Excitotoxins can be found in commercial food additives used to enhance flavor. Acting as neurotransmitters, this class of substances are typically amino acids or their derivatives that, in excess, overstimulate neurons and can result in death or exhaustion. 1 It’s important to educate yourself on excitotoxins because they have been linked to many health issues and are abundant in many processed foods under a variety of names. The FDA hasn’t banned excitotoxins despite a significant amount of evidence that excitotoxins have a neurodegenerative effect on the brain.2
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What impact do excitotoxins have on the body?
Common excitotoxins are monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame. While our brain naturally produces the neurotransmitter glutamate, ingesting it can create an unhealthy concentration of glutamate in the brain, exciting your neurons so that they fire spastically until burning out. Ultimately, this can lead to cell death, which causes irreparable damage.3
Mild and more immediately recognizable symptoms from excitotoxins are nausea or headaches, though consistent consumption over time has been linked to an array of issues, such as brain defects, hormonal imbalances, behavioral and emotional issues, tumors, and lesions.4 Excitotoxins can also aggravate conditions like Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, strokes, seizures, migraines, diabetes, and Parkinson’s.4 Excitotoxins can be addictive, encouraging consumers to continue purchasing foods with these additives.
If you have children, you should be even more aware of excitotoxins, as children are four times more sensitive to these food additives than adults.5 Katherine Reid, PhD, founder of Unblind My Mind, saw changes within her own family when she began a journey to help her daughter, who was diagnosed with Autism in 2009. After removing excitotoxins from their diet, using a diet she’s called the REID (Reduced Excitatory Inflammatory Diet), her daughter no longer has a diagnosis of Autism and Reid also experienced an array of benefits, including a reduction in brain fog, allergies she’s had since she was a child, weight loss, decrease in headaches, and increased energy.6
Identifying excitotoxins on food labels
Excitotoxins have kind of an alarming amount of titles, so I’m sharing a list from The Truth in Labeling Campaign for you to refer to (MfG in this list stands for Manufactured free Glutamate, meaning it contains MSG)
Names of ingredients that always contain MfG:
Glutamic acid (E 620) *2
Glutamate (E 620)
Monosodium glutamate (E 621)
Monopotassium glutamate (E 622)
Calcium glutamate (E 623)
Monoammonium glutamate (E 624)
Magnesium glutamate (E 625)
Any “hydrolyzed protein”
Calcium caseinate, Sodium caseinate
Yeast extract, Torula yeast
Yeast food, Yeast nutrient
Whey protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Soy protein concentrate
Soy protein isolate
Anything “protein fortified”
Soy sauce extract
Anything “enzyme modified”
Anything containing “enzymes”
Names of ingredients that often contain or produce MfG during processing:
Carrageenan (E 407)
Bouillon and broth
Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
Citric acid, Citrate (E 330)
Pectin (E 440)
As you can see from this list, it could be very easy to overlook excitotoxins in your food. This can seem overwhelming, so if you want to cut out excitotoxins, a good plan is to focus on eating primarily whole foods.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, provides online counseling in New Jersey and works to develop a strong therapeutic relationship with her clients, which helps to create a secure place where individuals can achieve meaningful change.
Sarah Tronco, LCSW, now also provides online counseling in Pennsylvania, contact her to learn more.
Photo by Miguel Andrade on Unsplash