Silent Killer Hidden in Your Kitchen Pantry: MSG
A widespread and silent killer that’s worse for your health than alcohol, nicotine and many drugs is likely lurking in your kitchen cabinets right now.
“It” is monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer that’s known widely as an addition to Chinese food, but that’s actually added to thousands of the foods you and your family regularly eat, especially if you are like most Americans and eat the majority of your food as processed foods or in restaurants.
MSG is one of the worst food additives on the market and is used in canned soups, crackers, meats, salad dressings, frozen dinners and much more. It’s found in your local supermarket and restaurants, in your child’s school cafeteria and, amazingly, even in baby food and infant formula.
MSG is more than just a seasoning like salt and pepper, it actually enhances the flavor of foods, making processed meats and frozen dinners taste fresher and smell better, salad dressings more tasty, and canned foods less tinny.
While MSG’s benefits to the food industry are quite clear, this food additive could be slowly and silently doing major damage to your health.
What Exactly is MSG?
You may remember when the MSG powder called “Accent” first hit the U.S. market. Well, it was many decades prior to this, in 1908, that monosodium glutamate was invented. The inventor was Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese man who identified the natural flavor enhancing substance of seaweed.
Taking a hint from this substance, they were able to create the man-made additive MSG, and he and a partner went on to form Ajinomoto, which is now the world’s largest producer of MSG (and interestingly also a drug manufacturer).
Chemically speaking, MSG is approximately 78 percent free glutamic acid, 21 percent sodium, and up to 1 percent contaminants.
It’s a misconception that MSG is a flavor or “meat tenderizer.” In reality, MSG has very little taste at all, yet when you eat MSG, you think the food you’re eating has more protein and tastes better. It does this by tricking your tongue, using a little-known fifth basic taste: umami.
Umami is the taste of glutamate, which is a savory flavor found in many Japanese foods, bacon and also in the toxic food additive MSG. It is because of umami that foods with MSG taste heartier, more robust and generally better to a lot of people than foods without it.
The ingredient didn’t become widespread in the United States until after World War II, when the U.S. military realized Japanese rations were much tastier than the U.S. versions because of MSG.
In 1959, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration labeled MSG as “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS), and it has remained that way ever since. Yet, it was a telling sign when just 10 years later a condition known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” entered the medical literature, describing the numerous side effects, from numbness to heart palpitations, that people experienced after eating MSG.
Today that syndrome is more appropriately called “MSG Symptom Complex,” which the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identifies as “short-term reactions” to MSG. More on those “reactions” to come.
Why MSG is so Dangerous
One of the best overviews of the very real dangers of MSG comes from Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon and author of “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills.” In it he explains that MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain damage to varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more.
Part of the problem also is that free glutamic acid is the same neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas and other organs use to initiate certain processes in your body. Even the FDA states:
“Studies have shown that the body uses glutamate, an amino acid, as a nerve impulse transmitter in the brain and that there are glutamate-responsive tissues in other parts of the body, as well.
Abnormal function of glutamate receptors has been linked with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s chorea. Injections of glutamate in laboratory animals have resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain.”
Although the FDA continues to claim that consuming MSG in food does not cause these ill effects, many other experts say otherwise.