Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that is widely known to be an additive in Asian cuisine. However, it is found in more food than most people realize. From cheese flavored snacks to infant formula, approximately 80% of all processed foods contain monosodium glutamate. On its own, MSG has relatively little taste, but when added to frozen meals, salad dressings, or canned foods, it enhances the flavors of the ingredients, lending them a pleasant savory taste.
While the FDA dubs Monosodium Glutamate as an ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe,” many experts disagree and believe MSG is dangerous for the following reasons:
1. MSG is an excitotoxin
As the name suggests, excitotoxins excite brain cells, causing them to fire repeatedly and ultimately die. Excitotoxins can even work with aspartame (a common artificial sweetener) to overstimulate the brain, resulting in irreparable brain damage and possibly triggering diseases, like Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s.
2. MSG is linked to weight gain
MSG is also responsible for exciting the hypothalamus gland, the part of the brain that regulates fat metabolism and storage, and has been known to trigger hypothalamic obesity. A nutrition expert at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill recently led a study to investigate this phenomenon in over 10,000 Chinese adults. The study revealed that those who ate about 5g of MSG a day were approximately 30% more likely to become overweight than individuals who ate less than half a gram a day.
Researchers suspect that the monosodium glutamate may lead to leptin resistance; the hormone leptin plays a key role in notifying the hypothalamus of the level of stored fat. When leptin resistance occurs, the signals that leptin sends to the brain to “stop eating” are not heard. Consequently, the body continues to eat and store more fat, contributing to weight gain
3. MSG is approximately 78% free glutamic acid
Glutamate receptors are found within the heart (among other organs). A neurotransmitter called glutamic acid overwhelms these receptors, producing irregular heartbeats. Dr. Blaylock, a retired board-certified neurosurgeon and leading expert in MSG toxicity, states that even low levels of glutamic acid can trigger cardiac arrhythmias and death in athletes when magnesium stores are low and receptors are very sensitive.
4. MSG triggers short-term reactions
While the FDA generally recognizes MSG as safe, it acknowledges that MSG causes various symptoms in individuals who have consumed large amounts or suffer from asthma. Known as the MSG Symptom Complex, these reactions include numbness, burning sensations, tingling, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, and weakness.
5. Monosodium Glutamate contributed to vision loss in rats
At Hirosaki University in Japan, researchers discovered that rats that were fed diets containing large amounts of MSG suffered from blindness and had retinas as much as 75% thinner than those that were not fed MSG. In the rats fed with MSG, the vitreous fluid (which surrounds the retina) contained high concentrations of MSG. Receptors on retinal cells bind to MSG and are destroyed, reducing the ability to remain cells to transmit electrical signals. Granted, the rats were fed extremely high levels of MSG, but even low levels of MSG consumption over several decades could potentially produce similar effects.
A safe additive?
Given these adverse effects, it seems logical to ban Monosodium Glutamate, yet the FDA continues to recognize it as a safe additive. The skepticism and controversy surrounding MSG research lie mainly in the excessively large doses of MSG in animals and several human tests as well as in varied results of human experiments.
When animals and humans are given extreme amounts of MSG, the negative effects of MSG are evident, but critics point out that no individual would be able to consume such large quantities simply through additives in food. Nevertheless, MSG is prevalent in the majority of processed foods, including soy sauce, bouillon stock, cold cuts, soy protein, soups, and potato chips (to name but a few). The quantity of MSG consumed by the average individual quickly adds up, possibly contributing to side effects in the future.
Moreover, while the stigma of Monosodium Glutamate may have influenced placebo tests in human experiments involving low levels of MSG, this flavor enhancer is still an additive. Natural, whole foods can be enhanced with spices and herbs and do not merit contamination by a controversial substance. Processed foods are generally detrimental to overall health, and whether they’re laden with MSG or not, it’s beneficial to avoid them as a whole.