The problems associated with processed foods continue to grow. Our overabundance of these items has left a society struggling with poor nutrition and overall health. Information on the food additive monosodium glutamate, or MSG, needs to be shared to protect the American family.
MSG is a flavor enhancer traditionally used in Chinese food, but found today in many foods like breakfast sausages and potato chips. Understanding the pitfalls of MSG can be very confusing. Glutamate is a naturally occurring amino acid that the body uses and needs. The synthetic manipulation and processing of glutamate produces a form that is not found in nature. Proven by studying many other areas, particularly hormone medications, attempting to recreate a product of nature often produces less than desirable results. MSG has been labeled an excitotoxin because it is thought to have the ability to overstimulate cells to death. Many people link headaches, flushing, poor attention and other symptoms, as well as diseases like fibromyalgia, to MSG intake.
Research on MSG has varied, and conventional medicine lacks in understanding what many patients have already found. Research has documented several effects related to MSG, including burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck, weakness of the arms or legs, headaches and upset stomach approximately 15 minutes after the MSG is consumed [Source: Metcalfe]. Further research again points to problems such as flushing, headaches and hives or allergic-type reactions with the skin [Source: Izikson, Gladstein, Simon]. Other reports suggest that there is really no link between MSG and these symptoms, though this data seems to be wavering [Source: Fernstrom, Lawrence]. In fact, a double blind study (where both researchers and test subjects were not aware who was getting a real test or a fake test) found that MSG exposure caused muscle tightness, fatigue, numbness or tingling, and flushing [Source: Yang]. One study in mice concluded that injections of MSG produced obesity, inactivity and many other hormone fluctuations [Source: Lorden]. Respected neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock, M.D., even wrote a book on the subject, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills.
One of the most important factors in MSG research is that some of the effects can occur very quickly while others, that are perhaps much more detrimental, might be more cumulative over time with subsequent exposure. For example, a study done with animals found that MSG exposure over a period of 3-6 months led to significant risk for damage to the retinas of the eyes [Source: Ohguro]. These changes were not seen right away in the study, demonstrating that studies on MSG using 1-2 doses might miss many of the potential long-term effects associated with MSG intake.
MSG comes in many processed foods and snacks. Similar to high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils, consumers need to get in the habit of looking for monosodium glutamate. MSG does not occur naturally in whole foods, so you do not have to worry about it in apples or bananas. Manufacturers are required to state if MSG is included in products on their food content label. Unfortunately, it might fall under different titles, making it very difficult to keep up with what foods contain the additive. MSGmyth.com lists other names for MSG, including monopotassium glutamate and vegetable protein extract, and several additives that contain various amounts of MSG.
Everyone will not be affected the same by MSG, and perhaps some will experience no problems at all. The uncertain and somewhat frightening aspect of this compound is that it can cause a variety of symptoms over time that can lead to much greater, more permanent problems. It could also be argued that small amounts in any one food will not be a problem, but if small amounts are in several common foods that are consumed every day, the problem moves to a much graver scale.
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- Gladstein, J. (2006). Headache. Med Clin North Am, 90(2): 275-90.
- Simon, RA. (2000). Additive-induced urticaria: experience with monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Nutr, 130(4S Suppl): 1063S-6S
- Fernstrom, JD. (1996). Short-term neuroendocrine effects of a large oral dose of monosodium glutamate in fasting male subjects. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 81(1): 184-91.
- Lawrence, DT. (2007). Food poisoning. Emerg Med Clin North Am, 25(2): 357-73; abstract ix
- Yang, WH. (1997,1999). The monosodium glutamate symptom complex: assessment in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. J Allergy Clin Immunol, (6 Pt 1): 757-62.
- Ohguro, H., Katsushima, H., Maruyama, I., Maeda, T., Yanagihashi, S., Metoki, T., Nakazawa, M. (2002). A high dietary intake of sodium glutamate as flavoring (ajinomoto) causes gross changes in retinal morphology and function. Exp Eye Res., 75(3):307-15.
- Lorden, JF. (1986). Behavioral and endocrinological effects of single injections of monosodium glutamate in the mouse. Neurobehav Toxicol Teratol, 8(5): 509-19.