Saturday, November 11, 2006

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium Glutamate or MSG is a man-made flavor enhancer. It is now recognized by many in the medical profession as an excitotoxin – a type of drug which damages brain cells. It was first created in 1908 by Dr Kikunae Ikeda in Japan . The Japanese had been adding Kombu, a type of seaweed, to their foods as a flavor enhancer for over a thousand years. Dr Ikeda isolated the compound from Kombu which made the food taste better – it was glutamate. He founded the Ajinomoto Company to make and sell this new flavor enhancer – monosodium glutamate.

The Americans discovered MSG during the Second World War and soon began to mass produce it and add it to food. No significant studies were performed at the time to test the safety of this new additive.

Scientists calculate that MSG usage in foods has doubled every decade and that hundreds of thousands of tons of MSG are added to our food each year.

MSG Facts
Glutamate is found naturally in many vegetables, but in very small amounts. This glutamate is a vital neurotransmitter - a chemical which allows communication between neurons – cells in the brain. There are in fact glutamate receptors in every major human organ.

Natural glutamate consists of two amino acids – glutamic acid and glutamine, which are bound up in the protein molecules of a food. In the body, these proteins are slowly broken down which means the glutamate is produced gradually and can be absorbed naturally.

Man-made MSG contains much higher levels of glutamate than occurs naturally in foods. MSG is not bound in a protein molecule – it is free and is therefore absorbed by the body at a faster level than natural glutamate.

If too much glutamate is consumed, the body normally pumps the excess glutamate out of the neurons and into the surrounding helper cells – astrocytes. However, if the levels of glutamate are too high, as occurs when the body ingests MSG, the body cannot pump out the excess and the neurons become over-stimulated and die.

This effect is particularly noted in the hypothalamus and temporal lobes of the brain. These are the parts of the brain which control such body functions as: behavior, emotions, immunity, the sleep cycle, hormones, puberty and short-term memory to name a few.

MSG Research

All independent research has proven that MSG kills neurons and thus has an adverse effect on health in a variety of animals and in humans. This research has also shown that humans absorb MSG more rapidly and completely than other species and that a child's brain is four times more sensitive to MSG damage than an adult.

MSG research in 1969 led to MSG being banned from baby foods.

In the 1970's the manufacturers of MSG started to fund their own research through the International Glutamate Technical Committee to defend the safety of MSG. Most scientists consider this research to be flawed. They argue that this research is not peer reviewed and that the methods of testing are often dubious. For example, during research conducted in the 1970's monkeys were fed with MSG in such high amounts that they vomited most of it and so ingested less than in the independent research. The researchers also gave the monkeys an anesthetic which counter-acted the effects of MSG on the brain.

Not a single piece of non-industry funded research has found MSG to be safe.

Where can I find MSG?
MSG is found in most processed foods such as soups, junk food, fast foods. It is found in stocks, flavorings, spices, seasonings, bouillon, canned tuna fish, salad dressings, processed meats, crackers and frozen desserts. Accent is a trade name for MSG seasoning. E621 is used on labels in Europe to signify MSG.

MSG is only listed on the label if it is a separate ingredient in the food. In many cases, MSG is ‘hidden' because it is included as part of the other ingredients on the label.

The following additives always contain MSG:
Potassium Glutamate
Hydrolyzed protein
Hydrolyzed Vegetable protein (HVP)
Hydrolyzed plant protein
Hydrolyzed oat flour
Textured Protein
Yeast Extract
Autolyzed Yeast
Plant protein extract
Sodium caseinate
Calcium caseinate.
Hydrolyzed means that the vegetables have been boiled in a vat of sulphuric acid before being neutralized with caustic soda to produce a brown sludge. This sludge is then allowed to dry to a powder which is high in glutamate and other known carcinogens. Finally MSG is usually added.

When HVP is concentrated to 99% glutamic acid, it is known as MSG and must be labeled as MSG. At any concentration less than this the MSG content does not have to be revealed on labels.

Health dangers associated with MSG
Independent research has identified the following adverse reactions to MSG




Panic attacks

Mental confusion/disorientation




Stomach cramps

Irritable bowel syndrome


Asthma attacks

Shortness of breath

Chest pain or tightness

Runny nose/sneezing

Extreme dryness of the mouth

Hives or rash



Mouth lesions

MSG has been shown to cause lesions on the brain, especially in children. These lesions cause cognitive, endocrinological and emotional abnormalities. In children excess glutamate affects the growth cones on neurons. Growth cones are vital in laying down chemical pathways in the brain to enable the brain to operate effectively. Studies show that rats who had been fed MSG from birth could not escape mazes or discriminate between stimuli as well as non MSG fed rats. The implications for human children are that MSG could seriously affect their cognitive skills and cause learning difficulties.
Many Medical Practitioners recommend the following people avoid MSG;


pregnant women

women of childbearing age

obese people (animals given MSG became overweight)

people with hypoglycemia (removing excess glutamate uses up more glucose)

people with low brain energy (excess glutamate prevents glucose getting to the brain)

people with learning difficulties (glutamate affects the growth cones in neurons)

migraine or headache sufferers

asthma or allergy sufferers

sufferers of a brain disease such as Alzheimer's

sufferers of tinnitus or Meniere's disease

sufferers of most chronic illnesses

people who are health conscious.
What is MSG Sensitivity?

MSG sensitivity has been described as a powerful drug reaction. Highly sensitive people cannot tolerate even the naturally occurring amounts of glutamate such as can be found in tomatoes and mushrooms without having an immediate reaction. These people should obviously take all steps to avoid ingesting MSG. The MSG industry believes that the only people who suffer adverse reactions to MSG are people with MSG Sensitivity.
Diagnosis of MSG Sensitivity can be difficult because:
None of the symptoms of MSG toxicity, as listed above, are caused exclusively by MSG. They can be caused by other physical conditions or food additives and be exacerbated by the MSG.

Reactions to MSG can take place up to 72 hours after ingestion.

Reactions are related to the amount of MSG ingested; some people can eat MSG safely in one meal a week, or a day, but if they eat two meals a day they will react

It can be hard to pinpoint MSG reactions due to MSG often being hidden in foods.

Scientists have proven that everyone does react to MSG – it all depends on the dose of MSG given. People who do not suffer an immediate or acute reaction to the substance will, scientists believe, suffer brain cell damage which can lead to long-term health problems as detailed above.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) Resources
Information and resources for further MSG research:

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