Update on MSG

Update on MSG
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The reactions attributed to monosodium glutamate do not appear to hold up to scientific scrutiny.

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What about MSG? The scientific consensus has been that MSG is generally harmless.

But what’s the latest? Monosodium glutamate allergy—menace or myth? Myth.

Despite concerns raised in the 1960s, “decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between MSG” and the kinds of reactions people typically attribute to it. 

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 veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Image thanks to Tracy Wong via Flickr

What about MSG? The scientific consensus has been that MSG is generally harmless.

But what’s the latest? Monosodium glutamate allergy—menace or myth? Myth.

Despite concerns raised in the 1960s, “decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between MSG” and the kinds of reactions people typically attribute to it. 

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 veganmontreal.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

 

Image thanks to Tracy Wong via Flickr

Doctor's Note

For more on food additives and preservatives, check out these videos:
Phosphate Additives in Meat Purge and Cola
Phosphate Additives in Chicken
Are Nitrates Pollutants or Nutrients?
Artificial Food Colors and ADHD

And check out my other “HHH” videos (Harmful, Harmless, or Helpful?) – listed below the post. 

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

42 responses to “Update on MSG

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    1. Dr. Greger, I have a question that might be a little “narrow”, and not of interest to the general public, but I think might be relevant:

      MSG and Bipolar dissorder:
      glutamate is a precursor of GABA, and Riluzole, that was showen to reduce glutamate signaling (though as far as i know the meccanism remains unclear) has shown improvenet of cognitive decline and AD… would you say a person suffering from early onset cognitive decline and bipolar dissorder (with all the other typical GABA receptor anomalies) should avoid MSG or foods high in Glu in general (soy sauce, ecc)? or is our intrinsic synthesis rate so high that the consumption is irrelevant?

      Thx for your attention and time,
      a-10-year-long-whole-food-eating-vegan-with-BP-and-no-detectable-hyppocampus-activity :)

      1. then again, there are lots of articles that come more or less to the same conclusions: Glu is rapidly uptaken from the blood and present in increased levels in anterior cingulate cortex in BP patients, but in low levels in the hyppocampus (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16677749 ; http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26050195); the plasma is depleated of Glu during an “episode” (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17630258) but the CSF levels remain constant (meaning it is being “used up”); so maybe the memory loss is due to a lack of Glu in the hyppocampus because it is being used up in the cingulate? so maybe flooding the system with Glu or MSG will resolve the memory loss (even if augment the frequency of manic episodes)? what do you think?
        thx again

    2. Hi, Dr. Greger, Some anecdote which makes me wonder if the doctors who conducted these studies might have overlooked the effect of MSG on some people’s blood pressure: When one of our sons had msg as a child, his skin flushed deep pink and he became agitated. This week, when I used bouillion cubes (which after the fact I discovered contained MSG) in rice and lentils, my husband’s blood pressure shot up from the 120’s and 130’s to 170 two days ago, and now is at190. I just read that MSG is a vasoconstrictor..something about calcium channels. Coffee, also a vasoconstrictor, took his blood pressure to 220 and to the E.R.

      1. If anything, it’s the sodium from the monosodium glutamate. MSG instantly dissociates into sodium ions and glutamate ions upon contact with water; the sodium ions are exactly the same as you would get from salt. The vasoconstriction is almost certainly due to the sodium. In your muscles and blood vessels, calcium relaxes, sodium contracts. That’s why a calcium shortage is associated with muscle cramps.

        Glutamate from MSG doesn’t make sense as a culprit for this. Glutamate is the most common neurotransmitter in your body. This is precisely why glutamate naturally occurring in various foods such as tomatoes, fermented bean products like miso and soy sauce, and mushrooms (and also in meat, dairy, and eggs) tastes savory and enhances other present flavors; when this neurotransmitter gets on your tastebuds (which are nerve endings), it amplifies all the other tastes your taste buds are experiencing. If your son didn’t have any flushing reaction to sea weed, tomatoes, mushrooms, egg yolks, anchovies, parmasean cheese, nutritional yeast (yeast products such as Marmite and Vegemite and nutritional yeast are savory because of their high glutamate content), miso, or soy sauce (all of which are high in glutamate, many of which have sodium as well), there’s no good reason to suspect that MSG have anything to do with this reaction. Was the bouillon fortified with niacin (vitamin B3)? Niacin is known to cause a flushing effect.

        The problem with looking at the ingredients, finding MSG, and blaming MSG for some symptom is that you are ignoring all the other ingredients. Why blame MSG, and not any of the other items in the ingredient list of bouillon cubes? As far as I can tell, people do this because they gravitate to the most chemical sounding thing on the ingredient list. But if we simply listed all the other ingredients by their constituent chemical names, people may jump to conclusions about those as well; it is easy to suspect the unfamiliar. In Asia, where MSG is not called by its chemical name, but by its common name (wei jing/味精 in Chinese— the “essential extract of flavor”, or “ajinomoto” in Japanese, also “essence of flavor”), nobody bats an eye.

