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MSG - What's wrong with MSG?

What's wrong with MSG?

Lynne Brown
BSc Hons, HDE, Dip Clin Nutr

If it tastes too good to be true then ten-to-one it is laced with monosodium glutamate (MSG), the flavour enhancer that’s toxic to the human body and brain.

And if you only think of Chinese Restaurants or Chinese Take-Aways when MSG is mentioned, then think again! Its presence has spread like a virus, in epidemic proportions and is currently used in some form in almost every single processed, pre-cooked and pre-packaged food manufactured today. You will find it in savoury foods such as potato crisps, sauces, burgers, salad dressings, condiments, stock cubes, soy sauce, soups and gravies but also in processed lunch meats, sausages, crab sticks and most diet foods. What wheat is to bread, MSG is to almost all flavoured foods.

MSG by another name

Added MSG should be identified on a food label as either monosodium glutamate (MSG) or E621. It is compulsory to use these terms for ingredients that are a 99% pure combination of glutamic acid and sodium. However most of the MSG-containing foods are not 99% pure and are allowed to be labeled obscurely: “Monopotassium glutamate”, “autolysed yeast”, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins/HVP (watch out for this in processed baby foods), “hydrolysed soy protein” and “sodium caseinate” are just some examples of ingredients that contain MSG. Read the labels on the items in your pantry today and then resolve to use your buying power to show that you don't accept the use of MSG or any of its hidden forms.

Symptoms of toxicity

It is believed that as much as 25% of the population may be sensitive to MSG. Reported MSG reactions which can occur as a result of consuming even small amounts (much less than ½ g) include: migraines, hives, mouth eruptions, numbness, tingling, swelling of mucous membranes or throat, asthma, runny nose, insomnia, seizures, mood swings, panic attacks, diarrhea, muscle aches, rapid heartbeat, chest pains and drop in blood pressure. People may think they are having a heart attack when they are merely sensitive to MSG.

Reaction time varies, from shortly after consumption, to delayed reactions of up to 48 hours after ingestion.

MSG and the brain

Recent research has proposed that too much glutamate causes excessive brain cell excitation which can lead to cell death. It has been further suggested that this could play a part in neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Huntington's.

MSG and obesity

If fried chips had a warning printed on the bag that said, "Warning: these chips will make you obese," would you still eat them? There is no such warning but if the ingredient list includes MSG, then think of it as such a warning.

Since no strain of rat or mice is naturally obese, scientists have to create them in order to study obesity. They do this by injecting them with MSG when they are first born. The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas produces, causing rats to become insulin resistant and obese. A study of diabetics showed that MSG led to increased consumption of food to which MSG had been added. For this reason MSG could be classed as addictive. Ever noticed how difficult it is to stop eating those potato crisps once you start? Parents should really refrain from putting packets of crisps into children’s lunch boxes.

Should you avoid it?

If you know that you react to MSG you should certainly avoid it entirely.  For the rest of us, it makes sense to keep intake as low as possible and above all keep children off foods with added MSG altogether. Of course, since MSG is only added to processed food, if you are eating primarily whole foods, which I recommend you do, then you will come across very little MSG.

The bottom line is do you really know what you’re putting in your mouth? Take charge of your future and your health by becoming an informed, discriminating consumer.

Disclaimer: All information here is for educational purposes only and is not meant to cure, heal, diagnose nor treat. This information must not be used as a replacement for medical advice, nor can the writer take any responsibility for anyone using the information instead of consulting a healthcare professional.  All serious disease needs a physician.

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