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What is MSG and Why is it Bad for Your Health? What You Need To Know Now

Updated on August 11, 2012

There is much controversy over the food additive known as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Many health conscious consumers today are asking the question “what is MSG?” There are two types of MSG, natural and processed. Natural MSG is otherwise known as L-glutamic acid, a harmless amino acid which comes from plants and animals. It is harmless when consumed in it's natural form because it is bound with proteins which allow for slow and healthy assimilation by the body.

Processed MSG is glutamic acid which has been unbound by various processes which are referred to as modified, texturized, autolyzed, fermented and hydrolyzed. It is refined into a fine, white crystal that looks like sugar. It is then mixed with salt and used as a flavor enhancer.

Next to salt and pepper it is the most commonly used flavor enhancer today. MSG works by making your brain believe the food you are eating tastes good. This allows manufacturers to save money by using poor quality, nutrient deficient products.

Glutamate is naturally present as a neurotransmitter in the brain. It job is to regulate the nervous system and in proper quantities, it is needed for normal brain and organ function. The great concern among health experts is that the consumption of processed MSG overstimulates brain cells and glutamate receptors throughout the body.

Food manufacturers argue that processed MSG goes through the same metabolic process as glutamates (natural MSG) from food and therefore is harmless. The difference is that the glutamate naturally occurring in foods are bound to proteins which allows for slow digestion. Processed MSG glutamates are unbound and are able to quickly spike blood levels with glutamate.

When blood levels of glutamate are high, it can overstimulate brain neurons which eventually lead to psychological and physical problems. Some individual are more sensitive to the effects of MSG because of chronic stress, disease or age. Such individuals may experience an immediate reaction even with a lose dose of MSG. Symptoms include a mimic of a stroke or heart attack, seizures, a migraine headache, an asthma attack or a stuffy nose.

Others who do not experience immediate reactions but have consumed large amounts of MSG on a regular basis have been found to eventually experience permanent brain damage. Most immediate reactions to MSG have been associated with oriental food, but many western foods such as fried chicken and hamburgers have also caused reactions. A high enough dose of MSG will cause anybody to experience an immediate reaction.

Extensive research has shown that the increased level of learning disability and behavior problems in schools today has been associated with MSG. Most processed foods contain MSG, especially those labeled healthy low fat. It can be difficult to identify MSG in many of these foods because manufacturers are trying to hide it from knowledgeable consumers under different names. These names include soy protein isolate, sodium caseinate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, calcium caseinate, textured protein and yeast extract.

Some raw fruits and vegetables contain MSG in the preservative wax coating. MSG is also found in infant formula, vaccines and other medications and liquid supplements for the elderly. Regular MSG consumption has been linked to many health conditions which include hormone changes, memory loss, obesity, stunted growth, mood swings, infertility, asthma attacks, depression, paranoia, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s and Alzheimer's disease.

Those most vulnerable to the effects of MSG are the elderly, children, infants and the unborn. It is able to pass from mother to unborn child.The best way to avoid MSG is to eat fresh foods with no additives. You can find seasonings, soups and sauces free of MSG at your local health food or organic grocery store. If you are using a recipe that calls for MSG you can use fresh lemon as a substitute.


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      really interesting topic, i have lived throughout asia and couldn't avoid msg, i am currently still on the fence and hence reading your article. I am very sensitive to additives in general but haven't been able to identify a reaction to msg personally. The fact that you reference and Hally references msg leading to obesity actually only explains one thing. like James B touched on, adding msg to food just makes it taste better so we eat more, and the bad thing is it might seem that msg is added to "junk" foods most often (as you mention, "fried chicken and hamburgers"), and/or the same meals we add extra sugar/salt/fat to.

    • Hally Z. profile image

      Hally Z. 

      7 years ago from Madison, Wisconsin

      Kurtt, if you are looking for scientific evidence about how bad MSG is, read the MSG studies that I just published on my own MSG Hub article. It's funny how researchers even use MSG to create obese strains of mice, isn't it?

    • profile image

      no proof 

      7 years ago

      there isn't any yes that's right big pharmacy hides this from you coincidence supermarkets have pharmacies in, not enough proof exits but i am not an idiot i know when something is bad for me. I dont want false signals to my brain i want the real thing. If they go to enough trouble to hide it and not inform me i know something is wrong doctors are just as bad they read a book a journal but who is it funded by.....

