Enter flavor enhancers or excitotoxins, the name given to a class of additives devised by lab scientists who are employed by food companies to create excitement, texture, and flavor to foods, particularly low-fat low-calorie foods. The most common flavor enhancer is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) which is in ingredients such as Aspartame and more than 70 other ingredients that are found on most food labels. MSG messes with the delicate balance of a neurotransmitter in the brain called glutamate. Glutamate is naturally occurring and necessary but when MSG or any of its cronies are consumed they push the level of glutamate in the blood to a toxic level which then triggers a flood of calcium into the neuronal cells causing the release of fatty acids and chemicals called free radicals. The affected cells become so excited, so frenzied that it signals a suicide response in the cells and they die. Perhaps this is more information than you cared to know but the complexity and intelligence of the machine that is our body is awe inspiring!
So what’s a few brain cells? In addition to potential brain damage these additives also disrupt the hypothalamus which controls numerous autonomic activities including the thyroid, endocrine functions, sleep/wake cycle, hunger and satiety. Research suggests that MSG disrupts the release of the hormone Leptin that tell us that we are full. This explains why sometimes we can pig out endlessly on those chips and not necessarily feel full. It is also this disruption that leads the hypothesis that these additive filled foods are contributing to the obesity epidemic, particularly in children.
MSG is suspected to contribute to or exacerbate an ever growing list of illnesses such as Multiple Sclerosis, Dementia, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and Chronic Migraines. MSG is so toxic that consumption by infants can result in lifelong intellectual impairment and yet, it continues to show up in baby foods and formulas. As indicated above MSG has over 70 aliases and it is up to you as the consumer to become familiar with them and to read your labels, especially if you suffer from chronic illness or pain. Aside from MSG consumption excessive glutamate occurs in reaction to head trauma and is the reason for the symptoms such as delayed thoughts, memory and motor impairment and slurred speech.
So what to do?
The best defense against these nasty chemicals is to eat as cleanly as possible. Avoid foods that come in containers, increase your intake of whole and fresh foods and meals prepared by you at home. Instead of bottled dressings and sauces, experiment with a variety of herbs and oils which often contain vital nutrients. While dining out opt for oil and vinegar or balsamic dressing over ranch or other creamy sauces as this is a common food where MSG hides. Ask for the sauces that come with meat or fish to be put on the side so as to reduce consumption. Also become familiar with labels and common ingredients containing MSG so as to reduce or eliminate from you or your family’s diet.