Excitotoxins in processed food: The best guarded secret of the food and drug industries

Excitotoxicity is the pathological process by which nerve cells are damaged or killed by excessive stimulation by neurotransmitters such as glutamic acid (glutamate).

In 1969 when researcher Dr. John Olney of Washington University in St. Louis observed that process in his laboratory, it should have resulted in sweeping changes in how food additives are regulated. 

He noted that glutamate fed as monosodium glutamate (MSG) to laboratory animals killed brain cells and subsequently caused gross obesity, reproductive dysfunction, and behavior abnormalities.

Before that, the world knew nothing of what Dr. Olney had dubbed “excitotoxins.” And after Olney’s discovery, the existence of free excitotoxic amino acids present in food became the best-guarded secret of the food and drug industries.

Today, excitotoxins present in food remain largely ignored or unknown, mostly because the rich and powerful food and pharmaceutical industries want it that way. A great deal of food industry profit depends on using excitotoxins to “enhance” the taste of cheaply made food. And a great deal of pharmaceutical industry profit depends on selling drugs to “cure” the diseases and disabilities caused by the excitotoxins in the food supply.

What are excitotoxins?

Excitotoxins are always amino acids, but not all amino acids are excitotoxins. The amino acid with the greatest excitotoxic footprint is glutamate. When present in protein or released from protein in a regulated fashion (through routine digestion), glutamate is vital to normal body function. It is the major neurotransmitter in humans, carrying nerve impulses from glutamate stimuli to glutamate receptors throughout the body. Yet, when present outside of protein in amounts that exceed what the healthy human body was designed to accommodate (which can vary widely from person to person), glutamate becomes an excitotoxic neurotransmitter, firing repeatedly, damaging targeted glutamate-receptors and/or causing neuronal and non-neuronal death by over exciting those glutamate receptors until their host cells die.

Technically speaking, neurotransmitters that over-stimulate their receptors to the point of killing the cells that host them are called excitotoxic neurotransmitters, and the resulting condition is referred to as excitotoxicity. Glutamate excitotoxicity is the process that underlies the damage done by MSG and the other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid (MfG). 

Glutamate is called a non-essential amino acid because if the body does not have sufficient quantities to function normally, any needed glutamate can be produced from other amino acids. So, there is no need to add glutamate to the human diet. The excitotoxins in MSG and other ingredients that contain MfG are not needed for nutritional purposes. MSG and many other ingredients have been designed to enhance the taste of cheaply made food for the sole purpose of lining the pockets of those who manufacture and sell them.

Glutamate neurotransmitters trigger glutamate receptors both in the central nervous system and in peripheral tissue (heart, lungs, and intestines, for example). After stimulating glutamate receptors, glutamate neurotransmitters may do no damage and simply fade away, so to speak, or they may damage the cells that their receptors cling to, or overexcite their receptors until the cells that host them die.

There’s another possibility. There are a great many glutamate receptors in the brain, so it’s possible that if a few are damaged or wiped out following ingestion of MfG, their loss may not be noticed because there are so many undamaged ones remaining. It is also possible that individuals differ in the numbers of glutamate receptors that they have. If so, people with more glutamate receptors to begin with are less likely to feel the effects of brain damage following ingestion of MfG because even after some cells are killed or damaged, there will still be sufficient numbers of undamaged cells to carry out normal body functions.

That might account for the fact that some people are more sensitive to MfG than others.

Less is known about glutamate receptors outside the brain – in the heart, stomach, and lungs, for example. It would make sense (although that doesn’t make it true) that cells serving a particular function would be grouped together. It would also seem logical that in each location there would be fewer glutamate receptors siting on host cells than found in the brain, and for some individuals there might be so few cells with glutamate receptors to begin with, that ingestion of even small amounts of MfG might trigger asthma, atrial fibrillation, or irritable bowel disease; while persons with more cells hosting glutamate receptors would not notice damage or loss.

Short-term effects of excitotoxic glutamate (such as asthma and migraine headache) have long been obvious to those not influenced by the rhetoric of the glutamate industry and their friends at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Hopefully, researchers will soon begin to correlate the adverse effects of glutamate ingestion with endocrine disturbances such as reproductive disorders and gross obesity. It is well known that glutamate plays an important role in some mental disorders and neurodegenerative diseases, but the fact that ingestion of excitotoxic glutamate might contribute to existing pools of free glutamate that could become excitotoxic, still needs to be considered. Finally, a few have begun to realize the importance of glutamate’s access to the human body through the mouth, nose and skin.

