Excitotoxins in Your Food

“Excitotoxin” may be a term that is new to you. Excitotoxins are food additives such as aspartame and MSG, aka hydrolyzed vegetable protein that can alter the chemistry of the brain. Studies in experimental animals show that some of the chemicals that are routinely added to processed food can damage the parts of the brain cell called the mitochondria (the energy center of the cell) and also throw neurotransmitter activity out of balance. Whether this same neurochemical upset occurs in humans is controversial. Some medical scientists believe that excitotoxins play a role in the development of many different neurological diseases, including Parkinson’s disease, seizures and Alzheimer’s disease. These additives serve no useful nutritional function, so why take the chance? It’s best to avoid food additives, especially aspartame and MSG, as much as you can.

The rapidly growing brains of children may be even more vulnerable to excitotoxins than adult brains are, and some children may show more dramatic effects than others. According to neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, a child’s brain is four times more sensitive to excitotoxins than the adult brain is. Here’s where your food-mood observations help. Some children, and some adults, experience severe headaches and mood swings following the ingestion of aspartame or MSG, for example. Some notice only that they feel “weird” or can’t focus as well. It is good practice to scrutinize the labels on food that your kids eat for any ingredients that sound like they came from a chemistry lab rather than from nature, and ban these foods from your home. Your kids will be healthier as a result.

Ban the “Bad Words”

For the brain health of your family, avoid processed foods that contain these additives:

  • aspartame
  • MSG
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • BHT and other preservatives
  • red #40
  • blue #1
  • yellow #6
  • any other color-number comb

The body, in its wisdom, protects growing brains and tissues from some toxins in the diet. The blood-brain barrier keeps many potentially harmful substances from crossing over into the brain. Yet it cannot protect brain cells from every potential threat. While the brain can probably safely process some of the chemical substances added to foods, it’s best to avoid excessive amounts.

Brain Foods

Here are the best and worst foods for the brain.

Smart Foods

  • blueberries
  • nuts
  • salmon
  • spinach

“Dumb” Foods

  • excitotoxins, e.g., MSG, aspartame, food colorings, and preservatives
  • fiber-poor carbs
  • hydrogenated oils
  • “liquid candy” – sweetened beverages
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