MSG and other forms of
Neurotoxic Free Glutamic Acid
The purpose here is to examine the evidence, and alert you to what this author has concluded are the dangers of MSG, which contains a free/unbound form of glutamic acid, not naturally consumed in high amounts.
MSG –Should you be concerned?
The subject of MSG on health-safety is hotly debated - with the FDA bringing down the gavel on its being safe for most people. After review of both sides of the argument, this author is convinced that we should indeed be concerned. Free glutamic acid in MSG (and other forms) is now prolific in our food supply, and since it is added to food for the specific purpose of exciting neurons, it cannot so easily be found harmless in its effects on the brain. (i.e. the concept of “You can't have your cake and eat it”). Regardless of the many controversial studies and reviews, common sense, says that if we are even minutely,artificially increasing the amount of neuronal stimulation on an ongoing basis, there are going to be health repercussions. Epidemiological studies indicate that 25-30% of the population (including this author) react to and suffer negative side-effects in varying degrees after consuming MSG, including problems such as migraine headache, seizures, asthma,depression, breathing difficulties, tingling,swelling, and paralysis. Consequently, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that â€˜monosodium glutamate'be listed on the label or on restaurant menus to prevent a reaction by avoiding such foods. (Unfortunately, the labeling can be misleading).
What is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)?
Monosodium Glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid - glutamateis naturally bound to most whole, unprocessed foods (especially proteins), providing us with healthy nourishment. Glutamate is converted into glutamic acid by hydrolysis.MSG was originally extracted from seaweed and other plant sources, but today, MSG is produced in many countries around the world through a fermentation process of molasses from sugar cane or beets, and also starch and corn sugar.
Glutamic acid in the body – normally, most glutamic acid is produced in the body from L-glutamine and Kreb's cycle intermediates. Glutamic acid/glutamate functions in all cells in essential roles as a metabolic intermediate and a constituent of protein. In the brain, it is the predominant excitatory neurotransmitter, which stimulates neurons by activatingglutamate receptors. Other nerurotransmitters include aspartate, acetylcholine, serotonin, GABA, aspartate, epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. Some are excitatory (glutamate and aspartate) increasing electrical activity between cells,others inhibitory (primarily GABA), and they need to be in appropriate balance with each other for proper brain function.
Free processed vs. Bound Unprocessed Glutamic Acid ? -When present in its "free" form not bound together with other amino acids in protein , glutamate has a flavor enhancing effect in foods. it is the free glutamic acid in processed food,not the naturally bound form, that causes negative health reactions in many people.
To consider: persons who report a sensitivity to hydrolyzed proteins (containing free glutamic acid) may be sensitive to the soy, wheat or other protein source, rather than to glutamate itself.
Glutamate consumed in your diet, circulates in your blood, but is regulated in the brain by the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB) - Glutamate concentration in brain interstitial fluid is only a fraction of that of plasma and is maintained fairly independently of small fluctuations in plasma concentration. In most regions of the brain, the uptake of glutamate and other anionic excitatory amino acids from the circulation is limited by the BBB.
– Free glutamic acid may be more capable of crossing the BBB and increasing extracellular glutamate in the brain – which can lead to over-excitation and cell death.
– Certain conditions can cause BBB vulnerability in some people – E.g.injury, hypertension, hypoglycemia, diabetes, and dehydration. In young children, their BBB is not yet fully developed.
The average American consumes - about 11 grams of bound glutamate per day from natural protein sources, and 0.55 grams of free glutamic acid per day fromsuch as MSG.
National Academy of Sciences National Research Council. The 1977 Survey of the Industry on the Use of Food Additives: Estimates of Daily Intake. Vol. 3, Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1979.
Why is MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) added to food?
MSG is a neurostimulant that fools the brain into thinking that food tastes better than it really does – when added to our processed foods, FREE glutamic acid, as monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, and about 40 other forms, masks off flavors and makes the blandest and cheapest foods taste great –mostly described as savory, meaty or broth-like. Another advantage is in encouraging the elderly to eat more as they lose their sense of taste and smell, and so prevent their typical poor nutrition status. For centuries, the Japanese have been adding Kombu to foods to enhance flavor, and in 1908, after a Japanese scientist discovered that Kombu's active ingredient is free glutamic acid, the Japanese began use of its sodium salt MSG.
