Allergy and Adverse Health Effects of Ajinomoto MSG Additive
What Is MSG ?
MSG, mono sodium glutamate or glutamate is the salt of the non essential amino acid, glutamic acid. It is used as a food additive, to enhance the perception of the taste of that food.
Glutamate is produced by the body naturally but the MSG found in stores is made by industrial processing which is unnatural and this unnaturally made MSG is the root cause of the adverse effects that we see when foods containing MSG are consumed.
Ajinomoto is a Japanese brand of MSG. Many people around the world call MSG by this brand name.
MSG has been touted as a natural flavor by the food industry. FDA definition of natural flavors and natural flavoring allows for the substance (the one to be used as a flavoring agent) to be derived from a plant or animal.
So, in effect, even if you are buying organic vegetarian or vegan food that has natural flavoring, you could be taking in extracts of an animal that has been given growth hormones, fed pesticide treated grain and corn or given antibiotics to treat infections it might have had.
MSG, or glutamate, activates Tresk, the gene responsible for causing migraine. Also, according to The Journal Of The American Medical Association, MSG is a known migraine trigger. Since there is a long list of health conditions that can be caused by MSG, it has been given aliases to mislead those who are looking for mono sodium glutamate to be listed as such on the labels. Such aliases include autolysed yeast, yeast extract, maltodextrin, hydrolysed protein, sodium caseinate, textured protein and so on. There are more than 25 names for MSG most of us are not familiar with.
What Do Those in Favor of MSG Say ?
Proponents of MSG state that it is safe. The reasons they give are :
- Glutamate occurs naturally in almost all foods and more so in high protein foods like dairy products, meat, fish, eggs, poultry and many vegetables like tomatoes and mushrooms.
- The human body also produces glutamate.
- The human breast milk contains 10 times the amount found in cow's milk.
- The body makes about 50 grams of free glutamate. The average person consumes about 10 grams of bound glutamate and 1 gram of free glutamate daily.
How Is MSG Made?
MSG is made by :
- Hydrolysing vegetable protein like gluten or protein in sugarbeet.
- Fermenting sugar from starchy foods.
- By direct chemical synthesis with acrylonitrile.
Glutamic acid is found in 2 forms :
- L-glutamic acid & D-glutamic acid.
L-glutamic acid in proteins is always found bound in long chains to other amino acids naturally in foods. Amino acids do not occur free naturally in foods.
D-glutamic acid is free glutamic acid, not bound, and is produced outside the body, artificially and chemically.
When protein containing foods are consumed, the body hydrolyses the food and the protein. It uses the amount of glutamic acid needed and the excess is removed. Since the process of digestion is a long one that takes time, the glutamic acid intake & levels are maintained at a lower concentrations in the blood. The excess is removed from the body.
When foods containing free glutamic acid or MSG are eaten, there is no need for the body to break this already free glutamic acid. It is there ready and waiting to be absorbed right away. This immediate absorption of MSG raises the glutamate levels in blood 8 to 10 times and this is what causes toxic reactions - the so called adverse effects.
Why Is MSG Used ?
These are some reasons MSG is used in foods :
- MSG is cheap. By adding MSG to inferior quality foods the flavor perception is enhanced leading one to falsely believe that food to be superior in quality. Its use also lowers production costs and increases profits.
- The pancreas are stimulated by MSG. This causes release of insulin even when there is no carbohydrates to act upon. The excess insulin causes a drop in blood sugar making one hungry and leads to overeating and obesity.( Profits again for the processed food makers).
- Glutamate or MSG is converted to GABA by the body. GABA is tranquilizing in action much like valium.
- MSG is addictive. It causes craving for those foods containing it. It has also been called the Nicotine of foods. Craving leads to more consumption and more profits for the manufacturers of processed foods.
How MSG or Glutamate Acts
Glutamate is a neurotransmitter meaning it carries nerve impulses all over the body. It stimulates the nerve cells to fire. So it is an excitatory neurotransmitter.
Others like Taurine do the opposite that is cause the nerve cells to cease firing.
A very delicate balance exists between these neurotransmitters and it is very vital that this balance is maintained to ensure a healthy body.
For example, in people who have suffer a stroke, excess glutamate causes over stimulation of the nerve cells leading to their death. Glutamate blocking drugs are used to stop this damage.
Normally, the excess amino acids in the body are converted to other amino acids by removing nitrogen and changing amino acids into fuel that is stored. This process takes place in the liver. But in persons whose liver is not 100% healthy this process of deamination and transamination is hampered leading to upsetting the balance of the neurotransmitters. This can lead to health problems especially when those amino acids, that are converted to amino acids that act as counter to glutamate, cannot be converted as such by the liver. This leads to excess glutamate levels in the body and adverse consequences on health.
Is MSG Bad for You ?
MSG is commomly added to not only Chinese foods but also to soups, processed meats and vegetables. Though MSG has been used for over a century there have been reports of adverse reactions with foods containing MSG.
The immediate & common symptoms include :
- Headache, flushing, sweating.
- Tightness or pressure on the face.
- Numbness, tingling or burning on the face or neck.
- Chest pains, Heart palpitations.
- Nausea & weakness.
Some Possible Side Effects of MSG
MSG is not only addictive but consuming MSG may have far-reaching health complications over a period of time. Some of them are:
- High blood pressure, autism, hormonal imbalance, epilepsy, food allergies, asthma, reduction in bile formation, cancer, possible sterility in females - in studies it has caused female sterility in animals, ringing in ears, irregular or fast heart hear beat and heart attacks, worsen low blood sugar situation in those whose BP keeps low normally, thyroid dysfunction, obesity, type 2 diabetes, damage to the retina of the eyes.
What International & National Regulatory Bodies Say
The Global Standard for food processing is the Codex Alimentarius. The Codex Alimentarius is put out by FAO/WHO and is the current standard for processed food worldwide.
As per the Codex Alimentarius guidelines, the addition of MSG should be as per GMP only in certain categories of food as prescribed by Codex.
As per the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) guidelines, MSG is not permitted in more than 50 food products including pastas and noodles (dried products).
The question is which foods to avoid ? The list of these foods is overwhelming. Suffice it to say here that first and foremost avoid Fast Food outlets. They are the worst offenders with regards to MSG use.
FDA Regulations on MSG Use
FDA does not require that the source of MSG be disclosed to the consumer. Also the FDA has set no limits on how much or MSG is to be added to food.
Safe Alternatives to MSG
Though the FDA has classified MSG as "safe for general use" it is not so. However this is controversial as most processed foods have MSG in them and because of the cumulative effect the level of MSG in the blood becomes dangerous.
Here are ways you can make food safe to eat and stay away from adding MSG to enhance the palatability or flavor of the food you eat.
Tomatoes, soy, herbs, spices, even caramelizing mushrooms till brown will all intensify the flavor of the food and hence make it tastier & more palatable.
Use these and stay away from the dangerous MSG.
Has this article made you think about controlling your processed food intake?
The information provided in this hub is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your physician, or health care provider before taking any home remedies, supplements or following the information provided here.