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What’s missing from the ALS challenge…

Posted by Administrator on Sep 05 2014
What's New >> Dr. Klein

Despite the global attention it has attracted, the fundraising campaign offers very few facts about the disease (Written by Hinda Chana)

The ice bucket challenge seems to have taken on a life of its own these days, while its original goal of attracting attention to the disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) seems to have become almost incidental.

By coincidence, I am halfway through an audio book which discusses ALS at length. I am astonished that the simple facts I have learned about ALS are not being trumpeted from the rooftops now that the ice bucket challenge has attracted global attention.

The book is Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, by Dr. Russell Blaylock. I started listening to it because I have a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate (MSG). I’ve known since childhood that when I eat food containing a lot of MSG, I get “Chinese restaurant syndrome”—in my case, a feeling of tightness in my jaw muscles. But recently I discovered that glutamic acid, whether in the monosodium salt or not, creates other, more serious health problems for me. I also learned that my painstaking label-reading is not sufficient protection. Unbound or “free” glutamic acid is found not just in MSG, but hidden in foods under a variety of innocuous-sounding names, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, maltodextrin, or even natural flavoring. It can also be found in nutritional supplements such as whey protein powder. It can even be “liberated” from otherwise healthful protein foods merely by overcooking or other processing.

You would expect this to be the very first thing they would tell ALS sufferers: Stop stuffing your face with the neurotoxin that may be causing and is certainly aggravating your disease.

Glutamate is used by the food industry as a flavour enhancer. It works by stimulating neurons (brain cells). This makes people think the food is delicious when, in the absence of the enhancer, it would be quite bland. However, in susceptible people—which may include a much larger percentage of the population than previously recognized—and under certain conditions, glutamate stimulates the neurons to the point of exhaustion. The brain cells literally burn out and die.

Dr. Blaylock’s book draws on a large body of scientific evidence indicating that this destruction of brain cells by glutamate is implicated in several neurodegenerative conditions, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntingdon’s chorea, and ALS. It can also cause cognitive and neurological problems in children, and may be an important factor in the rising incidence of attention deficit disorder and autism.

The ice bucket challenge is supposed to raise money for the ALS Association, so I checked to see what they would have to say about glutamate. Yes, they are aware of the glutamate-ALS link. Their web site confirms Dr. Blaylock’s opinion that “Abundant evidence points to glutamate as a destructive factor in ALS.”

But they treat glutamate as some sort of extraneous substance that just happens to be in ALS sufferers’ brains. Nowhere on the web page does it mention that glutamate is often deliberately added to food, and that excessive amounts get into ALS sufferers’ brains because they consume it daily in myriad processed foods, including some purported “health foods.”

Even worse is what the ALS Association offers as potential remedies for the problem. They say only one drug has so far been approved as a treatment for ALS, and that it works by modulating glutamate. They say researchers are investigating gene therapy as a possible treatment, to transport glutamate out of the brain. They conclude with the lame statement, “Other avenues towards control of glutamate in ALS are also under active investigation.”

Nowhere do they say, “DON’T EAT EXTRA GLUTAMATE.” You would expect this to be the very first thing they would tell ALS sufferers: Stop stuffing your face with the neurotoxin that may be causing and is certainly aggravating your disease. Don’t eat processed foods. Don’t eat anything that contains MSG or hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and be very suspicious of anything that contains “natural flavouring”.

Monosodium glutamate is, by the way, a “natural” flavouring derived from seaweed, so technically food manufacturers aren’t lying when they label it thus. But arsenic and hemlock are also natural substances. “Natural” does not necessarily mean “good for humans to eat.”

In fact, the dietary guide that the ALS Association posts on its website (“Maintaining good nutrition with ALS”) advocates that ALS sufferers add instant breakfast mix powders – products that are almost certain to contain free glutamate – to their milk or milkshakes.

The late Jack Samuels and his wife Adrienne Samuels wrote a book (It Wasn’t Alzheimer’s, It Was MSG) about Jack’s sensitivity to glutamate and his recovery from severe mental malfunctioning through vigilant glutamate avoidance. The book also exposes the efforts of the food processing industry and its regulatory handmaiden, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, to discredit and silence them – efforts that may explain the reticence of the ALS Association on the subject. Trillions of dollars are at stake if people stop buying processed food.

So here is my counter-challenge to the ALS Association: Will you take some of the $94 million you have raised to date through the ice bucket challenge and use it on research to determine whether individual cases of ALS can be halted or even reversed if the victims simply avoid free glutamate in food?

Hinda Chana is the pen name of an Ontario lawyer who wishes to retain her privacy.

 

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