  1. Interesting. I wonder if there were possible conflicts of interests in this study. Just a thought. Sometimes a single study doesn’t mean anything. I don’t have problems with MSG (although it does make me thirsty, like any other salt), but I do avoid it. It is pretty easy to avoid MSG anyways.

  2. I don’t think it’s just a single study. I believe Dr. Greger has mentioned two European conferences that looked over all the research (surely more than one study, if they spent time on the question a second time) and determined it to be harmless.

  3. I like Dr. Russell Blaylock because his concern about MSG has frightened me away from processed foods.  Do you totally discount his book “Excitotoxins  The Taste that Kills”?  What about MSG being an excitotoxin for the brain?  Nutritionfacts.org has been the backbone for my change to a plant based diet, but I wish you could dig up a little dirt on MSG to help keep me on track.  You’re my hero Dr. G, thank you.

    1. I was also curious after a friend posted a link on Facebook about the “excitotoxicity” of MSG. I tried some googling to see if I could find anything reliable. So far, what I found is this:

      Deciphering the MSG controversy

      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802046/

      They say that there is dose-dependent death of mature mouse neurons with MSG. They say the effect is mitigated with the presence of Vitamin C. This is in in vitro, using the cells of another species, so I don’t think it’s definitive.

      Dr. Greger, could you weigh in on this?

  4. I have been told that MSG is used in laboratory studies on rats to induce diabetes in the rats. Is there any truth to this? And, what is MSG anyway? What is it made from?
     

    1. Dose dependent development of diabetes mellitus and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis in monosodium glutamate-induced obese mice. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19683013
      We have recently reported that monosodium glutamate (MSG) induces severe obesity with diabetes mellitus and/or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)/non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) in Crj:CD-1(ICR) neonatal mice. In this study, we investigated the effects of varying the dose of MSG on the resulting obesity and diabetes mellitus.
      Crj:CD-1(ICR) neonatal mice were administered MSG in one of several courses: once-daily subcutaneous injections of 2mg/g for 5 consecutive days (2 mg/g x 5 group), a single subcutaneous injection of 4 mg/g (4 mg/g x 1 group) and once-daily subcutaneous injections of 4 mg/g for 5 consecutive days (4 mg/g x 5 group).
      In all the MSG treatment groups, severe obesity developed by 29 weeks of age. The onset of diabetes mellitus and liver lesions (resembling those of human NAFLD/NASH) were observed before 54 weeks of age. The obesity, diabetes mellitus and liver lesions were most severe in the 4 mg/g x 1 group. In the 4 mg/g x 5 group, increases in body weight and body length were inhibited by MSG’s severe toxicity.
      A single 4 mg/g dose of MSG is the most suitable as the obese model and induces not only severe obesity and diabetes mellitus, but also liver changes resembling human NAFLD/NASH. A small amount of MSG in the newborn develops obesity and the other complications without hyperphagia after a long term.

  5. My husband and I have been vegan and following your website
    for over a year and a half and respect your opinion. We also recently read the book “Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills,” by Dr. Russell L.
    Blaylock. We followed it up with extensive internet research, and the
    evidence seems to be that free glutamic acid in the diet over a lifetime can cause nerve and brain damage. That the corporations feel they have to hide glutamic acid in thoroughly deceptive labeling loudly proclaiming “NO MSG,” yet their ingredients lists show hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured protein, soy protein isolate, yeast extract (including nutritional yeast we were fond of), soy sauce (also used to be a staple of ours), carrageenan, “flavors” (not specifically named) and many others–they are simply changing the names in order to keep what they call a “clean label” to deceive the consumer. After all, the uninformed consumer would think how bad can protein and yeast and seaweed be? If I understand the process of manufacture, then the amino acid chains are broken down by boiling in sulfuric acid, and neutralizing pH with lye. Then plenty is wrong with eating it. It isn’t natural, and is just as fake as any GMO food. I had no idea that there is free glutamic acid in so many harmless-sounding ingredients. So regretfully we no longer eat fake meats (the processing being as repulsive as the slaughterhouses for the real meat), and a lot less soy sauce and we watch the ingredients in the plant milks we buy as we frequently see carrageenan and disodium something-or-other (meaning that there is also glutamic acid in it.) If glutamic acid is harmless, then why has it been outlawed in Europe in baby food, and why do corporations feel they have to go to great lengths to make such deceptive labeling while claiming “No MSG.”??? We’ll grow most of our own food, and buy the basic ingredients. No convenience foods as I’d rather spend the time in the kitchen than in the hospital. Very much interested in other opinions about glutamic acid in all the processed vegan food that is becoming so popular–especially the fake meats, milks, and soy sauce.

