We live in a growing “soup” of chemicals. This environment has important health implications which are becoming progressively more common and better understood. The difficult task is for each individual to become more informed so that they better understand their particular health concerns. Today’s blog starts the discussion of three very well written books to help with this seemingly complicated task.
The first is the book The Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills by Russell Blaylock, MD. My first interest in this book came from the need to better understand the interaction of food with migraine headache. The “excitotoxins” that Dr. Blaylock discusses in this book are both chemicals and modified food products. The unique property of this group of food additives is that they can over-excite neurons or nerve cells to the point that they dysfunction and become injured.
Because the exposure to excitotoxins in food is ongoing, these substances may induce gradual, progressive damage to neurons in the brain, and are likely to be a factor in the epidemic of degenerative brain disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s disease and several others. Another group of disorders also appear to be related including migraine, ADD, ADHD.
Two very notable excitotoxins are monosodium glutamate and aspartame. MSG is a taste additive in many foods and aspartame is an artificial (that should tell us something!) sweetener. The breakdown products of these additives, such as a single molecule of glutamate, can act as neurotransmitters and activate receptors in the brain called NMDA receptors. These are receptors that “excite” brain neurons, something that must be done only in measured amounts. The brain is normally protected from high exposure to these two neurotransmitters by the special lining of the arteries of the brain called the blood brain barrier (BBB). However, some people have variations of the BBB making them more susceptible to higher brain fluctuations associated with diet. Many health problems also weaken the BBB increasing the population with higher brain levels of excitotoxins associated with diet.
So why would we add these things to food in the first place? The answer is simple. There is a strong economic interest. Taste enhancers also enhance activation of nerves in the mouth and tongue (taste buds) which excite the center in the brain that drives the desire to eat; a good objective if you are selling the food but not so if you are the consumer. The taste of sweet and the taste of glutamate drive pleasurable taste.
Because many people have a direct negative effect from the strongest source of glutamate, MSG or monosodium glutamate, we have “sham” labeling requirements to disclose them. If they are added directly to food, it has to be listed in the ingredient list. However, if wholesale manufacturer “A” concentrates glutamate from some vegetable protein source, they can sell that to food manufacturer “B” as “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”. Manufacturer “B” then adds that ingredient to their packaged food and is only require to disclose “hydrolyzed vegetable protein”.
Dr. Blaylock’s book gives lists of food ingredients which hide higher levels of excitotoxins. Perhaps more importantly, he helps with the understanding of the very negative impact of these altered food products on the human brain and nervous system.
The Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills is a must read for anyone who has a brain, literally!
Next week’s blog covers two more very helpful books about our chemical exposure, and the health implications regarding cancer and autoimmune disease!