There are three excitotoxic amino acids used in quantity in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, protein drinks and powders, and dietary supplements:

1) Glutamic acid — found in flavor enhancers, infant formula, enteral care products for invalids, protein powders, processed foods, anything that is hydrolyzed, and some pesticides/fertilizers.

2) Aspartic acid — found in low-calorie sweeteners, aspartame and its aliases, infant formula, protein powders, anything that is hydrolyzed, and

3) L-cysteine — found in dough conditioners.

According to Dr. Edward Group, the six most dangerous excitotoxins are: MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartate, domoic acid, L-BOAA, cysteine, and casein.


Dr. Edward Group The 6 Most Dangerous Excitotoxins. Global Healing Center.  (accessed 8/20/2016)

Blaylock RL. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Health Press; 1994.

Olney JW. Brain Lesions, Obesity, and Other Disturbances in Mice Treated with Monosodium Glutamate; Science. 1969;164:719-21.  

Olney JW, Ho OL. Brain damage in infant mice following oral intake of glutamate, aspartate or cystine. Nature. 1970;227:609-611.

Olney, J.W. Excitatory neurotoxins as food additives: an evaluation of risk. Neurotoxicology 2: 163-192, 1980.

Olney JW. Excitotoxins in foods. Neurotoxicology. 1994 Fall;15(3):535-44.

Gudiño-Cabrera G, Ureña-Guerrero ME, Rivera-Cervantes MC, Feria-Velasco AI, Beas-Zárate C. Excitotoxicity triggered by neonatal monosodium glutamate treatment and blood-brain barrier function. Arch Med Res. 2014 Nov;45(8):653-9.

Verywellhealth.com.  An Overview of Cell Receptors and How They Work https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-a-receptor-on-a-cell-562554   (Accessed 5/5/2019)

Are you feeding your infant brain-damaging additives?

In 1969 the moms and dads of America were promised by the top three baby-food manufacturers that monosodium glutamate would be taken out of their products.

Sure, the baby food executives whined and complained and told how the public had been “unnecessarily alarmed and confused,” but they had hit a brick wall. Dr. John Olney, a top researcher at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, had recently published data showing that when newborn mice were exposed to the additive, they suffered extensive brain damage and endocrine disorders, and he coined the term “excitotoxin” to describe monosodium glutamate. As the late Dr. Jean Mayer, a highly respected nutritionist who taught at Harvard for 25 years (and went on to be named president of Tufts University), said at the time: “I would take the damn stuff out of baby food.”

But half a century later, that “damn stuff” is still being fed to babies – only now added to infant formula.

A formula for disaster

Asked to report on the use of toxic manufactured free glutamate (MfG) in infant formula, we were appalled by the many articles available online that talked of the pros and cons of using various brands, but never once mentioned the presence of excitotoxins.

While monosodium glutamate may have been removed from those little jars of baby food, the same excitotoxic glutamic acid found in monosodium glutamate, now in ingredients such as whey protein concentrate and soy protein isolate, began appearing in infant formula. One product made by Enfamil shockingly lists among its ingredients monosodium glutamate, advising caregivers that it can be continued on as a “milk substitute in the diet of children.”

There are a variety of ways MfG harms the body. When Olney testified in 1972 before the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, he was attesting to the brain damage and subsequent endocrine disorders caused by the MfG in monosodium glutamate when fed to the very young.

Now, people realize that monosodium glutamate also causes adverse reactions such as asthma, migraine headache, irritable bowel, skin rash, seizures, and heart irregularities.

But along the way to this enlightenment, the link between MfG and brain damage seems to have been forgotten. Perhaps that’s because you can’t see brain damage with the naked eye. There’s no pain, no upset stomach, no itching or wheezing.

And stealthily, the glutamate industry has invested millions of dollars in propaganda intended to reassure the public that monosodium glutamate is merely a harmless food additive.

It’s not that health authorities don’t seem to care what’s in infant formulas. The public has been alerted to various toxic ingredients that have been found in these products over the years, including melamine (a compound used to make plastics) and perchlorate (a chemical found in rocket fuel). In fact, the plastic additive BPA has been banned from baby bottles.

But there’s no warning about excitotoxins.

That’s why if you’re thinking of using – or currently use — infant formula, it’s essential that you read the ingredients. Think carefully about the chemicals that are commonly used in these products and beware of hidden excitotoxins.

