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MSG is Dangerous — The Science Is In

MSG is dangerous

Ask anyone if MSG is dangerous, and you’ll get a myriad of responses. Some of the more scientifically-minded among us will scoff at the notion that MSG is dangerous or poses real health risks. Sure, they’ll allow, there are a few sensitive people who get headaches or migraines when they eat it, but MSG doesn’t actually harm the rest of us.

Or does it?

Are you one of the many who don’t believe that MSG is dangerous? Or do you, like me, believe that because it is a newfangled substance invented in 1908, we should inherently distrust it as a food additive and seriously question its safety?

And, if you are like me, what scientific research do you use to convince the doubters among your circle of family and friends? The good news is the science proving MSG is dangerous is out there, and I’ve collected a lot of here for you.

Research on the dangers of MSG continues to mount, albeit slowly. Some contend that funding for such projects is inevitably sparse. After all, why would the food industry (which funds most of these sorts of research ventures) want to spend money proving the detrimental effects of one of its chief money makers?

There are a growing number of people who report immediate, adverse reactions within minutes eating MSG. Perhaps you’re one of those people? Or, maybe you know someone who is sensitive?

Typical MSG complaints include:

  • burning sensations of the mouth, head and neck, (1)
  • weakness of the arms or legs, (1)
  • headaches, (1)
  • upset stomach, (1)
  • hives or other allergic-type reactions with the skin.(2)

Wait! You say. I call foul. How do they know that what these people experienced was actually because of eating MSG? How were these experiments controlled? Were they double-blind? That’s the only real way to do epidemiological research like this.

It’s true that when people self-report what they’re eating or how they’re feeling their own bias tends to get in the way. They misremember exactly what they ate. They make associations between what they ate and how they think they ought to feel.

But double blind studies on the effects of MSG have been done. These are studies where neither the participants nor the ones administering the study know who consumed MSG. Everything’s randomized and controlled by researchers a step removed from the process.

And, guess what? Even these double blind studies also found that MSG exposure caused muscle tightness, fatigue, numbness or tingling, and flushing in sensitive people.(3)

But what if you’re not one of these people? What if MSG causes no noticeable or immediate reaction in you?

Should you still consider MSG a dangerous food additive?

Yes!

That’s because the effects of MSG are cumulative. Just because you don’t react to MSG now, doesn’t mean you won’t later. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, who wrote a book on the subject called Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, sensitivity to MSG builds up in our bodies until we reach what he calls our “threshold of sensitivity.”

That’s because MSG overstimulates our nervous system — exciting our nerves and causing an inflammatory response. With time, these repetitive inflammatory responses cause our nerves to start producing more and more nerve cells that are sensitive to this kind of stimulation. The more overly-sensitive nerve cells we have, the stronger our immediate response to MSG will be.(4)

That said, you still may be scratching your head about MSG.

If the worst that can happen is a migraine headache or some hives, why worry about eating it now, when it causes no reaction in you?

Way back in 1957, a team researchers decided to see if glutamate could help repair a diseased retina. Remember, glutamate is a common and necessary amino acid in our diet (arguably the most common neurotransmitter in the brain), so this presupposition isn’t so far fetched. The researchers fed rats MSG and were shocked by their results.

Rather than repairing the disease, the MSG destroyed the retinal cells that allow vision!

A decade later, the neuroscientist Dr. John Olney used their method of destroying retinal cells so that he could study visual pathways to the brain. He found that MSG not only destroyed retinal vision cells, but also parts of the brain. This brain damage was done as neurons became over excited, virtually exciting themselves to death. He called this “excitotoxicity,” and that has led subsequent researchers to describe MSG as an “excitotoxin.”

While the naturally occurring glutamates in food aren’t dangerous, processed free glutamic acids like MSG are.

Not only do they cause brain damage and lead to nervous disorders, but they also cause radical hormone fluctuations. Mice injected with MSG become rapidly obese, inactive, and have other hormonal issues.(5)

Wait! You say. Those are mice and rats. We’re people. We’re bigger, biologically different. Surely it won’t affect us the same way.