    1. Hello there. Two days ago I saw the EP.4 of the Truth about Cancer. One of the intervews was with Dr.Russell Blaylock. And in his words he said this about excitotoxins that fuel cancer.

      “Cancer cells use two major fuels, they use glucose and
      they use glutamine. Of the two, glutamine is the more powerful stimulant
      for cancer cell growth.

      The Warburg effect is the fact that normal cells use both anaerobic
      and aerobic system, the Krebs cycle. The cancer cells only use the
      anaerobic system, it was thought. Glutamine can work the aerobic system
      and product a lot more energy. So if you’re eating a lot of sugar and
      you’re eating a lot of glutamine, you’re really stimulating your cancer
      powerfully. So the idea is you want to cut down your glutamine intake. A
      lot of people are promoting glutamine as a way to heal the gut—the
      leaky gut syndrome. So, they’re saying, take five, six, ten grams of
      glutamine. That is a powerful stimulant for degenerative brain
      disorders, a powerful stimulant for cancer growth. You don’t want to do
      that. There’s a lot better ways to repair the GI tract—they work better
      and safer and actually inhibit cancer. ”

      Also he listed Black beans, mushrooms, yeast and so many other as food HIGH glutamine. I was shocked to hear that and kind of worry too, since my husband and I are Vegans and we really depend on Beans to get our protein. We also eat plenty of mushrooms, drink Kombucha (which it is made with mushrooms and yeast) and also we use a lot of nutritional yeast when cooking.

      What to do ?????

      1. Franciella: The following NutritionFacts video talks about, “The intake of legumes—beans, chickpeas, split peas, and lentils—may be the single most important dietary predictor of a long lifespan…”: http://nutritionfacts.org/video/increased-lifespan-from-beans/
        .
        So, I think there’s something wrong with the theory you have heard. I personally wouldn’t worry about the foods you are eating. It sounds like a very healthy diet to me. But in the end, it will be a matter of you deciding which information you find most credible. It sure can be tough figuring these things out. I hope you find an answer that you are comfortable with. Good luck.
        .
        PS: NutritionFacts mentions glumatine here: http://nutritionfacts.org/2014/08/05/test-to-see-if-your-diet-is-alkaline-or-acid-forming/ You may find that article helpful.

      2. Hi Franciella,

        I saw that episode too which is what has brought me here. I want to know about black beans, mushrooms and yeast and whether those glutamine levels are really unsafe. I love Dr Greger but am surprised he says MSG is safe here. My friend Kim definitely cannot eat it and has a severe problem to it.

        Anyway. I found this article after I was searching for the book that skyady above mentions “Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills,” by Dr. Russell L.Blaylock”

        Here is the article I found in relation to it
        http://www.naturalnews.com/020550.html

        (it does not mention mushrooms or black beans but was very interesting with regards to how to part block MSG from being absorbed))

        Here is the bit I found very useful.

        “Mike (interviewer) : Here’s a practical question that’s actually been burning in my head for about eight years: Is there anything that a person can take to block the absorption of MSG or glutamate as a defensive supplement?

        Dr. Blaylock: Well, not necessarily to block it. You have other amino acids that can’t compete for glutamic acid absorption. So that may be one way to help reduce the rate at which it would be absorbed.

        Mike: Which aminos would those be?

        Dr. Blaylock: Those would include leucine, isoleucine and lysine. They would compete for the same carrier system, so that would slow down absorption. There are a lot of things that act as glutamate blockers. You know, like silimarin, curcumin and ginkgo biloba. These things are known to directly block glutamate receptors and reduce excitotoxicity. Curcumin is very potent. Most of your flavonoids.

        Magnesium is particularly important, because magnesium can block the MNDA glutamate type receptor. That’s its natural function, so it significantly reduces toxicity. Vitamin E succinate is powerful at inhibiting excitotoxicity, as are all of your antioxidants. They found combinations of B vitamins also block excitotoxicity.”

        Hope that helps, maybe we should be thinking about increasing our intake of curcumin and also magnesium to protect ourselves :-)

