What is glutamate?
Glutamate is a naturally occurring compound in the human body and the most abundant stimulative neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Its primary function is to help send signals from the nerve cells to various cells of the body and vice versa. Glutamate is synthesized by glutamic acid and it’s the precursor of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It plays an important role in most of the stimulative function of the vertebrate that accounts for at least 90% of the connection of synapses in the brain.
When glutamic acid losses its hydrogen atoms, it leads to the formation of glutamate. The “ate” suffix in glutamate means an acid with a diminished hydrogen atom. However, glutamate and glutamic acid are used by scientist interchangeably because both of their functions are similar. This is not the case with glutamine though. This is because it has a distinct and very different chemical composition than glutamate and glutamic acid. Glutamate and glutamic acid, for instance, is in the hydroxyl group (-OH). While glutamine is in the ammonia group (-NH3).
Aside from its importance to the nervous system, it also helps in maintaining a healthy digestive system, strengthens the immune system, supports in synthesizing proteins, and cell energy production. Glutamate can also be found in the muscle tissues.
With this being said, glutamate is essential for our body to function properly—especially to the nervous system. However, in the past few decades, this neurotransmitter has gained a negative reputation. This is when monosodium glutamate started to become a well-known food additive used in restaurants and at home. Some of us may not be aware, but almost anything we eat has certain amounts of glutamate in it. It can be found in meat-based and protein-rich products like red meat, poultry meat, legumes, eggs, and dairy products. While glutamate is vital, its overconsumption can cause health problems such as neurological in nature and mental disorders.
Health risk of excess glutamate
Glutamate is like your brain’s life coach. What a life coach usually does is to motivate or inspire you to do things. Glutamate sort of does the same thing to the brain, wherein it stimulates the brain so it can form new memories and absorb and learn new information. However, it may get annoying if the life coach is at your nose anywhere you go. An excess amount of stimulants isn’t healthy because it can disrupt the brain’s regular function. When glutamate exceeds the normal level, it overstimulates nerve cells then causing them to weaken and eventually die. This condition is what medical experts called an excitotoxin.
Because it can kill nerve cells, some have speculated that glutamate may be a contributor to the development of degenerative diseases. This includes amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Alzheimer’s disease. One study observed that the condition of patients with Huntington’s disease worsens even if the amount of glutamate intake isn’t high.
How To Reduce Glutamate Levels In Your Body
You can prevent any cognitive problems if you regulate your glutamate consumption. But how to reduce glutamate in your body? One way to do this is to look out for foods that contain high amounts of glutamate, this includes:
- Fish sauce
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG) products
- Red meat
- Dairy products
Limiting or eliminating foods that have high amounts of gluten in your diet may help on how to reduce glutamate in your system. Common foods that are rich in gluten include pizza, burger buns, cereal, pasta, and certain types of bread.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is known to counteract the effects of excess levels of glutamate. While glutamate is known to stimulate the brain, on the other hand, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that induces relaxation. When the glutamate level is high, it means GABA is low and vice versa. GABA is the result when glutamate is processed. So to regulate the glutamate levels, you also have to focus on decreasing glutamate and increasing the GABA levels. In other words, the glutamate and GABA levels must be balanced.
Glutamate decarboxylase or glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) is an enzyme that aids the conversion of glutamate to GABA. However, certain factors may disrupt the conversion process and eventually hinder it. Several experts thought that the GAD enzyme may be ineffective when there’s too much glutamate in the body.
One example is the vaccination used in children for mumps, measles, and rubella may reduce GAD’s efficacy by fifty percent. This is one of the reasons why many health experts believed that these vaccinations are one of the causes of the development of autism in children. GABA is crucial in our ability to speak and the proper function of the brain.
Methylation also plays a vital role in maintaining a balance between glutamate and GABA. It’s a biochemical process that involves transferring atoms from one compound to another. If the methylation process is impaired, it may leave the folate acid unutilized then causing it to convert into glutamate instead.
Studies have shown that taurine helps to reduce glutamate levels. Taurine is an amino acid that can improve the production of the GAD enzyme then eventually raise GABA levels. Also, taurine may act as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and work directly with GABA. Like glutamate, taurine also is found in abundance in the nervous system and heart tissues. Examples of foods rich in taurine include seafood, chicken meat, turkey meat, and seaweeds. However, taurine intake should also be regulated as well. This is because it’s sulfur-based and excess consumption can cause health problems.
Serotonin is another inhibitory neurotransmitter that can help balance GABA and glutamate. If the body contains enough GABA but low on serotonin it may not effectively induce relaxation. To get enough nutrients with inhibitory neurotransmitters, it’s important to maintain a balanced diet. It’s also essential to refrain from eating foods that may interfere in the production of GABA. Examples of foods that may affect GABA production include:
- Foods high in artificial sweeteners and flavorings
- Whole grains
One study also suggests that a Ketogenic diet may help increase the production of GABA. They state that ketones produced from ketosis increase the GAD enzymes. Thus, induces the production of GABA and reducing glutamate levels.