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Is MSG Bad For You?

What the peer-reviewed scientific literature has to say about MSG.

August 19, 2008 |
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Harmful, harmless, or helpful: MSG, found in fast food Chinese and in Bragg’s liquid aminos, a common veggie seasoning. No wonder it makes stuff taste so good. In 1997 there was a consensus meeting of top European scientists which concluded MSG was harmless. They met again last year to review all the latest data on the subject, and how many say they now concluded harmful??? How many say they stuck with harmless??? Anyone think they found some secret hidden healthy properties??? Utterly harmless…

To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Dianne Moore.

To help out on the site please email volunteer@nutritionfacts.org

Dr. Michael Greger

Doctor's Note

 

For some context, please check out my associated blog post: Soymilk: shake it up!

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/JustinCheong/ Justin Cheong

    Wow this is surprising!!!

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/mgreger/ Michael Greger M.D.

      Interestingly, though, a new study following about 10,000 healthy adults over about a 5 year period found that MSG consumption was apparently associated with the risk of becoming overweight. Did it just make people eat more because the food tasted better? Apparently not, as the association remained even after controlling for energy intake.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/StephenKelly/ Stephen Kelly

    I have heard that it is bad for some people but not all people. Some times it causes people to have migraines and head aches. Do you know anything about this?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/drdons/ DrDons

      Migraine headaches(i.e. vascular headaches) are often triggered by certain chemicals in foods. Tyramine is one. It is a naturally occurring substance found in highest quantities in fermented and processed foods (cheeses, processed meats. There are some plant products that are also high in tyramine such as broad beans and peanuts.Tyramine content also goes up as food is stored so care needs to be observed in eating left overs. In my clinical experience with my patients the amount consumed seems to be an issue. I have been less impressed with stress being a factor but more impressed with the behaviors and eating habits of patients under stress. For instance folks under stress tend to skip meals thus eating more when they do eat. They tend toward more processed foods. Plant based diets seem to reduce migraines compared to consumption of the standard American diet but as I mentioned there are plant triggers. Since it is very individual issue it is best to keep a food journal and look at what was consumed the 24 hours prior to onset of the migraine ha. The only caveat is that it is important that the headache be correctly identified as to type. I have had many patients with muscular skeletal headaches be told they have migraines by mistake. It is important to work with your physician to help sort this all out. MSG in some individuals can cause the headaches or more commonly it may be the foods consumed with MSG.

      • Nelda

        I have a severe allergy to MSG. The last time I ate a Chick-filet sandwich and I almost died from it. I didn’t know that it was the second ingredient in the sandwich. They called an ambulance and I went to the ER. My blood Pressure went to 29 on the bottom. I have had several attacks with MSG and I have sever stomach cramps, diarrhea, and start vomiting. My body is trying to get rid of it. I usually pass out after I have eaten it. Now I can’r eat anything that is packaged or canned. It has to be all fresh food. KFG is listed as the worst place to eat if you have an allergy to it and chick-filet is the second. I have to confess that it is making me a little paranoid about eating food. I am getting afraid to eat. I have heard that it is not healthy for anyone to eat it, it kills brain cells. But for me, it is life threatening.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/jmboss/ jmboss

    What about studies showing that MSG causes thinning of the retina?

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/toxins/ Toxins

      Please share these studies with us so we can view it.

  • http://nutritionfacts.org/members/hearthealthylifestyles/ HeartHealthyLifestyles

    What about the sodium in it? Should it be avoided by those on salt-restricted diets?

  • JuliaKathleen

    Why do you say that Bragg’s has MSG? The ingredients list on my bottle has just two ingredients: “Vegetable Protein from Soybeans and Purified Water”.

    • Jesse

      i second this question.

    • http://nutritionfacts.org/ Michael Greger M.D.

       The MSG isn’t added, but found naturally when you break up that protein to release glutamate.

