Toxins in Your Diet

By Elizabeth Lee Vliet, MD
Excerpted and condensed from It’s My Ovaries, Stupid, pgs. 65 – 79
Scribner, 2003 

Ovaries at Risk: Hormone Disruptors in Common Foods

Why is it we see so many more women today suffering from serious health problems, including infertility, arising from premature ovarian decline? Are we overlooking a crucial connection that lurks “innocently” in the foods we are eating and the soft drinks we are consuming by the gallon?

I think the answer is yes. As you read the stories of the women I have seen for consultations, you will recognize that many of them have one thing in common: Their ovaries have been damaged by subtle, insidious dietary and environmental “hormone disruptors” that have impaired their ability to make the ovarian hormones they need to “run” the cellular engines that make up every organ in their bodies. Some of these hormone disruptors—such as soft drinks and MSG—are commonplace. We would never dream that they could wreak such havoc on our ovaries and hormones.

Soft drinks? “Impossible,” you might say. MSG in all those foods? “Not in a million years!”

The following information may shock you. You may not think it is real. But worldwide research has established that endocrine disruptors have adverse effects on animal life all over the planet, from insects to humans. Dietary toxins are a very serious problem. They can affect many aspects of your health, from present fertility to future cancer risk.

Let’s explore some surprising “ovary damagers” that lie in some ostensibly innocent foods and beverages you probably eat or drink every day.

The Soft-Drink/Fast-Food Menace: Excitotoxins and Hormone Health

How can soft drinks and foods affect our ovaries? Let’s look at what we know about certain types of food additives and sweeteners that fall into a group of chemicals called excitotoxins.

Excitotoxins, or neurotoxicants, are chemicals that cause damage or death to nerve cells. Basically, these chemicals stimulate such an intense and rapid firing of nerve endings that cells run out of chemical messengers, then die a few hours later. The nerve cells in the hypothalamus, our master hormone regulator, are some of the most sensitive to this excitatory damage and death. These excitotoxins can damage brain cells in the hypothalamus while we are still quietly developing in our mother’s womb, but the impact doesn’t show up until many years later when our menstrual cycles begin.

In childhood, we typically consume large amounts of these excitotoxins in soft drinks and other processed foods. The damage to the hypothalamus accumulates with each passing day, and yet we don’t recognize what is happening. Again, the most marked consequences of this damage show up later in our reproductive years, when “hormone problems” can begin in earnest.

Excitotoxins: Where They Are Found

Man-made: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein powder
Found in nature as amino acids: glutamate, aspirate, cysteine

Name Where Found
Monosodium Glumate (MSG) Many types of prepared foods
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein: (contains 3 excitotoxins: glumate, aspartate, and cystoic acid) Many prepared foods, diet products, frozen dinners
Aspartate (Nutrasweet) Everything from foods to soft drinks
Glumatate See above
Cystiene (cystoic acid) See above

Major Brain Areas and What They Do

The cerebral cortex is our master “thinker,” integrating information between the body and the outside world. It is made up of the brain’s frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes.

The limbic system lies deep in the brain’s subcortical area. It is made up of several structures that regulate many human “drives,” such as appetite, thirst, sex, aggression, and sleep-wake cycles. The limbic system is crucial to our discussion here because it encompasses our body’s master hormone regulators, the hypothalamus and pituitary, that oversee endocrine regulation, memory processing, mood and emotion, alertness, focus, and movement coordination. The limbic system also helps integrate sensory information, including pain.

Chronic pain-carrying signals from the pass through the limbic center, while acute pain pathways bypass the limbic system and go directly to the higher brain centers. This is one reason that chronic pain shatters the stability of our mood and sleep-governing centers, and causes insomnia and depression along with the pain. People suffering acute pain usually do not experience depression or severe sleep disturbances.

The cerebellum lies below the cortex and towards the back of the head. Its major role is to coordinate movement (with the cortex), balance, and fine-motor control. For example, imbalance from alcohol intoxication and the abnormal movements seen in Parkinson’s disease result from damage to these movement-control pathways.

The brainstem (midbrain, pons, medulla) are structures that regulate our “survival functions,” such as respiration, heart rate, and blood pressure in response to all the information they receive from multiple connections to the brain and spinal cord.

The spinal cord is a thick band of nerve fibers that connects to the brain at the base of the skull and travels the length of our spine to the low back. It carries all the nerve tracts and the constant flow of chemical messengers from the body to the brain and from the brain back to the body so that our brain and body functions can be properly coordinated.

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