Dr. Russell L. Blaylock M.D. has written a compelling book detailing the results of numerous studies of the effects of what he calls “excitotoxins” in the brain. “Excitotoxins,” such as glutamate (Monosodium Glutamate, commonly called MSG) and Aspartate (such as the artificial sweetener, NutraSweet) are among the over seventy types of special amino acids present in the brain that are known to be largely present in most packaged processed foods available today.
Before precisely defining why they are named “excitotoxins,” In Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, (Health Press, 1997) Dr. Blaylock leads the reader on a crash course of the brain in Chapter 1. Most of this chapter can truthfully be skipped since the descriptions are very detailed and repeated in subsequent chapters.
However, with a brief overview of the parts of the brain (The Frontal Lobes, The Parietal Lobes, Occipital Lobes, Temporal Lobes, The brains interior paired nuclei, Brain Stem, Pituitary Gland and Hypothalamus) and the neuron composition (Dendrite, Cell Body, Axon and Terminal Endings) we gain a great appreciation for the complexity and yet delicate operating balances within the human brain.
In Chapter 1 Dr. Blaylock informs us that the brain consumes 20% of the body’s required oxygen and 25% of the body’s required glucose for normal operations. Oddly enough, this is the one piece of information we need to remember for Chapter 3. The problem is that this tremendous need for oxygen and glucose circulating in the blood makes the brain vulnerable to ingesting toxins.
In a section describing the “blood/brain barrier,” we learn that this barrier is the first line of defense the brain has against blood-borne toxins and may leak under certain circumstances which presents another problem with ingesting these specific amino acids.
In chapter 2 we receive a review of Amino Acids. This is important since the “excitotoxins” are Amino Acids that are normally present in the brain. Dr. Blaylock gives a brief overview of amino acids and how they are the building blocks used to create proteins in a process called anabolism. Interestingly noted is collagen (the largest protein in the body) which contains 1500 amino acids.
Finally, we are given a glimpse of what the potential problem is as Dr. Blaylock explains another function of amino acids. Apparently, in addition to being used to construct protein, some amino acids act as neurotransmitters. Glutamate, Aspartate, and glycine are examples of these types of amino acids. Dr. Blaylock describes in detail the neurotransmitter firing process.
He also points out that neuroscientists have discovered that glutamate is one of the most common neurotransmitters in the brain. Many areas of the brain contain extensive glutamate-type neurons. Activation of cortical glutamate neurons in turn activates other neurons within the nuclei located deep within the brain.
These connections are important when examining the effects of excitatory amino acids (such as MSG) and the origins of neurological disease which are revealed in later chapters.