Thoughts on the Glutamate Connection

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After following REID and doing some research, I am starting to get a better understanding the role of excess glutamate in many health issues.  Please remember that I am not the expert, simply just a mom. In my opinion, dietary sources of free glutamate in addition to intrinsic glutamate or glutamate signaling produced by the body, play a much bigger role than we realize. Due to amount of glutamate receptors throughout the brain and its regulation of over 50% of our nervous system, I personally believe excess glutamate is a central mechanism behind the majority of autism symptoms. When glutamate and inflammation is high, it can be detrimental, causing the neurons to fire so rapidly that they die or cause extreme mitochondrial dysfunction and trigger a cyclical reaction between high glutamate, inflammation and immune activation. This damage to neurons and neural pathways can actually change the way the brain is “wired”.

I believe diet and lowering inflammation (and therefore glutamate) is the foundation of healing. If this step is overlooked, it will be harder to see a reduction in symptoms due to the fact, glutamate will still be high. In my opinion, this is why many see improvements with other whole food diets, most end up lowering inflammation and inadvertently lower glutamate levels. Paraphrasing Dr. Amy Yasko, if you could only do one thing to heal your child from Autism, lower glutamate levels from diet. Many following REID and/or in our Facebook group have been able to achieve substantial healing from diet alone, however some may need to dig deeper or should dig deeper. One of the biggest puzzle pieces or unknowns, is determining where the source of inflammation or intrinsic glutamate is coming from within an individual. It may be trauma, microbial imbalances, environmental toxins, poor methylation/detoxification, metals, chronic microglial activation, underlying infections, and so on but the common denominator between all of these is excess glutamate.  So if one makes progress by reducing their glutamate load with the removal of processed sources of glutamate, but they are still struggling, I believe they must dig deeper to help resolve the root of the inflammation and excess intrinsic glutamate signaling.

For many, it’s not just about reducing sources of free glutamate from diet. For example, those struggling with significant gut issues, will really start to see the most benefits from diet, once they start to balance diet. Proper nutrition alone, will help to lower glutamate levels and offer neuroprotection from excess glutamate.   Diet needs to be balanced and fiber fermentation (opposed to protein fermentation, carbohydrate fermentation, etc) needs to be maintained in the gut to decrease damaging pathogens, metabolites, glutamate and inflammation. Like everything else, it is not a one size fits all solution and depending on which pathogens you may be struggling with, it may be best to slowly work your way to a higher fiber diet. According to Dr. Reid, many of the microbial pathogens in the gut create additional glutamate, and will start to utilize glutamate as their food/energy source allowing them to proliferate. I personally believe for many, the vast majority of excess glutamate comes from diet and/or a byproduct of metabolites found within the mircobiome, and this step should not be overlooked. The number of glutamate receptors (therefore glutamate sensitivity) will continue to decrease as glutamate levels are lowered, thus allowing the brain and gut to heal.

In addition to diet, glutamate is signaled in response to inflammation and immune activation.  As we know, underlying CNS infections, metals, brain damage, stroke, etc. all increase the cyclical glutamate/inflammation/immune activation problem. So, if one has an exposure to a prolonged infection (Strep, Lyme, etc.), the body will increase glutamate signaling as part of its response to the infection. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, it is glutamate that causes the damage, not necessarily the virus or inflammation-although they both increase glutamate. Vice versa, high levels of glutamate trigger inflammation and immune activation (cytokine cascade). It’s like they build upon each other, making things worse and worse. The higher glutamate gets; the worse things are. Likewise, if one suffers a developmental regression following vaccination, it may be due to the high levels of glutamate produced by immune response and microglial activation.  ‘This prolonged increased glutamate signaling can make cells sensitive to glutamate where it takes less glutamate to induce a response compared to an individual with regulated ‘non-stress’ glutamate signaling response. Some can regulate back to ‘normal’ once perceived invader is gone, however, some cells can take a long time not to be sensitive (chronically in stress response) once stressor is gone.’-Dr. Reid. Certain metals, including aluminum and mercury, act the same way. They increase glutamate, enhance the neurotoxicity of glutamate, all while glutamate increases the neurotoxicity of the metal. So, whether one does chelation, antibiotics, herbs, footbaths, homeopathy, etc. I believe they all work to lower glutamate to some extent. Perhaps the connection to the reduction of symptoms is due to their ability to lower inflammation, immune activation and excess glutamate? The following quotes have been pulled from this video by Dr. Russell Blaylock.  Some quotes may be paraphrased.

  • “Glutamate/excitotoxicity plays a central role in viral CNS diseases. Most viruses don’t directly damage the brain, they cause the brain to activate its glutamate receptors, its immune receptors and cytokine receptors. This is actually what does the damage, not the virus. If you block glutamate receptors in measles encephalitis, you have no damage. This is a major mechanism of Lyme disease.”
  • “Some pesticides now cause microglial activation causing the release of excitotoxins” (glutamate).
  • “You can block mercury toxicity in the brain (at lower levels) just by blocking glutamate receptors. Much of the damage is done by overstimulation of glutamate receptors.”
  • “Over half of the all neruo-tranmissions in the brain are from glutamate receptors- exceeding all other neurotransmitters together.”
  • “Glutamate receptors regulate other neurotransmitters-serotonin, dopamine, etc.”
  • “When mitochondria are dysfunctional, it dramatically increases the sensitivity to excitotoxicity/glutamate. Anything that lowers mitochondrial function, greatly magnifies excitotoxicity. Even normal levels of glutamate will become neurotoxic if the mitochondria are dysfunctional.”
  • “The inflammatory cascade-the cytokines inhibit the glutamate transporter. The purpose of this is to bind the free glutamate into the astrocyte which makes it harmless (GABA). You must keep the extracellular levels (of glutamate) extremely low.”
  • “Immunoexcitotoxicity triggers excitotoxicity through cytokines or reactive element to induce inflammation the brain.”
  • “Many of these glutamate receptors work by cross-talking with inflammatory receptors- cytokine receptors. Pro-inflammatory cytokines enhance the activity of glutamate receptors.”
  • “Glutaminase- converts glutamine into glutamate and increases the brain level of glutamate and can cause excitotoxicity alone.”
  • “When glutamate levels are high, glutathione levels are suppressed. Mercury inhibits the brains ability to detoxify excess glutamate allowing for glutamate to become excitotoxicity.”
  • “Glutamate and inflammatory cytokines inhibit mitochondrial energy production and mitochondrial migration.”