During WWII, American quartermasters found out “the secret”as to why Japanese army rations tasted so much better than the American military rations, and soon after the war, the extensive world-wide use of cheap, flavor-enhancing free glutamic acid began in the general processed-food industry.
Excess Free Glutamic Acid (E.g. from MSG) is an excitotoxin (can cause neurons to “Burn-out”)
Direct application of glutamate to the Central Nervous System (CNS) caused seizure activity
T. Hayashi, a Japanese scientist (1954);
MSG fed to newborn mice destroyed the neurons in the inner layers of the retina
Lucas, DR; Newhouse, JP (1957). "The toxic effect of sodium L-glutamate on the inner layers of the retina.". A.M.A. Archives of ophthalmology 58 (2): 193–201. PMID 13443577.
Further, MSG-induced neuron damage was found to occur throughout the rodent brain (in doses that correlate with human diets) -by John Olney of Washington University in 1969, who then coined the term excitotoxicity. He also assessed that cell death was restricted to postsynaptic neurons, that neurotoxicity occurred in proportion to the activation of glutamate receptors, and that glutamate antagonists could stop the neurotoxicity.
In addition , Olney found that in mice:
MSG damages the hypothalamus and causes obesity, behavioral disturbances, endocrine changes, stunted bodies, seizures and infertility – The hypothalamus is a small area of the brain that controls a multitude of systems: regulating growth, the onset of puberty, most of the endocrine glands, appetite, sleeping and waking patterns, the biological clock and consciousness, and is critical for memory and learning. It is now well-known and proven that the hypothalamus atrophies as we age.
Olney, JW (1969). "Brain lesions, obesity, and other disturbances in mice treated with monosodium glutamate.". Science 164 (880): 719–21. PMID 5778021.
Science Service report 1993. Ref: Studies by James Golomb of New York University, using MRI on patients 55 to 87, on the results of atrophy of the hypothalamus, memory and learning.
Too much free glutamic acid can cause neurons to “Burn Out”– glutamate is the major excitatory neurotransmitter in the mammalian CNS, functioning appropriately to stimulate neurons (aspartate is another neurotransmitter, but stimulates to a lesser extent). However, too much glutamate can damage/destroy neurons by its excessive stimulation, in over-activating glutamate receptors (NMDA and AMPA receptors). So called excitotoxins, such as NMDA and kainic acid which bind to these receptors, and pathologically high levels of glutamate can cause excitotoxicity, by allowing high levels of calcium ions (Ca2+) to enter the cell, which:
– Activates several enzymes (E.g. phospholipases, endonucleases, and proteases such as calpain) - these enzymes proceed to damage cell structures E.g. components of the cytoskeleton, membrane and DNA.
– When mitochondria absorb too much calcium, membrane pores open and may cause mitochondria to swell and release proteins that can lead to apoptosis (cell death). The opened pore can also cause mitochondria to release more calcium.
– Cellular energy ATP production may stop -and ATP synthase may begin hydrolysing ATP instead of producing it.
Stavrovskaya, IG; Kristal, BS (2005). "The powerhouse takes control of the cell: is the mitochondrial permeability transition a viable therapeutic target against neuronal dysfunction and death?". Free radical biology & medicine 38 (6): 687–97. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2004.11.032. PMID 15721979.
– Glutamate builds up in the ECF (extracellular fluid), further activating glutamate receptors – not only does loss of ATP production reduce ion gradients needed to transport/remove glutamate from the ECF, but even worse, thetransporters reverse, causing them to release glutamate ( and aspartate) into the ECF. This results in a buildup of glutamate and more damaging activation of glutamate receptors.
Siegel, G J, Agranoff, BW, Albers RW, Fisher SK, Uhler MD, editors. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular, and Medical Aspects 6th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins. 1999.
