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MSG Poison

June 10, 2013

MSG RatThe Harmful Effects of Monosodium Glutamate
By Rachel Morgan, 2011

Typically associated with Chinese food, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common food additive used in some restaurants and processed foods. MSG is used to improve flavor as well as tenderize meat. MSG first came under criticism in the 1960s following reports that intake of MSG caused a number of negative physical reactions.

Both the FDA and the American Medical Association consider MSG safe, but you may experience unpleasant symptoms if you have an intolerance for it.

Understanding MSG

MSG is the sodium salts created from the amino acid glutamate. The FDA approves the use of MSG for flavor enhancement; however, food producers must list the additive in a product’s ingredients list if it is used. MSG may develop on its own in food due to use of hydrolyzed proteins, which are also flavor enhancers. These broken down proteins provide the opportunity for free sodium and glutamate to join, thereby producing MSG. The FDA does not require producers to list MSG on nutrition labels if the substance is formed in this way.

Weight Gain

Consuming MSG may put you at risk for putting on weight. A study published in June 2011 in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” examined data from 10,095 healthy Chinese adults. Researchers found that MSG intake was associated with increased body mass index among the adults; in fact, those that consumed the most MSG were about 30 percent more likely to end up overweight in comparison to the adults who ate the least of the additive. More research is needed to understand the MSG-weight link, but its possible effect on the hormone leptin, which regulates appetite, may play a role.

MSG Symptom Complex

Perhaps the most well-known effects of MSG comprise what is known as the MSG symptom complex, also called Chinese restaurant syndrome, as it is a commonly used ingredient in Chinese and other Asian cuisines. Most cases are not serious and do not require treatment. The symptoms, however, can be frightening. They include headache, nausea, heart palpitations, chest pain, sweating, facial pressure and weakness. Numbness and tingling in various body parts, often in the neck or above, are also possible effects.


Another potential consequence of having MSG intolerance is the risk for migraines. These severe headaches can affect the whole body, causing vision problems, noise sensitivity and even vomiting. Many factors come into play when it comes to your likelihood of having migraines, with food intolerances being a significant trigger. If you discover that MSG-containing foods contribute to your headaches, it’s best to eliminate them from your diet or find ways to prepare food without the additive. Although the exact cause is unknown, MSG can trigger a migraine soon after you consume it.


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