Killing Us Softly, Part II

"When you consume monosodium glutamate, your blood levels [of MSG] can reach twenty-fold higher than normal. A brain doesn't know how to handle twenty-fold-higher-than normal mono-sodium glutamate. Neither [do] the liver, the muscles or the other organ systems. [The brain] wasn't designed that way."
Dr Russel Braylock, author of Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills

"A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings evil things." Matthew 12:35.

It was with this verse of scripture that Russell Blaylock MD opened his lecture, Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills, in Lodi CA, July 1999.

For many years I have called myself a health seeker. I have learned that God gave us remarkable self-healing bodies. The tricky part is finding what causes our pain and diseases, so that our own choices do not perpetuate the pain/diseases that are meant to warn us that we are abusing our bodies. The scriptural principle that whatever we sow, we will reap is obvious when we garden but not always as clear where our health is concerned.

One purpose of my newsletters is to share what I have learned in the process of seeking health, so that others can avoid snares into which I have fallen, especially before I began my search for a pain-free, disease-free body.

This past winter when I wrote about sugar, I concluded that sugar is not worth the suffering it causes: migraines, tooth decay, obesity, addictions, and cancer. If I had had space to review Nancy Appleton's entire book, Lick the Sugar Habit, I could have added that sugar consumption is also implicated in arthritis, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia, and other serious conditions.

If we were wise, we adults would avoid sugar in every form, and never feed it to children. Yet church events like the retreat I attended this past weekend usually provide participants with something sweet every three hours. And each time we shop, we see children in their mother's shopping carts, licking suckers, and sitting among soft drinks and other cans, bottles, and boxes containing enormous quantities of sugar.

It's not that we deliberately intend to be evil by feeding each other so much poison, we just don't see cause and effect–or maybe we don't want to. We want to believe that the treats we bake when we celebrate happy occasions and buy to reward our children for good behavior are good treasures offered from our good hearts, not dangerous poisons.

Speaking of poisons, I can't leave the subject of excitotoxins yet. In the quest to protect our bodies, we cannot neglect our brains.

After watching four videos on that topic several times in order to prepare for Let's Be Well classes, I am profoundly sobered by what I learned. Here is Dr Blaylock's list of foods especially high in excitotoxins, which I copied from the screen using the pause button:

  • gravies
  • salad dressings, especially diet
  • soups
  • diet foods and diet drinks
  • liquid amino acid preparations

I am personally sensitive to Bragg's liquid aminos. Foods containing Bragg's give me colossal headaches. My vegan friends are careful not to use it when they invite me to their homes. Perhaps my sensitivity is really a blessing. Here are Dr Blaylock's comments on the last item in the list above.

"Everybody asks me about amino acid preparations, because vegans use them a lot.

"Every time you break down a protein to its free amino acids, you are going to get high concentrations of excitotoxins. I don't care what they say. [If] you call the company, they will say, ‘No, we don't have MSG.'

"Yes, they do. You see, MSG is a salt of glutamate: mono-sodium-glutamate. It's not the sodium that is causing the problem; it's the glutamate.

"So if they break down the protein, they have a high concentration of glutamate. No, it's not MSG, but it's glutamate. It's the glutamate that is the excitotoxin. In nature, the way God planned things is that proteins are to be broken down slowly in your system. Then your body utilizes it very slowly, and it doesn't build up in your blood or your brain. We weren't meant to eat hydrolyzed, broken-down proteins and free amino acids. [The] body doesn't know how to handle that. So when you consume monosodium glutamate, your blood levels [of MSG] can reach twenty-fold higher than normal. (A brain doesn't know how to handle twenty-fold-higher-than normal monosodium glutamate. Neither [do] the liver, the muscles or the other organ systems.) [The brain] wasn't designed that way."

If you did not receive my spring newsletter, ask me for it. Dr Blaylock is a board-certified neurosurgeon and associate professor of neurosurgery at the Medical University of Mississippi. His book, Excitotoxins: the Taste that Kills, describes how monosodium glutamate, aspartame, and similar substances can cause harm to the brain and nervous system. Much of the book shows how excitotoxins react in the body, contributing to such neurodegenerative diseases as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Huntington's, and ALS. It can also cause grave harm to people who have had strokes, brain injuries, brain tumors, seizures; or have suffered from hypertension, diabetes, meningitis, or viral encephalitis.

Since I wrote the spring newsletter I have found something else in my kitchen that contains one of the suspect additives from Dr Blaylock's lists. An organic product that I thought was safe, Pacific organic non-dairy cream-flavored sauce base, contains carrageenan, an item in his "may contain MSG or excitotoxins" list. Again, my sensitivity should have warned me that it was unsafe: I got a headache when I used it to make potato soup. But I should have known better anyway. The first ingredient is organic soymilk, and I am sensitive to all forms of soy. Dr Blaylock says, "Soybean milk, which naturally contains a high content of glutamate, frequently has glutamate added in the form of hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Kombu, miso, and soy sauce [also] contain MSG…"

I want to emphasize again that it is the glutamate in MSG that is the problem. I thought it was the sodium, because my experience has taught me that excess sodium can trigger headaches. Also many additives have the word "sodium" in them. One bit of deception that I learned several years ago is that when food manufacturers say "no MSG" on the label, they often substitute both disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate. Watch for those additives in soups and salad dressings, even though they are not in Dr Blaylock's lists. A friend who works in food packaging told me that they are worse than MSG. I thought it was because di-sodium would mean twice as much sodium as mono-sodium. But, according to Dr Blaylock, it is the free glutamic acid that is the issue.

