Excitotoxins: A group of excitatory amino acids that can cause sensitive neurons to die. Some of these compounds are found in nature and some are created artificially. Two excitotoxins commonly added to processed foods are MSG and Aspartame (Nutra Sweet). L-cysteine is also an excitoxin and some bread manufacturers are adding it to their dough. Excitotoxins, The Taste that Kills by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.
Today I have book review for you that a few of you smart readers of Fearless Fat Loss have contacted me about.
You’ve asked me why I haven’t written about it yet since MSG and Aspartame are so unhealthy for the body, do not contribute to a healthy lifestyle, and especially since they are so prevalent in those processed diet foods (these flavor enhancers/MSG and sweeteners/Aspartame are added since low fat, processed foods are often tasteless).
Well here it is, and I could just end the post right now and say Go Read This Book!! Yep, that’s it, you don’t need to read any further.
You’re Still Reading?
Ok then, here’s a few more reasons for you to stop reading this post and go read the book –
- If you’re interested in what’s in that processed food that you’ve been wanting to get off of then Excitotoxins is a must read.
- If you have any history of neurological disorders, seizures, stroke (to name a few, diabetics are also susceptible to the toxicity of excitoxins) either personally or in your family, this book is a must read.
- If you have children and want to stay on top of the hidden ingredients in processed food that can affect the development of their delicate and still growing nervous systems, this book is a must read.
If You Insist on Reading This Post…
Actually, you’ll still need to read Excitotoxins anyway because just like the other excellent books that I’ve reviewed for you here at Fearless Fat Loss, there’s just no way that I can fit all of the information contained in a book into a post, and this is a seriously long post! Instead I’ll give you an overview of what I learned by reading Excitotoxins by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., the book that literally brought me to tears yesterday.
So What are ya Talkin’ About Here?
Excitotoxins such as MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate), Aspartame, and L-cysteine can create devastating effects in the brain. To put it simply, they put the brain’s neurons into hyper drive so that they fire their impulses so rapidly that they reach a state of extreme exhaustion. Soon after these neurons die as if they had been “excited” to death – that’s exactly how this group of food additives/flavor enhancers/toxins/chemicals got the name “excitotoxins”.
Here’s an even simpler way of thinking of it, just imagine this: the MSG or Aspartame hits the brain and your neurons start jumping like they’re out of control. They’re acting like a super hyper kindergarten class that is jumping all over the place yelling and screaming and having a food fight (hey, just trying to lighten up this serious topic here, while I give ya an illustration 😉 ).
The difference is however, that once that kindergarten class tires itself out they get a nap and then they’re revived and ready to go again but in the brain, once your neurons have “jumped around” so excitedly, they die.
The amino acids glutamate and aspartate are 2 of the most common neurotransmitters in your brain and spinal cord and are naturally present if you were to never have ingested any excitotoxins in your life. There is no problem with these neurotransmitters unless their concentration becomes too high, which is why the MSG and Aspartame are so destructive.
The glutamate in MSG and aspartate in Aspartame that are ingested in processed food are also used as neurotransmitters and when added to the amount already in the body they become deadly toxins to the neurons containing glutamate receptors and the nerve cells connected to those neurons. The outcome is that “the excess glutamate will not only kill the receptors for glutamate, but it will also kill any neurons that happen to be connected to it, even if that neuron uses another type of receptor.”
Both glutamate and aspartame can cause neurons to become extremely excited and if the dose is large enough they can cause these cells to degenerate and die, again how the name “excitotoxins” was derived.
Under normal conditions the brain will regulate the amount of glutamate and aspartate in the fluid surrounding the neurons but (I’m making this very simple here) it takes an enormous amount of cellular energy to remove the excess glutamate that is flooding into the body in the large doses of MSG found in almost all processed foods. There is only so much cellular energy that the brain has with which to keep up and when that energy is depleted the neurons essentially “burn up” from being overly excited.
Note: As this post is meant to be an overview if you would like even more details on how the brain functions please see the book Excitotoxins, complete with pictures and illustrations which Dr. Blaylock, being a neurosurgeon, drew himself.
Is This a Big Deal?
Babies and children are especially susceptible to damage from excitotoxins because they are still in the process of developing their nervous system, however people who already have disease or damage of the nervous system have been found to have their conditions aggravated:
- Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS)
- Huntington’s Disease
- Hypoglycemic Brain Damage
- Brain Injury
It’s also a big deal to people who are prone to disease of the nervous system, a big deal that they avoid excitotoxins! For myself as far as I know there is no history of neurological disease in my family but I don’t care; I’m staying away from this stuff anyway.
What’s This Have to do With Weight Loss?
If you buy into diet after diet, diets that rely on processed foods that contain MSG and/or Aspartame you are potentially creating some serious health problems for yourself. And what’s even worse is that the MSG and Aspartame serve no other purpose except to enhance the flavor of processed foods.