Unfortunately, that argument doesn’t hold much weight. Humans are 20 times more sensitive to MSG than monkeys, 5 times more sensitive than rats.(6) We have glutamate receptors on every major organ, hard-wired into our brains, and even on the tip of our tongue! That means that one fifth the level of MSG used to cause obvious brain damage to a rat will do the same to you.

And what about growing babies? It turns out that MSG is especially harmful to pregnant or nursing mothers because infants and young children are four times more sensitive to MSG than adults!(7) Dr. Blaylock elaborates:

Many studies have shown that glutamate plays a major role in how the brain is formed during development. There is a programmed rise and fall in brain glutamate levels during brain formation, which occurs in humans not only during intrauterine life, but until the age of 27.

This oscillation in brain glutamate is very critical, and any disruption in glutamate levels has dire consequences. It has been shown that during pregnancy, a diet high in MSG increases the developing baby’s glutamate levels to those twice as high as the mother’s. This can significantly alter how the baby’s brain forms and functions.

Very high MSG intake (of any excitotoxin) can cause abnormal learning, addiction risk, and behavioral, emotional control, and endocrine problems later in the baby’s life.

We now know, for instance, that glutamate is the main control neurotransmitter for the hypothalamus. This section of the brain controls most of your hormones, eating behavior, temperature control, pain regulation, and sleep habits, as well as the autonomic control of your heart, GI tract, lungs, and bladder. When animals are fed MSG early in life, they develop severe abnormalities, which include a short stature, small endocrine organs (pituitary, adrenal glands, thyroid, ovaries, testes and pancreas), and a high risk of seizures and impaired learning. (8)

I don’t know about you, but this is enough to raise alarm bells.

Not only is MSG not a traditional food, not only are many people immediately sensitive to it, but it can also interrupt the hormonal and biological development of my children!

Lest you think this is all fanciful, it’s important to remember that a number of studies have found that the effects of MSG can occur cumulatively 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.(9) Initially, there was no visible damage, but multiple exposure over a period of time led to the irreparable injury.

It’s simply not worth the risk.

So, if you want to avoid MSG, how can you do it?

Turns out, it’s harder than it looks.

If all you had to do was read food product labels and put anything that said “monosodium glutamate” back on the shelf, you could maybe handle it without much difficulty. Or, if you could trust a food manufacturer’s claim that there is “No MSG added” to their food, that would be relatively simple too.

But, MSG hides in more than 40 other FDA-approved ingredients. Because the manufacturer didn’t add an ingredient called “monosodium glutamate,” they can “truthfully” claim “No MSG added” on their label. Yet, nothing is stopping them from adding ingredients that contain MSG. In that case, the manufacturer only has to list the name of the actual ingredient added, not the ingredients within those ingredients.

So, they can say a food includes “spices” or “flavorings” when that spice mix includes MSG. They can say the food includes “yeast extract” or “hydrolized soy protein” without telling you that the process of creating those ingredients also creates processed free glutamic acids (also known as MSG).

For more on where MSG may be hiding in your food labels, see this handy list of MSG-containing ingredients provided by the Truth in Labeling Campaign.

(photo by punkjr)

SOURCES

(1) Metcalfe, D. “Food Allergy.” Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice25.4 (1998): 819-29. Print.
(2) Simon, R. A. “Additive-induced Urticaria: Experience with Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).” Journal of Nutrition 130.4S Supplemental (2000): 1063S-066S. Print.
(3) Yang, W. H., M. A. Drouin, M. Herbert, Y. Mao, and J. Karsh. “The Monosodium Glutamate Symptom Complex: Assessment in a Double-blind, Placebo-controlled, Randomized Study.” The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology Part 1 99.6 (1997): 757-62. Print.
(4) Blaylock, Russell L. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, NM: Health, 1998. Print.
(5) Lorden, J. F., and A. Claude. “Behavioral and Endocrinological Effects of Single Injections of Monosodium Glutamate in the Mouse.” Neurobehavioral Toxicology and Teratology 8.5 (1986): 509-19. Print.
(6) Blaylock, Russell. “Food Additives: What You Eat Can Kill You.” The Blaylock Wellness Report 4 (Oct. 2007): 3-4. Print.
(7) Blaylock, Russell L. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, NM: Health, 1998. Print.
(8) Blaylock, Russell. “Food Additives: What You Eat Can Kill You.” The Blaylock Wellness Report 4 (Oct. 2007): 3-4. Print.
(9) Ohguro, H., Katsushima, H., Maruyama, I., Maeda, T., Yanagihashi, S., Metoki, T., Nakazawa, M. “A high dietary intake of sodium glutamate as flavoring (ajinomoto) causes gross changes in retinal morphology and function.” Experimental Eye Research 75.3  (2002).: 307-15. Print.
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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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51 Responses to MSG is Dangerous — The Science Is In
  1. Monica
    November 27, 2012 | 11:52 pm

