By in Health & Fitness

Monosodium Glutamate: Friend or Foe?

A quest to find information about MSG's safety as a food additive has resulted in information overload, but I'll try to summarize the findings here.

***** What Monosodium Glutamate Is *****

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid. The European Food Information Council , EUFIC, explains that glutamate, the substance from which glutamic acid is produced during its natural breakdown, is a naturally-occurring non-essential amino acid.

Glutamate is found in natural foods such as dairy products, mushrooms and tomatoes. This amino acid, which acts as a neurotransmitter, is also produced in the body.

Most often, though, when I think of MSG, I am meaning that which is used as a food additive. Originally, according to the EFIC, monosodium glutamate as a flavoring and food additive was manufactured from seaweed, but in these times it is acquired through an industrialized fermentation process.

***** What About Adverse Reactions to MSG? *****

When I eat any processed foods that contain MSG, or eat at a restaurant that uses it in food preparation, I don't need anyone to tell me. Almost as soon as I've eaten, I get a headache, the likes of which is unique in its pain. My heart beats more quickly. Honestly, though, it is the headache that grabs my attention. It was for this reason that I began delving into "adverse reactions" to MSG.

Depending on which resource you find the most reliable, you'll find answers to this question ranging from "MSG: The Silent Killer," to an article I found at , written by a registered dietician that states, in brief, that some individuals may have a sensitivity to the monosodium glutamate used as a flavoring/food additive, but that no research exists to directly link any of the symptoms to MSG.

***** Bottom Line *****

Whether I am sensitive to the monosodium glutamate added to food or whether the symptoms are something else, I avoid MSG whenever possible. This is easiest to do when processed foods are reduced or eliminated from my eating style.

I had hoped to be able to provide a definitive answer to the MSG question here and will state that scientifically-based articles and references do indicate that all research to date has been unable to pinpoint any adverse reactions caused by manufactured MSG.

To help answer any further questions you may have about MSG -- or give you a starting point for your own research, I will provide a number of references I used: : "What Is MSG? Is it Bad for You?" : "The Facts on Monosodium Glutamate" : "MSG Lurks as a Slow Poison in Common Food Items without Your Knowledge" : "Myths and Misconceptions: MSG" : "Can an Amino Acid Really Be Harmful?"

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Image Credit » Anelka Public Domain/CC0 1.0 License via Pixabay

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FernandoSHA wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:23 AM

One hotel in our city bans MSG from their kitchen. The hotel is also best known for its cleanliness.

BarbRad wrote on December 30, 2014, 2:55 AM

i get some health newsletters written by a brain surgeon and a cardiologist and both warn against MSG and similar glutamates. I don't have the with me, but I read enough to want to avoid them whenever possible in foods.

MegL wrote on December 30, 2014, 3:12 AM

Interesting and useful article. I have seen adverts for MSG as a food supplement but that seems to be a slightly different product. Must see if I can find some info on that because I was puzzled, as I had heard it was bad for you.

VinceSummers wrote on December 30, 2014, 8:26 AM

It is probably not good for some. But then, dairy is not good for some. Peanuts is not good for some. Wheat is not good for some. So MSG should be available to any who wish it.

maxeen wrote on December 30, 2014, 8:45 AM

MSG should be avoided by all,there are links to autism in children who have had vaccines containing it,Childrens weight increases caused by MSG in the diet,symptoms of depression..much more..

nbaquero wrote on December 30, 2014, 10:40 AM

feisty56 Thanks for the detailed article and further reading links. I think in general one should avoid it, but problably will not be able to eliminate MSG from our diets 100%.

paigea wrote on December 30, 2014, 11:31 AM

I am sure some people would be better off avoiding it completely. For people without a definite sensitivity, I think problems arise because these ingredients get added to SO MANY things. I am thinking of sugar, HFCS, MSG, even flour. These and other items get added to so many processed foods and we end up eating so much of them. A little may not have caused most of us a problem.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:12 PM

In doing research for this post, I learned that Whole Foods will not allow added MSG in the products they sell, with the thinking being that added MSG defeats their policy of selling natural foods. I can see why some commercial kitchens would choose to do the same.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:17 PM

That's interesting, because in all the material I read there is no definitive evidence that the added MSG is detrimental to health. The link provided for discusses some lab testing on animals that demonstrated some issues with the use of the added MSG, but that research has not been brought forward and checked on humans.

