I recently received an email forward from a friend (attached below) warning about the dangers of Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG. The email had all the classic markers of a chain email that mixes plausible sounding things with vague studies to come up with a scary message, so I took a closer look at MSG, and here are my thoughts.
One of my basic tenets is to seek to ground my research in the scientific method when I am exploring alternative cures and solutions to common health issues. Without the scientific method, we cannot arrive at facts; merely at opinions.
1. Context :
I wanted to believe that MSG is bad, and is the cause of a lot of illness in this world. Any food additive that is added to packaged foods and restaurant meals should be given the presumption of guilt, in my opinion. This is the view with which I approached the subject.
2. Scientific basis:
So far, I found no scientific basis for considering MSG as fundamentally evil. Not one study in a decent academic journal has shown that MSG is in and of itself is bad. Having said that, there are countless anecdotes about how people were having headaches, allergies, etc. actively stopped taking MSG and were cured. You will see in my conclusion why this might be the case!
3. The origin of MSG and tastebud connection:
Did you know that Glutamate naturally occurs in human breast milk, at ten times the level found in cows milk! It seems reasonable that humans find MSG irresistible because in the development of the human species, human babies that loved mothers’ milk would have a huge evolutionary advantage over babies who did not, so eventually we all came to love MSG.
I like to contrast MSG with the other flavour enhancers, namely, sugar, salt, lemon juice, chilly powder. In my research, I found that MSG has a similar effect to these other flavour enablers. All of these enablers are what we call self-limiting enhancers, in other words, a little bit of each enhances taste, but too much of it actually makes the food taste much worse! This means that we use these generally in limited quantities. Of these enhancers, sugar is probably the biggest culprit because of the calories, followed by salt because of the risk of hypertension.
5. Regarding the chain email below:
I won’t do a point by point rebuttal, because that email contains far too many flaws and it would take too long. Let me just say that the studies shown in that email have little to do with the main points of the email. The email appears to be meant primarily to shock, not to present a balanced view. I do agree with the obesity-MSG link, as you will see in my conclusion below.
Is MSG totally off the hook, then? Absolutely not. Any product that functions as a flavour enabler will make us consume more calories. This is precisely the reason why people who eat MSG (or salt or sugar for that matter) are fatter, and less healthier, than their counterparts who don’t. Conversely, If you suddenly start actively avoiding MSG (or salt or sugar), you will consume fewer calories, because food just doesn’t taste as good (for example, Doritos without MSG tastes like cardboard!). And this is a good enough reason to actively avoid MSG, in my opinion, without attributing all of the world’s health problems to a simple, natural, flavour enhancer.
———- Forwarded message ———-
Date: Thu, Sep 15, 2011 at 3:45 PM
Subject: MSG – A Slow Poison
The food additive MSG (Mono-Sodium Glutamate) is a slow poison. MSG
hides behind 25 or more names, such as “Natural Flavoring.” MSG is
even in your favorite coffee from Tim Horton’s and Starbucks coffee
I wondered if there could be an actual chemical causing the massive
obesity epidemic, and so did a friend of mine, John Erb. He was a
research assistant at the University of Waterloo in Ontario , Canada ,
and spent years working for the government. He made an amazing
discovery while going through scientific journals for a book he was
writing called The Slow Poisoning of America .
In hundreds of studies around the world, scientists were creating
obese mice and rats to use in diet or diabetes test studies. No
strain of rat or mice is naturally obese, so scientists have to create
them. They make these creatures morbidly obese by injecting them with
MSG when they are first born.
The MSG triples the amount of insulin the pancreas creates, causing
rats (and perhaps humans) to become obese. They even have a name for
the fat rodents they create: “MSG-Treated Rats.”
When I heard this, I was shocked. I went into my kitchen and checked
the cup-boards and the refrigerator. MSG was in everything — the
Campbell’s soups, the Hostess Doritos, the Lays flavored potato chips,
Top Ramen, Betty Crocker Hamburger Helper, Heinz canned gravy, Swanson
frozen prepared meals, and Kraft salad dressings,especially the
“healthy low-fat” ones.
The items that didn’t have MSG marked on the product label had
something called “Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein,” which is just another
name for Monosodium Glutamate.
It was shocking to see just how many of the foods we feed our children
everyday are filled with this stuff. MSG is hidden under many
different names in order to fool those who read the ingredient list,
so that they don’t catch on. (Other names for MSG are “Accent,
“Aginomoto,” “Natural Meat Tenderizer,” hydrolyzed protein etc.)
But it didn’t stop there.When our family went out to eat, we started
asking at the restaurants what menu items contained MSG. Many
employees, even the managers, swore they didn’t use MSG. But when we
ask for the ingredient list, which they grudgingly provided, sure
enough, MSG and Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein were everywhere.
