by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
May 18, 2016
There are many causes of tinnitus. Some are well-known and obvious such as exposing your ears to excessive noise. Others are not so well-known and insidiously work behind the scenes to cause or exacerbate tinnitus. Two of these culprits are the artificial sweetener Aspartame and the flavor-enhancer monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Both of these chemicals are neurotoxins. Let’s look at how they cause tinnitus (and other damage to our bodies). But before we do this, here’s some background to help you understand their actions.
Our brains and nervous systems are comprised of neurons (nerve cells). In order for electrical signals to flow up and down our nerves, or around to various parts of our brains, something has to allow one neuron to pass a message (electrical signal) on to a neighboring neuron. That “something” is called a neurotransmitter.
There are two kinds of neurotransmitters—excitatory neurotransmitters and inhibitory neurotransmitters. If the first neuron releases an excitatory neurotransmitter (resulting in increased electrical activity), the receiving neuron will transmit this information to the next neuron. However, if the first neuron releases an inhibitory neurotransmitter, (resulting in reduced electrical activity) the signal is suppressed and not passed on.
When a neuron receives a signal and wants to pass it on to other neurons it releases an excitatory neurotransmitter into the microscopic space between neurons, called a synapse. The neurotransmitter chemical released from the first neuron then binds with a receptor on the next neuron and thus the signal is passed on.
As Barry Keate, the head honcho at Arches Natural Products, Inc. wrote in his excellent article, 2 Hidden Toxins to Avoid if You Have Tinnitus,
There are many neurotransmitters in the brain, but the workhorses are GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) and glutamate. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter. Both types are necessary for proper nervous system operation, and they must be balanced.
Too much GABA, and electrical activity decreases. Benzodiazepine medications such as Valium and Klonopin activate GABA in the brain, causing sluggishness, incoherent thinking, and drowsiness.
Too much glutamate, and electrical activity increases. The brain becomes very excitable. This can lead to anxiety, stress and many neurodegenerative conditions, one of which is tinnitus. (1)
Therefore, if you have too much glutamate (that gets the neurons all revved up and “talking out of turn”) and not enough GABA (essentially telling all of them to “shut up”) things get out of hand. This excess neuronal activity can result in tinnitus. This is because people with tinnitus have elevated levels of glutamate and the hyper-excitability that goes along with it in their auditory cortex.
How does this relate to Aspartame and monosodium glutamate? Barry continues,
Aspartame is itself an excitatory neurotransmitter, and it is a precursor to another, glutamate. Excesses of these in the nervous system cause neurons to become overly excited and fire too frequently, which raises calcium levels. High calcium levels trigger excessive amounts of free radicals. (1)
These unwanted free radicals then “zap” nearby neurons, typically killing them. Thus, you could say that the excitatory neurotransmitters excite the neurons to death. The result? Hearing loss and the tinnitus that so often accompanies hearing loss.
Therefore, you want to watch for and eliminate as many excitatory neurotransmitter chemicals that are added to processed foods as you can. Specifically, watch out for any foods that contain artificial sweeteners such as Aspartame and/or foods that contain any forms of glutamate such as MSG. Be warned, these additives are found in most processed foods. Therefore, the easy way to do this is to eat natural, unprocessed foods. Then you won’t have to worry about getting tinnitus from this cause. Furthermore, you will feel calmer in the process. Talk about a win-win solution.
(1) Keate, Barry. 2016. 2 Hidden Toxins to Avoid if You Have Tinnitus. Arches Natural Products, Inc. https://www.tinnitusformula.com/library/2-hidden-toxins-to-avoid-if-you-have-tinnitus/.