MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate is a flavor enhancer used in processed and some oriental restaurants. In 1908 a Japanese researcher named Kikunae Ikeda isolated a distinct flavor found in the seaweed broth known as dashi. The flavor was named umami (pleasant savory taste, in English). Ikeda discovered the cause of this flavor was ionized glutamate. He then set to find a way to isolate and produce that flavor in a seasoning.
Commercial production of MSG originated in Japan in 1909. The product was called Ajinomoto, which translates to English as “essence of taste.”
Since that time, MSG has been used as a flavor enhancer in commercial food production, restaurants and some home cooks. As use of MSG increased people began noticing unwanted, and often unpleasant side effects from its use. At least one double-blind scientific study[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.] was done on the effects of MSG on humans. This study showed that people who are MSG sensitive do experience symptoms from its use.
Keep in mind that we are talking about a laboratory isolated, and commercially manufactured chemical here. I have no doubt that the combination of molecules found in dashi are probably harmless. But, like so many things What occurs in nature can not always be safely reproduced in a human lab.
To the best of my knowledge there have been no reported negative side effects from consuming the seaweed both known as dashi.
Pub Chem[National Center for Biotechnology Information. “PubChem Compound Summary for CID 23672308, Monosodium glutamate” PubChem, https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Monosodium-glutamate. Accessed 5 April, 2021] lists a wide range of acute side effects caused by MSG. The data listed in their table comes from respected medical journals like The New England Journal of Medicine and Lancet. In the data table reactions in humans include:
Nausea or vomiting
Other negative effects like dermatitis, seizures, tremors, and loss of voluntary muscle control are listed for mice and rats. This is important because humans share a large part of our DNA with mice and rats. Because of the similarities in our bodies, and chemical reactions these animals are often used as predictors for how a medication or chemical will effect humans.
And, in fact there have been thousands of reports of adverse effects in humans.
PubChemhttps://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ is a government website run by the National Center for Biotechnology Information. According to the About page, they are an open database housed at the National Institute of Health (NIH). Data is uploaded by a wide variety of sources. Some examples include scientific journals, government agencies and chemical companies.
Data can be sorted in many helpful ways. For our purposes, chemical name, and medical illness are useful.
PubChem is a public website, and is free to use.
How do you know if you’re sensitive to MSG? The short answer is that you don’t. I tell my clients to assume MSG sensitivity. In his book, Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills, Dr. Blaylock explains that the physical effects of monosodium glutamate build up in the body. You might not react to it today, but if you keep eating it, you will suffer the effects.
At this point, you’re probably wondering what MSG has to do with your chronic illness. You’re thinking that you don’t have chronic headaches, difficulty breathing, or any of the symptoms I mentioned above so MSG isn’t a problem for you.
Don’t pick up that processed food yet. The list of documented symptoms caused by MSG in food mimics symptoms of many common chronic illnesses. The table below brings together symptom lists from Pub Chem, Mayo Clinic,
Battling The MSG Mythhttps://www.msgmyth.com/symptoms, medical doctors, and others. As you read over this rather extensive list, think about how you’re feeling at this moment and what foods you’ve eaten over the past week? Could the processed foods you enjoy be contributing to, or even causing your symptoms? That’s a question only you can answer, and I’ll teach you some simple ways to track down which foods are hurting your health.
But first, the list:
- Difficulty Breathing
- Swelling in hands, feet, or face
- Mouth Sores
- Mitral Valve Prolapse
- Distorted Perceptions
- Attention Deficit Disorder (A.D.D)
- Stomach cramps
- Extreme thirst
- Spastic Colon
- Rage and hostility
- Memory Loss
- Difficulty Focusing
- Panic Attacks
- Rapid Heart Beat
- Irritable Bowel
- Extreme Thirst
- Water retention
- Chest Pain
- Arms or legs Feeling Heavy
- Feeling like you’re drunk or high
- Slurred speech
- Tingling face
- Sore throat
- Flushing sensation in the face
- Memory loss
- Chronic fatigue
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Chronic Cough
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Prostate problems
- Seeing Shiny Lights
- Pressure behind the eyes
- Dark Circles under the eyes
- Thyroid problems
- Kidney pain
- Restless Leg Syndrome
- Mental Dullness
- Angina pain
- Heart Palpations
- Runny nose
- Light Headedness
- Changes in blood pressure
- Extreme thirst
- Changes in hearing
- Stiffness in the jaw muscles
- Abdominal pain & discomfort
- Panic attack
- Itchy skin
- Tingling of ears
- Tingling of arms and feet
- Balance problems
- Cotton Mouth
- Prostate swelling
- Uncontrollable bladder
- Aching teeth
- Sleep disorders
- Burning Eyes
- Optic Neuritis
- Blurry Vision
- Meniere’s Disease
- Hematuria Syndrome
- Awareness During Sleep Paralysis (ADSP)
- Connective tissue damage
- ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease)
- Pressure behind the eyes
- Alzheimer’s Disease
- Increased Insulin
If you experience any of the symptoms, or conditions listed in the chart above I suggest you look at MSG in your food and drinks as a possible cause. It doesn’t matter that you only have reflux or burning in your eyes on occasion. It’s possible that something you’ve eaten is causing those occasional symptoms. MSG is hidden in places you don’t expect it. For example, some brands of canned chicken contain MSG. I’ve also found MSG in coffee creamer, prepared mashed potatoes, deli meats, store prepared rotisserie chicken, and even canned vegetables. The only way to know for sure is to be intentional about finding hidden sources.
