The 6 Most Dangerous Excitotoxins

by Dr. Edward Group DC, NP, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM Published on , Last Updated on


If you’ve ever felt compelled to take another bite, despite feeling full, the problem may not be a lack of self control. In fact, the issue may not even be with you at all as it’s very likely that an excitotoxin is the culprit. These non-essential amino acids stimulate or “excite” the umami or savory taste buds making food seem more flavorful than it really is. These compounds are abundant in most processed foods and restaurant meals, and many people are unknowingly consuming these compounds in large amounts on a daily basis.

Know Your Food

Despite public outcry, processed foods remain loaded with excitotoxins, all of which have been linked to brain cell death, infertility, problems with sexual development, violent behaviors, and hormonal disorders. Here’s a list of the 6 most dangerous excitotoxins you need to avoid.

1. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

This salt form of glutamate, or glutamic acid, has been known to trigger headaches for decades. Glutamate easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, stimulating cell receptors that triggers cell death. [1] While the body naturally produces glutamate when needed to trigger cell termination, flooding the body with dietary glutamate can seriously disrupt normal cellular function, especially in the brain. Avoid foods with MSG, but don’t think food is MSG-free just because you don’t see it in the ingredients list. [2] MSG also appears under the names:

  • Natural flavor(s)
  • Flavoring
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Autolyzed protein
  • Plant Protein
  • Textured Protein
  • Yeast extract
  • Nutritional yeast
  • Carrageenan
  • Anything with glutamate

2. Aspartate

Aspartate, or aspartic acid, acts very similarly to glutamate. [3] This non-essential amino acid triggers NMDA receptors in cells, another of the cellular receptors used to initiate cell death. Most humans receive aspartate through consuming aspartame, an artificial sweetener often hidden in many processed foods. It has been linked with serious neurological effects such as headaches, sleep disorders, and seizures. [4

3. Domoic Acid

Another non-essential amino acid, domoic acid occurs naturally in shellfish. Excessive overconsumption has shown to lead to the development of epilepsy, especially in the elderly. [5] If you’re a seafood eater, pick wild-caught varieties of fish like salmon, trout, and tuna. This way you are receiving your omega-3 fatty acids without the excitotoxins and pollutants common in shellfish and farm-raised seafood.


Also known as ODAP, this protein is another excitotoxin that behaves in similar fashion as glutamate. It naturally occurs in the grass pea and similar plant species. Overexposure to grass pea and L-BOAA leads to neurolathyrism, a disorder that affects motor skills and movement and can lead to paralysis. [6]

5. Cysteine

Industrially created by hydrolysis of human hair and poultry feathers, this excitotoxin is important for artificial flavor creation. It reacts with sugars in a process known as the Maillard reaction, resulting in meaty and savory flavors. High cysteine levels are associated with Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. [7]

6. Casein

This protein compound occurs in cheese at naturally high levels. 20% of casein is glutamic acid which makes for a tasty treat; however, it also increases glutamate overload. Casein is often used by food producers to improve flavor, although it is also frequently used to increase protein levels in fitness products.

A Final Thought

Excitotoxins such as MSG, aspartame, and cysteine have been linked to adverse effects, some of which may be irreversible. Some people have reported allergic reactions like hives, shortness of breath, and rashes. Others have reported the well-known MSG headache, as well as rapid heartbeat and stomach cramping. The most serious reactions involve depression and paranoia. Have you had a reaction to MSG or another of these excitotoxins? Share your experience so we can all better understand the dangers of these compounds.

References (7)
  1. Olney JW. Excitotoxins in foods. Neurotoxicology. 1994 Fall;15(3):535-44.
  2. Scopp AL. MSG and hydrolyzed vegetable protein induced headache: review and case studies. Headache. 1991 Feb;31(2):107-10.
  3. Chen PE1, Geballe MT, Stansfeld PJ, Johnston AR, Yuan H, Jacob AL, Snyder JP, Traynelis SF, Wyllie DJ. Structural features of the glutamate binding site in recombinant NR1/NR2A N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors determined by site-directed mutagenesis and molecular modeling. Mol Pharmacol. 2005 May;67(5):1470-84.
  4. Humphries P1, Pretorius E, Naud H. Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2008 Apr;62(4):451-62.
  5. Andermann F, Carpenter S, Zatorre RJ, Cashman NR. Temporal lobe epilepsy caused by domoic acid intoxication: evidence for glutamate receptor-mediated excitotoxicity in humans. Ann Neurol. 1995 Jan;37(1):123-6.
  6. Knig G1, Hartmann J, Krause F, Deckert J, Heinsen H, Ransmayr G, Beckmann H, Riederer P. Regional differences in the interaction of the excitotoxins domoate and L-beta-oxalyl-amino-alanine with [3H]kainate binding sites in human hippocampus. Neurosci Lett. 1995 Mar 3;187(2):107-10.
  7. Parsons RB1, Waring RH, Ramsden DB, Williams AC. In vitro effect of the cysteine metabolites homocysteic acid, homocysteine and cysteic acid upon human neuronal cell lines. Neurotoxicology. 1998 Aug-Oct;19(4-5):599-603.

†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. Global Healing Center does not dispense medical advice, prescribe, or diagnose illness. The views and nutritional advice expressed by Global Healing Center are not intended to be a substitute for conventional medical service. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.

