Mono Sodium Glutamate
Adverse Health Effects
A lot of this info is found in a book by George
R. Schwartz, MD a noted
toxicologist, "In Bad Taste, the MSG Syndrome".
MSG = Mono Sodium Glutamate
Some people have stronger reactions to MSG than to arsenic or mercury.
MSG is pervasively hidden under other names and aliases so as to go undetected.
MSG is a sodium salt of Glutamic Acid, an amino acid and is a drug. It acts as an
excitatory neurotransmitter. It basically causes the nerve cells to discharge an
electrical impulse and that's the basis of its use as a flavor enhancer. Food companies
learned that MSG could increase the flavor and aroma and enhance acceptability of
commercial food products.
Equally important they learned that it could also uppress undesirable or "off"
flavors, bitterness, and sourness and eliminated the "tinny" taste of canned
foods. This is the reason food companies in general have no intention of giving up MSG as
an additive in their products.
USA national consumption of MSG went from roughly one million pounds in 1950 to 300 times
that amount today.
Here's the bottom line: As the dose increases, every single human will react to MSG at
some point. At certain doses it becomes toxic enough to cause illness.
HIDDEN SOURCES OF MSG
Food label descriptors that contain enough MSG to serve as common MSG-reaction triggers
These ALWAYS contain MSG:
Glutamate Textured protein
Monosodium glutamate Hydrolyzed protein
Monopotassium glutamate (any protein that is hydrolyzed)
Glutamic acid Yeast extract
Calcium caseinate Yeast food
Sodium caseinate Autolyzed yeast
Gelatin Yeast nutrient
These very OFTEN contain MSG:
Malt extract Flavors(s) & Flavoring(s)
Malt flavoring Natural flavor(s) & flavoring(s)
Barley malt Natural pork flavoring
Bouillon Natural beef flavoring
Stock Natural chicken flavoring
Broth Seasonings (the word "seasonings")
Carrageenan Soy sauce
Maltodextrin Soy sauce extract
Whey protein Soy protein
Whey protein isolate Soy protein isolate
Whey protein concentrate Soy protein concentrate
Pectin anything Protein fortified
anything Enzyme modified
These can be used to CREATE MSG:
Protease enzymes Protease Fungal protease Enzymes
Hidden MSG is not limited to use in food. MSG sensitive people have reported reactions to
soaps, shampoos, hair conditioners, and cosmetics that contain hidden MSG. The most
obvious common hiding places are in ingredients called "hydrolyzed protein" and
Drinks, candy, and chewing gum are also potential sources of hidden MSG. Also, aspartic
acid, found in aspartame (NutraSweet) ordinarily causes MSG type reactions in MSG
sensitive people. Aspartame is found in some medications. Check with your pharmacist.
Binders and fillers for medications, nutrients, and supplements, both prescription and
non-prescription, including enteral feeding materials and some fluids administered
intravenously in hospitals, may contain MSG.
Reactions to MSG are dose related, i.e., some people react to even very small amounts of
MSG while others usually only react to relatively more. MSG-induced reactions may occur
contact or after as much as 48 hours.
There are additional ingredients that appear to cause MSG reactions in ACUTELY sensitive
people. A list is available for those interested.
Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC) PO Box 2532 Darien, IL 60561
"Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills" by Russell L. Blaylock, M.D.
by Breseis Gatto
Despite the sensationalistic title, neurosurgeon Russell Blaylock's
Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills,
is a responsible book of broad relevance and
technical sophistication. Neurons, the cells of the nervous system, are what are killed;
the taste that kills is the taste of MSG, aspartame (also known as Nutrasweet), and
certain other food additives known as excitotoxins.
Excitotoxins are added to food because of their peculiar flavor-enhancing properties. MSG
was first isolated from kombu in 1908 by a Japanese chemist. It went into commercial
production the next year, and by 1933, Japanese cooks were using over ten million pounds
of it annually. Our culture discovered MSG during World War II, when American soldiers
found that Japanese soldier's rations, unlike their own, tasted delicious. U.S. food
manufacturers quickly adopted the use of MSG. Unfortunately, they were not as quick to
abandon its use when MSG's toxic qualities were demonstrated in the late 1950s. Today,
excitotoxins are found in many convenience foods; restaurants and hospitals add them to
the foods they prepare as well.
The excitotoxins kill certain neurons, those with glutamate receptors, by overstimulating
them. Sometimes the cells are damaged without being killed. Because of the particular
functions of the brain areas where these cells are located, exposure in infancy or
prenatally is suspected to be implicated in learning disabilities, emotional problems, and
endocrinological abnormalities. Blaylock convincingly links cumulative exposure in
adulthood to an accelerated onset and degeneration in Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's,
and ALS as well as headaches, seizures, strokes and AIDS dementia.
