Book Reviews by Heidi Boudro


Reviewed by Heidi Boudro

My first thought was that I'd had a stroke, but it was simply that I had vertigo. The room spun around me for five hours until, in some distress, I finally slept. The next morning, my doctor's nurse assured me that the culprit was MSG, from the Chinese food I'd eaten. I accepted this. But how could she be so sure?

After reading Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., a board-certified neurosurgeon, I could no longer doubt that MSG was the cause. However, I became less concerned about the vertigo incident and more concerned about my lifetime consumption of food additives that aggravate neurological conditions. This book informed me on why to avoid MSG, how to avoid MSG, and how to slow or reverse brain damage.

You may see MSG, or monosodium glutamate, on food labels under its own name or under any one of several dozen names. (Examples are: "hydrolyzed vegetable protein," "autolyzed yeast," "yeast extract," "calcium caseinate.") MSG is also found under vague label jargon such as "natural flavors" or "spices," which can contain up to 60% MSG; FDA rules do not require separate labeling. Additionally, most restaurants add MSG to their food.

MSG is not, as I had previously thought, a preservative. Its sole purpose is as a "taste enhancer." It has no taste of its own, but instead "stimulate[s] taste cells in the tongue." It also stimulates brain cells. Like aspartame (NutraSweet®), it is an excitotoxin.

"When neurons are exposed to these substances [excitotoxins]," Blaylock writes, "they become very excited and fire their impulses very rapidly until they reach a state of extreme exhaustion. Several hours later these neurons suddenly die, as if the cells were excited to death."

After a clearly-written introduction to the workings of the brain, Blaylock details the mechanism of this brain damage, with hundreds of references to peer-reviewed journals of neurology and biochemistry. He describes the animal experiments that show the damage caused by MSG and discusses the relevance to humans. (Humans are actually considerably more sensitive to MSG than animals are.)

The brain's response to minor brain damage triggers a domino-like process that causes further damage. Since for most of us, exposure to food additives is continuous, there is a high potential for aggravating the neurological conditions that have become more and more common: headaches, seizures, strokes, Parkinson's, ALS, Alzheimer's.

Excitotoxins is a book of exceptional clarity, logic, and expertise. It is a discussion of the evidence as uncovered by scientists and the evidence of a concerted effort by the food manufacturing industry and the FDA to hide the results. Excitotoxins is recommended for those interested in the science of the brain, in neurological health, and in practical advice on which substances harm the brain and which substances heal the brain.

See Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills at Amazon.

Copyright © 2005 by Heidi Boudro