In March, 2019, we found the following 10 brands of infant formula listed at Amazon.com and searched out their ingredients. These included:

  • Enfamil,
  • Similac,
  • Earth’s Best,
  • Kirkland Signature
  • Good Start
  • Happy Baby
  • Good Sense
  • Member’s Mark
  • Plum Organics
  • Parent’s Choice

In the following ingredient lists, excitotoxic ingredients are highlighted. Only ones that make up more than 1 or 2 percent of the product are included.

Note: The excitotoxin content of milk depends on whether or not whole milk is used in the milk product. If whole milk is used, the excitotoxin content of the milk depends on the pasteurization process (higher heat for longer time frees more glutamic acid and aspartic acid from the original milk protein). If low fat or non-fat milks are used, there will be excitotoxin in the low fat and non-fat milk because those milks are made from milk powder which contains free glutamic acid and free aspartic acid as unavoidable consequences of manufacture.

Enfamil PREMIUM Infant Formula, Powder


Similac Advance

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Whey Protein Concentrate, High Oleic Safflower Oil, Soy Oil, Coconut Oil, Galactooligosaccharides…

Earth’s Best Organic Dairy Infant Formula with Iron

Organic Lactose, Organic Nonfat Milk, Organic Oils (Organic Palm or Palm Olein, Organic Soy, Organic Coconut, Organic High Oleic Safflower or Sunflower Oil), Organic Whey Protein Concentrate

Kirkland Signature Infant Formula

Nonfat milk, lactose, whey protein concentrate, high oleic safflower oil, soy oil, coconut oil, galacto-oligosaccharides…

Gerber Good Start non-GMO powder Infant Formula


Happy Baby Organic Stage 1 Infant Formula Milk Based Powder with Iron

Organic non-fat milk, organic whey protein concentrate

Good Sense

Corn syrup, non-fat milk, whey protein hydrolysate

Member’s Mark


Plum Organics

Organic Nonfat Milk….Organic Whey Protein Concentrate

Parent’s Choice Non-GMO Premium Infant Formula with Iron

Nonfat Milk, Lactose, Vegetable Oils (Palm Olein, Coconut, Soy, High Oleic (Safflower Or Sunflower] Oil), Whey Protein Concentrate, Galactooligosaccharides…

However, infant formula isn’t the only way a baby can be exposed to MfG.

The bizarre connection between Big Food and breast milk

Research done in the 1980s and 1990s confirmed that monosodium glutamate and other ingredients that contain MfG are passed by pregnant women to their fetuses, and by lactating mothers to their newborns. Studies found that MfG can cross the placenta during pregnancy, can cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) in an unregulated manner during development, and can pass through the five circumventricular organs that lie outside the BBB.

In the 1960s and 1970s Olney described the brain damage done by monosodium glutamate, which was found to destroy brain cells when fed in large quantity to animals whose brains were not protected by blood brain barriers. Olney observed that the BBBs of fetuses and newborns seen in the laboratory left certain areas of their developing brains unprotected, and he cautioned that human fetuses and newborns were similarly at risk. The unprotected areas included the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus, the area of the brain that, when undamaged, regulates reproduction and weight (telling us when to stop eating).

Every woman who breast feeds her baby will want to make sure that her diet does not contain excitotoxins – or contains as few as possible. That list includes aspartic acid (found in aspartame, e.g., Nutrasweet, Equal, Amino Sweet, and other aspartame-based sugar substitutes); L-cysteine, found in dough conditioners, and the many ingredients that contain MfG.

Certainly, every parent wants a healthy baby, but there are industry giants out there who only care about their bottom lines. Consumer beware.


Recipe for deception

Monosodium glutamate is produced in the United States by the Ajinomoto, Co., Inc., which happens to be the world’s largest manufacturer of monosodium glutamate.

You may not appreciate the product that they sell, but you really should appreciate the ingenuity of their marketing — their sure-fire recipe for deception. This rich and powerful corporation twists the truth, misrepresents what is true and tells half-truths so very cleverly that its deceptions go largely unnoticed. Monsanto, the corn refiners (the high fructose corn syrup people), and the companies that made the artificial sweetener aspartame before Ajinomoto took it over, haven’t been nearly as clever as Ajinomoto in keeping their products from being the subjects of negative publicity.

