Monosodium glutamateMonosodium glutamate doesn’t have a flavor of its own, but it enhances other flavors and gives off a savory taste.  It is a sodium salt of the naturally-occurring non-essential glutamic acid.

Part of the flavor-enhancing effect of canned tomatoes, spice mixes, fermented soy products, yeast extracts, certain sharp cheeses, and fermented or hydrolyzed protein products is due to the presence of MSG. 

Since its introduction into the American food supply 50 years ago, MSG has been present in many types of processed foods, from canned soups to chips, to noodles, frozen prepared meals, and salad dressings, especially low-fat ones.  It is present in the list of ingredients in all common food items in all common chain fast food restaurants. Burger King, McDonalds, Wendy`s, Taco Bell, TGIF, Chili`s, Applebee`s, Denny`s and Kentucky Fried Chicken use MSG as their “secret spice.” MSG is being added to canned soups, sauces, luncheon meats, salad dressings, dips, canned and frozen meats, fish, hot dogs, boullion cubes, all packaged snack foods, even beer. The FDA has set no limits on how much of MSG can be added to food.   A report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) compiled in 1995 on behalf of the FDA concluded that MSG was safe for most people when “eaten at customary levels.” However, it also said that some people may have an MSG intolerance that causes “MSG symptom complex” and worsening of asthmatic symptoms.

MSG hides behind 25 or more names, such as:

hydrolyzed vegetable protein
modified enzymes
barley malt
calcium caseinate
carrageen
maltodextrin
malt extract
pectin
plant protein extract
sodium caseinate
textured protein
whey protein
yeast extract
potassium glutamate
anything ultra pasteurized
anything fermented ie soy sauce
broth
boullion
flavoring or natural flavoring
hydrolyzed oat flour
anything protein fortified
free glutamate

There is such a thing as a sensitivity or allergy to MSG. Studies haven’t found, however, any regular pattern of symptoms that could be typical of a reaction to MSG, even in studies with people who were convinced that they were sensitive to MSG.

Other studies have found MSG to triple the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing rats (and perhaps humans) to become obese. MSG has been shown to indirectly cause obesity in lab rats by down-regulating  hypothalamic  appetite suppression and, thus, increasing the amount of food the lab rats consumed. Maybe this is why the more processed foods we eat, the hungrier we become!  At least one study found that this obesity effect was also observed in Chinese hamsters and was not dependent on additional food intake.

Many other studies link MSG to diabetes, migraines and headaches, autism, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s.  In 2008, a collaboration study of 752 healthy rural Chinese villagers between the ages of 40 and 59, of whom 48.7% were women, done by the American and the Chinese researchers, found a positive statistical association between MSG intake and obesity in humans: Prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than in non-users.

Animal research, demonstrating an inverse relationship between increased glutamate intake via maternal feeding and serum levels of growth hormone and an epidemiological survey of 2,239,960 German adults demonstrating an inverse relationship between height and morbid obesity, compels some researchers to think that MSG has a role in the occurrence of obesity in humans.

One characteristic of the obesity induced by excitotoxins (MSG is one) is that it doesn’t appear to depend on food intake.  Humans lack a blood-brain barrier in the hypothalamus, which allows excitotoxins to enter the brain and cause damage, according to Dr. Blaylock Animal studies have shown, that MSG creates a lesion in the hypothalamus that correlates with abnormal development, including obesity, short stature and sexual reproduction problems.

Because glutamate is absorbed very quickly in the gastrointestinal tract, MSG could spike blood plasma levels of glutamate. There has been a split of opinions between scientists since the early 1970s, when John Olney (1973) found that high levels of glutamic acid caused damage to the brains of infant mice.  Whereas some scientists believe that humans and other primates are not as susceptible to excitotoxins as rodents, others believe that humans concentrate excitotoxins in the blood more than other animals and are therefore 5-6 times more susceptible to the effects of excitotoxins than the rodents. They all agree, however, that typical use of MSG creates particular concerns with potential effects in infants and young children.

According to Dr. Blaylock, MSG was consumed in large amounts by mothers of diabetic children during pregnancy. Large numbers of babies are fed formula, and many formulas are known to be high in excitotoxins, such as caseinate. Furthermore, many parents feed their babies table food, which is laced with large amounts of MSG, from an early age, and it could be a cause for concern.

According to Dr. Blaylock, there is also a connection between MSG and cancer.  When the glutamate level is increased, cancer spreads more actively, and then when MSG is blocked, the growth of the cancer slows dramatically.  Researchers have done some experiments in which they looked at using glutamate blockers in combination with conventional drugs, like chemotherapy, and it worked well by significantly enhancing the effectiveness of these cancer drugs.

Since MSG is routinely added to multiple processed food items, one can easily see the connection between processed food and obesity, and since The Standard American Diet is so high in commercially processed foods, there is a direct link between what we eat and how overweight we are rapidly becoming as a nation. The connection between MSG and disease needs to be researched further.

In the meantime, commercially processed food is poison and this is why my family eats the way we do.

About Dr. Anastasia

Dr. Anastasia Halldin holds a Ph.D in holistic nutrition, speaks four languages, starred on a yoga TV show, produced and appeared in thirteen yoga DVDs, and is a mother of a kindergartner, twin toddlers, and a newborn. Dr. Anastasia loves doing crafts with her children and sharing her easy healthy recipes and knowledge of health and food with mothers to help them raise healthier families.
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