  • J

    Food additives are purposefully engineered to be addictive

    I’d guess yeast extract would be a good candidate in that list, isn’t that another term for monosodium glutamate (MSG)? There are most probably more though.

  • roddy6667

    I was online in my hotel room last summer and I ran across an article about how evil and poisonous MSG is. I was in Hong Kong. Every person in Hong Kong eats MSG every day. The restaurants buy it in red 30 pound cardboard barrels. Housewives buy it by the half-kilo packet.
    HK’ers are some of the healthiest people on the planet. The women outlive all the women on the planet and the men are a close second to the Japanese. That’s when I realized that articles like this are alarmist tripe.

  • elskid

    The article said that cysteine is “industrially created by hydrolysis of human hair and poultry feathers”
    Now HOW in blue blazes does one come up with such an idea? And who decides to then add it to food!!!
    These people are MORE than criminal they are evil.

  • SureThingSteve

    So your position is that MSG is as nutritious and safe as mother’s milk? Ok.

  • roddy6667

    The facts show that people who consume it every day outlive almost everybody else. Any observations regarding your mother and her milk are your own remarks, not mine.

  • Jay_Sherman

    In short: If you can’t pronounce it or have no idea what it is, then it is not food- so DON’T eat it! End of story.

  • Mike

    roddy6667, correlation is not causation. Simply because a certain group has a longer life span AND consumes MSG is no call for you to connect one to the other in a causal relationship.

  • Mike

    Regarding casein, does this mean that one should avoid cheese altogether or dairy products altogether?

  • SureThingSteve

    What facts? Sorry, Rod, your say-so doesn’t qualify as fact.

  • roddy6667

    WHO statistics

  • roddy6667

    It works the other way, too. If you claim MSG is a big health hazard and the people who consume it are healthier than most, than your claim of causation is negated.

  • Jay_Sherman

    The only people who consume MSG every day, are Americans- who are obese; grossly unhealthy; and dying young!

  • roddy6667

    This article was written by a chiropractor?

  • SureThingSteve

    Lol, “who?” exactly.

  • roddy6667

    World Health Organization

  • roddy6667

    I live in China. Almost everybody eats MSG every day. Every housewife has it in the kitchen. Every restaurant puts it in the food.

  • Mike

    People’s diet are pretty varied, and to point to MSG as the sole cause for longer life is specious at best. But fairly easy to point to MSG as a poison following a visit to a local restaurant following a single meal. Domestic restaurants with foreign cuisine acquire their menu items from overseas or at great distances to save costs. roddy6667, MSG is a food preservative, used to keep food from spoiling in transport across great distances. So if you’re eating, say, in a Chinese restaurant and you eat a simple dish of soup with vegetables and you get sick within 10 minutes of consuming it, then that is fairly easy to pinpoint the cause of your illness to, oh, let’s say the soup or one of its ingredients. It wasn’t the air conditioner. It wasn’t the water. It wasn’t the tea. There was something in the soup. Was it the bok choi? Probably the MSG in the soup base or the MSG used to preserve the small amounts of meat. But as an MSG ambassador, you’re in good company with the FDA that claims that MSG is safe . . . as they do with Aspartame, HFCS, and fluoride in your water. Safe, safe, safe. Anyone raising a question about their safety is an alarmist. Nothing to look upon or think upon or read upon here, folks. Move along.

  • Jay_Sherman

    Yes, I’m sure that the use of MSG, even if it is ubiquitous in Asia, is a recent practice- and just like the modern American junk-food diet, it’s effects will not be fully realized or recognized for a generation or two- just as was the case with heavy smoking, or with cultures that adopted Western diets. It’s not as if Asians have been eating MSG all along. They are still coasting on the healthy lifestyles and genetics of the recent past.


    …Um, where’s number 3?

  • akfrogg

    After eating restaurant meals with large quantities of MSG, my head begins to feel as if it’s in a vice. It’s not a headache – rather, a tight pressure in the temples.

  • Mimi Milne

    I have had 4 heart oblations in the last 20 years due to atrial fibrillation, heart racing. I told the doctors that I felt it was food related and once I found the list of glutamates on the’ truth of labeling’ and now have read the book ‘Excitotoxins, the taste that kills’, I have eliminated the culprits glutamates and I have not had one episode. I am seeing my cardiologist today to give him this information, YAY!

  • stephanie

    I dont know about people in hong kong but when i went to a resteraunt that used high amounts 15 years ago i wound up in the ER with atrial fibralation. Almost killed me. I was told this kind of thing actually happens often and i was told to stay away from it. Maybe they are just used to it, but i dont see how a chemical flavor enhancer can be good for anyone

  • heat108

    MSG, even in small doses, gives me severe symptoms: shortness of breath, heart palpitations, severe pain in digestive system, migraine headache, stabbing chest pain in heart area, depression for days, weight gain … it’s so terrible. It is so extremely upsetting that so many foods contain it and that manufacturers try to hide it.

  • Rhonda Shaw

    Aspartame has ALWAYS given me migraines. I stopped drinking soda ages ago. But I do have reactions of shortness of breath and some other uncomfortable issues of the digestive tract when I eat at Asian eateries. I was suppressed to see casein on here as I have noticed I crave cheese. Guess I’ll be more into eating raw foods. Hopefully that will help.

  • Janet Glasson

    The last reaction I had was excessive heart rate, right sides vertigo,headache, vomiting and diarrhea. Not to mention feeling really, really scared!

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