    I don’t think I will ever understand why these kinds of substances are allowed in our food. It makes no sense.

    • Johnd681
      May 27, 2014 | 12:39 am

      I have observed that in the world these days, video games include the latest popularity with kids of all ages. Periodically it may be extremely hard to drag the kids away from the games. If you want the best of both worlds, there are plenty of educational games for kids. Great post. aeakbgdfdfbf

    • Johne682
      May 27, 2014 | 12:40 am

      I think you have remarked some very interesting points , appreciate it for the post. gbgbekkekfae

  2. Gita
    November 28, 2012 | 8:14 am

    MSG is proven dangerous for our brain for a long term use. It does not even taste really good, in my opinion. So I prefer plays around salt and sugar when I cook.

    • KristenM
      November 28, 2012 | 10:56 am

      I also like to play around with homemade broth. You can boil it down to concentrate it and make the MOST amazing sauces just by adding in a splash of wine or lemon or honey or herbs, etc. It’s so incredibly flavorful, and it’s how we *used* to get that umami flavor in our food before MSG was invented.

      • fgt
        April 28, 2014 | 12:40 am

        did you even read your sources?http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8282275

        The present study led to the conclusion that ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses; rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.

    • Ashley
      January 18, 2014 | 7:15 am

      You do realise this article is absolute non-sense right?

      Show one proper study that proves it is dangerous for our brains long term.

      Never heard such rubbish in all my life

      • Jason Dorweiler
        January 21, 2014 | 2:02 am

        I am more eager to agree with Ashley, however I used to avoid using MSG in the restaurants I work in an still do because I believe the taste can be achieved by a natural process. David Chang actually brings up a good argument about the role of MSG in popular culture. It’s a video, kind of like a Ted Talk, but don’t expect the best public speaker.

  3. Julie
    November 28, 2012 | 9:22 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I really appreciate all the work that went into writing this. I have been trying to convince my husband and your “but wait” comment about the mice sounds just like him :) This helps tremendously.

    • KristenM
      November 28, 2012 | 10:56 am

      You’re welcome!

  4. Melissa
    November 28, 2012 | 11:33 am

    I love your blog and I am firmly against the processed industrial foods that MSG hides in, inducing food addiction, but the idea that MSG causes brain damage is not supported by legitimate science. The science is not in on this matter- it’s been misinterpreted by alarmists like Blaylock. I encourage people to delve into the primary literature and look up #3 for example, which was not able to be replicated. Or consider the context of #5, which involved injecting it into mice, not eating it in food. Or the low level of the journal #9 is published in and the fact it is a study on a certain strain of rats consuming very high levels that you wouldn’t get even with a diet of restaurant Chinese food.

    Or the fact that Blaylock promotes his msg stuff among laymen, not publishing it in journals where it would be ripped apart, and sells expensive supplements that contain ingredients that can easily be seen as just as dangerous as MSG if you dig through studies in this way. It’s also worth remembering that a neurosurgeon is not a scientist, no matter how prestigious their title is. As far as individuals who have reacted to it, are beef or shrimp also bad because some people are allergic to those foods? It’s telling that the only documented cases of excitotoxicity from food in the medical literature are from contaminated shellfish ingestion.