Burger King, McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bell, every restaurant – even
the sit-down eateries like TGIF, Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Denny’s -
use MSG in abundance. Kentucky Fried Chicken seemed to be the WORST
offender: MSG was in every chicken dish, salad dressing. and gravy.
No wonder I loved to eat that coating on the skin – their secret spice
So why is MSG in so many of the foods we eat? As a preservative, or a
vitamin?Not according to my friend John Erb. In his book The Slow
Poisoning of America, he said that MSG is added to food for the
addictive effect it has on the human body.
Even the propaganda website sponsored by the food manufacturers lobby
group supporting MSG explains that the reason they add it to food is
to make people eat more.
A study of the elderly showed that older people eat more of the foods
that it is added to. The Glutamate Association lobbying group says
eating more is a benefit to the elderly, but what does it do to the
rest of us?
“Betcha can’t eat [just] one,” takes on a whole new meaning where MSG
is concerned! And we wonder why the nation is overweight!
MSG manufacturers themselves admit that it addicts people to their
products. It makes people choose their product over others, and makes
people eat more of it than they would if MSG wasn’t added.
Not only is MSG scientifically proven to cause obesity, it is an
addictive substance. Since its introduction into the American food
supply fifty years ago, MSG has been added in larger and larger doses
to the pre-packaged meals, soups, snacks, and fast foods we are tempted to
eat everyday.The FDA has set no limits on how much of it can be added
to food. They claim it’s safe to eat in any amount. But how can they
claim it’s safe when there are hundreds of scientific studies with
titles like these:
“The monosodium glutamate (MSG) obese rat as a model for the study of
exercise in obesity.” Gobatto CA, Mello MA, Souza CT , Ribeiro IA. Res
Commun Mol Pathol Pharmacol. 2002.
“Adrenalectomy abolishes the food-induced hypothalamic serotonin
release in both normal and monosodium glutamate-obese rats.” Guimaraes
RB, Telles MM, Coelho VB, Mori C, Nascimento CM, Ribeiro. Brain Res
Bull. 2002 Aug.
‘Obesity induced by neonatal monosodium glutamate treatment in
spontaneously hypertensive rats: An animal model of multiple risk
factors.” Iwase M, Yamamoto M, Iino K, Ichikawa K, Shinohara N,
AHypertens Res. 1998 Mar.”Hypothalamic lesion induced by injection of
monosodium glutamate in suckling period and subsequent development of
obesity.” Tanaka K, Shimada M, Nakao K Kusunoki. Exp Neurol. 1978 Oct.
No, the date of that last study was not a typo; it was published in
1978. Both the “medical research community” and “food manufacturers”
have known about the side effects of MSG for decades.
Many more of the studies mentioned in John Erb’s book link MSG to
diabetes, migraines and headaches, autism, ADHD, and even Alzheimer’s.
So what can we do to stop the food manufactures from dumping this
fattening and addictive MSG into our food supply and causing the
obesity epidemic we now see?
Several months ago, John Erb took his book and his concerns to one of
the highest government health officials in Canada . While he was
sitting in the go vernment office, the official told him, “Sure, I
know how bad MSG is.
I wouldn’t touch the stuff..” But this top-level government official
refuses to tell the public what he knows.The big media doesn’t want to
tell the public either, fearing issues with their advertisers. It
seems that the fallout on the fast food industry may hurt their profit
margin. The food producers and restaurants have been addicting us to
their products for years, and now we are paying the price for it. Our
children should not be cursed with obesity caused by an addictive food
But what can I do about it? I’m just one voice! What can I do to stop
the poisoning of our children, while our governments are insuring
financial protection for the industry that is poisoning us?
This message is going out to everyone I know in an attempt to tell you
the truth that the corporate-owned politicians and media won’t tell
you. The best way you can help to save yourself and your children from this
drug-induced epidemic is to forward this article to everyone. With
any luck, it will circle the globe before politicians can pass the
legislation protecting those who are poisoning us.The food industry learned a lot from the tobacco industry. Imagine if big tobacco had a bill like
this in place before someone blew the whistle on nicotine?
If you are one of the few who can still believe that MSG is good for
us and you don’t believe what John Erb has to say, see for yourself.
Go to the National Library of Medicine atwww.pubmed.com. Type in the
words “MSG Obese” and read a few of the 115 medical studies that
We the public do not want to be rats in one giant experiment, and we
do not approve of food that makes us into a nation of obese,
lethargic, addicted sheep, feeding the food industry’s bottom line
while waiting for the heart transplant, the diabetic-induced
amputation, blindness, or other obesity-induced, life-threatening
disorders. With your help we can put an end to this poison. and stop this “Slow
Poisoning of Mankind” by the packaged food industry. Blowing the whistle on MSG is our responsibility, so get the word out.