Hidden Effects of MSG

September 19, 2022 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Hidden Effects of MSG
MSG is one of the most commonly food additives used by the food industry. Developed in 1908 in Japan, it quickly made its way onto the American dinner table and many foods. It is used as a flavor enhancer and stabilizer of processed foods.

MSG is regarded as harmless by the FDA and others, yet many have ardently questioned and opposed artificial MSG. As the understanding of biology and molecular reactions increase, today’s research sheds considerable light into concerns with MSG use. Empower yourself with up-to-date information on MSG and its impact on your health.

MSG


Monosodium glutamate or MSG is sodium salt artificially combined with the amino acid glutamate. Sodium is added to glutamate to make it more stable. MSG is manufactured by bacteria fermentation, which may be produced using genetically engineered beets, corn, and other grains or other methods.

Common Foods that contain Artificial MSG


Foods that commonly contain artificial MSG include fast food, Chinese food, processed or smoked meats, beef jerky and other snack sticks, chips and snacks like Doritos and Pringles, some trail mix products, condiments and dressings, seasoning blends and marinated products, frozen meals, instant noodle and soup mixes and canned soup. Read your food labels carefully and do an online search for terms and foods associated with MSG.

The amino acid glutamate is found naturally in various foods and can become natural MSG. Kelp, seaweed, fish sauce, soy sauce, parmesan cheese, oyster sauce, etc. contain natural MSG.

The amino acid glutamate plays several important roles in brain function. It helps with alertness, wakefulness, formation and stabilization of nerve connections, memory, learning, and cognitive function. It works together with other neurotransmitters and is kept in balance and buffered by GABA, the primary relaxant neurotransmitter. Antioxidants are required to protect nerves and tissues from excess glutamate.

FDA and MSG


The FDA has declared that artificial MSG is chemically indistinguishable from natural glutamate present in food proteins, and that glutamate from artificial MSG and natural glutamate rich foods are metabolized in the same way.

“The FDA requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate. However, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses. While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG. However, foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on their packaging. MSG also cannot be listed as “spices and flavoring.” ”

Many scientists and users of artificial MSG advocate for its use because of its flavor enhancing properties and appetite stimulating effects in the elderly. It also promotes gastric emptying in individuals who have slow peristalsis, or movement of food out of the stomach down the intestinal tract. Artificial MSG is “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).

MSG Symptom Complex


Reports of adverse symptoms triggered by MSG have occurred for decades, but controversy exists as “symptoms are hard to prove”. Historically dubbed “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, MSG hypersensitivity is now known as MSG Symptom Complex.

Common reactions to MSG include headache, flushing, sweating, face pressure or tightness, lack of feeling/numbness, tingling, or burning in the face, neck, or other areas, quick, fluttering heartbeats, chest pain, nausea, weakness, jaw muscle tightness, and increased blood pressure with use.

Current Research Findings Raise Many Concerns


Researchers have ardently studied artificial MSG over the decades and have identified several things. Here are some findings for you to contemplate as you evaluate your intake of this food additive.

MSG toxic effects have been found with unborn children, children, adolescents, and adults. It has been linked with increased blood pressure and gastrointestinal tract disturbances. It affects the endocrine and reproductive systems too.

MSG is connected with impaired neurological function. Scientists found that MSG consumption in rats “destroyed neurons of the hypothalamus”. This destruction led to changes in growth, weight gain and obesity, small gonads, other reproductive changes, self-harm behaviors, mood disturbances, blood sugar and insulin resistance, chronic inflammation, and degenerative changes to the nervous system.

MSG induced kidney and liver oxidative stress in animals. Research showed it increased body weight, cholesterol imbalances, other cellular changes, and inflammatory reactions, regardless of amount. Greater adverse effects were seen with higher intakes. Other animal studies showed that MSG induced changes in the cellular architecture of the liver and heart.

Immune and Spleen


MSG induced oxidative stress responses have been found in the thymus gland and caused apoptosis or cell death. The thymus gland is part of your immune system involved with defense and immune protection.

A 2022 animal study identified that use of MSG induced injury to the spleen, another immune system organ. Animals fed MSG versus high fat diet and MSG both experienced significant oxidative stress, inflammation, and mitochondrial dysfunction “leading to severe immune system anomalies.”

Thyroid and Mitochondria


Other animal studies demonstrated that even in small doses, MSG stressed the thyroid gland. Results showed cellular changes and altered appearance of mitochondria in the thyroid gland.

