Excitement to Die For!

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We are wired to seek excitement. So then how can it become toxic? Photo by William Cho. [CC BY-SA 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
There are some things in life that seem good enough to die for.  The excitement we feel in these moments is hard to resist.  In general our bodies are wired to create excitement when it comes to activities that trigger survival instincts.  This includes warfare, hunting, eating, sex and any permutation of these activities.  In our modern world these activities are often morphed into civilized forms such as sports, video games, surfing the web, music, cuisine, etc.  But if our bodies are designed to handle a certain amount of excitement, can too much excitement become toxic, killing you before your allotted time?

Welcome to the frontline of the battle for health where you come up against your nemesis,  herein named Excitotoxicity!

Like the song “Counting Stars” says,

“And I I I I feel something so right by doing the wrong thing
And I I I I feel something so wrong by doing the right thing

I could lie, couldn’t I, couldn’t I?
Every thing that kills me makes me feel alive.”

Sure some things may truly be worth dying for, but others are simply enemy snares that rope us in and pull us down slowly over time.  There are a whole slew of behaviors that fall in this category such as overeating, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, sexual addiction.  These are well known to every one, and should probably be considered excitotoxins, but the excitotoxin targeted in this post is “free glutamate”, a flavor enhancer added to our processed foods that has 129 different names on food labels and is possibly implicated in a whole host debilitating diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s Disease, and other forms of dementia.

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The original free glutamate flavor enhancer developed in 1909 – MSG). Photo by Dynomat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
 An excitotoxin is a substance that can damage or kill nerve cells by over stimulating them (i.e. exciting them to death) .  Over 70 types of excitotoxins have been identified (i.e. glutamate, aspartame, sodium caseinate, etc.)many of which are added to our food supply in the form of flavor enhancers.  They sneak into our foods, hidden behind names such as yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, vegetable protein, textured protein, natural flavor, carrageenan, and anything hydrolyzed.  ( See some lists here and here).  MSG is sold directly to consumers packaged as Accent, Sazon Goya, Vetsin, Marmite and Ajinomoto.

The official designation of the FDA for flavor enhancers such as MSG is GRAS ( Generally recognized as safe).  However the FDA recognizes that following symptoms are possible after large doses of MSG:

“short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache, numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness”

It does not appear that the FDA has performed long-term studies of the cumulative effects over many years of eating foods with added excitotoxins, nor have they studied the long-term effects on specific vulnerable populations such as children,  the elderly, and people who are genetically predisposed to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s, ALS, etc.  A recent paper published May 2013 by Tadvi NA, et al., in the International Journal of Medical Research and Health Sciences titled “Excitotoxin: Their role in health and disease” concluded the following:

There is considerable evidence based research pertaining to the neurodegenerative effect of excitotoxins to the human brain. Yet the autonomous food regulating bodies like FDA refuse to recognize the immediate and long-term danger to the public caused by the use of such excitotoxic food additives. Thus only means of protecting oneself from such type of neurological damage is to consume only unprocessed, fresh, whole, organic foodstuffs.

Did you know that some of the drugs used to help Alzheimer’s patients (such as memantine or Namenda) work by blocking the effects of glutamate?

What it all boils down to is this:

You have to become the expert on your own health because something that doesn’t affect the majority of the people could be killing you or making you age prematurely.  You need to become your own health detective.

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Overly exciting your brain cells with excitotoxins may cost you down the road! Photo by Michael Gil from Calgary, AB, Canada (Redline Excitement) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
This process starts by carefully reading all the labels on the foods you buy and possibly rejecting foods that are amazingly , excitingly delicious.  Vitamin C may also help protect against the effects of exposure to excitotoxins.

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