Many people are rightly concerned about exposure of themselves and their pets to toxic substances. They are usually concerned about pesticides and insecticides- with good reason. However, we may be overlooking the proverbial 1000 pound gorilla. This gorilla is a class of compounds called excitotoxins. The most well-known of these is msg- monosodium glutamate. It is used as a flavor enhancer in almost all processed foods.
It is the glutamate, an amino acid, that is problematic. Glutamate is the principal excitatory neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Glutamate excitation is counter-acted by gaba, another amino acid. Gaba is the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter. Dysfunction occurs when the proper balance between glutamate and gaba is not maintained. The most common problem is too much glutamate, but the key point is to maintain balance between the two.
Excitotoxins have been associated with many diseases in humans. Russell Blaylock, MD is the principal authority on this. His book, “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills” is the definitive source on the subject. Excitotoxins damage nerve and muscle cells. Blaylock claims that excitotoxins greatly contribute to – if they are not the cause- diseases such as Alzheimer’s, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, stiff person syndrome and others.
In dogs, glutamate toxicity has been associated with epilepsy. John Symes, DVM has been the pioneer in this. His website, dogtorj.com, has extensive materials on the connection between diet and epilepsy. He recommends his G.A.R.D. ( glutamate aspartate restricted diet) for epileptic dogs. Many other diseases in dogs may be associated with glutamate toxicity. Any dysfunction involving excessive nervous activity will likely involve glutamate gaba imbalance. Conditions such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorders, and acral lick dermatitis are some of the more common ones.
The easiest way to avoid glutamate toxicity is to adopt a whole foods diet. This eliminates the msg, in all its varieties, in processed foods. The whole foods must be organic to avoid Auxigro. Auxigro is a chemical sprayed on fruits and vegetables to stimulate growth. I highly recommend an organic whole foods diet for all pets. This, by itself, eliminates many health issues and is well worth the extra cost and effort. However, if a pet is particularly sensitive to glutamate, it may be necessary to be more restrictive with diet. Glutamate is present in food in 2 forms. If glutamate is bound to other proteins, it is not problematic. When it is present in its free form ( not bound to other proteins), it can be toxic. When a pet is particularly sensitive, foods with high levels of free glutamate should be avoided. The foods with the most free glutamate are grains, soy, peas, tomatoes, broccoli, and dairy products.