Food Additives and Excitotoxins: Just Say No

Food additives. They provide crunch to crackers, shelf life to cereals, sweetness to “diet” foods, and enhance the flavor of everything from soups to nuts. In fact, when you eat a processed food, you’re most likely consuming at least one of 3,000 FDA-approved food additives.

Tasty and FDA-approved, who could ask for more? As it turns out, many researchers and holistic health care providers express alarm about the potential health consequences of these food “enhancers.” Of particular concern: Monosodium glutamate (MSG), added to thousands of processed foods to enhance flavor and the sugar substitute aspartame (known as Equal or NutraSweet).

Both are classified as excitotoxins–chemicals, usually acidic amino acids, that react with specialized receptors in the brain to “excite” the neurons and cause them to fire abnormally, leading eventually to the damaging or even death of the brain cell, explains Holly Lucille, RN, ND, from her Los Angles-based naturopathic medical practice. “Research shows excitotoxins may possibly play a role in such conditions as Alzheimer’s, ADHD, cognitive decline, and a host of other hormonal and neurological disorders,” she adds.

Take, for example, diet soda sweetened with NutraSweet. If you think all that sweetness for zero calories sounds like a winning combination, think again, says Russell Blaylock, MD, a retired Jackson, Mississippi, neurosurgeon and author of Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills (Health Press, 1997). “Forty percent of NutraSweet–aspartame–is composed of aspartate, a known excitotoxin,” reports Blaylock. “Like the glutamate in MSG, aspartate is a powerful brain toxin that can produce similar neuron damage.”

Although highly susceptible individuals may experience more immediate symptoms such as chronic headaches, nausea, muscle weakness, chest pain, or breathing difficulties, neuron damage from continued exposure to excitotoxins is usually gradual, explains Blaylock. “Although probably not the direct cause of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s), they may precipitate these disorders and certainly worsen their progression.” Likewise, he adds, excitotoxins may be harmful to those suffering from strokes, head injury, and HIV infection, and certainly should not be used in a hospital setting.

Both Blaylock and Lucille concur: Eating a diet consisting primarily of fresh, whole foods is the best way to avoid food additives. But if, like most of us, you include some processed foods in your diet, put those reading glasses to good use and scrutinize the small print on ingredient labels-if MSG or aspartame turn up, take a pass. And beware: Manufacturers often disguise MSG on labels as yeast extract, calcium or sodium caseinate, glutamate, hydrolyzed protein, or even “natural” flavoring. For a complete list, go to NaturoDoc.

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By Vonalda M. Utterback, CN, Natural Solutions magazine


Jeanne Rogers
Jeanne Rogersabout a month ago

Thank you for sharing.

Amy C.
Amy C.6 years ago

Great article! We definitely need to raise as much awareness as possible about the dangers of these poisons in our food. I wrote a 3-part series on MSG, etc. Check it out here to learn more:

Kerrie G.
Kerrie G.6 years ago

Thanks, ---very informative!

Sioux D.
Animae C.6 years ago

i find it much easier not to eat packaged rubbish.
the link provided above for NaturoDoc MSG disguises is broken!

Jo Zee
Jo Zimny6 years ago

We are all being poisoned with the permission of the FDA...that's got to speak volumes about their concern for human safety. So, read labels, get informed, learn the terminology and make a lot of your own foods at home. Know what you're putting into your mouth and those of your family...tell others, make a noise people...otherwise nothing will change.

Leslie F.
Leslie Filer6 years ago

They sound real bad.......I hadn,t heard of this so I will be watching what a buy from now on

Vural K.
Past Member 7 years ago


John P.
John Pitchers7 years ago

This is becoming such a huge issue. Additive are manufactured into nearly every food we consume. Even fruit and vegetables are sprayed with preservatives and chemicals to add shine. Now, we are starting to pay the price. Increases in obesity, hyper-activity, learning disorders, asthma, eczema even alzheimer's disease can all be linked to food additives. It's time for all of us to make a stand.

Rana Campbell
Rana C.8 years ago

It's really unfortunate that most of the foods that are accessible, both in terms of their presence in supermarkets and pricing, are foods full of additives, preservatives, artificial colouring and a host of other chemicals serving some banal purpose or other. If you've gotten past having to look for MSG or aspartame, then you have to look out for other things like carrageenan, which is used as an emulsifier in products like soy milk and is a known carcinogen. I think it's shameful that we live in a society that allows this to pass and that doesn't demand stricter legislation on labelling laws. What's really needed here is for individuals to communicate with their governments, either in the form of community action or through local government representatives or letter- writing, to demand that their rights as consumers and, more importantly, their basic human right to healthy food options are respected. Of course, we all have the choice not to buy these products, but in a market saturated with them, it's often difficult to find a satisfying and affordable variety of fresh, organic, pesticide and hormone - free foods outside of rural communities or specialty shops. Regardless, I think that simplifying your lifestyle can make a big difference for your health. If you stick to the basics (fresh fruits, veggies, grains, some meat and dairy) you'll be pleasantly surprised at the variety of great meals you can come up with.Really, do we NEED twinkies, processed cheese, frozen meals?