I know because of the nasty headaches I get when I eat foods with added MSG that I will avoid it whenever possible, but I am not 100 percent certain it is the MSG and not another ingredient often used with it to which I am sensitive.

I'd be most interested to learn what your newsletter has to say on the topic when you have it available.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:22 PM

Even though the added MSG is one of the most researched substances known, it feels to me as if the research has fallen far short of proving or disproving the safety of its use.

I read in one article where it is thought that the use of the added monosodium glutamate can actually reduce the overall sodium intake of a person. This is believed to be true because MSG has one-third the sodium of traditional salt and because the use of added MSG enhances the flavor of food itself, meaning less salt is needed. This was theorized, rather than proven, so again we are left with guesses rather than facts.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:26 PM

Yes, I have no desire to eliminate the manufactured monosodium glutamate. I began my quest for information because of my own apparent sensitivity to added MSG. Over the years I recalled reading pros and cons of the substance and sought to find a bottom line. It appears to me there is no "bottom line" on this substance at this time, simply individual preferences.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:30 PM

I'd like to jump on the band wagon with you, but I've not seen the proof where it is true. The correlation of vaccines to autism was a hoax, using manufactured "facts" by an irresponsible person -- and I'm pretty sure it was another substance in the vaccines other than MSG that was accused.

I'd be happy to read any scientific research on the complications/adverse reactions you've mentioned. Please feel free to add the links here or on my profile page.

VinceSummers wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:55 PM

Yes, I agree. I think (thanks for the idea, which is a bit of a repeat for me of a past article) I will write on the chemistry of MSG.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:56 PM

I don't feel as if I am in a position to either advocate or protest the use of added MSG in foods by anyone other than myself. It had been my hope in doing this research that I could find an answer, but I feel as if I've only found more questions.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 12:57 PM

I agree. For instance, I avoid most dairy products since I developed a lactose intolerance, but don't want or expect others who aren't affected in the same way to avoid dairy.

nbaquero wrote on December 30, 2014, 1:21 PM

That is what usually happens, the more you know the more questions you have.

BarbRad wrote on December 30, 2014, 5:23 PM

I'll see if I brought them here.

BarbRad wrote on December 30, 2014, 5:25 PM

I think lemon juice also enhances flavor in some things as a salt substitute.

celticeagle wrote on December 30, 2014, 5:43 PM

I think this is like anything else- moderation is best. Sounds like it is natural is small amounts and is used, as is salt, to help process/ keep certain foods. I think we are all sensitive to certain foods. Again, I think moderation is our best ally.

Katherina201 wrote on December 30, 2014, 8:16 PM

I have a different reaction to MSG than you do. I get gastro-intestinal distress to put it politely. In 1999 I had an IgE test run for the detection of food allergies.
I had antibodies in my blood specific for MSG. In other words, I am allergic to MSG. I am so use to looking for it on food labels it almost jumps out at me.
Restaurants can be a real hazard. Don't know if its food poisoning or MSG. At least it isn't life threatening.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 8:42 PM

I agree -- there are few things in life that moderation is not appropriate for.

Feisty56 wrote on December 30, 2014, 10:47 PM

That sounds pretty miserable. Going to a restaurant must be a dicey thing.

celticeagle wrote on December 31, 2014, 3:46 PM

This is so true.

seren3 wrote on January 1, 2015, 3:39 PM

Unfortunately research does not exist because it is not going to pay. Glutamate is entirely different from MSG, which occurs naturally nowhere! It seems perhaps you don't read the alternative docs, or give them credence, and they have plenty to say about it. Russell Blaylock, a neurologist, has plenty to say too.
But all you have to do is keep on avoiding it. I do too.

Ruby3881 wrote on January 2, 2015, 2:37 AM

There was one Chinese restaurant that I could never eat at. If we ordered from them, I'd have a terrible reaction and spend the rest of the night in the bathroom with horrendous stomach cramps. I never did pinpoint what ingredient it was they were using that made me sick, but I did wonder if it had been either an excess of fish sauce or simply a lot of MSG.

Suzzycue wrote on January 2, 2015, 11:36 AM

It is a big problem in foods. I agree. The best way is to learn to cook your own foods. Some of us don't have time to cook but now Zehrs has come out with a poilicy that no additives or persevatives will be added to any of their foods. Zehrs is loblaws, no frills and now shoppers, in Canada.

catsholiday wrote on January 2, 2015, 11:50 AM

O try to avoid MSG as much as i can but lots of Chinese restaurants use it sadly. makes me outrageously thirsty