Monosodium glutamate (MSG), a common food additive and flavor enhancer, is also the cause of illness for many unwary consumers. Some of the conditions linked to MSG consumption include obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, excess hunger, autism, migraines, asthma, atrial fibrillation, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Estimates suggest that up to 50 percent of the population has some degree of negative reaction to MSG. For those eating the standard American processed food diet, avoiding MSG is impossible, yet even for those on a good diet, exposure can still be an issue.
Food manufactures like MSG because it tricks us. Like salt, sugar and fat, MSG stimulates tastes buds. MSG stimulation tells our brain that we are consuming good nutritious protein, even though MSG contains no protein. MSG also triggers release of insulin, even when blood sugar levels are not high. The combination of protein titillation and insulin release creates a hunger in consumers that is insatiable.
MSG is essentially the amino acid glutamic acid, with a single salt molecule stuck to it, thus the name monosodium glutamate. MSG was discovered in the early 1900s, and until the 1960’s commercial production of MSG came from the hydrolysis of wheat gluten. Wheat is composed of 25 percent glutamic acid. Perhaps this is why so many people have a negative reaction to wheat. Today MSG comes from fermentation of starch, sugar beets, sugar cane or molasses.
Glutamate, the principle component of MSG, is an excitatory neurotransmitter produced in our body and at normal levels is essential for our health and well being. The main issue with MSG is an over stimulation of the nervous system termed “excitotoxicity,” which can ultimately lead to cellular death. This excitotoxicity may be the link to MSG mediated neurologic conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Another concern of excess glutamate or glutamic acid build is the conversion to the amino acid GABA. Excess GABA acts like valium with addictive characteristics that increase ones desire for MSG laden foods.
Glutamate exposure can be direct as from MSG, or as a byproduct found in a variety of items including vaccines, cigarettes, and aspartame laced products such as quick dissolving medicines, including many children’s medicines, chewable vitamins, diet sodas and breath strips. The amino acid aspartate found in Nutrasweet, Equal and Aspartame readily converts into glutamate. It is found in nearly 6,000 food and beverage products. Until a recent ban, many US food crops were sprayed with Auxigro, a growth enhancing product containing nearly 30 percent glutamate. Of the many issues with this spray, its impact on declining bee populations was of primary concern.
What to do
Eating a healthy unadulterated diet is the best way to reduce excess exposure to MSG. Food labels are of limited value when it comes to MSG. US labeling laws allow the term natural to include up to 20 percent MSG. Manufactures will often label foods as No MSG or No Added MSG, while adding in lots of glutamates for the same effect. Examples of foods that contain MSG and/or glutamates include hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, protein isolate, commercial spice mixes, natural flavorings, soy protein isolate, whey, whey protein isolate, dry milk solids, milk powder, broth, maltodextrin, malt extract, sodium caseinate, modified food starch and soy protein. These ingredients will be found in nearly all fast food items at fast food restaurants.
Here are several tips to help reduce your exposure to MSG. The more a food is processed the more it creates and releases taste-bud-stimulating glutamates. The more salty a food, the more likely it is to have MSG or glutamates. The more ingredients you see on a label, the more likely it is to have hidden MSG in it.
Navigating the nutritional waters of corporate America can be a very high risk activity when it comes to our health and well being. Just like my article on AGEs, the more we alter our food from its natural state, the higher the cost to our health.
As always, comments are welcome.
Jon Dunn, ND
Some of the conditions linked to MSG consumption include obesity, type II diabetes, high blood pressure, excess hunger, autism, migraines, asthma, atrial fibrillation, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. Estimates suggest that up to 50 percent of the population has some degree of negative reaction to MSG. For those eating the standard American processed food diet, avoiding MSG is impossible, yet even for those on a good diet, exposure can still be an issue.