Some labels will specifically say “monosodium glutamate,” but most won’t. In fact, there are roughly 90 words, phrases and ingredients that indicate that MSG is in the food. Most of the time food manufacturers don’t make it obvious. One example is corn starch. At first glance, it’s just corn starch — the same thing you by at the grocery store, and use to thicken sauces, It’s not harmful, and certainly doesn’t contain MSG. Right?
Wrong. The corn starch used in mass manufacturing could be the same simple ingredient you use in your home cooking. But, it’s more likely MSG was added. The FDA has ruled that food manufactures only need to include the name of the ingredient they are using, but doesn’t need to include any individual ingredients in that package.
One good example of this is the listed ingredient of Spices. You see “Spices” listed frequently on ingredient lists. But, what exactly, is in the spice blend. You’ll never know, and the FDA has ruled that food manufactures don’t have to tell you. You’ll just have to trust them.
Going back to our corn starch example. Let’s say you purchase a jarred gravy. The listed ingredients include “food starch.” It’s probable the food manufacturer bought that food starch from a supplier. It’s also likely that if you read the ingredients of the corn starch bags purchased by the food manufacturer, that it would include MSG mixed in to the food starch. It might also include something to keep the corn starch from sticking together.
According to the FDA, the manufacturer only has to include the ingredients they added. Since the ingredient they are adding is corn starch, that’s all they have to tell you. This is another reason I tell people that you never know what’s actually in your food unless you make it from scratch. Even then, unless you’re careful about where you source your fruits, vegetables, and meats, you still don’t know for sure. We’ll talk more about that in the following sections.
For now, here is a list of words that indicate MSG is added to your food.
This list has been compiled from a variety of sources. You’ll find them in the Further Reading section of this book.
Words that always mean MSG is included.
|Glutamate||Glutamic Acid||Monosodium Glutamate|
|Monopotassium glutamate||Calcium glutamate||Monoammonium glutamate|
|Magnesium glutamate||Natruim glutamate||Hydrolized anything|
|Calcium caseinate||Socium caseinate||Yeast extract|
|Torula yeast||Yeast food||Yeast nutrient|
|Nutritional Yeast||Autolyzed Yeast||Brewer’s Yeast|
|Gelatin||Textured protein||Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)|
|Whey protein||Whey protein concentrate||Whey protein isolate|
|Soy protein||Soy protein concentrate||Soy protein isolate|
|Anything listed as “protein fortified”||Anything listed as “protein concentrate”||Anything listed as “protein isolate”|
|Zinc proteininate||Proteininate anything||Soy sauce|
|Soy sauce extract||Protease||Anything listed as enzyme modified|
|Anything containing enzymes||Anything fermented||Vetsin|
|Flavor enhancer||L-Monosodium glutamate monohydrate||Sodium glutamate monohydrate|
|UNII-W81N5U6R6U||MSG monohydrate||Monosodium L-glutamate monohydrate|
|Tasting Powder||Sazón||Flavor enhancer E621|
|Anything protein, examples, tomato protein, plant protein, etc.||Aspartic acid||Sodium Cocoyl Glutamate|
|Unami||Xanthum Gum (E415)||Yeast Food|
|Yeast Nutrient||Anything Enzyme modified|
The following table are words and phrases that indicate MSG is certainly in one of the ingredients.
|Brewer’s Yeast||Carrageenen (E407)||Protease Enzymes|
|Maltodextrin||oligodextrin||Brown Rice syrup|
|Carrageenan||Bullion Stock||Broth stock|
|Maltodextrin||Citric Acid||Citrate (E330)|
|Ultra-pasteurized||Barley malt||Malted Barley|
|Pectin (E 440)||Malt extract||Seasonings|
|Spices||Soy milk||Corn starch|
|Corn syrup||Modified corn starch||Lipolyzed butter fat|
|Dextrose||Rice syrup||Milk powder|
|Reduced fat milk (this means skim, 1%, and 2% milk likely has MSG in it.)||Foods manufactured to be “Low Fat”||Foods manufactured to be “No fat”|
|Anything enriched||Vitamin enriched||pasteurized|
|Some amino acid chelates||Disodium guanylate||Disodium inosinate|
|Corn syrup||Dextrose||Milk Powder|
The following are additives that are only used when MSG is in a product. So, if you see one of these phrases the product definitely contains MSG.
|Disodium 5’-guanylate (E 627)||Disodium Guanylate E627||Disodium 5’-inosinate (E-631)|
|Disodium Inosinate E631||Disodium 5’-ribonucleotides (E635)|
Other things to know about MSG:
- MSG is included in many prescription and over-the-counter medications.
