In a piece of brain tissue no larger than a grain of sand, you will find around 100,000 neurons, with over a billion synapses communicating with each other. The chemical messengers that coordinate the transmission of signals between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the body are called neurotransmitters. They affect many processes including mood, memory, cognition, concentration, alertness, energy, appetite, pain, and sleep.
Neurotransmitters are either excitatory, causing a neuron to send a signal, or inhibitory, preventing a signal from being sent. The excitatory system sends signals to speed things up, and initiate nueral communications. The inhibitory system helps to slow things down, or stops signals from continuing.
For a balanced and well-functioning brain, more important than the levels of any one neurotransmitter is the overall balance of neurotransmitters in the brain as a whole.
Glutamate is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain and central nervous system. It plays a beneficial and crucial role as the primary excitatory neurotransmitter powering the transmission of messages between neurons. Without glutamate, we would be unable to respond quickly to events. However, too much glutamate can lead to a condition called excitotoxicity, which can damage or destroy neurons.
Dietary glutamate is the main energy source for the gut cells and an important substrate for the synthesis of amino acids in the gut. Food-derived glutamate triggers the digestive system and the entire body to respond to foods.
Normally, glutamate is balanced by the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA. It is likely that the balance between glutamate and GABA may determine the excitatory/inhibitory balance in the central nervous system.
Glutamate system dysfunction is linked to numerous psychological disorders and neurodegenerative diseases. There are safeguards to keep excess glutamate from building up to dangerous levels in the brain. Glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) is the enzyme used to turn glutamate into its calming partner GABA. Genetic mutations, autoimmune reactions to the GAD enzyme, mood-altering substances, and chronic inflammation may lead to poor conversion of glutamate into GABA. Gluten intolerance, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s disease, type l diabetes, and other autoimmune diseases are linked to GAD autoimmunity.
Glutamate receptors are found on the tongue and are responsible for giving foods their umami taste. It can either be bound to other amino acids (bound glutamate) or not (free glutamate). Bound glutamate is absorbed slowly and has no flavor, whereas free glutamate is rapidly digested, leading to spikes in the bloodstream.
There are many foods that naturally contain glutamate, but these do not usually contribute to excess glutamate. MSG, however, is a food additive and a flavor enhancer that is pure glutamate. MSG usually does not normally cross into the brain, but under some circumstances it may. If you have a compromised blood-brain barrier, MSG allergy or sensitivity, or autoimmune reaction to the GAD enzyme, you may react badly to MSG.
Food sources of glutamate include protein-rich food such as meat, poultry, eggs, tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, and soy.
Glutamate excitotoxicity, oxidative stress, and mitochondrial dynamics may represent a self-perpetuating “vicious cycle” which in time may lead to neural remodeling making future excitoxicity more likely and requiring little outside stimulus.
High glutamate levels are linked to problems with mood, depression, anxiety, restlessness, inability to concentrate, memory, headaches, insomnia, fatigue, and increased sensitivity to pain, while low levels are linked to major psychiatric disorders
The right supplements like Glutamate Scavenger, the proper GI environment (Gut-Brain probiotic), reduced inflammation, and healthy diet and lifestyle habits can optimize glutamate levels and restore the neurotransmitter balance.
Want to look deeper into your health and neurotransmitter balance? Dr. Charny can work with you to address your concerns. Make an appointment today: 310-592-5595 or online here.