Yep, that’ the only reason excitotoxins are in food, well except for the reason of boosting sales. You see, those low-fat diet foods the processed food manufacturers create are virtually tasteless unless they add excitotoxins, and the MSG and Aspartame add flavor and sweetness so well that the manufacturers liberally add them in processed foods!
Now if you are like me and learning about this motivates you to stick with whole foods, then you stand to gain not only better health but also more energy and weight loss, if that’s what you’re going for. For me, this is just one more reason to stick with my whole foods lifestyle – these excitotoxins just aren’t worth it!
How It Works and the Tricky Part
Excitotoxins stimulate the taste cells in the tongue by greatly enhancing the taste of the food. There is no other reason that these additives are in processed food, and some foods like frozen diet meals contain more than one of these toxic ingredients. When you consider that most processed and fast food contains MSG and many contain Aspartame, that’s a whole lot of over-stimulation for your brain!
It’s tricky though because you might think that you’re doing a good thing by checking your labels for the ingredient MSG but much of the time it’s not even called that!
While it’s easy to find Aspartame (Nutra Sweet) listed on a label, you’ll find that tasty flavor enhancer MSG in a variety of foods disguised under many different names. The FDA allows the public to be misinformed by stating that the label only needs to list “MSG” if it is pure MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Therefore when a manufacturers places MSG within another ingredient such as natural flavor, which can contain 30-60% MSG, the label only needs to list “natural flavor”. How in the heck is the consumer supposed to know this is MSG unless they research the ingredients?
Not only does the FDA allow MSG to hide behind other names but they also allow a food product that contains pure MSG to be listed as an ingredient in another product by the food’s name instead of MSG. For example, if a broth contains pure MSG and is used as an ingredient in a can of soup, that broth is listed merely as “broth” when it actually contains pure MSG.
Here are some of the most common ingredients that MSG is hidden in:
- Natural Flavor
- Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein (very hazardous, contains 3 excitotoxins)
- Monosodium Glutamate
- Hydrolyzed Protein
- Hydrolyzed Plant Protein Extract
- Sodium Caseinate
- Calcium Caseinate
- Autolyzed Yeast
- Yeast Extract
Which Foods are Excitotoxins In?
The excitotoxins MSG and Aspartame are added to all kinds of processed foods – MSG is added as a taste enhancer and the Aspartame as a sweetener. They can be found in everything from canned tuna to baby food (look for hydrolyzed vegetable protein or the other names listed above) and foods like chips, diet soda, canned pasta meals, soups, sauces, fast food, salad dressings, frozen foods, and especially frozen diet foods – MSG is pretty much everywhere, all you have to do is check your labels and you’ll see for yourself (you must look for the names it hides behind!).
You can even find foods labeled as “No MSG”, which to someone who doesn’t know the truth would believe – when you check the ingredients you’ll see that it doesn’t list “MSG”, but it’s still in there! It’s hidden behind one of MSG’s other names. For instance, natural flavor is a very common flavor enhancer, which can contain 30-60% MSG (it’s in the Sprinkle Diet/Sensa that I wrote about last week) and hydrolyzed vegetable protein is super common, which itself is made up of 3 excitotoxins.
Technically then per the FDA, those foods that contain hidden MSG in its ingredients can be labeled “No MSG” because they don’t list “MSG” on the label. Remember, the FDA defines the ingredient “MSG” to mean pure MSG, while “natural flavor”, which contains 30% to 60% MSG, can be an ingredient and the product is labeled as “No MSG” (very sadly I’ve seen this same occurrence on one of my favorites, Mrs. Dash).
What’s It Have to do With Weight Loss?
There is more than one benefit that you will receive from creating a healthy lifestyle filled with whole foods. Sure, it’s a great way to lose weight and it definitely works when you use portion control and learn how to speed up your metabolism, but every day I find more and more reasons why I’m so grateful that I found the 6-Week Body Makeover program.
It’s that program that taught me how to cook and eat whole foods that taste great by using regular spices and herbs. My food tastes awesome and it without the MSG flavor enhancer or Nutra Sweet sweetener. So while I recommend a lifestyle filled with regular, whole foods and exercise to lose weight, you really win in so many other ways.
What Can You Do?
You definitely have options when it comes to your health because you’re the one who chooses what you eat. You also have the same resources available to you that I do because all I’ve done is some research by reading books and using the wonder of the Internet to conduct lengthy searches.
Of course you’ve got a great benefit here because I’m cutting down on a ton of time for you by giving you the strong suggestion to read Excitotoxins for yourself and also to check out the links I’ve provided in this article. I highly suggest that you read Excitotoxins (have I said that already? 😉 ) because like I said in the beginning of this article, I cannot list every single point in this here that Dr. Blaylock covers in his book.
He gets into how the brain functions in a very easy to understand manner, includes a ton of references for your further research, shares that there are over 70 known excitotoxins, and covers the history of how all of this started in Japan and the fact that MSG has been known to be unhealthy since the 1960’s.
