Regulating Our Glutamate Intake

The term “glutamate” refers to a number of forms of glutamic acid, an amino acid found naturally in many foods and in our bodies. It is a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that is released by nerve cells in the brain. It is responsible for sending signals between nerve cells, and under normal conditions it plays an important role in learning and memory. There are two general ways, however, that glutamate can actually be damaging to nerve cells and the brain as a whole.

First, there can be too much glutamate around; abnormally high concentrations of glutamate can lead to overexcitation of the receiving nerve cell. Second, the receptors for glutamate on the receiving nerve cell can be oversensitive so that less glutamate molecules are necessary to excite that cell. People who are often oversensitive as so, are those diagnosed with ADD or ADHD, people with depression, Hypoglycemic patients, pregnant women, people with kidney problems, people who get migraine headaches, people with pre-existing vascular disease, and people with Congestive heart failure. Babies and children are also more sensitive to glutamate.

In these cases, cells activated by glutamate become overexcited. This overexcitation can lead to effects that can cause cell damage and/or death. For this reason, glutamate is referred to as an excitotoxin.

Food that contains high levels of glutamate like milk, eggs, meat cheese, peas, and mushrooms do not usually cause overexcitation to a person’s neurons because it consists of glutamate in its bound form. Glutamate in its bound form is slowly broken down with digestion so you’re delivering the amount in slower and smaller quantities. Glutamate never acts as an excitoxin in its bound form. What we as consumers must be watchful of is Glutamate in it’s free form. When we ingest glutamate in it’s free form, it doesn’t have to be broken off of a protein chain so it can be absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly and in higher doses.

Monosodium Glutamate, also known as MSG, is the most dangerous substance containing the highest concentration of glutamate in its free form. Glutamate in the form of MSG almost always acts as an excitoxin- especially to those who are sensitive to glutamate. This is why it is important to avoid MSG at all costs.
Despite the increased knowledge of the health complications MSG causes, thanks to the food industry, Americans are consuming 300 times the amount of Monosodium Glutamate than they did in 1950. Because MSG enhances the flavor of food so drastically (since it is almost completely made up of glutamates and glutamates excites the brain), this harmful chemical has filled the shelves of our local grocery stores, and is being poured into the food we eat at restaurants with no restraints from the FDA. A person must truly go out of their way to avoid this additive.

The most successful way I can tell you to avoid monosodium glutamate is to make the effort to buy organic certified foods. Certified “organic” foods by the USDA cannot legally contain monosodium glutamate. However, what organic foods can contain are ingredients like Yeast extracts, Maltodexrin, Autolyzed yeast extract, citric acid, whey protein concentrate, monopotassium glutamate, and hydrolyzed protein products. All of these do contain substantial amounts of glutamates in its free form but nowhere near the concentration found in MSG. In some cases, when we ingest too much of these ingredients in our diet, they will act as an excitotoxin as well. Therefore, even when buying organic people must be careful in regulating the intake of foods with these substances on their label. Grocery Stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are both safe places to shop because none of their products may contain MSG. Other than shopping organic, read food labels and try to eat whole, unprocessed foods in order to regulate your glutamate intake!


Russell Blaylock, MD (//

Truth in Labeling (//

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© 2011, Dr J Renae Norton. This information is intellectual property of Dr J Renae Norton. Reproduction and distribution for educational purposes is permissible.

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