  6. My husband and I have been vegan and following your website
    for over a year and a half and respect your opinion. We also recently read the book “Excitotoxins, The Taste That Kills,” by Dr. Russell L.
    Blaylock. We followed it up with extensive internet research, and the
    evidence seems to be that free glutamic acid in the diet over a lifetime can cause nerve and brain damage. That the corporations feel they have to hide glutamic acid in thoroughly deceptive labeling loudly proclaiming “NO MSG,” yet their ingredients lists show hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured protein, soy protein isolate, yeast extract (including nutritional yeast we were fond of), soy sauce (also used to be a staple of ours), carrageenan, “flavors” (not specifically named) and many others–they are simply changing the names in order to keep what they call a “clean label” to deceive the consumer. After all, the uninformed consumer would think how bad can protein and yeast and seaweed be? If I understand the process of manufacture, then the amino acid chains are broken down by boiling in sulfuric acid, and neutralizing pH with lye. Then plenty is wrong with eating it. It isn’t natural, and is just as fake as any GMO food. I had no idea that there is free glutamic acid in so many harmless-sounding ingredients. So regretfully we no longer eat fake meats (the processing being as repulsive as the slaughterhouses for the real meat), and a lot less soy sauce and we watch the ingredients in the plant milks we buy as we frequently see carrageenan and disodium something-or-other (meaning that there is also glutamic acid in it.) If glutamic acid is harmless, then why has it been outlawed in Europe in baby food, and why do corporations feel they have to go to great lengths to make such deceptive labeling while claiming “No MSG.”??? We’ll grow most of our own food, and buy the basic ingredients. No convenience foods as I’d rather spend the time in the kitchen than in the hospital. Very much interested in other opinions about glutamic acid in all the processed vegan food that is becoming so popular–especially the fake meats, milks, and soy sauce.

    1. I don’t have the research but my MD told me to stay away from GMOs, because I am trying to heal leaky gut. Leaky gut leads to many allergies.

  7. Whenever I have eaten at a restaurant that uses MSG, I get the same very distinct reaction. After 20-30 minutes after eating there is an increase in heart rate, my ears and hands turn beet red, and I get a killer headache. The first time it happened I thought I was dying. I learned that I had used up ‘my allowance, everyone has a certain tolerance and once that has been surpassed you get a reaction’. The last time I got it it was a a sushi restaurant I love, it was in the pickled ginger. I was so nauseous and drowsy that I couldn’t keep my balance, let alone drive a car. It lasted for 2 days, because I foolishly ate more ginger (we took some sushi home because I got so ill) I thought it would help with the nausea.
    Even if I ask beforehand, some people downplay it being in their food.
    I know that this is not a harmless substance

  8. It’s not a myth, it gives me seizures. If you are referring to naturally occurring MSG, then it’s harmless, but the manufactured MSG, for some reason gives me seizures. I had eliminated it completely from my diet and my seizures stopped completely. I have been off my medication for over 2 years, pretty unheard of because before I couldn’t go 2 weeks without having a seizure and being off my meds.

  9. I don’t agree that MSG is safe. When I have it in food, my heart rate goes up and I don’t sleep and flip around like a fish on a dock….it makes me absolutely hyper!

  10. I am a cancer researcher and I would like to enter my comments about MSG. It is about the single worst additive that one can possibly ingest, and I am surprised that on your two videos about MSG, that you have concluded it is harmless ! Allen Cohen

      1. Vien, I am watching a series named The Truth about cancer. And this is what i just learn about glutamine in general. There is an interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock and this was his statments about excitotoxins that fuel cancer.

        “Cancer cells use two major fuels, they use glucose and
        they use glutamine. Of the two, glutamine is the more powerful stimulant
        for cancer cell growth.

        The Warburg effect is the fact that normal cells use both anaerobic
        and aerobic system, the Krebs cycle. The cancer cells only use the
        anaerobic system, it was thought. Glutamine can work the aerobic system
        and product a lot more energy. So if you’re eating a lot of sugar and
        you’re eating a lot of glutamine, you’re really stimulating your cancer
        powerfully. So the idea is you want to cut down your glutamine intake. A
        lot of people are promoting glutamine as a way to heal the gut—the
        leaky gut syndrome. So, they’re saying, take five, six, ten grams of
        glutamine. That is a powerful stimulant for degenerative brain
        disorders, a powerful stimulant for cancer growth. You don’t want to do
        that. There’s a lot better ways to repair the GI tract—they work better
        and safer and actually inhibit cancer. ”

        That it is the reason I am right now in this forum, I am just trying to find some answers in this topic since I am a vegan and he listed black beans, yeast ,mushrooms (and more) as food that are high in glutamine source.

          1. Sorry Franciella, but I cannot see the relevance in this video as we are specifically looking at black beans, yeast and mushrooms that have high sources of Glutamine and not legumes as a whole.

  11. “Despite concerns raised in the 1960’s, decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between MSG and the types of reactions people typically attribute to it.”

    Are findings still up to date with this? The general consensus doesn’t seem to think so, but I was hoping I could pick your brain on some of the most recent research coming out about monosodium glutamate

  12. I live in Australia, and my father has told me that our Government has issued a health warning on MSG that it is in fact harmful. It still remains legal in our country, but there has been a warning on the health effects associated with its consumption. Contrasting with the previous video, I’m a little confused. Is MSG actually harmless? I’ve always been told to avoid MSG. What do you say Dr Greger?

  13. I have a question. What would you say if i asked if MSG was harmful or not? like what percentages would you put? I am making an essay and I would like to know

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