Health Problems linked to Excitotoxicity
Spinal cord injury, stroke, traumatic brain injury – can cause the ischemic cascade, which is ischemia followed by accumulation of glutamate and aspartate in the ECF (extra cellular fluid) causing cell death.
Neurodegenerative diseases of the CNS - E.g. M.S., Alzheimer's disease, ALS, Parkinson's Disease, alcoholism/alcohol withdrawal and Huntington's disease.
Kim AH, Kerchner GA, and Choi DW. Blocking Excitotoxicity. Chapter 1 in CNS Neuroprotection. Marcoux FW and Choi DW, editors. Springer, New York. 2002. Pages 3-36.
Hughes JR (February 2009). "Alcohol withdrawal seizures". Epilepsy Behav 15 (2): 92–7. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.02.037. PMID 19249388.
Health Problems identified with MSG Consumption
The FDA commissioned a study conducted by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), which determined that MSG was safe for most people:
– According to the FDA's Talk Paper of August 31, 1995, the resulting 350 page report, completed on 31 July 1995 [now deleted]:
✔Reaffirms the safety of MSG - at normally consumedlevels for the general population and found no evidence linking MSGto anyserious,long-termmedicalproblemsinthegeneral population;
✔Suggests evidence that "certain people may develop short-term reactions - burning sensation...,facial pressure/tightness, chest pain,headache, nausea,numbness...,tingling...,bronchospasm(observedin asthmatics only), drowsiness, and weakness, when theyconsume largedoses (approximately 3 grams or more per meal) of MSGor otherfree glutamates.No evidence was found linkingtheMSG Symptom Complex to the consumption of low levels of glutamate."
– Other findings of report - in otherwise healthy MSG-intolerant people, the MSG symptom complex tends to occur within one hour after eating 3 grams or more of MSG on an empty stomach or without other food, stating that a typical serving of glutamate-treated food contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. A reaction is most likely if the MSG is eaten in a large quantity or in a liquid, such as a clear soup.
– So there's nothing to worry about, right? - WRONG . . . this is where you find out things aren't so black and white:
✔Conclusions were limited by the FDA contract - the FASEB Report responded to a set of 18 questionsposed bythe FDA in its contract, that virtually guaranteed that FASEB could only conclude that (a) No determination of the safety ofMSG could be made without further study, or (b) That MSG was "safe."
✔50% biased Panel - TheReport was prepared with the help of an eight man ExpertPanel, consisting of at least four men with conflicts of interest.
✔Data omitted and distorted - theoriginalstudywasadvertised asanindependentreviewof existing literature that might pertain to the safety of MSG infood. However,some data of some independent scientists were omitted,and other data were distorted.
✔Conclusions are drawn that donotnecessarily follow from the data found in the body of the report.
✔Questions asked limited the answers - theFDA asked: "What are the symptoms and signs of acute, temporary, and 'self-limited'adversereactions..."FASEBansweredthe question, listing a few relatively mild reactions while ignoringthe manydebilitating and life-threatening reactions that have also been reported.Thus, readers are given the impression that the reactions to MSG include only a few rather benign reactions, when, indeed, that is not true.
✔Gave untrue impression that there is evidence to suggest that MSG-sensitive people:
(1)Respond within one hour of exposure to MSG (but not after that time);
(2) React to an oral bolus of 3 grams of MSG or more (but not < 3 grams);
(3)React to 3 grams of MSG or more, only when giveninthe absence of food.
MSG can cause neuron death - According toRussell L. Blaylock, M.D., neurosurgeon and author of Excitoxins: The Taste that Kills, there is a link between sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, and excitotoxic damage caused by food additives like MSG and artificial sweeteners.Dr. Blaylock cites excitotoxins as, "A group of excitatory amino acids that can cause sensitive neurons to die."
MSG is addictive – MSG is added to food for its flavor-enhancing and addictive effects - it causes people to eat more. Burger King, McDonald's, Wendy's, Taco Bell, Subway, and even sit-down places like TGIF, Chili's, Applebee's, and Denny's use MSG in abundance.At KFC,MSG was found in every chicken dish, salad dressing and gravy.That delicious secret spice on their chicken skin? –you guessed it - MSG.
