Glutamate: A Functional Amino Acid

Since glutamate is salt from glutamic acid, it’s not surprising that it functions like the amino acid. But what does this exactly that mean?

Is glutamate an amino acid?

Glutamate amino acid is technically a neurotransmitter but functions as an amino acid. It’s a salt from the amino acid known as glutamic acid. You’ve probably heard of the food additive MSG, which is one form of glutamate. There’s some debate about whether MSG is healthy or dangerous. What is known is our body needs a certain amount of glutamic acid and sodium to function properly. What’s important is to avoid eating too much of the stuff. A 2014 study showed that adults in nearly 97% of the world’s countries consume too much salt. So, the problem might not be MSG itself but the total sodium that people are consuming today.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that’s linked to glutamic acid. This is one of the non-essential amino acids that the body produces naturally. You can also get it from different foods like meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and dairy. Here’s why glutamic acid and glutamate have similar functions. The amino acid functions as a certain kind of neurotransmitter. It causes neurons to trigger neurons around it so messages are sent through the whole central nervous system (CNS) that includes the spinal cord and brain. In fact, this discovery has resulted in studies that show how glutamic acid supplements treat people with different nerve disorders.


What Is MSG?

While glutamate is a neurotransmitter the most well-known form is something called monosodium glutamate (MSG). It’s a food additive that’s found in different cuisine like Asian food.

A Japanese chemist first discovered MSG over a century ago. He extracted it from seaweed and learned it had a one-of-a-kind flavor. Today MSG is made by fermenting stuff like:

  • sugar cane
  • Molasses
  • Sugar beets
  • Starch

There’s a lot of debate in the medical world about whether or not it’s safe or bad for people to consume. For example, many people think MSG triggers their allergic reaction. As always, it’s important to separate fact from fiction.

In fact, most scientists don’t agree with the idea that MSG makes people sick. The reason is they argue MSG doesn’t contain any toxins and doesn’t cause food allergies.

MSG contains natural salt that makes up about 10% of a person’s daily food intake. That’s the “sodium” part. Then there’s the “glutamate” in the additive’s name. It’s the main substance in MSG and is from the amino acid glutamic acid that occurs naturally in the body.

In a nutshell, MSG contains sodium and glutamate. One thing to consider is the majority of Earth’s living things have glutamate. It’s also found in many foods like:

  • Mushrooms
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Peas
  • Pecans
  • Soy sauce
  • Tomatoes
  • Walnuts

Fun Fact: The US FDA reports people daily eat about 13g of glutamate from food protein. MSG makes up about another ½ gram.

So why do people have the idea MSG is unhealthy? It dates back to the 1960s when a Maryland doctor wrote a paper published in the New England Journal of Medicine. He claimed that he had allergic symptoms each time he ate Chinese food from a restaurant.

This resulted in a study that involved injecting mice with MSG. While it caused brain damage the substance was injected instead of consumed.


Glutamate: Amino Acid?

Since glutamate is salt from glutamic acid, it’s not surprising that it functions like the amino acid. But what does this exactly that mean?

Glutamate isn’t just a salt but also a powerful neurotransmitter that the brain’s nerve cells release. It sends out signals between different neurons (nerve cells). This can help with different brain functions like memory and learning.

There are a few ways that glutamate can damage nerve cells. The first situation is when your body has too much glutamate, which can cause the nerve cells to become overactive. The second situation is when the nerve cell that gets glutamate is too sensitive. In that case, fewer glutamate molecules are needed.

However, when glutamate works properly it results in effective signals between nerve cells. This allows nerve cells to send chemical signals to others around it. If you want to impress your friends this is known as an “excitatory neurotransmitter.” In other words, it “excites” other nerve cells.

The key is for nerve cells to get signals at the right level. This helps to keep the nerve cells healthy. Meanwhile, if the signal is too weak or strong this can cause various health conditions and even result in the nerve cells dying. That’s a bad thing.

There’s even a theory that glutamate can cause cell damage. This issue is still being studied. However, what’s known is the salt/neurotransmitter is important for making sure nerve cells pass on messages to

Their neighbor nerve cells. This maintains a good connection between the brain and the body.

There are various factors that affect how well your body produces glutamate. They include diseases that affect the CNS. If your body has a condition that reduces how much glutamate it produces then it’s another issue. In that case, you should consider amping up your glutamate level through food or supplements.

Prevention is better than cure. If you think you have a glutamate deficiency get it checked out ASAP.


Glutamic Acid Supplements

Some people have a deficiency in glutamic acid/glutamate. This can be caused by various health conditions. Like other deficiencies, it can trigger different symptoms. So, your doctor might prescribe a supplement to boost your intake of the amino acid. This, in turn, can also boost how much glutamate your body is getting.

Some studies show that these amino acid supplements might help with certain health conditions. For example, glutamic acid might help to lower blood pressure. It can also help to detoxify the body by getting rid of ammonia.

These supplements might also help to treat conditions related to the prostate gland. One theory is there’s a close connection between this amino acid and the walnut-sized gland’s function.

However, some scientists have question marks about the effects of using such dietary supplements to treat such diseases. That’s because it’s one of the most common amino acids found in people who have a healthy diet.

Some health experts say that people who have access to healthy food don’t need glutamic acid supplements. That’s one issue. Another one is high amounts of the amino acid could be toxic and cause unwanted side-effects. Some examples are headaches and more serious ones.

So, a better approach is to get a check-up if you think you might have a deficiency in glutamic acid. If that’s the case the doctor can help guide you about what steps to take next. One thing to keep in mind is food is always a better source of nutrients.

You should also talk to your doctor before you start taking any dietary supplement. He/She can cross-reference any meds/supplements you’re taking to make sure they won’t produce any negative effects.

These “interactions” can produce different kinds of results. Some are minor although they can also be severe. So, it’s critical for your doctor to know what you’re already taking before you start glutamate amino acid.

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