MSG: It’s not just in Oriental food anymore

by Darryl Roundy, DC
Many of you have probably heard a little something about MSG (monosodium glutamate). Commonly, this additive is associated with Chinese food, but few realize that it’s in most processed store-bought foods and fast foods.MSG was first developed in 1908 in the laboratory of Dr. Kikunae Ikeda. Dr. Ikeda extracted the substance from a flavor enhancing seaweed known as kombu (Laminaria japonica) or “sea tangle.” This particular species of seaweed has a naturally occurring high concentration of MSG.

By 1933, Japanese production of MSG had reached 10 million pounds annually and Chinese production was nearly equal that as well! Having seen such room for growth, the Japanese tried to market MSG in the U.S.; it was not received with open arms.

After World War II, the U.S. began to inquire about the Japanese’s use of MSG in their soldiers rations. Then, in 1948, the first symposium on MSG was held in Chicago. Among the attendees were representatives of Quartermaster Food and Container Institute of the Armed Forces, Campbell Foods, Continental Foods, General Foods, Standard Brands, Continental Can Company, Nestles, United Airlines Food Service, National Livestock and Meat Board, Borden, Stokeley, Libby, Pillsbury, and even Oscar Meyer.

Many unproven claims were presented at the assembly in hopes of gaining support. Most centering around the “amazing” taste enhancing properties of MSG, but some, as presented by Dr. Carl Pfeiffer of the University of Illinois College of Medicine, were as far fetched as stating that MSG will raise the IQ levels in feeble-minded people.

If it wasn’t already enough to tell the canning industry that MSG will cover-up the “tin” taste in their foods, or other industries that “MSG suppresses undesirable flavors” and “creates a lingering flavor reaction,” the claim that MSG raises IQ levels made the representatives inquire as to how soon they would be able to implement the “spice.”

A few years later, in 1968, Dr. Ho Man Kwok wrote to the New England Journal of Medicine and reported his reaction to MSG. “The syndrome,” he wrote, “which usually begins 15 or 20 minutes after I have eaten the first dish, lasts for two hours without any hangover effect. The most prominent symptoms are numbness at the back of the neck gradually radiating to both arms and the back, and general weakness and palpitation.”

Dr. Kwok’s letter was first believed to be a joke, but soon after, many others began to write in telling of their adverse reactions to the additive. Some of the symptoms include: sweating, numbness around the face and neck, chest pressure, burning sensations, palpitations, nausea, vomiting, headaches, diarrhea, sneezing, cramps, weakness, dizziness, blurred vision, confusion, depression, fast heartbeat, insomnia, rash, hives, arthritis, behavioral problems, thirst, paranoia, nasal stuffiness, ache in the jaws and temples, bloating and emphysema.

Some of the increased recent concern about MSG stems from the observation that it acts as a stimulant to the neurotransmitters of the brain, these transmitters in turn stimulate brain cell activity. Current studies are now showing that MSG is such a powerful stimulant, that it is becoming know as a neurotoxin or poison to the nervous system. MSG literally stimulates brain cells to death and permanently damages the “dendrites” of nerves which are the tiny filaments which transfer information to and from the brain! As early as 1957, scientists found that within minutes, MSG resulted in rapid irreversible destruction of the majority of cells in the retina’s of mice, which rendered them blind.

In early studies, children were not used as subjects for test experiments. However, 19% of children interviewed reported adverse symptoms and 10% of adults who reported symptoms remembered having them also during childhood (later studies showed 30% and 20% respectively). This statistic, in 1969, prompted manufacturers of baby food to remove MSG from their product. They had previously added the spice to please the mothers who tasted the baby food and reported that its bland taste was unacceptable for their child.

In a hearing before the F.A.S.E.B.S.C. (Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Select Committee) on GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) substances, a number of experts testified that there should be restricted use of MSG due to the high percentage of people who are adversely effected. After all of the evidence was in, the Select Committee opted to not take a stand. The principle reason for their failure in taking a more vigorous anti-MSG stand was that it did not cause brain damage in experimental animals. They did not dispute the fact that the additive hurt people, or had bad side effects, they just felt it didn’t hurt people severely enough!
To avoid being hurt less than “severely enough” by MSG, look out for some of the common ingredients and foods which include MSG. Some common foods and ingredients are as follows: hydrolyzed vegetable protein (contains up to 20% MSG), protein hydrolysate, “natural flavors,” “seasoning,” “spices,” seasoning salts, AccentÔ , RL-50, hydrolyzed plant protein, bouillon, meat tenderizers, most prepared spaghetti sauces, most sausages, some bacons, most fast-food, “natural ingredients,” kombu extract, vegetable protein, chicken or beef broth, luncheon meats, processed or dried foods with “flavor packets,” most potato chips, most canned soups, most frozen foods, most international foods, and even such ethnic foods as gefelte fish and matzo balls.

In a 15 year study by Pillsbury, they concluded in 1988, that the largest and fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population is what they refer to as the “chase and grabbits.” The “chase and grabbits” are people who are most likely to subsist on fast-food, frozen dinners and carry-out pizza. Pillsbury concluded that this nutritionally deficient cross-section of society comprises 26% of the population. Furthermore, they concluded that this deficient group has grown at an alarming rate of 136% over the period of the 15 year study. To further confirm these findings, according to a study by NPD Group (a New York marketing firm), only 15% of meals in 1986 required a conventional oven. This meaning that pre-packaged food is much more prevalent than wholesome, natural food.

Well, aren’t we safe if we go to nice restaurants? Col. Paul Logan of the National Restaurant Association quotes an association survey indicating that “three out of four of all good restaurant operators are now using glutamate (MSG).” (Glutamate Manufacturers’ Technical Committee Publication: The Value of Glutamate in Processed Foods). School children aren’t even safe. H.H. Pullium of the USDA states that “there are no federal regulations or policies which prohibit or limit the use of MSG in school lunch programs.”

In closing, a good rule of thumb is to avoid “processed” and “fast-foods.” Almost all of them contain significant amounts of MSG. For optimum health and well being, make sure your spine is in proper alignment and eat whole, live foods, i.e. fresh organic vegetables, fruits and whole grains.


Dr. Darryl Roundy

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