    MSG is an ingredient used in a lot of bad processed foods. However, if you travel in Asia or eat with Asians from a local immigrant community, it is often added into good homemade foods, which is too bad since the evidence is fairly good that it can induce over-eating, but there is no evidence it causes brain damage from “excitotoxins.” In fact, Asian kids from countries where MSG is in EVERYTHING, consistently out-perform kids in the USA in academics. I’d rather have my kid eating Korean bone broths with some MSG in them than the garbage non-food we feed kids in this country.

    MSG is not dangerous, it’s industrial and in many processed foods that are bad for you. I’m not going to worry about an occasional dab of it, especially considering I use a lot of high glutamate traditional foods in my own kitchen such as fermented seafood pastes and stocks. It should be noted that scientists like Olney who have written about the dangers of excitotoxins in developing children also recognize these traditional high-glutamate foods could be dangerous. I doubt it, but I will refrain from injecting them into the brains of my offspring though.

    • KristenM
      November 28, 2012 | 1:41 pm

      I wouldn’t say there’s NO science supporting that free glutamates like MSG can cause neural or brain damage, just that it’s limited and mounting slowly.

      When researching this for my book, I cam across quite a few scholarly papers and studies that point to this connection.

      This one, for example, hypothesized that glutamate excitotoxicity could play a role in brain damage caused by ischemia:
      http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.ne.13.030190.001131?journalCode=neuro

      This one shows how it leads to neuronal death:
      http://link.springer.com/article/10.1385%2FMN%3A24%3A1-3%3A107?LI=true#page-1

      Olney, as you mentioned, has written quite a bit about how it can lead to neuropsychiatric problems:
      http://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev.pa.30.040190.000403

      Others have shown that it can contribute to neurodegenerative diseases (like Huntington’s, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s):
      http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ana.410310202/abstract

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S016622360001746X

      It’s been shown that removing excitotoxins like MSG from the diet has offered relief for brain/neural diseases like fibromyalgia:
      http://www.theannals.com/content/35/6/702.short

      Also, while it’s true that Blaylock pointed to studies that injected MSG directly into rodents, many researchers also seem to administer it orally to cause damage, too.

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140673685902387

      In this study, it was administered orally in low doses over a prolonged period of time and caused liver damage:
      http://www.ajol.info/index.php/ajb/article/viewFile/60981/49187

      It was also administered orally in this study, which found significant adverse reactions in brain development of infant mice:
      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0378427480900417

      I found quite a few studies where it was administered orally to mice in various stages of pregnancy to induce fetal damage — including both obesity and neural/brain damage.

      http://www.europeanneuropsychopharmacology.com/article/S0924-977X%2805%2900133-1/abstract

      http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S000689939601181X

      And yes, I get that this isn’t the same thing as having a double-blind study on eating foods containing MSG on the long-term effects of it’s excitotoxicity. That study, to my knowledge, has never been done. But, there’s enough here to give a concerned person pause.

      Plus, there’s enough evidence conclusively pointing to it’s other (well-documented) adverse effects — like inducing hormonal imbalances, obesity, or causing liver damage — that I’m comfortable saying that the science coming in shows that MSG really is dangerous.

      • Melissa
        November 28, 2012 | 6:42 pm

        Excitotoxic glutamate damage are usually triggered by brain injury caused by something else, not dietary glutamate. And the mice pregnancy studies used very high levels and I’d if you used similar levels of glutamate from bone broth, you’d get similar results.

        “Also, while it’s true that Blaylock pointed to studies that injected MSG directly into rodents, many researchers also seem to administer it orally to cause damage, too. ” I can’t find anything in that study about administering it orally.

        I really think Blaylock has done a massive disservice confusing the excitotoxin-induced brain injury with dietary intake of glutamate, of which there is no connection.

        And it’s worth remembering that you can find studies showing damage in some of these genetically engineered rats for all kinds of foods, including those real foodies enjoy like garlic and peppers.

        Sure, those are some studies you linked to, but the amount of studies that show the opposite conclusions is twice as long.

        • Pila
          December 3, 2012 | 11:23 pm

          My hero.

