By Dr. Jenni Clear
Many people have become more aware of what they’re consuming and are less trusting of manufacturers of food. Hence, the sustainability revolution is going strong! Lots of people are creating their own gardens and raising their own meat. This is fantastic! The more involved we are in making our meals, the better control we have in our health. The topic of this article is monosodium glutamate (MSG). My goal is to educate you on the dangers of this flavor enhancer and how to better avoid it.
What is the big fuss about monosodium glutamate? For our ohana and many others, it can create very big problems! My husband, his mom, and his dad all get severe migraines from this little ingredient. Symptoms of intolerance can vary from mild to severe and are as follows: headaches; flushing; sweating; facial pressure, tightness, numbness, tingling, and burning; heart palpitations; obesity; fatigue; eye damage; chest pain; nausea; disorientation; stroke; insomnia; learning disabilities; Alzheimer’s; Parkinson’s; Lou Gehrig’s Disease; Type II diabetes; heart attack; and depression. MSG Symptom Complex is the diagnosis for this condition. Previously it was called Chinese restaurant syndrome. Studies show that 40% of the population may be sensitive to MSG. Babies are four times more sensitive than adults to the side effects of this chemical. This is something that more people need to be aware of.
What is MSG anyway? MSG is a flavor enhancer that food producers are using to make food taste better and thus sell better. Chemically, it is 78% free glutamic acid, 21% sodium, and up to 1% contaminants. It is not just in Chinese food. It may be in your canned soup, crackers, chips, sausages, hot dogs, salad dressings, frozen dinners, and even in baby food and formula. This ingredient was created in 1908 by Kikunae Ikeda. He and a partner formed Ajinomoto, which is currently the world’s largest producer of MSG. Coincidently, this company also manufactures drugs. Accent was one of the first American MSG products. Although MSG enhances the flavor of foods, it does not actually have much taste itself. The use of MSG in the U.S. increased after World War II. Our troops realized how much better the Japanese troops’ food tasted because of MSG. It tasted heartier, more robust, less tinny, and fresher.
How does MSG cause us harm? The free glutamic acid is an excitotoxin which can over excite our cells so much that the cells are damaged or die. Free Glutamic acid is also a neurotransmitter that the brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas, and other organs use to initiate processes in the body. Dr. Russell Blaydock, a neurosurgeon has done extensive research on this topic and has discovered some frightening things. When glutamate receptors are over stimulated, cardiac arrhythmias can occur which damage the heart. This could even cause sudden death in young athletes because children do not have a mature, fully developed blood brain barrier to protect them. When children are very athletic, they tend to have low magnesium levels in their bodies. This makes their glutamate receptors extremely sensitive, where even low levels of excitotoxins can cause heart arrhythmias and/or even death.
The FDA states that this product is “generally recognized as safe”. I personally do not trust everything the FDA says. If labeling was simple, I would recommend not buying products containing MSG. Of course, this is not the case. Food Companies want to sell their products; and MSG has a bad reputation. So there are a whole bunch of aliases for this ingredient. Other ingredients mimic the effects of MSG, as well. This can cause a lot of frustration and confusion. To make it simple, here is a list of ingredients to try to avoid: Hydrolyzed soy protein, isolated soy protein, soy protein concentrate, aspartate (from aspartame or nutrasweet), autolyzed yeast, calcium caseinate, gelatin, glutamate, glutamic acid, hydrolyzed protein, monopotassium glutamate, monosodium glutamate (of course), sodium caseinate, textured protein, yeast extract, yeast food, yeast nutrient, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), rice syrup, or brown rice syrup.
There are many more ingredients that can mimic the effects of MSG. If you want to look into this topic further, you may want to read Dr. Blaydock’s book “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills”.
Researching this topic and writing this article has given me some guilty emotions. Because our kids and I don’t feel the effects of MSG like my husband does; we sometimes go to fast food restaurants where they use MSG. This information has made me motivated to change this habit. I hope this information helps you and your ohana, especially if you are experiencing some of the side effects of MSG without knowing the cause. Sending aloha and good health your way, a hui hou.
Dr. Jenni Clear has a chiropractic practice in Kea’au with her husband.