MSG Side Effects and the Foods That Contain It

My family has been using monosodium glutamate (MSG) for generations. Cooking would not be complete without MSG, the ingredient that gives our food its “meaty” flavor. We, the children, were taught to use MSG whenever appropriate when cooking Filipino dish. Whether the food is meat or vegetable, we never forget to sprinkle the white crystallized powder into them.

I have been hearing stories from the television, internet, magazines, and from various people that MSG has negative side effects to us. Honestly, I did not believe anything from those stories since any member of my immediate family did not experience anything bad after eating foods containing MSG. Until now, we are freely using MSG in cooking but with moderation. And whether we like it or not, majority of Philippine households, restaurants, and eateries will be using MSG until solid scientific evidence is shown on the direct correlation between MSG intake and illness or until a Philippine law is passed to ban the use of MSG.

Personally, I believe that MSG is not totally bad to our health if used in moderation.  I also believe that people are different physiologically. There are people who are biologically sensitive to MSG and cannot tolerate it physiologically. And there are also people who are able to tolerate MSG, regardless of the amount ingested. Before we view MSG as something bad to our health and well-being, we should also consider the fact that besides from our personality differences, we have physiological differences that would explain why some of members of our population got sick after ingesting MSG while others do not.
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What is MSG?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive which is commonly marketed as flavor enhancer. It is the salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. It is sold under different brand names including Ajinomoto, Vetsin, Ac’cent, and Tasting Powder.

Japanese Kikunae Ikeda was the first person to isolate MSG from natural sources like seaweed extract. Ajinomoto Corp. patented MSG in 1909. Since then, the food additive became widely popular and commercialized. Annual worldwide production of MSG reaches 1 million tons.

There are various health concerns on the use of MSG in food but few are supported by strong scientific evidences.

There were reports of MSG side effects and most are neurological. Among the reported MSG side effects are listed below.

Reported MSG Side Effects

Chinese immigrant, Dr. Robert Kwok, was the first person to report adverse reaction to MSG intake. In 1968, he suffered numbness, tingling, and tightness of the chest 20 minutes after dining in a Chinese restaurant. He never experienced these symptoms when he was in China. The collection of these symptoms became popular by the name Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.

After hearing the doctor’s report, U.S. researchers conducted a study and found out that high amount of MSG, a popular flavor enhancer, will result into the same reactions the doctor experienced.

The number of symptoms of MSG side effects recorded has increased through the years. There are people who are sensitive enough that even ingesting only small amount of MSG made them sick. There are those who do not experience any side effect and there are also those who will only experience side effects after ingesting large amount of MSG mixed in food.

List of MSG Side Effects

Neurological: Depression, dizziness, disorientation, mental confusion, anxiety, panic attacks, slurred speech, sciatica, seizures, numbness, headache, lethargy, sleepiness, insomnia, hyperactivity, behavioral problem in children, restlessness

Gastrointestinal: Vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, irritable bowel, bloating

Skin: Rashes, mouth lesions, flushing, skin tingling, itching,

Respiratory: Sneezing, runny nose, chest pain, chest tightness, asthma, shortness of breath

Muscular: Joint pain, stiffness, muscular swelling, flu-like achiness

Cardiac: Rapid heartbeat, high or low blood pressure, angina, arrhythmias

Urological: Bladder pain, prostate swelling, vaginal spotting, vaginal swelling, nocturia, frequent urination

Visual: Blurred vision, pressure around the eyes, difficulty focusing

Other: Obesity

Foods That Contain MSG

There are many foods that contain MSG. These are sauces, gravies, pastes, powders, processed meat, fish, & vegetable, soy sauce, soy paste, soy protein, soups, broths, dressings, ketchup, mayonnaise, sausages, snacks (potato chips, corn chips), soup powders for instant noodles, and canned goods.

MSG can also be found in different food additives such as malt extract, malt flavoring, bouillon, natural beef/chicken flavoring, seasoning, spices, carrageenan, enzymes, whey protein, hydrolyzed protein, protein extract, yeast extract, and many more.

MSG may not be found in food labels but they are still present in the food as a component in food additives found in the labels. Thus, labels like “no MSG” are not always true as food manufacturers use labels like “natural flavoring”, “hydrolyzed protein”, “spices”, and other related labels as a hidden way (disguise) to report MSG. Due to the negative information about MSG, food manufacturers were afraid to put MSG in the food labels because it may negatively affect sales.[ad#afterpost]