As an example, here are nine “game plans,” tactics that have proven to be pure genius in the way they’ve managed to hoodwink consumers into believing MSG is a safe and natural product:

# 1:  MSG is a poison that those in the flavor-enhancer industry maintain is perfectly safe. And here’s one way they skirt an out-and-out lie to do it — they never say that research shows that their product is safe, but rather claim that “Another study has failed to find that monosodium glutamate is harmful.”  What they don’t tell you is that they’ve rigged all their studies to produce favorable results (failing to find…), going so far as to lace their placebos with aspartic acid, an excitotoxin found in aspartame.  And if those studies don’t come out as planned, they are simply not published.

# 2: Research presented as evidence that monosodium glutamate is a harmless food additive has often been characterized as the “gold standard” — that is, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled studies.  But if you review those studies, you’ll find that the subjects were not drawn randomly from a defined population (a necessary condition given the statistical tests used), and that, in fact, the only random factor in those studies might have been the order in which subjects who were administered both test and placebo materials were given those materials.

It is a known fact that since 1978, if not before, placebos used in Ajinomoto’s double-blind studies had been laced with aspartic acid (in aspartame), an additive that kills brain cells and causes virtually the same adverse reactions as the glutamic acid in monosodium glutamate.  One could, therefore, say with certainty, that the outcomes of the studies were skillfully manipulated — “controlled” — through the use of such placebos.

# 3: Chinese Restaurant Syndrome was the name given by editors to a 1968 article in the New England Journal of Medicine. In that article, Dr. Ho Man Kwok noted that after eating in a restaurant serving Northern Chinese food, he suffered three adverse reactions: numbness, tingling, and tightness of the chest that lasted for approximately two hours. Ajinomoto seized on this one man’s report of adverse reactions, and proceeded to act as though these were the only reactions caused by monosodium glutamate.  For example, when subjects in certain double-blind studies did not react to monosodium glutamate treatment with numbness, tingling, or tightness of the chest, researchers would claim that once again it had been showed that monosodium glutamate is a harmless food additive. Other adverse reactions known to follow monosodium glutamate ingestion, rapid heartbeat, brain fog, and seizures, for example, would not have been considered.

# 4: A number of glutamate-industry studies used “well subjects” in their experiments, without defining “well subjects.’’  Only careful reading of a number of those studies will reveal that “well subjects” are people who have never experienced any of the reactions known to be caused by ingestion of MSG.  These aren’t just healthy subjects — these are people who don’t react to monosodium glutamate (at least at the levels given to them).  These people will be given monosodium glutamate and, as expected, won’t react.  And glutamate-industry researchers running the study will claim that “Another study has failed to find that monosodium glutamate is harmful.” 

# 5: A number of glutamate-industry studies were alleged to have been done using subjects who were sensitive to monosodium glutamate. In truth, subjects in these studies were volunteers, often university or medical school students, paid handsomely to participate — but only if they claimed to be sensitive to monosodium glutamate. 

# 6: While companies like Monsanto represent themselves in defending the value of their products, until relatively recently Ajinomoto, a Japanese company, had Americans acting on their behalf, without mentioning Ajinomoto by name. Subtle though it may be, it’s not easy to criticize, or even think about something that doesn’t have a name.

# 7: It is said that authoritative bodies around the world have agreed that monosodium glutamate is a harmless food additive – and that’s true — sort of.  Not revealed is the fact that those authoritative bodies did no research of their own. Instead, with rare exception, they were given material that had been produced and approved by the glutamate industry, and delivered by the glutamate industry’s International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC), or its agents. That includes material provided by the FDA, an agency with close ties to the glutamate industry.

# 8: Glutamate-industry agents take every opportunity to make legitimate research look bad.  They will refer to studies wherein glutamate was administered to laboratory animals with phrases such as “…animal studies … often consisted of injecting super concentrated doses of MSG directly into creature’s abdomen…,” ignoring the fact that there are many studies that demonstrate that when monosodium glutamate is fed to laboratory animals, it causes brain damage and endocrine disorders such as obesity and infertility.

# 9: As of this writing, it is quite prevalent for MSG propaganda to say that “It all started with a 1968 letter to the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine” (the letter from Dr. Ho Man Kwok mentioned above).  In actuality, Ajinomoto’s defense of monosodium glutamate did begin in 1968, but it wasn’t about anything as benign-sounding as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.” It was in response to research done by John Olney, M.D. of Washington University in St. Louis, which demonstrated that monosodium glutamate causes brain damage and endocrine disorders in unborn and newborn mice. 

Although Olney’s findings were not published until 1969, he had shared them with Ajinomoto prior to publication.