Many are aware of the dangers of having too much salt (sodium chloride) in their diet. Some may also know to steer clear of MSG (monosodium glutamate). However, it’s a good bet many people have no idea why.
What is MSG?
MSG is a crystalline powder that is white in appearance, like sugar or salt. MSG comes from the amino acid glutamate (or glutamic acid).
Humans naturally produce glutamate, which is necessary for many of the body’s functions. Small amounts of glutamate are naturally present in a wide variety of foods, including mushrooms and tomatoes. Glutamate is needed to make proteins and is a major neurotransmitter in the brain.
MSG is a manufactured combination of one (mono) sodium atom with glutamate. As a low-cost flavor enhancer, it often is added into broths, seasonings, canned soups, fast food, and processed meats and snacks. But the body has no ongoing need for dietary glutamate, and seasoning foods with MSG has been clearly documented to be a bad choice for your health and we need to avoid food additives whenever we can.
A Short History of MSG
MSG has been frowned upon by many in the health community for decades now. But this food additive wasn’t always viewed in such a negative light. In fact, when it was introduced in 1908, MSG was widely accepted and lauded as an inexpensive seasoning.
MSG came to America in the mid-1930s. It was first introduced to consumers via canned soup, courtesy of large manufacturers such as the Campbell’s Soup Company. From 1930 to 1941, America purchased more MSG than every other country except for Japan and Taiwan. Though the Pearl Harbor attacks in 1941 slowed imports of MSG, it soon was introduced in packaged foods and certain restaurant cuisines.
In 1958, the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) approval was given to MSG, a designation that has never been rescinded by the FDA despite growing concerns about the food additive. Curiously, even though the FDA recognizes MSG as being (generally) safe, it requires all foods containing MSG to list that fact on the label.
By the 1960s, activism surrounding the environment and human health burgeoned in America, and MSG began to be targeted by product safety groups. In 1968, a letter from doctor Robert Ho Man Kwok, published in the New England Journal of Medicine under the headline “Chinese-Restaurant Syndrome,” raised awareness of the potential negative effects of MSG.
The MSG Controversy
Concerns over the negative effects of MSG have grown since the 1960s. Some even consider the flavor enhancer to be a toxin. However, several double-blind studies have failed to definitively prove the hazards of ingesting MSG.
Despite this, a growing number of people have reported common complaints after eating foods high in MSG. This “MSG symptom complex” (another name for the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”), includes:
- Skin flushing/burning sensation in the face and neck
- Profuse sweating
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Chest pain, heart palpitations
Though a great variety of animal studies implicate MSG in damage to the brain and other organs, at this point researchers haven’t been able to confirm a direct link between these complications of the MSG symptom complex and human MSG consumption.
Since so much confusion and controversy surrounds this food additive, let’s take a closer look at the possible dangers of MSG and why we should avoid food additives altogether…
3 Reasons to Eliminate MSG & Avoid Food Additives in Your Diet
Some people have experienced adverse effects (listed above) when consuming MSG, especially in significant quantities (which seems to be around 3 grams or more per meal). Though it’s uncertain why the issues occur, some researchers believe that consuming an unnaturally high amount of glutamate from MSG can possibly cross the blood-brain barrier and have a toxic effect on the brain.
The brain needs glutamate for its normal, healthy functioning, but it seems gram amounts of glutamate coming from dietary MSG can have undesirable biochemical effects there – and possibly in other organs. The added sodium coming from MSG also may not be good. Though sodium is essential for our health we normally get more than sufficient amounts from our daily diet.
Some evidence has found that MSG may help you feel full, which can aid in weight management. This can be an effective weight-loss tool in the case of low-calorie soups that can help you feel sated. However, other studies have found that instead of reducing caloric intake, MSG can actually increase it. As such, it’s recommended to exercise caution when consuming soup, especially canned or packaged varieties.
Some human studies have linked excessive MSG intake with weight gain and other serious weight-related issues. Other studies, some of which have been disputed, have found that MSG raised blood pressure and contributed to metabolic problems. From these conflicting outcomes, it’s clear that more human studies need to be conducted to properly determine if MSG is harmful to human health.
Though the evidence doesn’t definitively support or condemn MSG, it’s a good idea to reduce or eliminate it from your diet. As with any food you eat, BrainMD recommends a commonsense approach. It’s always a good idea to read labels, so keep an eye out for products that contain MSG.
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