Here are some solutions for you if you want to avoid MSG, that tasty flavor enhancer that is added to your food for no other reason than to stimulate your taste buds:
- Live a healthy lifestyle eating whole foods – Not only will you avoid the excitotoxins MSG and Aspartame, but you can easily lose weight, too! You can learn how to cook with known spices and herbs like I do and believe me, my food is very tasty and spicy. Some of my favorite spices are pepper (black, jalepeno, red), cumin, and cinnamon.
- Read your labels – I was at the grocery store today and picked up only 10 popular, processed foods and all of them contained the ingredient natural flavor (30-60% MSG) and some of them even contained more than one hidden MSG ingredient in disguise (i.e.: hydrolyzed vegetable protein and “spices”). These products ranged from the popular vitamin water types of drinks to spaghetti sauce to frozen diet meals that I used to eat more than once a day (those also contained sugar and a whole bunch of other gunk). Reading your labels will actually lead you to whole foods because almost all processed food contains these toxic flavor enhancers – I even found natural flavor in the rice milk I used to buy!
- Remember that MSG is hidden – Carry a list with you of all of the ingredients that MSG is hidden in or at the very least, remember the ingredient “natural flavors”, also seen as “natural flavoring”. You’ll be amazed at just how many products contain this ingredient. Another easy one to remember is simply “spices”, and that doesn’t mean the spices you find in the spice aisle like oregano, thyme, and cinnamon, but when you see the word “spices” listed in the ingredients, that is MSG.
- If you don’t know what it is, don’t buy it – If you’re in doubt of an ingredient don’t buy the product. Do your research first and remember that just because something is for sale on the grocery store shelf, it doesn’t mean it’s healthy for you, much less will it help you lose weight!
- The label “No MSG” doesn’t mean what you think – The FDA allows processed food manufacturers to state “No MSG” on the label if the product does not contain pure MSG, therefore if it contains any of the ingredients that disguise MSG (like natural flavor), it’s acceptable to label the product “No MSG”. This should be no surprise since the FDA has similar labeling laws that allow products to read “Zero Trans Fat” and “Sugar-Free”.
- Get it tested – If you believe a food product contains MSG because you see one of those ingredients of MSG in disguise and you express your concern to the manufacturer who tells you there is no MSG in their product, ask them to back it up with a “free amino acid” assay of their food product. If there is any free glutamic acid found then you can assume that the product contains MSG, which is a glutamate (MSG stands for Mono Sodium Glutamate).
It is also suggested that certain supplements such as Coenzyme Q10, Vitamin C, and beta carotene can help provide some protection from excitotoxins, however Dr. Russell Blaylock does NOT encourage a use of supplements as a way to justify continuing to use excitotoxins (i.e.: eating foods that contain them).
Ask Yourself This…
- If MSG is not dangerous then why is it ?
- Why are there so many cases of high school shootings today? (MSG fed to babies and children may contribute to violent behavior when the child grows older).
- Why are the cases of Alzheimer’s increasing today? (Excitotoxins can contribute to the early onset of neurological disorders and/or aggravate current disorders).
- Why do you see so many commercials for “glutamate blocker” medications? Why are they needed?
- Why not get off the processed foods containing the glutamate/MSG instead of taking medications that cannot stem the influx of the abundance of glutamate coming into the human body through processed food?
- Why are there so many people who are depressed today? Why can you see a commercial for an anti-depressant at least once per hour? (MSG is linked to depression, as well as migraines and asthma – In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome).
Don’t Understand Why the FDA doesn’t Do Something?
The FDA is already doing something, it’s allowing this to occur just like it allows labels to read “contains zero trans fat” and “sugar free” when in actuality this isn’t true. The simple truth is that you have to take responsibility for your own health. If you want to treat yourself with the respect you deserve don’t buy any food that lists an ingredient that you aren’t sure of.
Again, I strongly encourage you to read this book and do your own research, in fact if I could only recommend one book to you, I would be sorely torn between Excitotoxins and Sugar Blues, that’s how strongly I feel about this. And it’s easy to read, it’s not like reading a medical report. Dr. Blaylock wrote it for the public, to help us become conscious of just what is going on in the food system. In all honesty I knew it was bad with the sugar because that is so addictive but this here is just ridiculous, putting these flavor enhancers in practically all processed foods; and you can’t tell me that those heightened flavors don’t get you hooked and buying more just like the sugar does!
For myself, the best solution is to stick to whole foods, and then you get the byproduct of having loads of energy and weight loss, too. Your body loves clean fuel and MSG, Aspartame, sugar, white flour, unhealthy fats, all of that gunky stuff that is so prevalent in processed food only serves to slow down your metabolism and gunk you up. Well, and in this case we’re learning about damage that can occur to the nervous system from these excitotoxins that are abundant in the processed food supply.
Read the book and make up your own mind, and please read be sure to read it if you have children and/or anyone in your family who is suffering from a neurological disease. Dr. Blaylock does not state that they can be cured by staying away from the MSG and other excitotoxins but in some cases the symptoms can be lessened.