What is MSG? Why does it cause some people problems? Is it just in Chinese food? Isn’t it naturally occuring in the body? There is a lot of conflicting information out there. Okay! Let’s get down to business.


As a nurse, I’ve had patients who list “MSG” as an allergy. One said that, for unknown reason, it gave him a bad reaction; brain fog, migraines, etc. Another said, “That’s a mistake. I love MSG, I eat chinese food all the time!” Both of these people lacked understanding of what MSG is, or why they would ever be bothered after eating it. The second believed that MSG is only in Chinese food. He felt funny after eating a Chinese meal 5 years ago, and related it to MSG.


Most people understand MSG to be the ingredient “monosodium glutamate”, however the term is used to describe glutamate in all it’s forms. MSG is derived from a naturally occurring substance in the body, glutamate. Let’s focus more on that.


Glutamate is an amino acid, which are the building blocks of proteins (arizona.edu, 2003). Remember biology class? Chains of amino acids form the proteins we need. There are nonessential and essential amino acids. Glutamate is a nonessential amino acid, meaning our body makes it. It is not necessary for use to eat foods that contain it.


Glutamate is also known to be the most common excitatory neurotransmitter in mammals. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate nerve cells, giving them action potential, or basically the energy to transmit a signal (wisegeek.com). This is important, if you want your nerve cells to function. Too much stimulus to the nerve cell can cause excitotoxicity. Basically, you poke it too much and it breaks! This shouldn’t pose as a concern when eating food, however with the amount of added free glutamate and MSG, are we consuming more that what we can handle? 


What wait! There is more!

The catch here is that scientists isolated the glutamate. This causes the structure to become unstable. Adding Na+ (Sodium) stabilized the amino acid, altering it slightly. This causes glutamate to break down differently than it would if consumed naturally. Not only that, but there is some talk that we could be bothered by some of the byproducts that are released after we break down an altered substance. (John Douillard, 2016)


Are people really bothered by MSG? How do you if you are one of them? WebMD lists the side effects of consuming MSG. Headache; flushing; sweating; facial pressure or tightness; numbness, tingling, burning in the face and/or neck or other areas; rapid,  fluttering heartbeat,  palpitations; chest pain; nausea; weakness. (Mayoclinic: Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D., 2015) I have heard personal stories where people say the world seems “brighter” after they consume MSG. Personally I notice an unquenchable thirst that no amount of water can solve. I have also had the burning in my face for 5 days straight with an unknown reason. Even visiting a doctor wasn’t helpful! Their response? If it get’s worse come back, I am a healthy, young woman. 


I have found a lot of conflicting stories on the effects of MSG. There is a study showing a link to MSG and weight gain in mice (Bunyan J, Murrell EA, Shah PP, 1976.), which is talked about a lot in the anti-MSG community. In this study they injected MSG subcutaneously. I have also found studies showing no negative effects when humans were on trial (Department of Biochemistry, Memorial University of Newfoundland, 2014). They stated that MSG does not reach the brain, as it can hardly cross into the bloodstream from the gut. If your familiar with leaky gut syndrome, you might believe this could be a significant factor to consider.

More studies on mammals, in particular rodents, show an increase in obesity, hunger, thirst, and a deficiency in growth hormone (Aschauhof Altenhof Germany, 2006). I have found a correlating article on the rural Thai population (Department of Biochemistry,  Khon Kaen University, 2012).This showed that there may be a connection to the consumption of MSG and obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome.


Think about it… How would you perform a study on MSG? For accuracy, you would want to control everything that person was eating and drinking during the length of the study. Environmental factors and lifestyle might also take part, so you would want to control that too. For a good study, you would want to extend it for a period of time allowing you to see the potential long term effects. How many people would be willing to participate in this kind of study? Even if you found enough people to give their lives over to you for an extended period of time, this kind of study would cost a lot of money.


According to the FDA (View it here), they require that when MSG is added to food as an ingredient it has to be labeled by it’s name “MSG” or “Monosodium Glutamate”. This baffled me at first, as I have heard about the “hidden names of MSG”. I contacted the author of one of these websites and got a tremendously helpful response. You can visit their page here to see what foods / ingredients have MSG (or more accurately, free glutamate) included. Free glutamate, isolated from it’s original amino acid chain, can occur due to the manufacturing process. On top of that, food companies love glutamate because it acts as a flavor enhancer. Makes sense, right? Make the food taste better, more people will buy it!


Is it really damaging? Only time will tell, but there is enough evidence to turn me away!
How do you feel about MSG? Let us know! Know something we don’t? Please share!