Excitotoxins: The Real Secret Ingredients
American food may be far more exciting than many people realize! Modern supermarkets practically bulge with a tempting array of conveniently packaged foods. Unfortunately, the appealing display is an illusion. The fact is, most of the products sold in American markets consist of overly processed foods and drinks laced with potentially toxic chemical additives. Consumers are encouraged to purchase these artificially enhanced foodstuffs without considering the health risks they may pose. However, the risks are real, and their effect on the public's health has become a growing concern within the scientific community. Particularly worrisome is a class of food additives known as excitotoxins. Excitotoxins are non-nutritive chemicals used by the food industry as flavor enhancers. They actually have no flavor of their own, and they add no nutritive value to the food (CSPI). They work by stimulating receptor nerves on the human tongue that enhance taste perception (Blaylock Food Additive). Scientists and medical experts believe these food-borne excitotoxins may also reach the brain where they can cause serious neurological damage. The Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has turned a blind eye to the issue, and supports the food and chemical industries' claims that these substances are harmless (Roberts). As a result, many consumers are not sure what to believe. However, documented medical observations indicates the doctors' concerns are valid. Despite having received FDA approval for their use as commercial food additives, excitotoxins are not safe for human consumption because clinical evidence proves they can lead to devastating neurological damage.
Scientists have been documenting the damaging effects of food-borne excitotoxins since 1957, when a study revealed that monosodium glutamate (MSG) caused extensive damage to the retinal nerve cells of rats (Lant). In 1969, Dr. John Olney, a neuroscientist at Washington University, discovered that in addition to destroying the retinal cells, a single dose of MSG was sufficient to kill brain cells in the hypothalamus (Shambaugh). While these tests were conducted on laboratory rodents, Dr. Olney suggests excitotoxins may cause even more extensive damage to humans. According to Olney, blood excitotoxin levels measure five times higher in humans than in any other species after ingestion of excitotoxic substances. Dr. Olney also pointed out that certain areas of the human brain are not protected from excitotoxins by the blood-brain barrier, and that even brief exposure in these unprotected areas was sufficient to destroy neurons. In addition, he warned that the amount of excitotoxins used in foods today could be especially dangerous to the under-developed nervous systems of young children and the weakened systems of the elderly (Olney). The clinical observations of other doctors support Olney's research data. Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon with more than twenty years of practical experience, has written numerous publications about the dangers of food-borne excitotoxins. In his most widely circulated book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Blaylock describes a connection between excitotoxins and the kind of neural damage that leads to learning disorders in children and the development of neurodegenerative diseases in later years. According to Dr. Blaylock, consumption of excitotoxic food additives leads to an over stimulation of neural cells that makes them fire non-stop until they literally die from exhaustion. He notes that this type of neural damage produces the same kind of brain lesions that are linked to the development and
severity of such devastating conditions as Alzheimer's, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis, and Parkinson's disease (Blaylock). Dr. Amy Yasko, a recognized expert in the field of molecular biology, also sees a strong connection between the consumption of excitotoxins and inflammatory brain lesions. She claims the neurological inflammation and brain damage triggered by food-born excitotoxins can result in many of the symptoms seen in autism patients. As part of her research, Dr. Yasko conducted clinical trials that included reducing the amount of dietary glutamate in pediatric patients with diagnosed autism disorders. Her studies showed that when the glutamate levels were reduced, the patients experienced a dramatic decrease in the repetitive body movements such as hand flapping, rocking, and other symptoms associated with the disorder. Dr. Yasko's study does not imply that existing cases of autism or neurodegenerative disease may be cured by eliminating dietary excitotoxins. Rather, she joins many medical experts who recommend limiting the amount of these chemicals that are taken into the body before they reach the level where they trigger extensive neural damage and permanent brain impairment (Yasko).
The experts agree it would be nearly impossible to avoid all dietary excitotoxins since nearly all of America's commercially processed foods contain one or more of these additives (Blaylock, Food Additive). Currently, over seventy commonly used food additives are classified as excitotoxins, with the most often recognized being glutamate, and aspartame. Within the last thirty years alone, Americans have consumed thousands of metric tons of monosodium glutamate (MSG), and hundreds of millions of pounds of aspartame (Lant). The large number of these chemicals and their widespread use are not the only reasons they are hard to avoid. It is also very difficult to ascertain whether a particular food ingredient is an excitotoxin. The FDA does not require package labels to specify whether an additive is an excitotoxin, and manufacturers carefully avoid using “toxic” terminology that might discourage sales. Thus, many of these harmful additives are hidden behind obscure or intentionally misleading names. There are at least forty names for the additive MSG (Love and Varner). Frequently, a product that contains a high concentration of excitotoxins is marketed with a name that deceptively implies it is beneficial or wholesome. For example, the popular sugar substitute, NutraSweet®, is actually forty percent aspartate and has no beneficial nutritive value. Similarly, any food additive called “natural flavoring” may contain up to sixty percent monosodium glutamate (Blaylock). In fact, it is less likely for a truly wholesome food to be labeled “natural” than one that is hiding an unhealthy added ingredient. Surprisingly, the FDA sanctions these misnomers by refusing to establish a standard for what may be considered a natural ingredient (Pollan).
