Autoimmune Thyroid Disease

An Unfortunate and Lengthy Adventure in Misdiagnosis

Monosodium glutamate

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I openly admit to being obsessed with nutrition. This isn’t through wilfulness or even biochemistry – indeed, serotonin plays a role in obsession, and if there is any one neurotransmitter I end up fighting with, it’s serotonin – but my obsession with nutrition is simply due to miserable necessity.

Perhaps my blood-brain barrier is more permeable than most people’s. I find that what I eat strongly influences my mood, that I can rarely drink without feeling it the next day, that I can rarely eat any significant amount of carbohydrate without stepping onto a rollercoaster.

If I don’t eat enough fat I get fat-hunger, so chicken and fish don’t fill me in the same way as red meat. 200mg of chromium picolinate makes me irritable. Half a gram of L-tyrosine or L-glutamine motivates me or calms me down respectively – a lot of people have to take considerably more to get the same effect.

When I was a vegetarian I drank milk every day instead of tea or coffee, two pints or more. My mother convinced me it would make me fat, but when I stopped drinking milk I rapidly became irritable and anaemic, with a sallow complexion and lank hair. I had no energy, and I was forced to give up being a vegetarian. I’m sure my problem was a B12 deficiency. I feel the sun, I feel cloud cover, I feel the cold. I feel my clothes. I’m weak, but I’m tough. I’m permeable, like silk.

I haven’t had any aspartame since I wrote last. I haven’t had any depression either. I’ve been irritable now and then because I’ve been drinking and eating too many carbs, but I haven’t been depressed. Until last night…

Monosodium Glutamate

Last night we went to a Thai restaurant. I must admit it wasn’t my preference due to the carb-avoidance problems of Oriental restaurants, but we have a couple of J.’s friends staying and my pathetic protests about healthy food are no match for a couple of strapping lads on a beer and curry mission.

J. and I had crab and asparagus soup for starter. I was pretty tired and clammed up early on during the meal. It had been a long day, we went to Monaco and walked around the grand prix circuit, and everyone was in need of a rest. I couldn’t concentrate on any of the conversation and found it all very boring, and gradually I became more and more depressed. By the time I’d finished my main course I knew something was wrong.

“I feel really strange, crab isn’t poisonous is it?” I joked to J. I had two numb pressure patches on my cheekbones, and another around my right ear, as if someone was pressing their hands heavily against my face. I felt spaced-out, almost disembodied or dysphoric, and deeply depressed. My legs felt very weak and heavy, a sensation I recognise when I’ve drunk a glass of wine when I’m dehydrated, but I’d only been drinking water. When I described the sensation in my legs, J. said “Yeah, I’ve got that feeling too!” He later confessed that he’d also developed a strange tightening in his chest like asthma, but didn’t want to mention it in front of “the lads”, for fear of a ribbing.

At first I was scared, then I wondered: could it be Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? I decided to look up the symptoms when I got home. I was distracted for the rest of the evening by the strange sensations in my face and couldn’t really enjoy myself. I slowly became less spaced-out and eventually returned to normal. It was about one o’clock in the morning by the time my symptoms had fully subsided, and by then the evening was over.

The FDA says:

MSG Symptom Complex can involve symptoms such as numbness, burning sensation, tingling, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, and weakness. Asthmatics may experience these symptoms as well as difficulty in breathing. Additional studies in asthmatics under controlled conditions have not produced consistent results. MSG: A Common Flavor Enhancer

  • burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms, and chest
  • numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
  • tingling, warmth, and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck, and arms
  • facial pressure or tightness
  • chest pain
  • headache
  • nausea
  • rapid heartbeat
  • bronchospasm in MSG-intolerant people with asthma
  • drowsiness
  • weakness

[…] A reaction is most likely if the MSG is eaten in a large quantity or in a liquid, such as a clear soup. Monosodium Glutamate

Clear soup, for example, crab and asparagus soup!

There’s a lot that the FDA don’t tell you about MSG, such as how artificially produced free glutamate differs from the natural bound glutamate found in foods – natural bound glutamate takes a long time to digest and may not even be broken down the whole way, as the body uses peptides and proteins from food, not just amino acids. After doing a lot of digging, I’ve come up with some interesting results that connect this experience of depression to my experience earlier in the week on diet coke.

Aspartame contains phenylalanine (which adversely affects one in 15,000 Americans); aspartic acid (an excitatory amino acid); and a methyl esther. Aspartic acid and glutamic acid load on the same receptors in the brain, cause the same brain damage and neuroendocrine disorders in experimental animals, and, with the exception of blindness related to aspartame ingestion, cause virtually the same adverse reactions in humans. The Toxicity/Safety of Processed Free Glutamic Acid (MSG): A Study In Suppression of Information

I’ve been very careful to avoid anything containing aspartame this last week. Illogically, I was beginning to doubt my theory. But I’ve unwittingly tripped the same mechanism again, and experienced depression again!

Many MSG-sensitive individuals have found that once sensitized to MSG, their tolerance for MSG decreases over the years, and that it may be lowered by extreme exercise and/or ingestion of any alcohol just prior to or just following MSG ingestion. MSG Update: The Difficulty in Keeping MSG-Free

If so, could it also be that my diet coke drinking after exercising had the same effect on me, making me particularly vulnerable to the effects of the excitotoxin, aspartame?

Aspartame itself doesn’t have any calories, but basically, one of its ingredients, the amino acid phenylalanine, blocks production of serotonin, a nerve chemical that, among other activities, controls food cravings. As you might well imagine, a shortage of serotonin will make your brain and body scream for the foods that create more of this brain chemical—and those are the high-calorie, carbohydrate-rich snacks that can sabotage a dieter. Obviously, the more aspartame one ingests, the more heightened the effects. Simply put, aspartame appears to muddle the brain chemistry. Aspartame – Diet-astrous Results

I have resolved that from now on, I’m not eating anything complicated enough to have an ingredients label on it.

Notes from October 2007

Now my attention had been drawn to aspartame, it was also drawn to other additives. Though I didn’t write them down, I began to remember several other incidents where I had suffered from depression or weird reactions to food that I had put down to “hypoglycaemia.” For example, I’d known for years that I was sensitive to caffeine and sometimes when I drank it I felt like I had taken coke. Now I knew I was sensitive to MSG as well.

For example, there was a time in the autumn of 2003, a few months after I had started Atkins, where I went through a rocky period. Part of that rocky period was attributable to using methyl salicylate and aspirin. Another part of that period I was drinking diet cokes every week.

I also remembered an incident that had taken place at Christmas time – when I had eaten some tinned French Onion Soup. Within minutes of eating the soup I had a pounding heart beat, felt dizzy, and couldn’t stop walking around gasping for breath. I put it down to “hypoglycaemia” and thought the soup must be too sweet for me. My partner looked on the label, and noted that the soup contained MSG. That soup just about ruined my day!

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Written by alienrobotgirl

22 May, 2004 at 8:04 pm

Posted in My History

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