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What Is Excitotoxicity?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 July 2014
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Excitotoxicity is a process through which nerve cells become damaged because they are overstimulated. A number of conditions are linked with excitotoxicity including strokes, traumatic brain injuries, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer's disease, and spinal injuries. Damage to the nerve cells results in corresponding neurological symptoms which can vary depending on which cells are damaged and how extensive the damage is. Once damaged, nerve cells cannot be repaired and the patient can experience permanent impairments.

The process through which excitotoxicity occurs starts with an elevation of glutamate. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter which acts to facilitate electrical signaling between nerve cells. When glutamate levels rise too much, however, they essentially jam a nerve cell in the open position, allowing calcium to flow freely into the cell. The calcium damages the structure and DNA of the cell, and creates a cascading reaction as cells die and release glutamate which floods neighboring cells, causing the damage to spread.

Several receptors on nerve cells are sensitized to glutamate, including the AMPA and NDMA receptors. Glutamate's ability to lock on to several receptors on nerve cells can work against it in cases of excitotoxicity because the compound can act quickly when it is present in the nervous system in high concentrations. The cascade of reactions linked with excitotoxicity can occur in both the brain and spinal cord and may lead to lasting damage if it cannot be identified and arrested. Treatment usually requires the attention of a neurologist.

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Glutamate production in the body is normal and in fact desirable, because the body needs to be able to excite nerve cells to send signals. When the glutamate levels get too high, however, a patient is at risk of excitotoxicity. One way to address the problem is to introduce medications which will block the action of the glutamate and protect nerve cells. People who may be at risk for nerve damage as a result of excitotoxicity may be given medications which will help to block it.

Several claims have been made about foods which can supposedly be neurotoxic, causing damage to the nervous system through processes such as excitotoxicity. The veracity of these claims varies. The body of a healthy individual is equipped to process a very diverse diet, including one which includes foods with components which can potentially be dangerous in high levels. As long as people eat a balanced diet, they should be able to avoid dangerous buildups of neurotoxic compounds.

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Discuss this Article

anon254685
Post 3

Wha is the cause of excitotoxins

anon66521
Post 1

Chemical(s) causing harm to the system should, as a matter of relevancy of harm, be listed right up there in the opening paragraphs, as a leading cause of Excitotoxicity.

The possibility of this is alluded to in the rest of the article, such as the glutamate flooding where the article suggests that the appropriate answer is to then find "medications" to prevent or minimize the damage. This begs the question and significantly downplays the damage potential of overexcitement of the pathways, etc.

Also the article states that foods "can supposedly be neurotoxic" without mention of the fact that the reason is that the modern food processing floods the then so-called "food" with chemicals purposely added for all sorts of nefarious reasons generally having to do with "the bottom line", (follow the money), e.g., getting consumers to crave and become addicted to the perverted "food" which is not what is naturally presented in a now almost laughably unobtainable "balanced diet".

These chemical "excitotoxins" cannot responsibly be ignored nor minimized. Their neural system and obesity damage ranks right up in total relevance to "traumatic brain damage," although somewhat slower-acting.

Because blood is not spilling out does not mean slower death is not happening. Unfortunately it then can, for awhile yet perhaps, be blamed on the "victim" rather than the instigators.

I do believe that if enough genuine information is disseminated that people will see the slower deaths happening and corporate accountability may yet be had for these deaths due to excitotoxins.

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