          • Karen
            January 5, 2013 | 2:49 pm

            this ^

        • Whitefox
          January 5, 2013 | 6:09 pm

          I would second this whole “MSG isn’t going to kill you” trend. Definitely, there’s evidence for really high levels or injection studies in mice = excitotoxicity, but that doesn’t happen in humans.

          http://jn.nutrition.org/content/130/4/1049S.full
          http://ajpendo.physiology.org/content/278/1/E83.full

          Note the part where the safety evaluation stated that voluntary ingestion of MSG cannot possibly exceed 60mg/kg dose whereas 500mg/kg was required to cause lesions in the mice due to excitotoxicity. “Intake levels associated with the use of MSG as a food additive and natural levels of glutamic acid in foods, therefore, do not raise toxicologic concerns even at high peak levels of intake because the mechanism of toxicity appears to be related to the peak plasma level achieved rather than the area under the curve”.

          Also: “a subsequent study (Fernstrom et al. 1996) using equivalent (pharmacologic) doses of MSG rather than the free acid failed to demonstrate any effect on plasma prolactin, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisol, thyroid-stimulating hormone or thyroid hormones despite an 11-fold increase in plasma glutamate levels”

          So overall not too bad!

    • Ruth S.
      July 11, 2013 | 12:12 pm

      I love your well thought out response.

  5. Sarah L
    November 28, 2012 | 12:16 pm

    If gelatin is listed in the “always contains MSG” category, what about the Great Lakes Kosher Beef Gelatin I use all the time? Advice?

    • KristenM
      November 28, 2012 | 12:20 pm

      Great Lakes actually takes great care to process their gelatin so it produces no processed free glutamic acids. They’ve got a whole page about it, and the testing done to their products, on their website here:

      http://www.greatlakesgelatin.com/consumer/noMSG.php

  6. Dawn @ peelingbacktheonionlayers.com
    November 28, 2012 | 8:53 pm

    How funny Kristen, I just wrote a post on glutamates today! Great minds. :)

  7. Cindy Stephens
    November 28, 2012 | 10:15 pm

    I wish every mom had this information. I did not know any of this when my kids were small. It took us two years to dig deep and find this culprit. Your article explains why my youngest son didn’t show the effects until he was five years old – they are cumulative. The tingling and agitation just drives him crazy. We are still trying to detox his system. And as mentioned above, msg is hidden under other names. If he eats it, he has a reaction that is so frustrating for him. It is sad because he feels like something is wrong with him. What’s a kid to do? What is a parent to do? We live on a farm now. We homeschool and eat almost exclusively at home. I cook most of our food. But this is not an option for many people. How many kids are out there moody and agitated and can’t control it? With every meal, their system is filled with more msg and the cycle continues. They feel miserable and they don’t know why. Moms are exasperated and feel they can’t get a grip on their child’s behavior. Thank you for posting this much needed information.

  8. Pete R.
    November 29, 2012 | 5:45 am

    Great article!! Your articles are very informative. Reading the list of ingredients containing MSG, I couldn’t help but notice many of the “low fat” or “skim” milk dairy products contain some MSG. While I don’t over consume dairy products, is it the “lesser” of two evils (so to speak) to just consume whole milk, whole yogurt and whole cheese as opposed to the much more altered low fat and skim choices? Thank you.

    • KristenM
      November 30, 2012 | 12:21 am

      I *always* opt for full-fat everything, and I don’t think it’s a lesser evil. I think it’s a greater good.

  9. Lanaestahl
    November 29, 2012 | 9:19 am

    You have raised a concern about supplements. Due to leaky gut I am try desperately to heal but noticed that MSG is found in the enzymes that I use on a daily basis. Scd calls for gelatin consumption. Any thoughts?

    • KristenM
      November 30, 2012 | 12:22 am

      Nope, sorry. :( Maybe another reader in your shoes? Personally, I’d go ask a GAPS or SCD practitioner their opinion.

    • Tara
      December 4, 2012 | 2:30 pm

      I can relate. I’ve got severe gut issues – can only tolerate three foods. I’ve tried both GAPS and SCD, as well as supplementation with glutamine, and got worse on both of them. But, this is due in part to my methylation issues (see my post)…I say “in part,” because it’s a chicken and egg situation. It took me seven years to get to this point, after consuming tons of high sulfate, high histamine foods, and high glutamate foods (broth) and supplements.