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I have read alot of comments about msg and i am just not sure what to think.Is it really bad or not so bad,or is modration the key just like when it comes to salt and sugar.I want the scientist to do some seareous research an msg and how it aflects the human body,the good and the bad and let us know.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Well iv just found something out and im 58years young,while at a phillopino friend having a cookery demonstation of her lovely food,she gave me a small bag of msg to try,she put it on the table next to me and within 15min i was all blocked up.I could'nt believe it as i hadn't even touched it so it told me everything about my breathing problems at night with my nose,it has even got it in the gravy mix i use all the time changed to aunt bessies with no msg or additives.Well at least everyone believe's me now and i am a different person.whopee

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I had gotten a migrane for around two days.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      msg is really weird

    • profile image

      James B 

      7 years ago

      first of all i applaud you taking the time to interact especially with those who question your article. I'm trying to sift through this debate on my own but can't help but find myself siding with those questioning the basis of the claims made in your article. I was happy to see you provide one study/source. I was quite unhappy that of all the numerous studies claimed to exist(most people don't even provide one when questioned so thanks for providing one), you chose one that basically concludes that MSG "may be associated with increased risk of overweight". your article talks about permanent brain damage and psychological problems and you provide one about obesity. excess msg and obesity, to me this speaks to lifestyle not's no surprise that people who use more flavor seasoning on food are more likely to be obese. i'm sure people who on average add more salt to meals are also overweight. i'm concerned about what i put in my body but don't rely on rhetoric to make my choices just as i don't rely on the FDA either. i'm finding i've been treating msg like cyanide when really it's more like salt(which i limit, fully admitting it is harmful if not moderated). if there is such a depth of information showing all the horrible things MSG has been proven to cause, then use it, flaunt it, show it! I'd love to read it, but so far i have only encountered lots of bark, no bite from the self-proclaimed "backed by science" anti-msg crowd. a lot of claimed proof, so far no delicious pudding!!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hey Jay, proof you say? Have you examine the oldest Japanese who ever lived? He's not eating any MSG. That's me. I reached this old age simply because I only eat natural and organic foods. Guess what, I'm 145 now and I still can type on my iPhone perfectly.

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks for your comment Dan! There are many university studies that show the harmful effects of Msg. Here is one of them.

      Association of Monosodium Glutamate Intake With Overweight in Chinese Adults: The INTERMAP Study

      Ka He1,2,3,4, Liancheng Zhao5, Martha L. Daviglus6, Alan R. Dyer6, Linda Van Horn6, Daniel Garside6, Liguang Zhu7, Dongshuang Guo8, Yangfeng Wu5, Beifan Zhou5,* and Jeremiah Stamler6 for the INTERMAP Cooperative Research Group

      1Department of Nutrition, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

      2Department of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

      3Department of Nutrition, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

      4Department of Epidemiology, School of Medicine, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA

      5Department of Epidemiology, Fu Wai Hospital and Cardiovascular Institute, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing, China

      6Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, USA

      7Guangxi Medical University, Nanning, China

      8Yu County Hospital, Shanxi, China

      Correspondence: Jeremiah Stamler (


      The first two authors contributed equally to this research.

      Received 7 July 2007; Accepted 16 February 2008; Published online 22 May 2008.

      Top of page


      Animal studies indicate that monosodium glutamate (MSG) can induce hypothalamic lesions and leptin resistance, possibly influencing energy balance, leading to overweight. This study examines the association between MSG intake and overweight in humans. We conducted a cross-sectional study involving 752 healthy Chinese (48.7% women), aged 40–59 years, randomly sampled from three rural villages in north and south China. The great majority of participants prepared their foods at home, without use of commercially processed foods. Diet was assessed with four in-depth multipass 24-h recalls. Participants were asked to demonstrate MSG amounts added in food preparation. Amounts shaken out were weighed by trained interviewers. Overweight was defined as BMI 25.0 or 23.0 kg/m2(based on World Health Organization recommendations for Asian populations). Eighty-two percent of participants were MSG users. Average intake was 0.33 g/day (s.d. = 0.40). With adjustment for potential confounders including physical activity and total energy intake, MSG intake was positively related to BMI. Prevalence of overweight was significantly higher in MSG users than nonusers. For users in the highest tertile of MSG intake compared to nonusers, the multivariable-adjusted odds ratios of overweight (BMI 23.0 and 25.0) were 2.10 (95% confidence interval, 1.13–3.90, P for trend across four MSG categories = 0.03) and 2.75 (95% confidence interval, 1.28–5.95, P = 0.04). This research provides data that MSG intake may be associated with increased risk of overweight independent of physical activity and total energy intake in humans.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I'm gonna have to agree with the non-sheep in this thread. Where are your sources, studies, etc.. I just ate a bowl of ramen right now after hearing the claims from my roommate, also a sheep. It has been an hour now, and I feel fine, might as well get up and go run. Let us see some actual "credible" sources, like maybe some university studies, and then maybe you wouldn't get so much heat.

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California

      Jay, I get so many comments from people like yourself who do not understand the difference between natural and processed MSG so I am going to update this article to shed light on the confusion.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      People's comments on here show how easily the masses are lead. People believe anything they read and don't even think to question its validity.

