Why Excitotoxins Are Harmful To Our Health

By Marilee Nelson |

Maybe you've heard the term "excitotoxins" or perhaps it's brand new to you. In this article we're going to break down exactly what excitotxins are, how they can alter our brain and the best way to avoid them. Let's jump right in!

What Are Excitotoxins?

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter produced by the human body and is also a naturally occurring component of many healthy whole foods. It occurs in protein-containing foods such as cheese, milk, mushrooms, meat, and fish as well as some fruits, nuts, and vegetables.

Glutamate from whole foods is slowly assimilated and broken down, so levels of glutamate in the body are kept low. At normal concentrations, glutamate is vital for metabolism, brain function including learning and memory, and is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells.

So... why should we talk about the removal of something from your diet that is healthy and natural? Unfortunately, the more food is processed, the more likely it will contain synthetic monosodium glutamate (MSG) and other substances with glutamic acid that enhance flavor.

The introduction of these excitotoxins into the American diet is a big issue.When you eat the typical American diet which is full of processed foods laden with additives, your glutamate consumption skyrockets. Excessive glutamate is excitotoxic* and poses risk to everyone, especially children. This excess can overly excite brain cells, affect mood, behavior, the gut and more.

*Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which neurons are damaged and killed by the overactivations of receptors for the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, such as the NMDA receptor and AMPA receptor.

Where Are Excitotoxins Lurking?

How do you know which products contain these excitotoxins? We’ve created a comprehensive list you can print and take to the grocery store.

The bottom line - if you eat a whole foods diet full of unprocessed fresh foods excess glutamate is typically not a problem. But buyer beware - organic on a label is not enough! Even the supposedly healthy processed organic brands are replete with these excitotoxins. And, if you are vulnerable to migraines, brain fog, emotional issues, chronic health issues, or have a child with behavioral issues, you may need to avoid some foods that are naturally high in glutamate for a time during the healing phase. See below - More on Healthy Foods with High Natural Glutamate

Take action: Remove excitotoxins from your pantry & fridge!

Print and carry this list with you to the grocery store. Especially check ingredients of the following:

  • Baby foods (unfortunately excitotoxins are in most baby foods)
  • Candies
  • Children’s snacks (even health food brands)
  • Chewing gum
  • Soft drinks and electrolyte drinks
  • Frozen meals
  • Soups, broths, bouillon
  • Snack foods like chips, crackers, etc.
  • Sauces
  • Dressings

More on Healthy Foods with High Natural Glutamate

The levels of glutamate in whole foods vary greatly and do not normally cause issues when eating non-processed foods. The introduction of synthetic flavor enhancers into the American diet have caused many health issues which result in people having to avoid even healthy whole foods with higher levels of glutamate for a time until they heal.

These foods in the short list below are an example of foods that can be a problem for anyone prone to migraines, those who have neurological issues, have leaky gut, have behavioral, developmental, or learning disabilities, weight issues, etc.

  • Bone broth – long cooked bone broth can be an excitotoxic issue especially if you have a very leaky gut. We recommend Stock cooked only 1-2 hours, which has much lower glutamate levels.
  • Broccoli
  • Fermented foods – can be issue if have very leaky gut and avoided initially until heal gut issues. 
  • Grapes
  • Green peas
  • Tomatoes
  • Walnuts
  • Personal care items with excitotoxins can affect people as well including shampoos with “hydrolyzed,” “amino acids,” and “protein.”

Why We Should Care

Even if you are healthy and feel good, we should all be aware of these excitatory synthetic additives and excess glutamates in our food. While they impact people differently depending on their biology and physiology, they do impact all of us. 

By simply tossing this toxin, many can resolve or improve allergies, autism, asthma, anxiety, obesity, depression, developmental disorders, diabetes, digestive issues, headaches, autoimmune diseases, and more. It really is a game-changer! 

For more practical advice about food as medicine and healthy eating, visit our Wellness Center!

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson

Marilee Nelson is an Environmental Toxins expert who has spent nearly 30 years advocating for the chemically-sensitive and chronically-ill. She is a Board Certified Nutritionist, Certified Bau-Biologist and Bau-Biology Inspector and specializes in Food As Medicine. She has helped thousands of families and individuals identify, heal and recover from toxic exposures and is on a mission to revolutionize the way American families view their health.