Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a food additive often used to enhance the flavor of foods, in particular processed ones. Hundreds of millions of pounds of MSG are added to foods worldwide every year. You probably already know about the harmful health effects of MSG and are trying to avoid it. But did you know that it could actually be hiding in your food under other names?
MSG is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a non-essential amino acid. Glutamate occurs naturally in many foods and is also made by the body for healthy metabolism and brain functions.
Excessive glutamate, however, can contribute to neurological conditions like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, stroke, encephalitis and brain infections.
- death of brain cells
- lesions in the hypothalamus -- this could contribute to abnormal development
- over-stimulation of the heart's electrical conduction system, potentially triggering heart attacks or arrhythmia, especially in magnesium-deficient individuals
- growth of malignant tumors, since MSG is known to affect genetic functions and raise free radical levels
- type 2 diabetes
- increased pain levels, since glutamate has a major role in pain sensation
- irritation of the gastrointestinal tract
- nausea, stomach cramping and diarrhea, especially in persons who have gone through or are undergoing chemotherapy or radiation treatments
One place where MSG could be present is your restaurant food.
Did you know that there is a medically recognized syndrome by the name of "Chinese restaurant syndrome"? Some of its symptoms include tingling and weakness at various body parts, including the temple, face, neck, upper back and arms. There could also be feelings of warmth and flushing of the skin. More sensitive persons may even experience severe thirst, heart palpitations, anxiety, nausea and vomiting.
And do you know what food ingredient is guilty for these negative reactions? Yes, it's MSG.
How is MSG linked to Chinese restaurant syndrome? One possibility could be the fact that the proper metabolism of MSG requires vitamin B6. This then leads to a vitamin B6 deficiency in the body. Karl Folkers, PhD, then from the University of Texas, has shown that in many cases using about 50 mg of vitamin B6 supplements daily helped alleviate the symptoms of this syndrome.
Other than being added to restaurant food, there is also MSG hiding in many packaged and processed food products, either taking on different names or as part of other food ingredients. If you think that you are safe from MSG just because you avoid "monosodium glutamate" on ingredients lists, you could be badly mistaken.
According to author Bill Gottlieb, there are numerous food ingredients which always contain MSG. Other than "monosodium glutamate," you should also be looking out for "hydrolyzed protein," "textured protein," "calcium caseinate," "sodium caseinate," "yeast food," "yeast extract," "yeast nutrient," "autolyzed yeast," "maltodextrins" and "hydrolyzed oat flour".
According to him, there are also many harmless-sounding food ingredients which often contain MSG. These include "malt extract/flavoring," "barley malt," "flavorings," "natural flavorings," "natural chicken/beef/pork flavorings," "food seasonings," "bouillon," "broth" and "stock."
Other sources suggest that even items like "dry milk solids," "soy extract," "cornstarch" and "modified food starch" often contain MSG.
If you think that is a long list, you may be shocked to learn that there are more ingredients to look out for. See a more comprehensive listing here.
Since restaurant food and many processed food products contain MSG, the best way to avoid it is thus to prepare most of your meals at home using mostly fresh whole foods.
Sources for this article include:
Murray, Michael T., ND. Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements: The Essential Guide for Improving Your Health Naturally. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 1996. Print.
Gottlieb, Bill. Alternative Cures: The Most Effective Natural Home Remedies for 160 Health Problems. Rodale, 2000. Print.
Blaylock, Russell L, MD. Natural Strategies For Cancer Patients. New York, NY: Kensington Publishing, 2003. Print.
About the author:
Reuben Chow has a keen interest in natural health and healing as well as personal growth.
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