Tahoma Clinic (

If you are not eating the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 a day), I highly recommend fruit and vegetable capsules (2 fruit in the am, 2 vegetable caps in the pm). You can Order these caps on the website