      You don’t mention what enzymes you’re taking, but any gut supplement that contains MSG should be removed from the market, IMO. I’ve never seen that listed on a digestive enzyme, but I haven’t been around the world, either. :)

      • Tara
        December 4, 2012 | 2:32 pm

        Sorry – seven years to get to the point of realizing the glutamate and methylation connection.

  10. Alison
    November 29, 2012 | 2:15 pm

    Thanks for this fantastic post! I linked to it from my blog as “A Must Read.” The truth in labeling link was particularly eye opening.

  11. Rebecca Miller
    November 29, 2012 | 4:36 pm

    Anyone have any thoughts on detoxing it out of our bodies. Oh my did I have a time eating all the MSG I could back in the SAD days. I have payed a price and would love thoughts on getting it out once it’s in. And I never comment here but since I am now thank you for this blog and the time and effort you put into providing quality and trustworthy info. I truely appreciate it!

  12. Jen Miller
    November 29, 2012 | 6:57 pm

    Thank you for writing this article! It was very timely for me.

  13. Vanessa Hill
    November 29, 2012 | 8:29 pm

    Great article, Kristen. I just eat real, unprocessed foods. That solves it all
    :-)

    • KristenM
      November 30, 2012 | 12:23 am

      Yes, it does.

  14. Lauren
    November 30, 2012 | 12:12 am

    I LOVE this post. I read Blaylock’s book a while back, and was astounded at all the ways MSG can be hidden in products. I am extremely sensitive to it, so I can attest to the fact that labels such as ‘natural flavors’ are in fact highly suspect. I am super wary of products such as NuNaturals stevia for that very reason. I am so happy to see another blogger bringing this to light!!

    As far as the argument above, I do believe we need glutamine for muscle repair/growth, intestinal issues, etcetera, but it’s when the cells become saturated that problems start to occur. Glutamine becomes toxic (just as other nutrients do) when taken in excessive amounts, which is probably happening frequently among people given the numerous ways it can be hidden.

    Thanks Kristen!!

  15. Sarah
    December 4, 2012 | 12:35 pm

    Great article! Have you spoken to John Bandy (http://www.austinholistichealth.com/ahhJBandy.htm), since you’re in the Austin area? My entire family has been to see him and other practitioners at Austin Holistic Health. He found that my younger brother, who has been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum since he was a child, has a major sensitivity to MSG. My family went off of MSG around 10 years ago and the difference has been dramatic. As a scientist, I have some pretty serious problems with the notion that a diet can “cure” autism, especially as what symptoms exactly can be categorized as autism is an extremely fluid category and may change without intervention as a child grows. That being said, certain features of my brother’s autism change dramatically when he is off MSG. He has facial ticks that almost completely disappear, his focus on school work is better, and his speech is more comfortable and fluid. He’s never going to be a completely neurotypical person (and he wouldn’t be the person he is today if he were), but a diet free of MSG gives him pretty visible improvements. As for me, I’ve been on the natural foods bandwagon my whole life and MSG-free when at my parents’ homes since I was 14. I’m now 24 and eat a mostly whole foods diet. Even without a particular MSG sensitivity, so much time on a completely artificial glutamate-free diet (even free glutamaic acids are a problem for my brother) has left me very sensitive to its effects. My husband and I recently joined some friends for dim sum (which I love but only from restaurants that don’t use lots of MSG), and I ended up passed out with a migraine for 4 hours after eating. Needless to say, we’ve since avoided that restaurant and learned how to make Asian food at home.

  16. Tara
    December 4, 2012 | 1:11 pm

    Such a fantastic article – thank you for helping to spread the awareness.

    There is a portion of the population for which MSG and any high glutamate foods (and glutamine supplements) are especially dangerous, and those are individuals with genetic methylation issues such as MTHFR, etc. (An estimated 40% of the population, and many people live a lifetime without ever even knowing they have the related SNPs.) This includes homemade broths for a lot of these folks (even if meat is simmered for just one hour).

