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Excitotoxin: a substance added to foods and beverages that literally stimulates neurons to death, causing brain damage of varying degrees. Con be found in such ingredients as monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame (Nutrasweet®), cysteine, hydrolyzed protein and aspartic acid.

An enlightening and frightening book by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.

If you're into the “health food” movement, you probably try to avoid MSG. But you may not know that the other excitotoxins are equally as dangerous and damaging or that they are more dangerous and damaging in combination.

Let's start with MSG. It comes from a seaweed, kombu, found in Japan. The seaweed has been used by the Japanese as a flavor enhancer for centuries. Earlier in this century the “taste enhancing” ingredient was isolated. This is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). The chemist who discovered this chemical turned it into a multi-million dollar industry. The center of the MSG empire is the Ajinomoto Company, which produced most of the world's supply of MSG and another taste-enhancing substance, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which also contains MSG.

After World War II, the American food manufacturers discovered MSG's taste enhancing properties. Soon all the food giants, Pillsbury, Oscar Meter Libby's and Campbell's were adding millions of pounds of MSG a year to foods. The amount of MSG added to foods has doubled every decade. By the 1970's, more than 262,000 metric tons of MSG were produced.

Initially researchers assumed glutamate supplied the brain with energy. Tests were done to see if giving MSG to retarded children would improve their IQ. The tests failed. In 1957, tests were done on infant mice to see if it would improve hereditary retinal dystrophy. But when the eye tissue was examined they were surprised to discover that the MSG had destroyed all the receptors of the inner layer of the animal's eye.

This test was repeated 10 years later by Dr. Olney, and it was discovered that MSG is not only toxic to the retina, but also to the brain. When the animals brains were examined they found that the hypothalamus, a specialized area of the brain, had also been destroyed — after a SINGLE dose of MSG.

In spite of this discovery, the food manufacturers continued to add ton of this excitotoxic additive to foods of all kinds, including baby foods. Dr. Olney tried to get the FDA to take action, they refused. So he went public, telling of the dangers of MSG and the increased danger of adding it to baby foods. After his testimony before congress the food industry agreed to remove MSG from baby foods. BUT THEY DIDN'T REALLY. They substituted hydrolyzed vegetable protein that contains THREE known excitotoxins including MSG. They did this for seven more years. There is evidence that excitotoxins are still being added to baby foods in the form of caseinate, beef or chicken broth, vegetable protein, or flavoring.

The food industry knows that an increasing portion of the public is wary of MSG consumption. So, MSG is hidden in other seemingly innocuous ingredients as “natural flavoring”, which may contain 20-60% MSG. Or “hydrolyzed plant protein”, also called “vegetable protein” or “plant protein”. This is a powerful excitotoxin mixture that the manufacturers say is safe and natural. After all it's made from plants!

This substance is actually made from junk vegetables that are unfit for sale. They are selected so as to have a high content of glutamate. The extraction process involves boiling the plants in a vat of acid. This is followed by neutralizing the acid with caustic soda. The resultant brown sludge is collected and allowed to dry. The resulting product is a brown powder that is high in three excitotoxins: glutamate, aspartate and cystoic acid (which the body converts to cysteine). This is added by the food industry to everything from tuna to baby food.

Another common excitotoxin which we are familiar is NutraSweet. 40% of this compound is the excitotoxin aspartate. Another powerful brain toxin which can produce similar neuron damage to glutamate. NutraSweet is commonly used in diet foods and beverages.

It is well known that liquid forms of excitotoxins are much more toxic to the brain and are absorbed faster and produce higher blood levels than do dry forms.

The negative effects of excitotoxins are not limited to children. There is growing evidence that excitotoxins play a major role in the development of Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), as well a many other rare disorders of the nervous system. All of these diseases show slow destruction of brain cells that are specifically sensitive to excitotoxin damage.

In all these diseases, neuron's that use glutamate for a transmitter are slowly destroyed. At the same time, neurons that use other types of transmitters are spared.

While there is no definite proof that food borne excitotoxins “cause” these diseases, there is an increasing amount of evidence that they do aggravate a person's existing propensity to manifest one of these neurological conditions.

Other diseases that are being linked to excitotoxin build-up in the brain include strokes, brain injury, seizures, migraine headaches, hypoxic brain damage and AIDS dementia.

Additives that 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

Additives that FREQUENTLY contain MSG
Malt Extract
Malt Flavoring
Natural Flavoring
Natural Beef or Chicken Flavoring

Additives that MAY contain MSG or excitotoxins:
Soy Protein Concentrate
Say Protein Isolate
Whey Protein Concentrate

Protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins.

The information in this post has been taken from the book, Excitotoxins, by Russell Blaylock, M.D.