Glutamate Sensitivity

Are you extremely intelligent, yet riddled with unexplained anxiety? Do lights and sound set you off?  Does sleep often end in nightmares? If so, glutamates may be an issue for you. 

What does glutamate do?

Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in our brain. Its role is excitatory which is a good thing, We need neurotransmitters that amp up us as well as those that slow us down.  

Glutamate is one 20 amino acids that is used a building block for all proteins in our body. It is not considered essential as it can be made from other amino acids, but it is definitely important:  

  • Glutamate is a precursor for GABA,—its polar opposite, a calming neurotransmitter
  • Glutamate is a player in energy production
  • It aids in detoxification through the formation of glutathione
  • It contributes to learning and memory.
  • and more..

Where are glutamates found?

Glutamate are found in 2 forms: bound or free.

The bound form is usually found in proteins in food. The proteins are slowly broken down into amino acids and then absorbed. This allows glutamate to be better tolerated.

The free form creates what is referred to as the fifth taste, “umami,” which is something between savory and meaty. Unfortunately, free forms are quickly released and can be an excitotoxin.  

Naturally produced glutamates

The amino acids glutamic acid and glutamine are converted to glutamate in the body.  Conversion is susceptible to inflammation, genetics,  and cofactors variations.

Dietary sources of glutamates 

Glutamates are found in high levels in foods that are cured and preserved, such as aged cheeses like Parmesan and Roquefort, fermented or aged foods such as steak sauce and Worcestershire sauce, and fermented soy products.

Glutamates can also be naturally found in veggies such as tomatoes, peas, corn,  etc. as well as meats such as cured ham, chicken, and beef.

Glutamates are also used products containing  corn starch, corn syrup or carrageenan. 

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

But when most of us think about glutamates, we think MSG. According to Dr. Baylock, MD and author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, these additive contain MSG.

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Soy protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein
  • Plant protein extract
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Yeast extract
  • Textured protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Hydrolyzed oat flour
  • Isolated whey

Additionally, these common foods additives frequently contain MSG:

  • Malt extract
  • Malt flavoring
  • Bouillon broth
  • Stock flavoring
  • Natural flavoring
  • Natural beef or chicken flavoring
  • Seasoning spices

What are the issues with glutamates?


Glutamates or glutaminic acids are a well-known excitotoxins. It is one of 3 amino acids along with cysteine and aspartate (found in NutraSweet) that stimulates our nervous system. Normally, these amino acids are a good thing, but since they have become so prevalent in our foods, their shear numbers can overexcite our brain cells.

Excitotoxins have been found to play a role in migraines, Huntington’s Disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, autism, ADHD, and many more not-so-pleasant dysfunctions.

Free radical production

Our nervous system is particularly vulnerable to oxidative stress as it contains high levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids which are susceptible to free radical attack. Normally, reactive oxygen species (ROS) are maintained at very low, non-toxic levels to help the immune system fight pathogens.

Excess accumulation of glutamate leads to increasing concentration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and reactive nitrogen species (RNS) in brain cells. This is a factor in several neurological disorders such as stroke, trauma, seizures and chronic neurodegenerative diseases, 

Glutamate can also triggers the production of superoxide and peroxynitrite which is inflammatory to brain tissue.

Why might I be sensitive to glutamates?


Glutamates conversion and usage requires many different enzymes which are vulnerable to genetic deviations especially GAD, GLU, GLS, GLUL, NOS, DAO, GDH, and more. 

When someone has high glutamate and a lot of variants in GAD, it creates conditions for high glutamate and low GABA that could increase stress.

Leaky brain

Glutamate sensitivity may be more of an issue for those with a “leaky brain.” What causes a leaky brain? Anything that causes leaky gut—infection, food sensitivities, dysbiosis, SIBO, aging, stroke, brain trauma, hypertension, hypoxia, hypoglycemia, etc.

Young folks are even more sensitive to leaky brains because their blood-brain barriers are still developing. Some areas of the brain like our hypothalamus have no barriers at all —leaving a wide open portal for excitotoxin damage.

Taking supplements

For those taking large amounts of glutamine or collagen to support muscles or gut issues may be consuming too much glutamate. Even bone broth powders or heavy daily may contain too high of a glutamate load for those sensitive. 

Nutrient deficiencies

Nutrient deficiencies come into play big-time here. If you don’t have enough stores of magnesium, you won’t be able to effectively block uptake of excess glutamates by the brain cells. Sufficient levels of magnesium also help prevent cells from taking in excess calcium when they’re dealing with a high load of excitotoxins.

If you have low B6 and magnesium, you may not be able to convert glutamates into GABA effectively.

If you are lacking in antioxidants such as vitamins C, E or glutathione, you may compromise your ability to remove free radicals caused by glutamates. “When free radicals are not quenched, they can stimulate the release of more excitotoxins from storage. This produces a vicious cycle whereby excitotoxins stimulate free radical formation and the free radicals in turn stimulate further excitotoxin accumulation.” 

/issues with NAD (a form of niacin) can lead to high glutamate levels by blocking glutamate conversion.


As mentioned infection, inflammation affect glutamate production.

Glutamate to GABA conversion could be impaired by free radicals, excess mast cells, or any other factors that would create inflammation. Infection, chronic stress, and blond sugar issues will also inhibit glutamate to GABA conversion.

 Lead, aluminum and mercury can compromise enzyme activity that convert glutamate in to GABA.

If your body is not effectively able to make, ATP–our energy currency, high glutamate can results. 

What are some symptoms of glutamate issues?

Elevated glutamate levels are associated with:

  • panic attacks
  • anxiety
  • excess adrenal function
  • impulsivity
  • depression
  • learning and memory issues
  • agitation
  • sleeplessness
  • sensitivity  to noise, lights or touch
  • nightmares 

According to Bob Miller CTN, these folks are usually highly intelligent, super motivated but develop anxiety later in life. 


Another rising health epidemic, obesity,  may also be linked to excitotoxins. According to Dr. Baylock,

“Consistently, the animals exposed to MSG were found to be short, grossly obese, and had difficulty with sexual reproduction. One can only wonder if the large number of people having difficulty with obesity in the United States is related to early exposure to food additive excitotoxins since this obesity is one of the most consistent features of the syndrome [MSG exposure]. One characteristic of the obesity induced by excitotoxins is that is doesn’t appear to depend on food intake. This could explain why some people cannot diet away their obesity. It is ironic that so many people drink soft drinks sweetened with NutraSweet® when aspartate [in it] can produce the exact same lesions as glutamate, resulting in gross obesity. The actual extent of MSG-induced obesity in the human population is unknown… [However], humans develop higher levels of blood glutamate following ingestion of MSG than any other species of animal known.”

What can I do about high glutamates?

For those sensitive, free forms of glutamate should be eliminated from the diet and bound form minimized or avoided.

There are supplements and herbs that can ;possibly be used to help support glutamate conversion. Taking a multivitamin to help restore cofactor vitamin and minerals deficiencies. Magnesium may need to be in the form of magnesium threonine for best results. 

Uncovering sources of inflammation and infection may also help minimize impact on conversion  enzymes.  

Reduction of heavy metal load may be necessary.

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