MSG seems to be synonymous with Asian cuisine, in particular Vietnamese and Chinese(Americanized & authentic). But being Jamaican, my native cuisine, at least in America is probably more contaminated with MSG than its Asian counterparts. I first noticed this when I started cooking more at home because of the covid 19 lockdowns. I started prowling Caribbean and International markets for Jamaican seasonings to spice up my dishes, but literally every mixed seasoned had MSG, I couldn’t believe it. I even tried the Hispanic seasoning, and all of them were poisoned with MSG too.
With all the seasoning on the market targeting Latin and Caribbean consumers and restauranteurs, I only found three that did not have MSG in them.
I am totally in love with Jamaican patties, albeit, the ones made in Jamaica. But that’s not going to stop me from grubbing on some American-made Jamaican patties. But unfortunately, every company manufacturing frozen patties that I’ve seen in grocery stores has MSG, from Grace Kennedy to Island Joes and Golden Crust.
What is MSG?
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a controversial food additive that people use to enhance flavor. Many people associate it with Asian cuisine, though it is an ingredient in a variety of foods, including processed meats, soups, and fast food.
Historically, many people have believed that MSG can lead to various health conditions.
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source says that MSG is generally safe to consume.
My question is, what the hell does “generally safe to consume” mean?
Dangers of MSG
Over the years, the FDA has received many “anecdotal” reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. These reactions known as MSG symptom complex include:
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Numbness, tingling, or burning in the face, neck, and other areas
- Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
- Chest pain
A PubMed article published in 2018 titled, Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: A threat to public health? states –
MSG has been linked with obesity, metabolic disorders, Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, neurotoxic effects and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs. Table 1(Tab. 1) shows products containing substances that result in the release of glutamic metabolites after ingestion. The purpose of this editorial is to shed light on MSG toxicity and the possible threat it poses to public health. Can MSG associated harm be prevented or should the product be banned altogether?
further stating –
Animal studies have demonstrated that neonatal MSG consumption sets a precedent for the development of obesity later on. Insulin resistance and reduced glucose tolerance in rodents due to MSG consumption raise concerns about the development of obesity in MSG consuming humans. The same study revealed that MSG intake causes a disrupted energy balance by increasing the palatability of food and disturbing the leptin-mediated hypothalamus signalling cascade, potentially leading to obesity (Araujo et al., 2017; He et al., 2011). In a study into the inflammatory profile of MSG induced obesity, it has been shown that MSG triggers micro-RNA (mRNA) expression of interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), resistin and leptin in visceral adipose tissue. This in turn leads to enhanced insulin, resistin and leptin concentrations in the circulation and ultimately an impaired glucose tolerance (Roman‐Ramos et al., 2011). In the same study, the authors were able to demonstrate that MSG induces a significant decrease in liver transaminases indicating hepatic damage. This damage was likely the result of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis which is associated with long lasting inflammation.
What is “Chinese restaurant syndrome”?
The term “Chinese restaurant syndrome” (CRS) was first used more than four decades ago. At the onset of symptoms patients experience complaints such as a burning sensation at the back of the neck, blistering on both arms and occasionally on the anterior thorax, general weakness, fatigue and palpitations. These symptoms occur 20 minutes after consumption of a meal rich in MSG (Bawaskar et al., 2017). Other symptoms that may appear later include flushing, dizziness, syncope and facial pressure. In a study that explored negative dietary effects of MSG, double blind and placebo-controlled trails were performed in which the administration of MSG, doses ranging from 57 to 150 mg/kg, was compared with the administration of a dose of 24 mg/kg NaCl. MSG as well as NaCl administration resulted in muscle pain and/or changes in mechanical sensitivity. MSG administration however was also associated with headache and tenderness of the pericranial muscles.
