Cooking to Control Pain: Flavor Enhancers

  • Nutrition-related pain exists. Having talked extensively about how the right and breakfast and dinner foods can help reduce pain and inflammation, it is time to talk about how certain foods can potentially trigger pain. On the list of foods that can trigger pain are those foods that contain flavor enhancers. These chemicals are used to excite and sensitize the taste buds in an attempt to make foods taste better. Two main types of flavor enhancers are used: monosodium glutamate and aspartame. Many types of foods are chemically enhanced including: sodas, meats, dips, and frozen foods. That is cause for many excited taste buds, but what is it doing to the rest of the nervous system?

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    In a word, the flavor enhancers have to potential to act as "excitotoxins" on the entire nervous system, not just the taste buds. An excited nervous system is a sensitized nervous system and that nervous system sensitization can lead to many painful problems.  Not everyone will experience problems, only certain individuals are extraordinarily sensitive to the effects of these chemicals. Unfortunately, an individual may be experiencing the harmful effects from hidden flavor enhancers but not even know what is happening.


    Nearly everyone has heard about Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Dating back to the 1970's, MSG was linked to a mysterious condition called "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". However, MSG is prevalent in many other food sources besides just Chinese food. Because the "Chinese Restaurant" name is misleading, now scientists are encouraging people to call this constellation of symptoms the "MSG Symptom Complex". Burning pain, asthma, pericranial muscle pain and headaches are just a few issues seen in those who experience the harmful effects of this flavor enhancer.


    MSG is not the only "excitotoxin" in the food chain. Another very prevalent chemical is called aspartame. Every since the mid-80's, aspartame has been linked to headaches. And recently a clinician has reported that some individuals with fibromyalgia improved when aspartame was eliminated from the diet. Reportedly, one person with fibromyalgia traveled to a foreign land without flavor enhancing agents and behold the pain disappeared. Coincidence? Maybe not. If these chemicals are powerful enough to make bad food taste good, then they may be powerful enough to sensitize the entire nervous system to the point that the pain alarm will not shut off.


    Some foods can trigger painful alarm. Flavor enhancers are at the top of the list of potential pain triggers that exist in the food chain. Those with chronic pain should take note and consider eliminating flavor enhancers all together from the nutrition plan. This task might be difficult because these chemical "excitotoxins" are everywhere. Read the labels and challenge yourself to eliminate the flavor enhancers from your life for at least three months. Maybe you are an individual who is better off without these chemicals altogether and are unaware that your entire nervous system is sensitive to them. Most importantly, never underestimate the power of food, especially chemically enhanced food.


Published On: March 21, 2011