      None of the statements in this article are backed up with links to actual scientific studies and peer-reviewed papers.

      Just the very fact that the Japanese population apparently consume a lot of MSG and are yet one of the healthiest nations would logically mean MSG isn't all that bad for you. But again, do some research, don't just blindly believe what you read.

      Take cholesterol for example. Ask anybody and they'd say 'oh, cholesterol is bad for you, it causes heart disease...'. Really? How do you KNOW this? Think about it for a moment. How do you KNOW that Cholesterol is bad for you? Well, you've read about it being 'bad' in just about every newspaper and on every news program on TV so it MUST be true, right? Have you seen the proof? Of course not.

      I read an interesting book called 'The Great Cholesterol Con', I forget the author's name, but it made for very interesting reading. It is written by a doctor who discusses ACTUAL clinical trial study results and ACTUAL experimental results and provides links to sources so you can view the data yourselves. If you read this book, you'd no longer believe that cholesterol is the evil fat you've been lead to believe. Did you know that this evil cholesterol has a vital role in normal brain function? That's right, your body needs cholesterol. It is a natural fat. Just don't eat a pound or lard per day and you'll be ok.

      But my point is, just don't take what you read at face value. Read that book I mentioned above and it will be a real eye opener for you.

      I mean, I could write an official sounding article claiming that MSG is good for you. Some people will read it and think ok, so I'm alright to eat tonnes of it now.

      Remember, just because you read it, it doesn't mean it's true. Always look for proof.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      You never cite any scientific studies. The fact is almost all studies of MSG show that it is harmless or at the most has a negative placebo effect. The Japanese and Chinese are the most healthiest peoples on earth and the consume MSG in great quantities. MSG was developed by a Japanese Company. There is no scientific fact to it being the cause of headaches or learning disabilities. I would suggest that you watch you intake of it like you would w/ salt.

    • Sparrowlet profile image

      Katharine L Sparrow 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Very good to know, I always wondered why it was bad for you. Great hub!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

    • MSantana profile image


      8 years ago from Madison Wisconsin

      Thanks for posting this information. Many people has become used to eat pre-packed food w/o thinking that it is full of chemicals preservatives. I once had a strong allergic reaction to MSG in corn chips.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Citric acid and Carageenan are not MSG Shannon. Why do most of you just believe everything this guy wrote at first glance? Why do most of you just post the same "wow I think this" comment without any interaction on this website?

      And out of all of you, even the ones trying to post some sort of constructive comment like kurtt, ironically, don't have any sort of respectable references at all?

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I agree with Devour that moderation is the word. Like Mystique, MSG in our food recipes is a norm in our family. My grandpa died when he was 100+ (only after jogging 2 miles). My parents who are on their 80's have no health issues including excellent BP's) My siblings and I all graduated with Honors in college. I have a friend who recently passed away of cancer. He was in his early forties and lived a healthy life. He never drinked alcohol, smoked, avoided MSG at all cost and ate organic food. In a nutshell, its all a matter of genetics.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      My family grew up on MSG and still eat dishes cooked with it. My mother used it in many of the dishes she cooked. We never had any issues that were caused by eating MSG. In fact, we're all very successful people. No one had learning issues or any type of serious illness, etc. I just never understood why it was so bad to eat MSG because it's the norm in my family.

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks for the info Shannon!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      MSG has been proven bad since the 80s. It was actually used to kill brain cells in scientific experiments. The US did not start adding it to food products until the 1940s. It's chronic effects take many decades to cause real obvious damage. Every decade, since 1950, its presence in food products has grown exponentially. The problem is that all food additives are considered safe until proven unsafe. The food industry has come out with many deceptive studies to prove msg as safe. Unfortunately, it is harder to find a product without it than with it at most grocery stores. It is in canned, boxed, and bagged foods. It is in granola bars, cereal, soup, bread, milk...almost everything. Other names it hides in are: Natural Flavors, Citric Acid, Carageenan, Malt extract, barley extract, malted barley, spices, anything hydrolyzed or autolyzed...Your best bet is to avoid any prodect with an ingredient that is not a food. there is too much non-food in food, your body does not know what to do with these types of ingredients. Your body has evolved on real food. Fake food is very recent in the span of human life and it is causing havoc on our biology. Anyone who tells you otherwise likely works for a company that manufactures this type of food, or is close to someone who does.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      The proof is in a simple test that each individual who consumes MSG can do.

      Evaluate your overall health and any distressing symptoms that you deal with (headaches, stomachaches, joint pain, insomnia, etc.); eliminate MSG from your diet for 6 weeks; estimate how much MSG you want to put back in your diet after evaluating how going off the MSG affected your symptoms. You can get more input if you note the results in a journal and discuss them with your doctor at your next check-up.

