Was It Something You Ate? by John Emsley and Peter Fell is a compendium of many toxins that human ingest daily, whether consciously or unconsciously. Some, like MSG and alcohol, are produced in our bodies. Others, like caffeine and salicylate, are beneficial in small doses but can have devastating effects on our bodies and minds when absorbed in excess. I found this book very informative because my family has a history of alcoholism and many of my friends drink coffee on a daily basis. It also provided insight into what I could do change my diet in order to lead a healthier lifestyle.
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, was introduced in the United States during the 1950s. Its appeal lies in its ability to increase the flavor of umami foods, or foods that are ‘meaty’ or ‘savory’ in taste. Many of the foods we eat daily, such as tomatoes and potato chips, contain high amounts of MSG. It’s impossible to be allergic to MSG simply because glutamate is produced in our bodies. Glutamate makes several essential amino acids and is a neurotransmitter in the brain. In the past twenty years, MSG has received a lot of attention due to its association with Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, which is exhibited by “dry mouth, hot cheeks, itchy neck, and a headache” (Emsley and Fell 5). Chinese takeout is packed full of MSG, which is why many people experience side effects after eating it. How could something that is required for bodily function also be bad for us? What I learned is that, just like alcohol, moderation is key.
I found the MSG section of the book interesting because my mom is very conscious of the MSG content in food, so now I’ll be able to tell her which foods to avoid. Knowing which foods to avoid will also help me make better eating choices in college, especially when I’m deciding whether or not to buy that cheap pack of twenty Cup-O-Noodles.
Alcohol, probably the most obvious toxin we consume, has been around for thousands of years. Although small amounts are produced in our bodies, they have nowhere near the effect that substances like wine or beer have. Although the general stigma around alcohol consumption is bad, it can be good for you if done in moderation. Red wine can “prevent heart disease” (Emsley and Fell 20) as well as “slow down plaque formation from low-density lipoproteins” (Emsley and Fell 21). That being said, you still have to be careful, as alcohol can cause liver damage, heart disease, and stomach inflammation.
Alcohol is a depressant meaning that it slows down our brain and impairs our reflexes, which is why drinking and driving is never a good idea. It is removed from our systems in a three step process. First, it is oxidized by the enzyme dehydrogenase (ADH) to acetaldehyde, which is then oxidized to acetic acid and subsequently converted to carbon dioxide and exhaled. This detoxification process can handle a large amount of alcohol, but requires more and more time as you consume more and more alcohol. ADH fortunately works...