Excitotoxins have no nutritional or preservative value. They are used either to enhance taste, or to hide unwelcome tastes and cover inferior ingredients, says James F. Balch MD in Prescription for Nutritional Healing. MSG is not just found in Chinese food and canned soups. Dr Balch quotes Alfred Scopp of the Northern California Headache Clinic:

"MSG has spread to soups, sauces, and salad dressings in restaurants, as well as many canned, frozen, and prepared foods found in local supermarkets."

It's not easy to avoid MSG (and its derivatives) because it masquerades under a variety of names. For example, companies add 45 million pounds of hydrolyzed vegetable protein to processed foods each year. HVP, says Dr Balch, "is a natural flavoring from animal blood or other decaying protein sources. This substance is then subjected to acid hydrolysis, normally concentrated hydrochloric acid, at temperatures from 200-220 degrees Fahrenheit for 4-6 hours. Sodium hydroxide (sold commercially as Drano) is then added to neutralize the solution."

When I wrote to a couple of soup manufacturers to inquire which of their products contained MSG, one of them sent me some material from the Truth in Labeling Campaign, PO Box 2532, Darien IL 60561, 312-642-9333. I'd suggest you write or call for their information, which is excellent. I received one page on hidden sources of MSG [their lists are very similar to Dr Blaylock's], a page of excitotoxin theory, and a page of 18 references, the last one of which is Dr Blaylock's book.

Perhaps of most interest is Truth in Labeling's compilation, "Collected Reports of Adverse Reactions to MSG," dated May 1, 1996. I submit the following for those who may have adverse reactions to MSG without realizing it:

Cardiac:
arrhythmias, extreme drop in blood pressure, rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), angina
Circulatory:
swelling
Muscular:
flu-like achiness, joint pain, stiffness
Neurological:
depression, dizziness, light-headedness, loss of balance, disorientation, mental confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, hyperactivity, behavioral problems in children, lethargy, sleepiness, insomnia, migraine headaches, numbness or paralysis, seizures, sciatica, slurred speech
Gastrointestinal:
diarrhea, nausea/vomiting, stomach cramps, irritable bowel, bloating
Respiratory:
asthma, shortness of breath, chest pain, tightness, runny nose, sneezing
Skin:
hives or rash, mouth lesions, temporary tightness or partial paralysis (numbness or tingling) of the skin, flushing, extreme dryness of the mouth
Visual:
blurred vision, difficulty in focusing

The list is introduced with the following explanation: "Ingestion of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is known to produce a variety of adverse reactions in certain people. These reactions which are seemingly dissimilar, are no more diverse than the reactions found as side effects of certain neurological drugs. We do not know why some people experience reactions and others do not. We do not know whether MSG ‘causes' the condition underlying the reaction, or whether the underlying condition is simply aggravated by the ingestion of MSG. We only know that the reactions listed [above] are sometimes caused or exacerbated by ingestion of MSG.

"All forms of MSG (free glutamic acid that occurs in food as a consequence of manufacture) cause these reactions in MSG-sensitive people. Names of offending ingredients used to hide MSG in products include: glutamic acid, glutamate, hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, yeast nutrient, yeast food, natural flavoring, and a host of other ingredients. In addition, the MSG produced when a protease enzyme or other reactive agent is allowed to interact with protein during product manufacture can bring on these same adverse reactions in MSG-sensitive persons; and there is no clue on the product label that an interaction is taking place. "

Another page notes that "MSG reactions have been reported in soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cosmetics, where MSG is hidden in ingredients that are ‘hydrolyzed,' and in ‘amino acids'….

"Binders and fillers for medications, nutrients, and supplements, both prescription and non-prescription, enteral feeding materials, and some fluids administered intravenously in hospitals, may contain MSG."

Parents and grandparents will want to be good detectives for all excitotoxins. The same page notes that "drinks, candy, and chewing gum are potential sources of hidden MSG and aspartame. Aspartic acid, found in aspartame (NutraSweet), ordinarily causes MSG-type reactions in MSG-sensitive people. Aspartame is found in some medications, including children's medications. Check with your pharmacist."

We will want to do our detective work before ingesting excitotoxins, rather than trying to determine why we reacted after the fact: "Reactions to MSG are dose-related, i.e., some people react to very small amounts. MSG-induced reactions may occur immediately after ingestion or after as much as 48 hours," which makes finding the suspect very difficult after the trail is cold.

By way of review, then, "the MSG-reaction is a reaction to free glutamic acid that occurs in food as a consequence of manufacture. MSG-sensitive people do not react to protein (which contains bound glutamic acid) or to any free glutamic acid that might be found in unadulterated, unfermented food."

The challenge, then, is to eat real foods, and to avoid manufactured ones, not only because of what they do to our bodies, but also to the control center of our bodies, our brains.

My newsletters spend many column inches showing why things go wrong in our bodies. Food choices and other lifestyle issues affect our bodies more than we know. But our God is both a healer and a redeemer. Just as Noah was given the rainbow as a promise that God would never again destroy the earth with water, there are scriptural promises that show that God can buy back our bodies from the destruction of our foolish choices. In order to heal and restore us, though, he needs our cooperation. We need to stop making the poor choices that caused our pain/disease in the first place, and to choose nutrients that will nourish the body and strengthen an underactive immune system. According to Dr Balch, the common cold, as well as cancer and infectious diseases, will be more likely to affect those whose immune systems have been weakened by stress and lack of basic nutrients.

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