Blaylock begins with an explanation of the basic neurophysiology of the glutamate-type
neurons. Glutamate, naturally occurring in foods, and, of course, in MSG, monosodium
glutamate, is used as a neurotransmitter by these cells. Surrounding these neurons are
helper cells, called astrocytes, which regulate the concentration of glutamate by
absorbing any excess and converting it into glutamine. If the astrocytes are deprived of
glucose, as in hypoglycemia, or oxygen, as in strokes, they become energy depleted and
spill glutamate, killing or damaging these neurons in the absence of any excess dietary
glutamate. When excess glutamate is present, it is one hundred times more toxic if the
brain is also deprived of glucose. Since glutamate occurs naturally in foods, the brain
has a second mechanism to help prevent excessive glutamate levels, the blood-brain
barrier. The specially constituted cells lining the brain's capillaries, collectively
called the blood-brain barrier, have an increased capability to transport beneficial
substances such as glucose and exclude detrimental ones such as glutamate.
Unfortunately, the blood brain barrier is not well developed in children, particularly
infants. Animal studies show infants to be 4x more sensitive to glutamate-induced brain
damage than adults. The barrier is also frequently breached in adults by fever, stroke,
heavy metal poisoning, head injury, and infections. It can be impaired with age as well.
Finally, there are parts of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, controller of the
pituitary (and, through it, the rest of the vital glands of the body) which aren't
protected by the blood brain barrier.
Therefore, for children, and many adults, glutamate poisoning can probably occur through
the dietary excess caused by adding MSG to our food, overwhelming the astrocytes
absorptive capability, and the capillaries' barrier action. Dr. John Olney, a leading
researcher in the field, has estimated that the MSG in a single bowl of commercial soup,
drunk with a can of diet, aspartame-sweetened soda, would raise a two-year-old child's
blood level to six times the concentration demonstrated to cause brain damage in animals.
In animals this damage is often not immediately apparent. Silent lesions, causing no
observable behavioral effects, are capable of causing emotional, cognitive and
endocrinological abnormalities when enough cell injuries accumulate or a certain stage of
growth is reached. A human example of silent lesions is Parkinson's disease, in which no
clinical symptoms are observed until approximately 90%of the substantia nigra, the brain
area primarily affected, is destroyed.
In children, however, the destruction of healthy brain tissue is not the only problem
associated with glutamate. A child's brain is growing, and it is suspected that excess
glutamate causes connections to be made inappropriately. Certain sensors on the neurons,
called growth cones, allow the neurons to detect and grow along chemical trails in the
brain, ultimately constructing the necessary pathways. Glutamate has been shown to affect
the growth cones. Studies of infant animals, using small doses of glutamate, may indicate
the effects of this type of miswiring. Rats fed small amounts of MSG from birth had
difficulty escaping mazes, discriminating different types of stimuli, and jumping to a
platform to escape electric shock. A review of the literature also showed significant
injuries to the hypothalamus with disruption of many endocrine hormones. Thyroid,
prolactin, and oxytocin were low, and cortisone was increased. Cortisone is
immunosuppressive; oxytocin is necessary for labor contractions, breast-feeding, and
orgasm, and also has been shown to be involved in mother-infant bonding.
A contested question is whether or not dietary levels in this country are sufficient to
initiate these catastrophic results. Before 1969, infants in the U.S. received high levels
of glutamate, because MSG was added to baby foods. The amount contained in a single jar
was 25 times the amount contained in a similar quantity of breast-milk, and one -quarter
the dose needed to cause brain injury in infant animals. Since humans appear to be five
times as sensitive to glutamate as mice, one jar of baby food may have been enough to do
damage. Even if a jar did not contain enough to hurt most infants, MSG accumulates in the
brain for hours after consumption. Therefore, infants may have been hurt after several
jars eaten on the same day pushed brain glutamate to a critical level.
The young can also be hurt by excitotoxins before they are born. Blaylock notes the danger
of pregnant women drinking diet soda to restrict weight gain. Since hypoglycemia is known
to exacerbate the effects of excitotoxins, I wonder about the routine glucose challenge
test given to pregnant women, which often requires them to fast. The practice of denying
the laboring woman, and thus her infant, food probably causes even more damage. The
emerging infant under these conditions experiences hypoglycemia and oxygen deprivation
together. Both will increase the toxicity of whatever excitotoxins are in its system from
its mother's last meal.
And in the U.S., that meal was likely to have contained a hefty dose. If the mother ate a
"normal" diet, she consumed from 10-20 grams daily. If she ate out, a single
dish may have contained 9.9 grams or more. The resulting blood levels from a 10 gram dose
for a 110 pound person (me!) are comparable to those causing brain damage in mice.
