MSG. I could literally write a book about this food additive. So I will do my best to give the condensed version of my thoughts and the science about MSG and other sources of glutamate and their impact on our health.
Glutamate is the salt from glutamic acid, which is basically an amino acid. Specifically, it is an “excitatory” amino acid. However, once glutamic acid is converted into glutamate in the body, it acts as a neurotransmitter. So for the purpose of this discussion, glutamate acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter, carrying messages throughout the body from different systems.
In it’s natural state, glutamate can be found in many foods, and is necessary for the body to function. It is most commonly known as MSG, monosodium glutamate. But to be clear, MSG is a man-made food additive made from glutamate, not the naturally occurring amino acid found in real foods. One of the main things to understand here, is that glutamate found in natural foods is always balanced by other amino acids. So even though it is excitatory, it is always balanced by inhibitory amino acids like glycine or others. But “MSG”, the additive, is not balanced and therefore is only excitatory. And like the name implies, it “excites” neurons into action.
For many people, MSG gets into the system at a highly concentrated level and can cause the neurons to fire too fast and can trigger inflammation. As a result, some people may get migraines from this, others may get IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and still others may get arthritic-like symptoms. In cases of people who have any type of neurological disorder, like epilepsy, MSG can trigger seizures. And there are studies to support that a defect in metabolizing glutamate may also contribute to Autism and ADHD.
At the extreme end of glutamate’s detrimental effects are ALS and Huntington’s disease. It appears that in people who develop ALS and Huntington’s, they are not able to clear glutamate well and it stays around too long causing damage to the nervous system, which may be the root cause of the disease.
So like anything, the poison depends on the dose. More specifically, the damage glutamate can cause depends on how well your body can metabolize and clear it. Genetics obviously plays a role in how one metabolizes glutamate. But more evidence is showing that damage to our digestive system and the protective brain barrier are probably the biggest reasons we lose our ability to keep glutamate in check. So, if you are someone like me who developed a sensitivity to glutamate later in life, chances are you did damage to your gut and brain barrier along the way.
There are so many known ways to damage the digestive system and the brain barrier. In general, eating junk food, drinking alcohol, smoking, stress, lack of exercise, exposure to man-made chemicals and illnesses, all cause damage to these systems. So it is easy to assume that most of us do not have optimally functioning guts and brain protective barriers.
Unfortunately, once the damage is done, it is tough to undo. But with some knowledge and lots of effort, it may be possible to restore the gut’s and brain’s protective barriers, and ultimately repair your body’s ability to metabolize glutamate effectively. In my next blog, I will share some of the steps I have learned about and am taking myself to correct this situation.