    • Shona Venter profile image

      Shona Venter 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Excellent information. After doing a little research of my own regarding MSG, I also eliminated it from my diet, and my migraines and allergy symptoms have disappeared completely. Just goes to prove how bad this substance is for human consumption! Rated up ;-)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I never knew the details. Excellent information. I am glad you didn't write a research paper - I just wanted an overview - very nicely done. Rated it UP!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      This MSG is largely used in Japan.. But Japanese people have one of the longest life span.. Plus obesity is hardly a concern in that country... There is a zillion stuff bad for our body.. Yet we eat them without a care..Moderation is always the word..

    • helot profile image


      9 years ago from Denver

      I have watched some videos about MSG, and it is seriously horrible. What bothers me is that they can now hide it on the ingredients listing by calling it "flavoring".

    • sheryld30 profile image


      10 years ago from California

      Wow. I knew MSG was bad for you... but I did not know all of this. So glad you had the knowledge here, and posted this hub!

    • Cameron Dinsdale profile image

      Cameron Dinsdale 

      10 years ago

      Its too bad the general public hasn't fully grasped just how bad this stuff is. Nice hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      if i am say... msg is not from salt.. it is actually from sugarcane... sugarcane is commonly used to make sugar... yes its true that health experts identify healthy versus unhealthy... but as mentioned in the article.. just like salt and pepper... msg is also a food enhancer...

    • SteadyHubs profile image


      10 years ago from Georgia, USA

      Every time I've ever eaten any kind of food with MSG in it, I have always gotten a dull ache near the base of the back of my head (where the neck starts). I guess that means I have to leave the Ramen Noodles alone for good!

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      10 years ago from Southern California

      Thanks for your comment kurtt!

      And that is the problem isn't it. People are getting too much salt, fat, sugar and MSG because it's everywhere.

      You say that it is okay to eat fat, sugar and salt as long as you don't eat too much. But they also have a negative impact on health no matter how much you consume. That is why health experts distinguish between healthy and unhealthy fat, simple and complex sugars and sodium chloride and sea salt.


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      <!-- @page { margin: 0.79in } P { margin-bottom: 0.08in } -->

      Japanese and Chinese people consume a lot of MSG. In fact a popular Japanese MSG brand, Ajinomoto, is widely used in Asia. Surprisingly, China and Japan are two of the most productive countries when it comes to advancement in technology.

      People will easily believe this article if they don't have enough knowledge about Chemistry. If you look closely, this article does not have enough evidence to prove that MSG is bad for your health. Regarding the data presented, the data are not fully discussed point by point on how MSG affects the body in a specific manner. The article is persuasive, it contains different fallacies which provide poor reasoning in support of its conclusion. Like the use of “controversy” in the first paragraph, it misleads the people to believe that the controversy is actually true. But if you try to analyze it, “controversy” has never a proven case, that is why it remains a controversy. On the third paragraph, the writer claims that “others who do not experience immediate reactions but have consumed large amounts of MSG on a regular basis have been found to eventually experience permanent brain damage .” How? It is never discussed in the article. The fourth paragraph says, “Extensive research has shown that the increased level of learning disability and behavior problems in schools today has been associated with MSG.” How? Again, no factual evidence to support. Be a critical reader.

      It is easy to write something against a specific topic and let people believe with it. The controversy about MSG will remain as it is, until we can scientifically/medically prove that MSG is bad for your health. Of course, too much MSG is bad for you, so as too much salt, fat, sugar etc...

    • keep walking profile image

      keep walking 

      10 years ago from ChangChun

      I like eating chickenpowder instead of that

    • hypnosis4u2 profile image


      10 years ago from Massachusetts

      And most people think MSG is just added to American Chinese takeaway. Thanks for Hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You are GOOD! I thought I was the only one who cared. Thanks for bringing this public! JO

    • Gypsy Willow profile image

      Gypsy Willow 

      10 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

      Thanks for the info. I will be more careful in future. Manufactured foods are mainly to be avoided in my opinion.

    • JohnPalmieri profile image


      10 years ago from Chicago, USA

      It took me years to figure out that MSG played a huge role in my headaches and digestive pain...I've become much more attentive to food labels and have avoided MSG...good bye headaches and pain. Thanks for the HUB. 

    • Hawkesdream profile image


      10 years ago from Cornwall

      I used msg for years and then stopped for some unknown reason, glad I did after reading this

    • Kmadhav profile image


      10 years ago from New delhi

      wow good topic you chosen. yes you are right with correct information. my sister also have allergy with this MSG. I will keep this information in mind using the msg.

    • ftclick profile image


      10 years ago

      lots of associations with this substance. Great Hub.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      This is so enlightening. I recently discovered that a steak seasoning salt that I had been using contains it. It does make the food in particular my steaks/lamb really taste good. I decided one day last week to read the label and wouldn't you know it has MSG in it - to my surprise! Thanks


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