The author cautions particularly against chips, salad dressings, steak sauces, and gravies
as well as including an appendix of misleading terms such as "natural flavoring"
and "spices" which can be used to indicate MSG on food labels; nevertheless, the
practical discussion of how to avoid excitotoxins in the diet was too sparse. Although
Blaylock recommends another book, In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome by George Schwartz for
further information about dietary sources of MSG, for convenience, I wish he had included
more information in this book. The book does not make the widespread use of MSG in
restaurants graphically clear. For example, while preparing this review, I was surprised
to discover from talking to a friend that she had always sprinkled MSG on the subs when
she worked at a pizza place.
Unlike the discussion of culinary uses of MSG,
Blaylock's treatment of the neurodegenerative diseases is extensive and detailed. Although
he believes dietary excitotoxins are not the primary causes of ALS, Huntingdon's,
Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's, Blaylock notes that all these syndromes do involve the
destruction of glutamate-type neurons. Therefore he recommends that anyone with these
conditions or a hereditary disposition to them should avoid dietary exposures to
excitotoxins, which might hasten their onset and progression.
Other dietary factors affect excitotoxin toxicity. Magnesium and zinc deficiency greatly
increase neural sensitivity to excitotoxins. Unfortunately 75% of adults in the U.S. have
magnesium deficient diets according to a survey of 37,000 people conducted by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. The use of diuretics, alcohol, and colas cause an even further
lowering of magnesium body levels by increasing excretion. Low magnesium levels have been
linked to seizures in both humans and animals. Other nutrients exert a protective action
by decreasing inflammation and free radical damage in the overstimulated neuron. Vitamin E
decreases excitotoxin toxicity, and along with Deprenyl, slows the course of Parkinson's
disease. The omega-3 fatty acids,(see Udo Erasmus Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill)
deficient in the American diet and found in flax seeds and fish oils, are also suggested
by Blaylock to be protective against excitotoxins.
Many readers may find useful nutrition suggestions in the chapter, Other Neurological
Disorders. Blaylock finds eliminating excitotoxins from the diets of migraine sufferers
helpful, as well as supplementing 500mg. of magnesium gluconate daily for the first week,
250mg. thereafter. A migraine sufferer himself, he personally experienced the ability of
low blood sugar to bring on migraines after exercise. For women who have migraines
triggered by their menstrual period, he suggests fish oil capsules three times a day, with
400IU vitamin E daily.
Additionally, diet may affect the neurons' ability to cope with overstimulation by
blocking the energy producing enzymes in the neurons and astrocytes. Blaylock describes
the enzyme deficiencies found in the glutamate- involving afflictions such as Alzheimer's.
I would add that one inadvertent component of most Americans's diets, fluoride, has been
shown to inhibit many enzymes, and is thought to inhibit cytochrome oxidase, an enzyme
found to be deficient in most Alzheimer's patients. (see Yiamouyiannis, Fluoride: the
Aging Factor) Another unseen addition to the diet, mercury toxicity, such as that caused
by dental "silver" fillings, also affects enzymes involved in the energy
producing cycle (see Fasciana, Are Your Dental Fillings Poisoning You?)
In addition to the medical information about excitotoxins, Blaylock discusses the economic
and social factors behind their continued use. G.D.Searle, the manufacturer of
Nutrasweettm, sold 736 million dollars worth of it in1989, and spent 60 million dollars on
advertising during its first three years of marketing. In 1972, 262,000 metric tons of MSG
were produced. Part of the huge amount of income generated by these sales is spent on
scientists who perform biased studies, designed to produce findings of no toxicity. In one
study showing no brain damage, the experimenters administered the glutamate in such high
doses the experimental animals vomited. No mention of the vomiting was made in the
published data. The experimenters simultaneously gave the animals an anesthetic which was
known to totally antidote glutamate's brain toxicity. Apparently not quite sure that these
measures were adequate, the "scientists" chose a portion of the brain to examine
that was known not to be affected by glutamate. This particular study has been repeatedly
cited by the FDA as the basis for continuing to classify glutamate as "generally
recognized as safe".
Blaylock's coverage of the politics of glutamate is fascinating. Some other issues of
interest to me were not covered as well, if at all. The major absences I felt in the book
were discussions of addictive or psychopharmicological effects of the excitotoxins, the
safety of glutamine, the possibility, causes, and symptoms of a glutamate deficiency, the
mechanism of the taste-enhancing effect, and an explanation of why humans absorb glutamine
so much better than other animals. Nevertheless, I believe the book is worth the effort to
buy and read. The discipline necessary to avoid these additives can only be increased by
being thoroughly informed. Perhaps, like breastfeeding, this choice too has longlasting
and profound benefits.
Russell L. Blaylock, MD (Biography)
Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified
neurosurgeon, combines many years of medical practice with study of
thousands of research studies to create this monumental book. Author of
Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, one of the first books to address the
hazards of food additives, he has also written several other medical books
and numerous scientific articles. He currently resides in Mississippi with
Books by Russell L. Blaylock, MD