MSG has been linked to obesity – rats used in obesity experiments are purposefully injected with MSG in their suckling period to cause obesity; obesity linked with MSG consumption in Chinese study with average intakes of 0 .33g MSG / day.
MSG-induced reactions can be delayed as much as 48 hours
or can occur immediately after ingestion or exposure
What Foods / Food Ingredients contain MSG?
Many food products are illegally misbranded with “No MSG Added”- a food label that declares such is false and misleading under section 403 (a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act when the label also lists any other ingredient that does contain MSG, such as hydrolyzed protein, maltodextrin or modified food starch.
The amount of processed free glutamic acid in a product or produced in the body after consumption,determines whether or not you might suffer an MSG reaction.
Avoiding MSG basically requires that you do not eat out at restaurants.
* Accent® - isPURE MSG.
* Spike® - contains high flavor yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, both forms of MSG;
Some snack foods that do NOT contain MSG:
✔Blue Dot-EmphasisAlmonds spicy flavors - such as JalapeÃ±o Smokehouse and Wasabi flavor;
✔Cheez-It snack crackers (original flavor). However, some new variations of Cheez-It crackers contain MSG;
✔Wal-Mart Great Value BBQ flavored Potato Chips
Food packagers try to disguise the presence of MSG (free glutamic acid) in their products by using other names, not so familiar to the general public:
**Protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins
These ingredients work synergistically with MSG to enhance flavor
Carrageenan is used as a binding agent, thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer - a rather new additive, it is a complex polysaccharide extract made from seaweed.
Carrageenan contains free glutamic acid or creates it during processing - thickening agent (similar to agar); used in chocolate processing, toothpaste, ice cream, sour cream, cherry pies, some soy milk (e.g. SILK, EdenSoy),almond milk, cheeses and dairy foods,prescription pills.
There are two types of carrageenan:
(1) Undegraded carrageenan (food grade) - has been used on a huge scale in food production worldwide since the 1930s - and its safety has been assured by the FDA Gras status. The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) gave carrageenan the highest ADI (Accepted Daily Intake) status of 'not specified'.
(2) Chemically treated, degraded carrageenan (hydrolyzed with acid) is a known carcinogen (cancer causing agent) and is not used or permitted in food production - but is frequently used to experimentally induce intestinal inflammation and to promote tumors in animal studies.
Following review found
that even UNDEGRADED carageenan can cause harmful effects in GI tract
Although the International Agency for Research on Cancer in 1982 identified sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of degraded carrageenan in animals to regard it as posing a carcinogenic risk to humans, carrageenan is still used widely as a thickener, stabilizer, and texturizer in a variety of processed foods prevalent in the Western diet.
I reviewed experimental data pertaining to carrageenan's effects with particular attention to the occurrence of ulcerations and neoplasms in association with exposure to carrageenan. In addition, I reviewed from established sources mechanisms for production of degraded carrageenan from undegraded or native carrageenan and data with regard to carrageenan intake.
Review of these data
demonstrated that exposure to UNDEGRADED as well as to DEGRADED carrageenan was
associated with the occurrence of intestinal ulcerations and neoplasms -
This association may be attributed to contamination of
undegraded carrageenan by components of low molecular weight, spontaneous
metabolism of undegraded carrageenan by acid hydrolysis under conditions of
normal digestion, or the interactions with intestinal bacteria.
Although in 1972, the
Environ Health Perspect 109:983-994 (2001) . [Online 24 September 2001]
Opposing glutamate action can be approached from at least 3 directions:
(1) Activate GABA receptors - E.g. anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin(cause drowsiness and can lead to dependence),
(2) Provide medications/substances antagonistic to glutamate - Ginkgo Biloba Extract is purported to be a powerful glutamate antagonist.
