Can dietary supplementation of monosodium glutamate improve the health of the elderly?
Dietary free l-glutamate has been known for a century to improve taste and palatability. Recent evidence suggests that this effect is mediated through specific l-glutamate receptors located on the taste buds. However, l-glutamate receptors are also present elsewhere in the gastrointestinal tract, such as the stomach. Here, l-glutamate exerts physiologic actions beneficial to gut function by stimulating l-glutamate receptors linked to the gastric vagus nerve. In addition, dietary l-glutamate also appears to be an important energy substrate for gut tissue. Can such l-glutamate effects on taste and gut function be clinically useful? Elderly people often develop health problems related to their nutritional status that can be linked to insufficient energy and nutrient intake. A number of studies have examined the potential usefulness of l-glutamate, added to food in the form of monosodium glutamate (MSG), in promoting better nutrition in the elderly and in patients with poor nutrition. Some positive effects have been observed. This article reviews the physiologic roles of dietary l-glutamate in relation to alimentation and examines the evidence linking the utility of MSG supplementation to the improvement of nutrition in elderly and hospitalized patients.