Oh wow, now their research says MSG affects the reproductive system –
Both animal models and human studies have shown toxic effect of MSG on the reproductive system. Administration of MSG at a dose of 2 mg/g during various perinatal periods of life leads to an increased number of pachytene stage cells among the primary spermatocytes compared to controls in spermatogenesis (Mondal et al., 2017). MSG causes disruption of stroma cell vacuolations and basement membrane- and cellular hypertrophy of the theca folliculi in the ovaries. These processes of atrophy and degeneration were assessed under different dosages (Dong and Robbins, 2015). It has been well-established that MSG has some laudable gustatory and psychological effects as well as positive effects with regard to hypertension and iron deficiency. However, at the same time there are abundant reports of harmful effects such as oxidative stress, DNA damage, protein modification and lysis of stromal cells (Mustafa et al., 2017).
Well, the good news is they explain how certain vitamins and antioxidants can counter the effects of MSG toxicity –
It has been suggested that toxicity of MSG can be overcome by the use of certain kinds of vitamin like A, C, D and E. Quercetin and diltiazem have also been suggested to play a protective role in MSG-induced toxicity (Mustafa et al., 2017). Vitamin A and C have been shown to protect nerve cells and cerebral cortex in male albino rat models. The supplementation of vitamin D and E in MSG-induced oxidative stress led to decreased lipid peroxidation, catalase and superoxide dismutase in the liver. It also improved levels of glutathione. Quercetin has been proven to reduce glucose, leptine and creatinine levels, which in turn enhances superoxide dismutase and glutathione peroxidase, while diltiazem protects against morphological functional disorders. Furthermore, new research explores the function of curcumin in the amelioration of cognitive damage via stabilisation of acetyl cholinesterase (AchE) levels and reduction of TNF-α. Furthermore, curcumin acts as a protective agent against neural damage due to its effect of decreasing the expression of mGLUR5 and N-Methyl-D-aspartate receptors 2B (NMDA2B) in the hippocampus. Because of its properties that help balance glutamate levels scientists have suggested the introduction of combinations of curcumin and MSG in the market (Khalil and Khedr, 2016).
The researchers conclude with this agreeable stance –
“In conclusion, we would like to state that although MSG has proven its value as an enhancer of flavor, different studies have hinted at possible toxic effects related to this popular food additive. These toxic effects include CNS disorder, obesity, disruptions in adipose tissue physiology, hepatic damage, CRS, and reproductive malfunctions. These threats might have hitherto been underestimated. In the meantime, people keep using ever larger amounts of MSG unaware of the possible consequences. Further studies need to be undertaken in order to assess the connection between MSG and cardiovascular disorders, headache, and hypertension in human models. MSG is a controversial food additive used in canned food, crackers, meat, salad dressings, frozen dinners, and a myriad of other products. It is found in local supermarkets, restaurants, and school cafeterias alike. While MSG probably has huge benefits to the food industry, the ubiquitous use of this food-additive could have negative consequences for public health. If more substantive evidence of MSG toxicity would be provided, a total ban on the use of MSG as a flavor enhancer would not be unwise to consider.”
Hypothyroidism is at epidemic levels among American women. According to this PubMed article, “Histological changes in the thyroid gland induced by monosodium glutamate in mice” MSG can cause hypothyroidism –
The effect of monosodium glutamate (MSG) on the thyroid gland of mice is studied. MSG induces marked histological changes in the thyroid tissue, indicative of hypothyroidism. The follicular epithelium, is greatly compressed and the follicles have enlarged due to distension with the accumulation of colloid. The histological picture of the thyroid gland remains unchanged for the animals sacrificed after short-term (13 weeks) and long-term (52 weeks) treatment. MSG, therefore, has a cumulative effect. The hypothyroidism is attributed to the influence of the drug on hypothalamus-pituitary function and the secretion of hormones responsible for the thyroid metabolism.
My advice is to steer clear of MSG, and if you are one of thise people who do not read the ingredient labels of your processed foods, bread, and seasonings, if you value your health you better start doing it. You also better start educating yourself on the many harmful GMO/Synthetic/chemical harmful food additives. If you’re an “I eat out all the time”, you better start learning how to cook and cook preferably organic if you value your health.
Unless of course, you want to end up being an adverse health statistic.