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Are Excitotoxins Bad For You?



Short answer

Excitotoxins are bad for you. There are absolutely zero health benefits associated with excitotoxins.



Long answer

Excitotoxins are another name for excitatory neurotoxins which are often added to foods to make them seem more flavorful. Excitotoxins are basically non-essential amino acids that serve to stimulate the umami sensory which can cause you to eat more than you intended or were even hungry for.

The most common excitotoxins are glutamate, aspartate, and cysteine, although there are many others we are exposed to every day.  These neurotoxins have various effects on the brain including the destruction of neurons, brain damage and memory impairment. Many people are also allergic to them which is unfortunate because of how prevalent they have become in our American food sources.

Glutamate is commonly listed on ingredient lists as monosodium glutamate (MSG) - yep! You can already feel how bad for you this is just hearing those initials. Chronic consumption of MSG is known to cause thyroid problems, obesity, short stature and infertility. The really scary part is that it can cross the placenta, causing similar effects in the fetus. Glutamate can also freely penetrate areas of the brain leading to over-activation of the NMDA glutamate receptors which during nervous system development can cause glutamate excitotoxicity and neuron destruction. The elderly are also at risk of brain damage from this excitotoxin. Glutamate goes by a ton of other names as well, including natural flavors, flavoring, anything glutamate, and carrageenan to name a few.

Aspartate acts on the brain’s NMDA receptor cells the same as glutamate. It is typically consumed as aspartame, an artificial sweetener in processed foods and drinks. It has been linked to several neurological effects the most common of which is headaches, followed by sleep disorders and even seizures.

Ok, be ready for this. Cysteine is made in a lab with an ingredient you’re not expecting – hydrolysis of human hair and poultry feathers…yeah, gross! When combined with sugar it increases the umami sensation and the savory flavor. Cysteine easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier, a major defense system in our bodies that protects our neurons, and leads to degenerative brain diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease.

Possible short-term side effects

  • allergic reaction
  • headaches
  • sleep disturbance
  • seizures

Possible long-term side effects

  • destruction of neurons
  • obesity
  • thyroid conditions
  • infertility
  • brain damage
  • degenerative brain diseases

Commonly found in

  • processed foods and drinks
  • artificial sweeteners
  • frozen dinners
  • diet foods
  • gravy mix
  • soups
  • fast food

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Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS | 07-23-2016

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Suggest improvement or correction

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