  • mikeysbro

    Its important to note that any substance once removed from any food and processed into a powder etc changes the bioavability of the synergestic componets such as phytonutrients. In this case MSG found in foods are akin to vitamins in foods like beta carotene. Though when processed beta carotene becomes a toxin, this is also true of MSG. Not to mention substances like sugar, fructose, synthetic and “natural isolated” vitamins. Thus not all substances are created equal, even though chemically speaking they are so called “identical”.Therefore a distinction should be made between natural occuring MSG and processed white chrystaline MSG powder used for flavor enhancement or as a meat tenderizer as they are different.

  • thissal

    Behavioral and endocrinological effects of single injections of monosodium glutamate in the mouse.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3785512?dopt=Abstract&holding=npg
    & other references:
    http://www.msgtruth.org/obesity.htm

    I’m all for eating vegan, but there comes a point where skewing the evidence to suggest that substitute meat products are not harmful suggests an agenda that trumps the truth. Whether this agenda is good ( as in saving animals) or merely self-serving (as in generating profits) makes no difference when it comes to trusting in the claims.

  • Marité

    Are we saying that naturally occurring MSG is ok but artificial MSG not? Is at the end due biochemical individuality?

  • Keith

    Many are unclear about the risks of MSG. Dr. Russell Blaylock tells us the harm of MSG and all of the tricky ways it is inserted into virtually all processed foods. While I find his focus on this to be interesting, what we don’t see are studies that have validated his findings and other unbiased researchers finding similar results. I’m skeptical of his claims that cabals of food producers, even those that shun unnatural additives, collaborate to prevent his research being used to change laws and regulations that cover labeling. I’m not even convinced that a specific range of glutimate can be determined to be harmful much less a level that is safe.
    Nonetheless, avoiding MSG and other forms of glutimate seems to be prudent, even if that is the natural result of eating unrefined grains, fruits and veggies. As soon as you add Bragg’s to the plate of steamed greens however, you are, if you believe Blaylock, are eating something as harmful as highly-processed food.

    Please help us sort out the *nutrition facts* of glutimate in all it’s forms!

  • New Subscriber

    I have gotten terrible headaches from MSG in Asian restaurant food. For some reason Braggs Omino Acids doesn’t seem to have that effect. Is there a different kind of MSG in Braggs?

    Another question concerns Miso which contains a staggering amount of sodium. You suggest consuming a teaspoon a day. That’s a lot of sodium. Is it rendered harmless because it’s in Miso? Couldn’t one consume 1/4 teaspoon and still gain enough health benefits from Miso to make a difference?

  • clawspeak

    For those recovering from BENZO dependency (Benzodiazepine), there is much discussion about the effects on glutamates in ones diet and the recovery the nervous system (GABA receptors) during withdrawal (following the Dr Heather Ashton Manual). See the entries in the benzobuddies.org community.

    Are glutamates in ones diet safe for someone recovering form benzo dependency?

  • bobluhrs

    Hard to say what to make of this. What was in the review? I’m not saying I disagree, but I think more investigation of the exact tests referenced would be useful. This could be a very important issue. For instance, is the data based on behavioral observations, or were neurons actually observed post-mortem to determine if there was damage? It can take 80-90 percent neuron damage/death to show up in behavior. So we’d need to know the cumulative effects at the cellular level to say if it’s safe or not to consume MSG or MSG-like products. I read parts of Dr. Blaylock’s book, Excitotoxins, intend to read all of it, and not convinced it’s harmful in practical terms, eg: for large numbers of people over long periods, although certain people are hurt by it. Still, he recommends a test of aspartame headache which I did and got a bad headache like he said,which went away when I stopped the aspartame. Taste is important to joy of life, like other senses. I love The Soup Man, but it’s full of MSG-like additives in addition to the wonderful recipes! darn…Blaylock is sort of strange in areas of his life, wonder if he’s right in this one, being a biochem whiz and neurosurgeon. ? Geniuses.