(3) Provide medications/substances antagonistic to glutamate's receptor N-methyl-d-aspartate (NMDA) - By binding with these receptors, the antagonist medication reduces glutamate-induced continuous firing of the neuron. E.g. Memantine is an NMDA antagonist (also hallucinogenic) used for Alzheimer patients;
Natural substances purported to protect against excess glutamate in the brain - L-Theanine, Magnesium, NAC, ALA, Resveratol, B6, CoQ10. (Note: This websiteauthor has not researched these)
Studies reporting MSG safety are slanted
Example Study: Glutamate Safety in the Food Supply
The following is included for those who are interested in seeing how biased parties have slanted study results claiming the safety of MSG.
E.g. Studies such as this one, funded by International Glutamate Technical Committee finds MSG concerns to be unwarranted.
Studies that seemingly debunk the health concerns over MSG have used several ploys as follows:
•Although it had been established that brain lesions could not be identified if examination was not done within 24 hours after insult, glutamate-industry researchers routinely examined the brains of test animals after 24 hours had elapsed.
•Monkeys are much less sensitive to glutamate than humans. Mice and rats have reactions closer to ours. According to Dr. John Olney, "The same oral dose of glutamate that causes a dramatic increase in blood glutamate concentrations in humans, causes no increase at all in monkeys. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why so much money and effort was expended on oral glutamate monkey studies, unless the goal was to amass negative evidence that could serve as basis for fostering the misleading impression, and fueling the spurious argument that if monkeys are resistant to glutamate-induced brain damage, other primates, including humans, must be similarly resistant."
•In studies with people, glutamate industry researchers have sometimes used aspartame (Nutrasweet®) as the "placebo" for their "control" groups. Aspartame contains aspartic acid, which is a structural analog of glutamic acid and causes the same toxic effects. Thus, they could be confident that they would get the same effects in the experimental and in the "control" groups.
•Populations chosen for studies by glutamate industry researchers were pretestedwith placebos containing, for example, aspartame, carageenan, or enzymes to which MSG-sensitive people would react. In this way, by choosing study participants, who do not react to the so-called "placebos," the scientists could be pretty sure that their subjects would not react to MSG.
•Another way to reduce reactions is to put the MSG in capsules, such that it will be slowly released and reactions of MSG-sensitive people will be bluntedâ€”compared to their reactions to the same amount of MSG sprinkled on food.
•Giving MSG with sucrose will also blunt reactions. Dr. Blaylock has explained that a tremendous amount of energy is required for the brain to manage glutamic acid and, of course, glucose is what our brains use for energy.
•To defend themselves against epidemiological studies indicating that 25-30 per cent of the population reacted to monosodium glutamate and against individual reports of human adverse reactions that included migraine headache, seizures, asthma, and depression, the glutamate industry built the fiction that a few people might react to monosodium glutamate with the "Chinese restaurant syndrome": "burning," "tightness," and "numbness," all occurring at the same time, within two hours following ingestion. They sent out a questionnaire and got 3,222 respondents, of whom 1.8 % reported having the exactly defined "Chinese restaurant syndrome." The fact that an additional 41.2 % of the subjects reported experiencing conditions that are associated with MSG-induced adverse reactions such as headache, diarrhea, chest pain, dizziness, palpitation, weakness, nausea/vomiting, abdominal cramps, chills, heartburn, unusual thirst, unusual perspiration, flushing sensation in face or chest, and tingling was ignored. Migraine headache, seizures, tachycardia, hives, skin rash, and depression, which were not offered as options, were not considered.
Soon the FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) began to disseminate the misinformation that less than 2% of the population might be sensitive to MSG, reacting with the mild and transitory reactions of "Chinese restaurant syndrome."
The FDA says that MSG is “SAFE”
–Anyone who reads the entire FASEB report knows it isn't
The following article from “Truth in Labeling Campaign”exposes the misleading results of the FDA-commissioned FASEB report on MSG Safety, pointing out that:
“Addressingthe Report, addresses the larger issues ofpersonaland corporategreed, lack of scientific integrity, and man'sinhumanity toman.Tohide a neurotoxic and potentially debilitatingand/or life threatening additive in food, is immoral.”
Some Interesting References
IFIC Review on Monosodium Glutamate: Examining the Myths- http://extoxnet.orst.edu/faqs/additive/ificmsg.htm