Effects of Glutamate Sensitivity and Hidden Ingredients on Health – Part 2

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

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Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and Glutamate Sensitivity

Glutamate sensitivity and AFSMany symptoms of glutamate sensitivity are similar to those found with adrenal fatigue. AFS is a condition that occurs when the adrenal glands are overburdened by stress and produce less cortisol, the hormone that fights the effects of stress.

When stress is encountered by your body, it reacts the same regardless of the source of the stress. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is stimulated to release a cascade of hormones to fight the effects of stress.

Once the stressor is gone, the body then returns to normal, and the hormones are no longer needed. However, in our stress-filled life, stressors may continue to keep your body from normal functioning. This leads to overburdening the adrenals. Ultimately, as stress continues, the adrenals can no longer produce the cortisol needed, and symptoms begin to appear.

At first, these symptoms are vague, but they increase in severity, potentially leading to very significant illness. Overwhelming fatigue, insomnia, digestive and emotional problems, difficulty concentrating, lack of energy, increased susceptibility to infection, hypoglycemia, and feeling like your brain is in a fog are some of the more common symptoms. If unattended you could end up bedridden.

The NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Model

When conventionally trained healthcare professionals are faced with AFS, they tend to look at and deal with the symptoms or organs individually. However, this is not effective in dealing with AFS.

A more comprehensive approach, the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response model, is a better way to address the symptoms of AFS. This model views health conditions as affecting organ systems which are interdependent. That is, what affects one organ system affects others as well.

This viewpoint seeks to find the root causes of illness conditions through all the organ systems that are affected. Then, your healthcare professional can deal with these root causes to rid your body of the difficulties that lead to your symptoms.

When glutamate sensitivity is the issue, the neuroaffect organ system is the first one to be affected. Some of the symptoms of this sensitivity also affect your metabolic system. One of the results of an imbalanced metabolic system will be inflammation, which is also a symptom of this sensitivity. This triggers an inflammatory response, which in turn triggers your detoxification organ system.

Using this more comprehensive viewpoint allows healthcare professionals to deal with these issues in a way that brings genuine relief to those who suffer from glutamate sensitivity.

Glutamate and GABA

Just as glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its purpose is to keep your brain and nervous system slowed down. These two neurotransmitters work in balance in your brain.

GABA plays an important role in speech and language by making your language understandable through creating space between words. Otherwise, you would speak so rapidly no one could understand what you were saying.

GABA receptors are very plentiful in your gut system, as well. If your levels are too low, it would likely lead to abdominal pain and constipation because of interference with the transit of material through the gut. It also aids in keeping your immune system healthy through maintaining adequate levels of IgA, the antibodies that guard your gut’s mucus linings against invasion by harmful bacteria.

Low levels of GABA also can lead to emotional issues such as anxiety and panic disorders, aggressive and antisocial behavior, and chronic pain syndromes, as well as other physical issues. It also is connected to alcoholism, drug addiction, and a craving for carbs. Ingesting sugar and carbs increases GABA temporarily, but also depletes other neurotransmitters.

In the brain, GABA works in the hypothalamus where it helps regulate sleep, temperature, the HPA axis, and the autonomic nervous system. A major role of the hypothalamus is to keep your body in a state of homeostasis, which it could not do without GABA.

The complex, interconnected relationship between GABA and glutamate helps keep your body balanced, and too much of either one leads to significant illness conditions. Too little GABA in your body may lead to what has been called “overload phenomena”, in which too much stimulation of neurons occurs because of high levels of glutamate. This eventually leads to death of the neurons due to too much stimulation.

GABA and glutamate help to keep a balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Without both neurotransmitters, we would continually find ourselves with one or the other of these systems stimulated. We would either overreact or underreact to external stimuli. Too little GABA can overemphasize the effects of glutamate, thus playing a significant part in the development of adrenal fatigue, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, and chemical sensitivities.

Glutamate and Your Diet

If you have glutamate sensitivity, it could be a good idea to consider some changes in your diet to avoid foods that contain free glutamate. One major source to consider is any processed food. Glutamate is used as a preservative and flavor enhancer in many of these products.

Glutamate sensitivity and processed food ingredientsIn the ingredients of processed foods, glutamate can be found hidden in several other ingredients. These include:

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Anything hydrolyzed
  • Yeast extract
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Texturized protein
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Gelatin
  • Soy protein
  • Whey protein
  • Bouillon
  • Broth
  • Stock
  • Flavors
  • Maltodextrin
  • Pectin
  • Citric acid
  • Soy sauce
  • Milk powder
  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Modified food starch

Many natural food sources also contain free glutamate. Some of these are:

  • Matured, preserved, or cured meats and cheeses
  • Fish sauce
  • Mushrooms
  • Ripe tomatoes
  • Broccoli
  • Walnuts
  • Peas
  • Soy sauce, soy protein
  • Grape juice
  • Wheat gluten
  • Malted barley
  • Bone broths
  • Dairy casein

If you think you have glutamate sensitivity, you can try a food elimination diet to test how they affect you. Start by eliminating these foods from your diet for a period of time. Once your symptoms have disappeared, you can reintroduce them one at a time back in your diet and see if symptoms reappear. Do this over a period of weeks to see which foods cause your symptoms to reappear.

Since sensitivity to glutamate can increase inflammation, adding ginger or turmeric to your diet can be a good way to counter this. Both of these supplements have strong anti-inflammatory properties. However, those who are in an advanced stage of AFS may not be able to tolerate these compounds.

The Blood-Brain Barrier and Glutamate

Glutamate sensitivity and the blood brain barrierAll around your brain is a membrane called the blood-brain barrier that only allows certain substances through it. This is a protective mechanism that keeps unhealthy substances from invading your brain and causing damage.

Under normal conditions, only some receptors allow glutamate into the brain. This keeps the level appropriate for optimum functioning of the neurons.

However, under certain circumstances, the blood-brain barrier may inadvertently allow increased levels of glutamate into the brain. If you have a leaky gut, common with AFS, this sets up the body for increased inflammation. Higher levels of inflammation can cause the blood-brain barrier to develop leaks as well. This loosens its control over what enters the brain. Reactive metabolites can enter the brain under such circumstances.

If you have glutamate sensitivity already and are eating foods high in free glutamate, these conditions may set you up for increased symptoms. However, further research is needed in this area to determine how this process actually affects those with glutamate sensitivity. Those with more advanced the AFS, however, are at a higher risk for developing issues. Maintaining a healthy diet low in glutamate and avoiding MSG is key to recovery.

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© Copyright 2017 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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