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 ‘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 -
is naturally bound to most whole, unprocessed foods (especially
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
activating glutamate 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
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.
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
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 from
such 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
MSG is a neurostimulant that fools the brain into thinking that food tastes
better than it really does –
when added to our processed foods,
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.
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
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.
Further, MSG-induced neuron damage was found to occur throughout the rodent
(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
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
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
proteases such as
calpain) - these enzymes
proceed to damage cell structures E.g. components of the cytoskeleton, membrane
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.
production may stop
- and ATP synthase may
begin hydrolysing ATP instead of producing
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, the
transporters 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.
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.
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 consumed levels
for the general population and found no
evidence linking MSG to
Suggests evidence that "certain people may
develop short-term reactions - burning
pressure/tightness, chest pain,
in asthmatics only), drowsiness, and weakness, when they
consume large doses
(approximately 3 grams or more per meal) of MSG
free glutamates. No evidence
was found linking the
MSG Symptom Complex to the consumption of low levels of
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 questions
posed by the FDA in its
contract, that virtually guaranteed that FASEB could only conclude that (a) No
determination of the safety of MSG
could be made without further study, or (b) That MSG was "safe."
50% biased Panel -
The Report was prepared with the
help of an eight man Expert Panel,
consisting of at least four men with conflicts of interest.
Data omitted and distorted -
advertised as an
of existing literature that might pertain to the safety of MSG in
food. However, some data of
some independent scientists were omitted,
and other data were distorted.
Conclusions are drawn that do
not necessarily follow from
the data found in the body of the report.
Questions asked limited the answers -
FDA asked: "What are the symptoms and signs of acute, temporary, and
answered the question,
listing a few relatively mild reactions while ignoring
the many debilitating 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:
Respond within one hour of exposure to MSG (but not after that time);
React to an oral bolus of 3 grams of MSG
or more (but not < 3 grams);
React to 3 grams of MSG or more, only when given
absence of food.
Read more on this slanted study
MSG can cause neuron
According to Russell 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 –
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.
Mcdonalds and other processedfoods really kill you?
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.
REACTIONS TO FREE GLUTAMIC ACID IN SENSITIVE PEOPLE
Extreme rise or drop in blood pressure
Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
Dizziness, Light-headedness, Loss of balance
Disorientation, Mental confusion
Anxiety, Panic attacks
Hyperactivity, Behavioral problems in children
Lethargy, Sleepiness, Insomnia
Numbness or paralysis
Asthma, Shortness of breath
Chest pain, Tightness
Runny nose, Sneezing
Hives or rash
Mouth lesions / Extreme dryness of the mouth
Temporary tightness or partial paralysis (numbness or tingling) of
Swelling of prostate
Visual Blurred vision Difficulty focusing
can be delayed as much as 48 hours
or can occur immediately after ingestion
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.
Foods Typically containing
Dry roasted peanuts
Fried Snack Foods
Frozen breaded fish
Potato Chips E.g. Doritos®, Cheetos®
Canned Soups, broths
Some processed cheeses
Items with added cheese powder
Accent® - is PURE
Spike® - contains high flavor yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, both
forms of MSG;
Some snack foods that do NOT contain MSG:
Blue Diamond Almonds spicy flavors -
such as Jalapeño Smokehouse and Wasabi flavor;
Cheez-It snack crackers
(original flavor). However, some new variations of Cheez-It crackers
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:
These ALWAYS contain MSG
Any "hydrolyzed ... protein"
Plant protein extract
Phong churot (Thailand)
Wie jing (China)
These OFTEN contain hidden MSG or create MSG during processing
Natural pork flavoring
Bouillon and Broth
Natural chicken flavoring
Soy protein isolate
Natural beef flavoring
Soy sauce extract
Whey protein concentrate
Soy protein concentrate
Whey protein isolate
Anything protein fortified
Flavors(s) & Flavoring(s)
Anything enzyme modified
Seasonings / Spices
(the word "seasonings")
**Protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids
from food proteins
These ingredients work synergistically with MSG to enhance flavor
(If they are present for
flavoring purposes, so is MSG)
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,
There are two types of carrageenan:
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'.
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
Following review found
that even UNDEGRADED carageenan can cause harmful effects in GI tract
Review of Harmful Gastrointestinal
Effects of Carrageenan in Animal Experiments
Joanne K. Tobacman, College of Medicine, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa,
Abstract - In this
article I review the association between exposure to carrageenan and the
occurrence of colonic ulcerations and gastrointestinal neoplasms in animal
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 U.S. Food and
Drug Administration considered restricting dietary carrageenan to an average
molecular weight > 100,000, this resolution did not prevail, and no subsequent
regulation has restricted use. Because of the acknowledged carcinogenic
properties of degraded carrageenan in animal models and the cancer-promoting
effects of undegraded carrageenan in experimental models, the widespread use of
carrageenan in the Western diet should be reconsidered.
Environ Health Perspect 109:983-994 (2001) . [Online 24 September 2001]
Opposing glutamate action can be approached from
at least 3 directions:
Activate GABA receptors - E.g. anti-anxiety medications such as
Xanax, Valium and Klonopin (cause
drowsiness and can lead to dependence),
Provide medications/substances antagonistic to glutamate
Ginkgo Biloba Extract is purported to be a powerful glutamate antagonist.
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
Natural substances purported to protect against excess glutamate in the brain -
L-Theanine, Magnesium, NAC, ALA, Resveratol, B6, CoQ10. (Note:
This website author has not
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.
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
Populations chosen for studies by glutamate
industry researchers were pretested
with 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 blunted—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
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
the Report, addresses the larger issues of
personal and corporate
greed, lack of scientific integrity, and man's
inhumanity to man.
To hide a neurotoxic and
potentially debilitating and/or life
threatening additive in food, is immoral.”
Some Interesting References
IFIC Review on Monosodium
Glutamate: Examining the Myths -