MSG: A Taste That Kills

In the previous article, Is Your Protein Powder Toxic, the problem of many whey products being toxic due to their containing MSG was briefly discussed. Here, we will take a more in-depth look into why monosodium glutamate (MSG) is such a problem. 

What does MSG mean?

The name itself says what MSG is..."Mono" meaning "one" "sodium" and "glutamate"-- MSG is a single sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid, which is an essential amino acid. Today, it is produced by fermenting corn, sugar beets, or sugar cane. MSG is a food additive that is listed by the FDA to be 'Generally Regarded As Safe.' MSG is added to our food to enhance the flavor; because so much of our food today is heavily processed, much of the natural flavor is lost, and in order to make the food taste more palatable and appealing, flavor enhancers such as MSG are added to make people like the taste (and become addicted to) many of the processed food products on the market today. MSG can make even the most bland foods taste delicious, which is why the food additive has grown so much so fast. In fact, a shocking nearly 85 million pounds of MSG are added to the U.S. food supply annually. 

Why is MSG such a problem?

Why is this a problem? MSG is classified as an excitotoxin. Excitotoxins are chemicals that damage and kill nerve cells and that lead to many neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and ALS. MSG is not only damaging to the brain, but also destroys specialized cells in the retina of the eye, damaging vision and leading to eye conditions such as macular degeneration. MSG and other types of excitotoxins such as many sugar free sweeteners like Splenda, are also strongly linked with problems such as migraine headaches, seizures, increased heart rate, tingling muscles or skin, and ADHD/ADD. 

MSG and other excitotoxin chemicals stimulate the nervous system. While this is a good and essential thing in the body, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, as is the case with MSG. Like it was mentioned above, MSG is a salt of glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is a natural neurotransmitter in the brain, and it functions to excite the nervous system and thus helps in activating the nerves. But, MSG causes the nerve cells to become too excited and to swell like a balloon; the nerve cells literally die from over-excitement. The cells swell because the MSG triggers the part on the cell that allows sodium inside and therefore MSG lets extra sodium and water into the cell, causing it to swell, then die. Even small doses of MSG can cause damage to neurons in the brain and the eyes without killing them. 

The bottom line with MSG is that even small amounts damage our brain, our eyes, and our entire nervous system. Getting frequent intakes of MSG, or moderate to high MSG containing foods, the specialized (nerve) cells die. With time, this damage leads to serious conditions such as Parkinson's, seizures, ALS, and Alzheimer's. More immediately, symptoms such as headaches, problems concentrating, and food cravings can occur. 

It's important to note that MSG coming from liquid-formed foods are more toxic to the brain than are the dry forms because the liquid forms are absorbed more quickly and directly through the blood-brain barrier. The most common food sources of MSG include seasoning salts, soups, spices, condiments, chips, frozen foods, fast foods, canned goods, meats, and some baked goods and candies. Additionally, most Asian type foods contain flavor enhancers including MSG. But, like many other food additives today, MSG is somewhat of a 'hidden' ingredient. MSG can be hidden under many aliases, including "hydrolyzed vegetable protein", "vegetable protein", "natural flavorings", "yeast extract" "protein isolate" and "spices".

Dangers of MSG for babies and children

Another important thing to note is that the harmful effects of MSG are even greater for babies and children. Because these small bodies are developing and growing, they are more susceptible to damage, especially because their blood-brain barrier is not as strong. It is especially important for parents to be aware of MSG-containing foods and to omit them from the diets of their children, in an effort to protect against nerve cell damage, headaches, ADHD/ADD, seizures, and other such problems. 

The best way to avoid MSG

While completely avoiding MSG and other such flavor enhancers can be very difficult in today's world, even for the most informed of consumers, at least minimizing exposure to it is helpful. The best way to avoid intaking MSG is to make your own foods at home from scratch with fresh, whole food ingredients. Eating fresh, unpackaged foods is a great way to insure that there are no chemical additives such as MSG. When one does eat out, try to avoid Asian style foods, or be sure to talk to the chef to determine if MSG and other such flavor enhancers are used. Staying away from some of the big culprit foods (listed above) is a great way to start minimizing and eliminating the intake of this damaging food additive. 

 

An MSG-Free Seasoning Mix:

1-2 tsp sea salt (or pink Himalayan salt)

2 tsp basil flakes

1-2 tsp onion powder

1 tsp parsley flakes

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp thyme

1/2-1 tsp mustard powder

1/2 tsp marjoram

1/4-1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp celery seeds

1 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp curry (optional)

 

 

Sources:

Blaylock, Russell. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Health Press, Santa Fe, NM.

Goldberg, Burton. Alternative Medicine. Celestial Arts, Berkley, CA. 

Haas, Elson M. Staying Healthy With Nutrition. Celestial Arts, Berkley, CA.