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MSG: More Than a Flavor Enhancer

History of MSG

For thousands of years, people in Japan have used seaweed to enhance the flavors of their foods. Scientists began to wonder what it was about the algae that enhanced the food. Finally, Kikunae Ikeda found out what it was. Its discovery was soon made on a large scale. In 1908 the industrial giant Ajinomoto began manufacturing the chemical compound known as free glutamic acid, otherwise known as ‘MSG’. The substance was patented in 1909 by a company in Japan. During the second world war, American soldiers noticed that the rations of the Japanese army were tasty. The army chiefs discovered that the reason for this was MSG.

After this discovery, the use of the substance spread in the United States. The use of MSG in food became widespread in the United States in the 1950s through restaurant and home use. The main product used to spread this influence was called Accent. The product was pure MSG. When food additive standards were put into effect in 1958, the additive MSG was “born” without any testing because its use was so widespread. It is technically classified by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as “generally considered safe” without any testing of the substance.

The manufacturing process used to produce the compound requires sophisticated refining. Strong acids and high temperatures are used to hydrolyze or break down various proteins. Refining or “hydrolysis” leaves the manufacturer with a mixture of D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid, along with large amounts of the sodium salt of L-glutamic acid and various other amino acids. Although the body contains some of these proteins in the brain, these artificially produced substances are dangerous. Since they are produced by artificial methods, their effects differ from naturally produced proteins. Refining a substance increases its potency. This applies to cocaine, sugar and other highly processed substances.

The companies involved in the manufacture of MSG formed a coalition known as the Glutamate Association in 1977. Although membership in the organization is secret, some observers believe that members include Ajinomoto, Archer Daniels Midland, Campbell, Corn Products Corporation, McCormick & Company, Pet Foods, Pfizer laboratories and Takeda. The Glutamate Association conducts research and makes public statements about the use and “safety” of MSG and related products.

The spread of MSG use remains widespread with heavy use by fast food restaurants. For example at KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) all non-dessert items on their menu contain this substance.

Glutamic acid in the brain

Natural proteins (L-Glutamic acid) present in the brain are involved in the action of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are important in sending messages through the nervous system. The amount of this substance in the body is small, so that the neurotransmitter actions involved are limited.

Glutamic acid is found at excitatory synapses in the central nervous system. This chemical is essential for long-term enhancement or memory. Dealing with such substances can affect how well the central nervous system works. Glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter that “stimulates” the nervous system. It has been found to contribute to personality disorders and childhood behavioral disorders. Such disorders have been ameliorated by changes in glutamate levels. Glutamic acid is also important for the transport of potassium across the blood-brain barrier.

(Potassium is a mineral critical to maintaining a healthy nervous system and maintaining a normal heart rhythm. Changes in potassium levels can affect each of these)

The amount of these chemical neurotransmitters is kept within a narrowly defined range to keep the nervous system from being overstimulated. Neurotransmitters serve as chemically sensitive and specific stimuli that send messages through the nervous system. It’s no coincidence that some researchers refer to MSG as “Food Nicotine.” One of the reasons nicotine is dangerous is that it overstimulates the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. With MSG, the glutamate neurotransmitter is overstimulated.

How MSG works

Part of the danger of highly refined MSG is that in large amounts, it crosses the blood-brain barrier and can potentially interfere with the “normal” activities of nerves and overstimulate them. Any substance that crosses the blood-brain barrier, such as MSG, can potentially affect the brain and subsequently behavior. It overstimulates the nerves and simultaneously overloads the chemicals that would naturally neutralize the arousal. Simply put, it overloads the nervous system. In the short term, the body can recover, but repeated overstimulation can lead to permanent damage to the system. One particular part of the brain that is affected is the hypothalamus, which regulates mood and emotions. Overstimulation of this part of the brain can cause significant changes in a person’s behavior. These major changes can happen suddenly. Reaction time to MSG ranges from sudden to as long as 48 hours. With MSG-sensitive populations, such changes may appear as sudden anger or difficulty controlling sudden impulses.

By definition, any substance that has the potential to be psychoactive (that affects behavior) is of concern. Any psychoactive chemical has the potential to permanently alter the brain chemistry of the person involved. In addition to crossing the blood-brain barrier, it also crosses the placental barrier in expectant mothers.

This substance often called a “taste enhancer” actually stimulates brain cells to make them overreact to substances. In the overreaction state, the person receiving MSG thinks the food tastes better. Overstimulation can lead to headaches, palpitations, facial swelling, numbness, violent diarrhea, migraines, and other immediate reactions (such as panic attacks, stiffness, joint pain, loss of balance, slurred speech, diarrhea, blurred vision, and ADHD) certain populations. Although some may pass off the reactions as allergic in nature, the body’s response is to a toxin.

Some of the toxic reactions are delayed. Delayed reactions include increased obesity, brain damage, delayed growth, reproductive disorders, learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, and/or retinal degeneration. Such symptoms are serious and worthy of concern. These were some of the effects seen in the original research on laboratory animals. Although some critics claim that the amount of MSG given to animals is nowhere near the amount given to humans, when you consider the many routes of MSG consumption, humans ingest large amounts of MSG. Not everyone who uses MSG has these problems, although the estimate is ¼ of the population.

MSG is linked to other disorders

Another area of ​​concern is neurological disorders involving glutamate. Research has not shown a causative effect, however, since glutamic acid is heavily implicated in these disorders, the possibility that MSG can alter a person’s brain chemistry and play a role in them is a potential risk. These disorders include conditions such as addictions, stroke, epilepsy, brain trauma, multiple sclerosis, AIDS dementia, schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. Glutamic acid also plays an important role in degenerative disorders associated with dementia, such as Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Huntington’s disease, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Given the severity of these disorders, anything that increases the likelihood of their occurrence is worrisome.

Some researchers have found links of MSG use to diabetes, migraines and headaches, autism, ADHD and Alzheimer’s. Since these disorders concern many people today, a closer examination of the role of MSG is warranted. MSG is also used in some vaccines to keep them stabilized or ‘alive’.

Besides vaccines, MSG or Free Glutamic Acid has also been used in the growth enhancer known as AuxiGro. This growth enhancer was approved for use in 1998. This growth enhancer has been used in yams, potatoes and onions to achieve larger yields.

MSG by any other name

Although many foods and restaurants use MSG in their products, some do not. Asian restaurant Pei Wei advertises that it does not add MSG to its products. Hamburger chain Whataburger has a website that identifies which of its foods contain MSG so that savvy consumers can avoid the substance. Some restaurants know that one effect of MSG is that consumers tend to buy more of their food and find it tastier.

MSG is not always easy to detect. Some companies use alternative names for MSG. Knowing some of the other names for MSG is critical to knowing which products to avoid. There are 25+ other names for MSG. Some of these names include:


Glutamic acid


Monosodium glutamate

Calcium caseinate

Protein texture

Monopotassium glutamate

Sodium caseinate

Yeast Nutrient

Yeast extract

Food with yeast

Automatic yeast

Hydrolyzed protein (any protein that is hydrolyzed)

Hydrolyzed corn gluten

Monosodium glutamate (natrium means sodium in Latin/German)

If MSG was just a flavor enhancer, that’s one thing. Research shows that it not only enhances taste, but also affects the brain and nervous system.

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