Excitotoxins are amino acids that trigger migraines by overstimulating your nerve cells until they are damaged or dead. In migraine headache disorder, even small amounts of excitotoxins cause migraine symptoms like excruciating headaches, as the migraine brain is especially sensitive to migraine triggers in food.
What are excitotoxins?
Excitotoxins are amino acids that occur in many foods you eat like lunchmeat, avocadoes, and artificially sweetened beverages; they are necessary for delivering messages from one neuron to another. Certain amino acids, in large amounts, can be hazardous to your health, causing neurological damage. Since migraineurs are hypersensitive to even the smallest amounts of excitotoxins, they need to avoid foods that contain these amino acid migraine triggers in order to avoid nerve cell loss.
The following amino acids are classified excitotoxins:
- D- Glutamate (glutamic acid) – found in MSG and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.
- Homocysteic acid (homocysteine) – elevated levels of homocysteine is linked with Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, and vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Domoic acid– found in shellfish.
- Aspartate (aspartic acid) – found in cured salami, sausages, oats, and certain vegetables like sprouts, asparagus, and beets. Aspartate is the main ingredient in the artificial sweetener aspartame, found in NutraSweet and Equal.
Where’s the MSG? Hidden MSG Lurks Everywhere
Are neurotransmitters bad?
No. Your brain needs small amounts of neurotransmitters like glutamate for transmitting messages from one nerve cell to the next; they stimulate your neurons into communicating important sensations like sound, taste, touch, and vision, and are also used for cognitive skills like memory and logic.
Certain amino acids, like the ones mentioned above, can become toxic to your nervous system. MSG contains both L-glutamate and D-glutamate, or example. While L-glutamate is only harmful in large doses, even the smallest dose of D-glutamate can trigger severe migraine attacks.
Excitotoxin-related illnesses and conditions
The following illnesses and conditions are linked with excitotoxicity:
- Migraine disorder
- Spinal cord injury
- Brain damage
- Hearing loss
- Multiple sclerosis
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Huntington’s disease
How do excitotoxins trigger migraines?
When excitotoxins permeate your nerve cells, they set in motion a series of events that result in loss or damage of neurons, causing neurodegenerative disorders for some. For migraine sufferers, excitotoxins trigger a release of chemicals that result in painful headaches.
- Low energy metabolism
- Calcium ion penetration
- Free radical penetration
Defend yourself against migraine triggers
If you keep a migraine diary and avoid eating migraine triggers, then you might think that you are doing all you can to prevent migraines. This is not true; keeping the excitotoxins at bay is only one part of migraine therapy.
If you can build up a defense system for your nerve cells, a wall that migraine triggers cannot invade, then you decrease your chances of suffering migraine attacks by at least 50%.
The following supplements are effective for maintaining healthy nerve cells in the presence of excitotoxins:
- Coenzyme Q10: Helps to regulate and balance healthy metabolic function and protect cellular and tissue health.
- Riboflavin: Like coenzyme Q10, riboflavin (vitamin B2) also supports cellular health.
- Magnesium: Regulates calcium channels.
- Taurine: Stabilizes excitotoxin activity.
- Lecithin: Maintains healthy nerve cells.
Please tell us…
- What treatments do you currently use to prevent migraines?
- Are you on a restrictive diet for migraines?
- In addition to medications, what natural nutrients do you take for migraine symptoms?
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Read more about migraine triggers:
Lights…Camera…Migraine! 10 Curious Facts about Light Sensitivity
34 Migraine-Inducing, Stomach-Turning Toxic Chemicals in Perfume
Avoiding Migraine Triggers- Here, There and Everywhere
Amino acids as dietary excitotoxins: a contribution to understanding neurodegenerative disorders- PubMed, NCBI
Migraine Triggers -Excitotoxins
Plasma levels of neuroexcitatory amino acids in patients with migraine or tension headache
Excitotoxins in foods- PubMed, NCBI