    Additionally, If your children are on the autism spectrum, run like crazy from MSG and any high glutamate foods and glutamine supplements. You can learn more by Googling Dr. Amy Yasko and reading her book on her site.

  17. Sharon
    December 4, 2012 | 1:17 pm

    I agree! I think this stuff is very bad. I try to avoid it if at all possible. I can tell when a processed food has it without even reading the ingredients too. If I eat the particular product and it tastes sooo good to me that I can’t get enough of it……to me that is a sure sign that it has MSG. It causes the brain to think the food is better tasting than it really is….truly a drug.

  18. Tom Gibson
    December 4, 2012 | 1:52 pm

    When you start making claims early on that MSG was invented then you show me that you are intellectully very lazy and not to be trusted. MSG is a naturally occuring substance that has been synthesized because people think it tastes good. Every other thing else said might be true but I don’t trust the author because their prejudice was apparently more important than accurately reporting this story.

    • KristenM
      December 4, 2012 | 2:09 pm

      But it was invented. Naturally occurring glutamates have been in food forever, but processed free glutamic acids (MSG)were discovered/derived in Japanese laboratories in 1908.

      For more on the history and creation of MSG, please read this.

      • Priya
        January 2, 2014 | 4:41 pm

        Unfortunately derived means just that, not invented (which implies that it did not exist naturally previously and only exists synthetically). I would like to point out that MSG exists naturally in ALL proteins, i.e. meat, fish, eggs, cheese, etc. It’s also found in a high concentration in tomatoes and in seaweed (which is where it was originally derived from).

        Source:
        http://www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au/consumers/other-food-topics/msg/#Where%C2%A0glutamate-is-found

        Natural and artificial MSG by definition have the exact same chemical structure. They are no different. As with most things, moderation is key (not that a lot of those studies gave it to the rodents in quantities that would never ever be given to humans).

        I also want to point out that the neurotoxicity studies are ongoing.

        This is the result of 2 hours of procrastination on the internet so is by no means watertight BUT to provide some studies of my own
        http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10736380

        aaand a whole bunch here just read them (some are for and some against MSG but the overwhelming majority are for)
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monosodium_glutamate#References
        (ignore the fact that that’s a wiki link, I focused on the studies the wiki article linked to)

        there are lots of other refutements that I have but Melissa has covered a lot of them buuut if people have specific counter-studies I’d be interested to read them

        Priya

  19. Jim
    December 4, 2012 | 3:35 pm

    “they can say a food includes “spices” or “flavorings” when….etc.” The thing I don’t get is how anybody thinks that they can eat healthy by reading the labels anyway! The “foods” with labels on them that I would eat are few and far between. As far as “spices” and “flavorings” etc. go, I will add my own, thank you. It is like playing Russian roulette with your health. As always, another excellent article.

  20. Sandra
    December 4, 2012 | 5:58 pm

    I wish MSG would be banned. It would make life so much easier for me. MSG definitely gives me migraines. If I could eat without worrying that a food I eat out at a restaurant has MSG (which it probably does) it would be great!

  21. Jennifer
    December 5, 2012 | 12:02 pm

    And MSG is in VACCINES people!!! Vaccines are given to most people, including PREGNANT women. Hello! But they don’t tell you it’s in there… You have to go to the ingredients lists & look for it yourself. Ugh. Makes me SO angry. Here’s a starter link directly from the CDC itself, & you can go research specifically which ones after that: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vac-gen/additives.htm

  22. Tom Edgar
    December 7, 2012 | 7:45 pm

    The question is surely “Why do you NEED M S G at all?”.

    In my “Club” I recently ordered a steak and was asked. “What kind of sauce,(gravy) mushroom, pepper, or onion?” My answer was “If the steak is perfect it shouldn’t need dressing up, ” and it was.

    Food, generally, if it is fresh, of good quality, and presented perfectly needs no additives. Like kissing a non smoker. Taste the difference.

    • Martin
      February 6, 2013 | 12:02 am

      So true. The MSG is there only to convince use to get more food in when we are full already. More consumption = more business for the producer.

