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Monosodium Glutamate

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On a recent trip to China, I found that after every meal, I would suffer from headaches, excessive thirst and difficulty sleeping. It dawned on me that what I was feeling was the effects of MSG in the food.

There are many chemicals that are put in processed and refined foods: artificial food colors and flavors, nitrites and nitrates, sulfites, MSG and all sorts of other preservatives. These are designed to “enhance the flavor” of foods, or preserve the foods so that they can stay on a store shelf for months and months. Of all the chemicals, I think the worst is probably MSG.

MSG is short for Monosodium Glutamate. It is used very often in Chinese and other Asian restaurants as a flavor enhancer, instead of salt. Traditionally, Asians used seaweed broth made from kombu to enhance the flavors of food. MSG is made by fermenting tapioca starch, sugar beets, sugar cane and sugar beets. MSG is the monosodium salt of glutamic acid, which is what is known as an excitatory neurotransmitter that activates the nervous system. Typical reactions to MSG include headaches, tingling in the hands and feet, rapid heartbeat, among other reactions. This is because MSG, along with aspartate, is what is considered an “excitotoxin.” Essentially it is a toxin because it excites nerve cells to death, thereby affecting the normal development of the brain.

The key to minimizing damage from excitotoxins is to avoid foods containing these chemicals and to incorporate foods that help support the brain (see sidebar).

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Worth a Read

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Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.

Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, written by neurologist Russell L. Blaylock, examines how excitotoxins such as MSG and aspartate can affect the brain. Excitotoxins are chemicals that severely harm the brain by causing neurons to become overly active, to the point of exhaustion and death. Excitotoxins can cause developmental brain defects, and aggravate neurodegenerative diseases.

Blaylock examines how excitotoxins affect the developing brains of infants and children. As he notes, “Excitotoxins, as we have seen, can cause excessive electrical activity of the brain and can even cause seizures…Excessive stimulation, as seen with excitotoxins, can severely interfere with this delicate process (of brain development) and possibly lead to learning disorders, emotional illness, or even major psychological disease later in life,” (p.63). Blaylock also examines how excitotoxins can worsen neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, ALS and others.

Blaylock notes that the best way to avoid injury from excitotoxins is to eliminate these foods from your diet. In addition, it is important to supplement your diet with foods that contain vitamins and minerals that offer protection against the damaging effects of excitotoxins. Specifically, antioxidant vitamins such as Vitamins C and E, magnesium, selenium, zinc, and Omega 3 fatty acids have all been shown to help support the brain (see sidebar for a list of foods have these vitamins and minerals).

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Quote of the Month

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“Have a mouth as sharp as a dagger, but a heart as soft as tofu.”

—Chinese Proverb

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I am the mother of four daughters and a Certified Health Counselor, as well as a passionate advocate of organic and local food and a healthy lifestyle. I decided to become a health counselor to fulfill my passion of working with children and parents to improve their health and family life. Learn more about me at

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In this issue:

Sources of MSG:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Gelatin

Other harmful food additives:

  • Artificial flavors
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial Sweeteners
  • Nitrites and Nitrates
  • Sulfites
  • Aspartate

Brain-Supportive Foods:

  • Vitamin C—citrus fruit, strawberries, kiwi, leafy greens, broccoli, red peppers
  • Vitamin E—leafy greens, broccoli, nuts and seeds
  • Magnesium—Rice, wheat and oat bran, nuts and seeds, cocoa powder
  • Selenium—Brazil nuts, shellfish, liver
  • Zinc—nuts and seeds, oysters, dark chocolate, lamb
  • Omega 3 fatty acids—walnuts, salmon, sardines, flax seeds
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