© Unknown
What is MSG and Why is it Used

Without monosodium glutamate (MSG), the modern food industry wouldn't be what it is today. Discovered in Japan in 1908 and dubbed unami, or the fifth flavor, it reacts with the sensory cells of the tongue, and is best described as savory or meaty taste. So, when it's added to food, our brains are tricked into thinking that what we're eating is hearty and rich in protein. It can encourage us to eat products that would otherwise taste bland or outright nasty. What's more is that it leads us to consume foods that are just empty calories without nutritional value, all for the sake of extended shelf life and poor quality ingredients! Plus, MSG is cheap to produce and easy to hide. It can be made from common foods such as corn or soy, and then be given a different name like hydrolyzed plant protein, or hydrolyzed soy extract.

Widespread use in the US food supply began by the late 1940′s as a "flavor enhancer", and even though scientific study has shown since the 1960′s that excessive MSG is linked to nerve, brain, liver damage, and obesity, among other things, it is still in widespread use. This is because the FDA considers it a "generally recognized as safe" ingredient, such as salt, vinegar, or baking powder AND because it only requires that ingredients be listed by their common names. Hence manufacturers have created more than one way to add MSG to products.

It's even being sprayed on crops, in the form of Auxigro, a plant "growth enhancer", approved by the EPA in 1997.

The Chemistry of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and How It's Hidden

MSG is a free amino acid salt: the amino acid glutamate plus one sodium atom attached. Amino acids are not only the building blocks of proteins, but also serve other functions in the body, such as chemical signaling in nerve functions. Glutamate is one of these, in that it behaves as a neurotransmitter, present in the brain, muscles, kidneys, and liver. It's also a non-essential amino acid, which means that the body produces it itself and doesn't need to acquire it from food, as with essential amino acids. Because of this, glutamate is found naturally in many of the ordinary things we eat, such as tomatoes, peas, corn, milk and especially in meats and cheeses. However, it is important to note, that naturally occurring glutamate is "bound" in most foods, while MSG is added to foods and is in "free" form.

Yet, MSG is also created within the products we eat, as manufacturers can combine so-called natural additives with various proteins or vegetable products, and/or process the food via fermentation, autolysis, hydrolysis, or enzymolysis to free it. So they don't have to list MSG on a label since it is now "naturally" occurring and not an ingredient.

Here is a list of additives commonly used in food to create hidden MSG:

* Autolyzed yeast
* yeast extract
* hydrolyzed soy protein
* hydrolyzed vegetable protein
* hydrolyzed plant protein
* hydrolyzed protein
* textured protein (TVP)
* protein hydrolysates
* hydrolyzed oat flour
* sodium caseinate
* calcium caseinate
* enzymes
* glutamic acid
* gelatin

Other ingredients that may contain MSG:

* spices
* artificial and natural flavors
* bullion/stock
* natural beef or chicken flavoring

Common products that contain MSG or the above additives:

* canned soups and broths
* dehydrated soups
* gravy and sauce mixes
* frozen foods
* frozen vegetarian dishes
* tofu
* meats packaged at the factory
* instant tea mixes

Studies Prove that MSG is Harmful to Our Health and Our Waistlines

As mentioned, scientists have been studying the effects of MSG since the 1960′s, and innumerable studies have found it to be toxic. Take for example a statement from the US Dept. of Health, written in 1995 when the safety of MSG was finally reevaluated by the FDA.
"Studies have shown that the body uses glutamate, an amino acid, as a nerve impulse transmitter in the brain and that there are glutamate-responsive tissues in other parts of the body, as well. Abnormal function of glutamate receptors has been linked with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's chorea. Injections of glutamate in laboratory animals have resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain."
So the work done by scientists over 35 years and the complaints and anecdotal evidence of consumers was acknowledged, but at the same time, and in the same document, they were also shortly and repeatedly dismissed:
"1995 report from the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), an independent body of scientists, helps put these safety concerns into perspective and reaffirms the Food and Drug Administration's belief that MSG and related substances are safe food ingredients for most people when eaten at customary levels."
"Consumption of glutamate in food, however, does not cause this effect."
Yet, they go on to officially identify two groups of people who may react to MSG: asthmatics and those who are simply "intolerant to MSG when eaten in a large quantity" both of whom may suffer MSG Symptom Complex.

Quoted from the report's key findings:
An unknown percentage of the population may react to MSG and develop MSG symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms:
* burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest
* numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back
* tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms
* facial pressure or tightness
* chest pain
* headache
* nausea
* rapid heartbeat
* bronchospasm (difficulty breathing) in MSG-intolerant people with asthma
* drowsiness
* weakness
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. 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.

Severe, poorly controlled asthma may be a predisposing medical condition for MSG symptom complex.

Of course they again reaffirm that no evidence suggests that MSG or glutamate is related to Alzheimer's, Huntington's, ALS, dementia, brain lesions, damages to nerve cells in humans, or any other long-term, chronic disease.

Fortunately, although the FDA and DHHS may consider this case closed, the scientific community is still investigating MSG's safety. The results of the most recent studies still raise questions, still link MSG to neurologic damage, and now have found associations between this additive and the obesity epidemic. A summary of the latest data related to obesity follows with links to the actual studies, so they may be cross-referenced:

* Published in the Journal Obesity in 2008, a study of 752 healthy adults between the ages of 40-59 compared the BMI's of those who used MSG and those who didn't. Those who used MSG, consumed on average 0.33 g/day. Remember, as cited earlier, the FDA states a "typical serving of glutamate treated food contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG." The study found that independent of other factors including physical activity and overall caloric intake, the MSG users had significantly higher BMI's.
* An earlier study, published in the Journal Nutrition in 2005, compared rats given a standard diet supplemented with MSG, standard diet, fiber-enriched diet, and a fiber-enriched diet with MSG. The standard diet with MSG group overate, and had symptoms of metabolic dysfunction which included changes in blood glucose levels and insulin.
* In 2008, from the Journal of Autoimmunity, scientists studying mice given MSG concluded that not only does it induce obesity and diabetes, but also causes significant liver damage. The type of damage was characteristic of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in humans.
* In order to better study the growing obesity epidemic, scientists decided to create a better mouse. So, in 2006, they injected mice with monosodium glutamate because of the damage it does to the hypothalmus (essential for controlling metabolic activity) and invented ICR-MSG, an obese and diabetic breed.

This is just a minuscule sampling of what scientists have been working on, yet it is enough to raise concern. Which leads us to the big question...

How Can We Avoid MSG?

First we must acknowledge that the government and manufacturers do not look after our best interests. It's not enough to assume that a product is all-natural if it says so on the label. Read through the ingredients for the additives listed earlier, and be picky. If there's something in there and you have no idea what it actually is, why would you eat that product? Who has a jar of hydrolyzed soy protein in their pantry? Grandma didn't use this stuff. Also, call your grocery store and find out if they cut and package their own meats. Finally, cook more meals at home when you can. This is the surest way to know that your food is healthy.