Not only does the FDA allow the food industry to take vast liberties in keeping food ingredients secret, they collaborate with the International Food Information Council (IFIC), the food additive industry (chemical manufacturers), and other agencies in ways that discourage public awareness of the dangers associated with excitotoxic food additives. The various agencies publish vast amounts of biased literature designed to assure the public that all food additives have been thoroughly tested and pose no known threat to human health. Adverse reactions to chemical additives are often attributed to isolated events or individual sensitivities, and consumer safety concerns are usually downplayed. For example, a brochure published by the FDA in conjunction with the International Food Information Council (IFIC), implies that public concern about the safety of food additives amounts to nothing more than consumers seeing “the long, unfamiliar names (of the additives) and thinking of them as complex chemical compounds” (U.S. Food and Drug Administration). Other reports, such as those issued by the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), focus on convincing the public that books and reports linking FDA approved chemicals to health risks are merely scare tactics conjured up by conspiracy theorists
and quack doctors hoping to profit from consumers' fear. According to a report called Trade Secrets: A Moyers Report that was aired on Public Affairs Television, the president of the ACSH stated, “The prophets of doom, not the prophets of industry are the real hazards to our health.” Some organizations have resorted to even more extreme tactics to prevent consumers from learning about the toxic effects of their products. In one case, the chemical industry launched a massive campaign to destroy the credibility of a researcher who authored a book about the dangers of a product. A company within the industry even hired an advertising agency to distribute thousands of copies of a spoof ridiculing the premise of the book (Moyers). Sadly, it is because of the well-funded efforts of these agencies that many people remain unaware of the risks posed by the toxic chemicals added to their food supply. For the most part, the average American citizen assumes that the FDA is watching over the activities of the food and chemical industries to protect consumers' health and well-being. Unfortunately, in the case of excitotoxins, that faith may be misguided (CSPINet).
A growing body of evidence suggests the FDA's safety assurances regarding excitotoxic food additives are unreliable. For one thing, some experts claim the FDA's research methods are questionable. According to Dr. Adrienne Samuels, a Board Member of the Nutrition for Optimal Health Association (now known as The American Nutrition Association), the toxicology studies used to proclaim the safety of MSG, were profoundly flawed because the control substance used in the double-blind test contained the same class of chemical (excitotoxin) as the tested MSG (American Nutrician Association). Another case in point involves the testing of aspartame. According to Dr. Frank Young, FDA Commissioner, years of study, analysis, and research provided no medical or scientific evidence that undermined the FDA's confidence in the safety of aspartame for human consumption. However, Dr, H.J. Roberts, another board-certified
physician, points out that the powerful excitotoxin was approved without any pre-marketing trials on humans at all (Roberts). FDA standards do not require testing of substances that are “generally recognized as safe” based on having been in use prior to January 1, 1958 (Stevens and Nabors). Even when additives do undergo toxicity tests, many doctors worry the test may be inadequate because they rarely assess how a particular substance will react if combined with additional additives from other sources (Yasko, “Role”). This is a legitimate concern because due to the vast amount of additives in the current food supply, most American diets include what amounts to a toxic soup of chemicals (Sustainable.org). An even more compelling reason to distrust the FDA's safety promises rests in the agency's long-standing pattern of fraudulent activity and conflicts of interest. In a letter written to President Obama in 2009, nine scientists and doctors working at the FDA exposed numerous examples of improper documentation, illegal manipulation of scientific data, falsifying of documents, and other illegal activities. The letter also spoke of high level FDA employees that came to work at the agency from manufacturing industries to facilitate their industry's interests. The reluctant authentication of the letter by the FDA, proves the agency cannot be relied upon to guard the safety of consumers (Bailey). This fact becomes even clearer when viewed in light of the fact that the FDA does not conduct its own research to determine the safety of food additives. Instead, the agency bases its decisions upon available published studies that are often funded by the very companies seeking product approval. This presents a serious conflict of interest because under these conditions, scientific research becomes a means to promote product approval rather than providing an unbiased assessment of potential to cause dangers (Science is Not). Thus, consumers are left in the dark and unprotected from the effects of harmful food additives.
In conclusion, a plethora of reliable evidence leaves no doubt that the excitotoxins lurking in commercially processed foods are far more dangerous to human health than the FDA and manufacturers want the public to realize. Doctors and scientists have documented research and clinical observations that prove consumption of these chemicals leads to neurological inflammation and permanent brain damage. Their studies offer compelling evidence linking food-borne excitotoxins to the development of serious degenerative diseases and conditions However, the FDA has abandoned its watch over consumer product safety by ignoring the clinical evidence. The agency's refusal to acknowledge the medical data and its tolerance of the food and chemical industries' deceptive marketing strategies is cause for grave concern. As more and more of these dangerous chemicals are allowed to be added to America's food supply, consumers have been left to fend for themselves in a sea of deception, corruption, and confusion about the quality and safety of their food choices.
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