Last week, 60 Minutes reported on David and Susan Axelrod's search for a cure for epilepsy prompted by their two decade plus experience of the ailment, which their adult daughter has suffered since infancy. But while Katie Couric admiringly covered the researchers seeking to find "the Cure," ie. new anti-convulsive drugs, once again proactive, preventive health care strategies that might help to reduce incidence of epileptic attacks were overlooked.

How ironic it is that in the midst of the health care reform debate, Axelrod, a key Obama aide, is so poorly informed about integrative strategies that could help his own daughter.

For neurological illnesses, including Parkinson's Disease, epilepsy, and others, a body of scientific research demonstrates that certain food additives, singly and in combination with each other, contribute to excessive nerve cell firing; and thus, may be a possible trigger for epileptic attacks and other neurological incidents. In keeping with that, limiting or altogether avoiding these ingredients is a strategy that some integrative physicians recommend, though many who could benefit are unaware of the dangers these common food additives pose.

Because of their activity--stimulating nerve cells to rapidly fire and burn out, ultimately resulting in nerve cell death, the food additives are considered to be "excitotoxins." While some naturally occur in the body, people who consume processed foods are exposed to a much greater amount than ever before since industrial food scientists regularly add them to processed foods to enhance the food's flavor. The most widely used food ingredients that have excitotoxic activity are monosodium glutamate, aspartame, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and other additives that stimulate the taste buds and mask the flavor of many processed foods, Fresh, natural foods don't require this form of flavor enhancement. The artificial sweetener, aspartame, marketed as NutraSweet, Equal, and under several other brand names, is one of most widely consumed of the food additives with excitotoxic activity.

Nearly all food items sold in convenience stores are full of them, as are many processed, or packaged foods. If you read labels, you will discover that they are listed under many different names; and flavorings such as those in soups, soup mixes, and even many spices will often contain them as well.

With the increase in incidence of neurological illness, including Alzheimer's Disease, a basic proactive health strategy that many integrative practitioners recommend is to limit intake of these food ingredients. More information on excitotoxins can be found in Russell Blaylockm MD's book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Food Additives: A Shopper's Guide To What's Safe & What's Not by Christine Farlow is a shopper's guide to ingredient names.

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