Glutamates or glutaminic acids, are a well-known neurotoxin. Glutamates create what we refer to as the fifth taste, “umami,” which is hard to describe but is something between savory and meaty. Glutamate can be found in 2 forms: bound or free. Bound sources are better tolerated since they are slowly digested and absorbed. It is the free glutamates that provide us with an umami flavor burst.
Where are they found?
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter made by our bodies but is also consumed as part of a normal diet. 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 in cornstarch and corn syrup, products containing carrageenan, and hydrolyzed proteins. But when most of us think about glutamates, we think MSG. Other names for this may include vegetable protein, soy protein, isolate whey, and natural flavoring and spices. According to Dr. Baylock, MD and author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, the additives on the next page always contain MSG.
- Monosodium glutamate
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
- Hydrolyzed protein
- Hydrolyzed plant protein
- Plant protein extract
- Sodium caseinate
- Calcium caseinate
- Yeast extract
- Textured protein
- Autolyzed yeast
- Hydrolyzed oat flour
Additionally, he states that these common foods additives frequently contain MSG:
- Malt extract
- Malt flavoring
- Bouillon broth
- Stock flavoring
- Natural flavoring
- Natural beef or chicken flavoring
- Seasoning spices
Issues with glutamates
Glutamate is one of 3 amino acid excitotoxins, along with cysteine and aspartate (found in NutraSweet), that can stimulate our nervous system. Normally, these amino acids are a good thing, but since they have become so prevalent in our foods, there 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.
Why might I be sensitive to glutamate?
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, or even severe hypoglycemia—can also cause a leaky brain. Dr. Baylock also points out that the young are even more sensitive to leaky brains because their blood-brain barriers are still developing. In addition, some areas of the brain (the hypothalamus, for one) have no barriers at all. I worry about this since these areas form the cornerstone of our endocrine system. Just think about the amount of junk food that young people eat and wonder why their health issues may be on the rise.
Obesity might also be related to excitotoxins. According to Dr. Baylock MD, “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 glutamates?
Nutrient deficiencies come into play big-time here. If you can’t provide enough energy for your enzymes to deal with this stuff, you can overexpose your brain to these substances. For instance, 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 or other cofactors or an issue with a GAD SNP, you may not be able to convert glutamates into GABA.
If you are lacking in antioxidants such as vitamins C, E or glutathione (an important antioxidant), you will compromise your ability to remove free radicals caused by glutamates. Dr. Baylock, points out that “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.”
Bottom line? Eliminate these potentially problematic foods, then slowly reintroduce them to see how you feel.