Holistic medicine recognizes that wellness is not just the absence of illness, but a homeostasis in the body, mind, and spirit. Our bodies are extremely adaptive, but function best when they receive optional amounts of vitamins, minerals, sunlight, water, etc. If we have too much or too little of something, it can cause issues such as vitamin deficiency, malnutrition, obesity, illness, or worse. One of the many things that our body needs just the right amount of is glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid that your body produces naturally.
As you may remember from your science class, amino acids are organic compounds used to make proteins. They include nitrogen, carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Some amino acids your body makes on its own, while others are obtained through a healthy diet. Amino acids, along with protein, are the building blocks of life and help the body grow, repair, break down food, perform bodying functions, and provide energy.
Amino acids are classified into three groups: essential amino acids (cannot be made by the body so it is essential we seek them out in our food), nonessential amino acids (can be made by the body so it’s not essential that we consume them), and conditional amino acids (usually not essential, except in times of illness and stress). Glutamate is a conditional amino acid that acts as a neuroexcitatory neurotransmitter in the glial cells of your brain by releasing calcium. What this means is that it carries messages telling other proteins and amino acids to do things- as opposed to tell them to not do something (which is what an inhibitory neurotransmitter does) or do a bunch of things all at once (which is what a modulatory neurotransmitter does).
The glial cells that glutamate talks to are in the central nervous system, and both support the neurons and help regulate them (sounds like most parents out there!). There’s another neat aspect of glutamate which is that it stimulates the brain, while GABA calms it down…but the Catch 22 is that your body uses glutamate to produce GABA! Now that we know what glutamate is and why it is important, let’s talk about the dangers of consuming too much. Depending on what we eat, the medicines we take, and the injuries we sustain, there can be an unwanted over-activation of glutamate receptors in glial cells. This can contribute to neurological degeneration (neuron death) and makes any pre-existing neurological condition such as Chronic Lyme, Anxiety, Fibromyalgia or Chronic fatigue syndrome worse. Not only can there be an over-activation of glutamate, but there are some medicines and supplements that can also block glutamate receptors. Glutamate toxicity is what happens when glial cells in the central nervous system are over-activated and release proinflammatory mediators such as cytokines, chemokines, interferons, and neuroexcitatory chemicals at toxic levels including glutamate, aspartate, calcium and quinolinic acid. Yikes!
There are lots of simple ways to make sure that you are getting the right amount of glutamate and supporting your nervous system using a holistic body, mind, and spirit approach, the first one being diet and nutrition. Savory, processed foods are typically high in glutamate. The FDA requires that a food be labeled MSG (Monosodium glutamate) if it contains 99% glutamate. However, if the food contains less than that, glutamates will not be labeled. They may show up as glutamate or hydrolyzed ingredients (hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, and hydrolyzed oat flour). Other foods that you should be mindful of are cold cuts and processed meats like hot dogs and sausages, slow cooked meat and broth preparation (bone broth is okay if cooked quickly), power drinks, protein powders and shakes, and all GMO and non-organic foods which will have glutamate as they are sprayed with herbicides and pesticides that contain it.
Healing the gut is paramount with glutamate toxicity, and a foundational approach is necessary in healing of any neurological disorder or those with mystery illnesses marked by hyperactivity and hypersensitivity of the Central Nervous System. Important things to keep in mind with these types of conditions are: 1) Supplement ingredients that normally work in gut healing can be neuroexcitatory such as glutathione, collagen, gelatin and glutamine, 2) Foods that typically benefit gut healing such as slow cooked bone broth increase glutamate so only use quick made broth, and 3) Focus instead on diet and mucolytic herbs that coat the lining of the gut such as marshmallow root and aloe.
While diet and supplementation are foundational in healing the nervous system, lifestyle changes are also key to start the healing cascade and achieve optimal wellness. One of the best ways we do this is through limbic system retraining. The limbic system does all kinds of neat stuff, such as link our conscious and subconscious, manages our flight or fight responses, and facilitates memory.
There are several programs we at Meeting Point Health recommend, including: Annie Hopper’s Dynamic Neural Retraining System, My Vital Side Limbic Retraining and Accessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve by Dr. Stanley Rosenberg. Some apps that target breathwork, meditation, prayer and vagus nerve retraining that we like are: Tapping Solution, Calm, Headspace, Pray as you Go, and ACT. If you are only changing your diet and not working on healing the nervous system, it’s like walking up a down escalator- you may get where you want to go but it will take a lot more time, effort, and setbacks.
If you have questions about achieving optimal health or wellness, or think that you may have glutamate toxicity, call or email to schedule an appointment with us!
MedlinePlus. (2022). Amino acids: MedlinePlus medical encyclopedia. Retrieved June 30, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002222.htm
Medically reviewed by Dr. Stephen Matta, DO, MBA CAQSM and Mary Anne Matta, MS, MA, LAC
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