- The chicken pox vaccine put out by Varivax-Merch contains MSG. This specific vaccine is called Varicella Virus Live.
- According to the CDC, more than 35 vaccines currently in use contain MSG.
- MSG reactions are often related to the amount ingested, and the effects compound. This means if you take a medication that has MSG, and you eat foods that contain it, you are more likely to react.
- Some people report symptoms right away, but other people don’t have an MSG reaction for 48 hours after they ingest it.
- Everyone reacts to MSG. It’s simply a matter of personal tolerance level. You might have a lower tolerance level than your spouse, sibling, or friend.
My recommendation is that you go off MSG as completely as possible, and as quickly as possible. If you’re taking prescription or even over the counter drugs you may not be able to eliminate MSG on your own. Once you’ve eliminated all the MSG in your diet, you can think about approaching your doctor to ask about MSG in the medications you’re taking.
When you’re ready for that conversation with your doctor, go in to the appointment armed with information. Have a written list of all the ways you suspect MSG impacts your health. Know what symptoms it causes for you. Also, have the ingredients list for your current medications, along with the list of MSG words. Share this information with your doctor, and ask if there might be alternatives to your current meds. Keep in mind that doctors choose prescribed medications for a variety of reasons, including potential incentives from drug manufacturers. Your doctor might be unwilling to try an alternative drug.
How do you get off MSG? The short answer is “as quickly as possible, and all at once.”
Yes. I know what I’m asking. Like everything else in this book, I’ve done it myself. I know it’s hard to just up and quit MSG. Frankly, it’s designed that way. MSG acts on the brain a lot like addictive drugs. It causes the pleasure center of your brain to light up like a Christmas tree, making you want more. That’s kind of the point.
When most people cut out a food, or change a habit they approach it gradually. The typical advice it to make one or two small changes at a time. Doing so allows the activity or food to become habit. Then, you build on the new habit by adding another healthier activity or food. That approach works well for a lot of things.
But let’s say you want to eliminate MSG from your diet. You might decide to start by removing one MSG containing food. You decide to find an MSG-free brand of sausage. Painstakingly you research the brands available in your area, and find one that doesn’t contain any MSG, and you use that instead of your old brand. Later that day when you consume your favorite high MSG lunch food it tastes better than it usually does. You end up overeating that food, and get a double dose of MSG. Even though you avoided MSG at breakfast, you made up for the missed dose at lunch.
I recommend a different approach. When my clients decide it’s time to get rid of the MSG, I sit down with them and teach them how to read food labels with an eye toward MSG content. Together we spend as much time as needed reading the labels of their favorite brands. We determine which foods contain MSG, and need to be replaced. Then, I help my client identify which of these packaged foods they might be able to make themselves, and which they want to find a packaged replacement for. We spend a good bit of time reading food labels and making a list of possible replacement foods. The next step is the most fun. My client goes out and buys some of the foods on their list so they can decide which they like best. Finally, they make a note of their preferred MSG free foods so they have it for easy reference when shopping.
To summarize the process:
Read ingredient labels for every processed and packaged food you buy. Look for the words in the table above.
Look for alternatives to the foods that contain MSG. The easiest way to do this is to look up ingredient labels of possible replacement foods on-line.
Make a list of MSG free alternatives.
Purchase some MSG free alternatives to try. Write down the ones you like.
Keep a list of the foods you enjoy in your purse, or car so that you have it when you’re at the grocery store.
The above process is simple. But simple does not mean easy. I’ll be honest: nothing about eliminating MSG is easy. You will have food cravings, you might even experience withdraw symptoms. Moodiness, headaches, fatigue, mood swings, and heart palpations are the most common. Some people don’t have any symptoms at all, others experience mild discomfort for a day or three, while others struggle for up to a week.
The best thing you can do to support your body during this time is to drink lots of water. What do I mean by lots? One half your body weight in ounces. Example: if you weigh 225 lbs, you should drink 112.5 ounces of water each day to support proper digestion and detoxification. During first week or three after you remove the MSG, be sure to get enough sleep, and pay attention to your stress reduction activities, and mke sure you are getting at least 100% RDA on all vitamins and minerals. I recommend taking a vitamin & mineral supplement to be sure. Doing these things will give your body everything it needs to flush the MSG from your system effectively and completely.