  23. Evan
    May 17, 2013 | 2:03 am

    I love the title “the science is in.”
    Yeah except your claims are pretty much all wrong. A 10 min read on the wiki article for MSG would be a good start on the actual science of MSG. As much as I don’t like food industry and am passionate about similar things in food culture, this is just fear mongering and WRONG. Please refrain from publishing bad science. Thanks.

  24. Brandon
    June 24, 2013 | 1:46 am

    You lost all credibility when you said MSG was “newfangled substance invented in 1908.” Glutamate, is a fundamental component of virtually all the proteins in your body, it has been a necessary component of life for literally billions of years.

    The double blind study you cited is terrible. I can’t get access to the full article without paying for it, but just from the abstract alone you can discover that their study used only 61 patients who already declared a supposed glutamate intolerance. And of those 61 a full 34.4% responded to the placebo whereas 45.9% responded to the glutamate. If you know anything about statistics you’ll see that these percentages are way too close with such a small sample size to say anything conclusively. This is compounded even further by the fact that the researches don’t even know how to conduct a proper double blind study. You aren’t supposed to give both the placebo AND the actual glutamate to the same group of people!

    In the end glutamate is an essential component for the synthesis of all your proteins. It’s a natural compound that your body makes as part of normal metabolism, and your body is perfectly capable of regulating MSG concentrations through normal biochemical pathways.

    Judging by the quality of this article I’m guessing you have no background in biochemistry but if you google image search glutamic acid pathway and look in the image section you can find plenty of good examples of how glutamate is synthesized and regulated and also it’s relation to the krebs cycle.

  25. Christina
    August 16, 2013 | 12:39 am

    I know im late to the discussian but as a child of ten who had never even heard the name msg, I knew something was wrong with chinese food because of how sick I became . I ate it once or twice more and then avoided it for years. years later whrn I learned about msg I decided to try it again at a restraunt that didnt use it. Low and behold I didnt get sick. I can actually get sick just from smelling it in high amounts. If a restraunt uses it alot I can tell right away. I was unaware it could be hiding in other ingredients so thank you. hopefully I can remove any other items from my diet that may be making me sick without knowing the trigger.

  26. Jennifer C-K
    September 4, 2013 | 11:56 am

    If you have time, please update the Wikipedia page on this. The last time I looked it, it was very MSG positive. Thank you!

  27. cheryl
    September 18, 2013 | 10:42 am

    Hi! I am super sensitive to msg from zig-zag vision to sensitivity to light and sound to stomach upset. My whole life this has happened and I figured out early on it was from school lunches and have avoided it as much as possible. Ethnic food is loaded with it from chinese to thai, indian and mexican which super sucks…
    Anyway, is there a place where I can report my reactions. To some ongoing study group or something? Somewhere where it will help to get this substance banned?!
    thanks!

  28. Rob L
    October 12, 2013 | 6:49 am

    Thank you for this post.

    I have had a dry-mouth (I call it cotton-mouth, because it feels like the inside of my mouth is lined with cotton wool) along with an unslakeable thirst and, worst of all, terrible heart palpitations whenever I eat anything containing MSG, Hydrolysed Protein, Hydrolysed Starch, Modified this, that or the other, or any of the telephone-book sized list of ingredients made from or containing free glutamic acid.

    I now have to avoid most processed foods, and eating out is a lottery (I want to Japan earlier this year and resigned myself to having MSG reaction every night)

    I have managed to avoid reaction most of the time, with careful planning and preparation, but it is tiring when you can’t just “grab something out of the freezer” without having prepared it carefully yourself.

    I wish Manufacturers would at least give us a choice, but they don’t. I cannot buy a single pre-prepared broth/bouillon/stock concentrate or powder that doesn’t set me off. Massel used to be OK, but they’ve changed. Today I just made another batch of my homemade beef stock cubes. It takes a lot of time, but it’s very worth it in the end.

    At least I know it’s not just me. :)

  29. morten
    November 9, 2013 | 6:38 pm

    The science on MSG is a bit weird because it is allowed but unhealthy for you – something is totally off with our food system these days

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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