Obesity and Inflammation


MSG has been identified as an obesogen or a chemical that disturbs normal physiology and induces obesity. Newborn rats treated with MSG experienced increased body weight, body length, cholesterol levels, and leptin, and decreased adiponectin, causing obesity later in adulthood. High leptin and low adiponectin hormone levels are related with metabolic syndrome.

Further study of MSG-induced obesity has found several metabolic changes in adult mice. Adverse effects included changes with increased inflammation, insulin dysfunction and glucose intolerance, and increased free radicals.

Other 2021 animal research confirmed that MSG induced obesity and led to hypothalamic inflammation, and central leptin resistance. It changed neurological function and increased brain inflammation, leading to poor leptin hormone function and weight gain. This cutting-edge research showed MSG uses the same metabolic pathway as fructose and salt metabolism. The result is a build-up of uric acid, obesity, blood sugar dysregulation, and metabolic inflammation.

Additional Metabolic and Gene Function Changes


With a different combination of food additives, scientists evaluated animals fed a combination of MSG and aspartame/NutraSweet with a high trans fat diet. This is a common American dietary pattern found in junk food and fast foods for the past several decades. Results demonstrated that dietary MSG intake increased leptin levels in the blood and triglyceride levels in the liver.

Additional findings showed that when MSG was combined with aspartame, the adverse effects were even more pronounced. Abdominal fat, cholesterol levels, fasting blood sugar, TNF-alpha, and other markers were significantly affected.

Gene analysis also showed that 124 genes were either upregulated or downregulated from their normal function with MSG and aspartame intake. Aspartame is widely found in “sugar-free” processed/packaged foods and beverages.

A 2021 review study published in Toxicology Reports described further challenges of MSG when combined with a high fat diet. High levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which are highly toxic free radicals, were generated with MSG intake causing widespread cellular damage. Other research linked it with cholesterol imbalances, fat build-up in the liver and adverse changes in mitochondrial function and cell survival.

Dietary Changes over a Short Time in History


You must ponder the effects of food additives like artificial MSG and how it has affected human health and metabolism over the last 100 years. In the article, Optimizing Your Nutrition for Reproductive Health, I discussed the infamous Pottenger Cat Study and the effect of processed foods on the health of several generations of cats. The poor diet destroyed the health of future generations of cats.

As you watch TV programs and movies from the 1970’s and earlier, compare human anatomy to what you see today. Look at the body shapes, weight, physiques, stature, and complexion. The differences seen in the span of a few decades with the human physique along with increasing list of health concerns that mankind faces are startling. We are watching the Pottenger Cat Study play out in front of our eyes on humankind.

When artificial MSG was introduced over 100 years ago, food was generally grown locally, consumed in whole food form, and had little processing. Now we have GMO and extensively hybridized foods, as well as fast foods that are calorie rich, high fat, high sugar, and nutrient poor. Our year-round food supply is obtained from sources thousands of miles away, harvested before fully ripened. It may be grown or raised with growth hormones, antibiotics, pesticides/herbicides, or has ingredients added to the finished product that you can’t pronounce or understand what it is.

If a man-made food substance or other chemical in the environment seems harmless at the time of invention, used in limited amounts, and does not cause apparent disease right away, does this lack of outright visible injury still pose true after decades of use? What happens when it is combined with other things that stress the body? Or with a diet that fails to provide quality nutrition necessary to metabolize it? What about lifestyle factors such as sedentary lifestyle, tobacco or e-cigarettes/vaping, alcohol use, and medications, etc. that stress the body even more?

Many other challenges exist today that affect tolerance to additives. Brain resiliency against oxidative stress and toxins is compromised. Gut microbiome, liver function, the endocrine system and mitochondria are heavily challenged with other toxins like glyphosate and other herbicide/pesticide residues, fluoride, jet fuel and perchlorates, medications or their residues in the water or food supply, plastics and plasticizers, xenoestrogens and much more.

Protect Against MSG Stress


Reduction and avoidance of artificial MSG is the best way to alleviate the unwanted effects of MSG on your body. Make it a habit to closely read food labels.

Several nutrients have been found helpful in cell and animal studies to thwart the oxidative stress effects caused by MSG. These include turmeric, green tea, ginkgo, taurinearginine, vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, quercetin, probiotics, ginger, and others.

Your mother and grandmother likely used foods with artificial MSG in their cooking or perhaps had it on the table to add as desired. While considered harmless decades ago, you must wonder what effects MSG has had on your metabolism, gene function and future generations. Think about your children’s health, too after a fast food meal, chips, a diet pop, or yogurt with MSG and aspartame. Even if you don’t “feel” any negative effects when you consume artificial MSG, you have to wonder. Remember the Pottenger Cat Study? How are you and your family doing?

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