Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium Glutamate

Cordell E Logan

Sometime during World War II the use of MSG was noted in Japanese soldier’s rations.   By the 1960s, Accent, the leading brand of the flavor enhancer called monosodium glutamate , became a household word.   At this same time, other hydrolyzed protein products such as autolyzed yeast, sodium caseinate , and hydrolyzed vegetable protein gained popularity.   All hydrolyzed protein products, regardless of the label name, contains MSG.

Glutamic acid was isolated in 1866 by the German chemist Karl Ritthausen .   In 1908 the flavor-enhancing potential was noticed by Kiluane Ikeda of Tokyo , Japan .   Prior to that time, the Japanese used seaweed as a flavor enhancer, without understanding that glutamic acid was its flavor-enhancing component.

The Japanese used the slow and costly method of extraction to produce glutamic acid from 1910 to 1956.   Then they succeeded in obtaining it via a fermentation method.   Large-scale production of glutamic acid and monosodium glutamate began.   When sodium is added to glutamic acid, monosodium glutamate results.   If it contains 79% free glutamic acid with the balance of salt, moisture, and up to 1% contaminants, the product must be called “monosodium glutamate.”   By FDA definition, processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is “naturally occurring” because the basic ingredient is found in nature.   Processed free glutamic acid is both L- glutamic acid (natural) and D- glutamic acid, and also contains pyroglutamic acid.   Some carcinogenic substances are often found with it.   It is not true that processed glutamic acid is the same as unprocessed glutamic acid.   Natural glutamic acid is a building block of protein, and also functions as a normal neurotransmitter.

It was brought to the U.S. following World War II (first by the extraction method).   By 1956, Ajinomoto Co., Inc. had succeeded in using bacterial fermentation (at least some was genetically modified, even then).   Major strains are of Micrococcus glutamicus (grown aerobically).   These bacteria have the ability to synthesize glutamic acid outside their cell membranes and accumulated it there.

The first published report of a reaction to MSG appeared in 1968 when Robert Ho Man Kwok, MD, who had emigrated from China , reported that although he never had a reaction in China , about 20 minutes into a meal at a restaurant, he suffered numbness, tingling, and tightness of the chest that lasted for around two hours.

The following year, John W. Olney, MD, reported that laboratory animals suffered brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders after being exposed to MSG.   Retinal degeneration occurred and mice became extremely obese.   Both processed glutamic acid and MSG produced the same results.

By the early 1970s manufacturers of baby food removed MSG from their products, but replaced it with MSG-containing ingredients such as autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed vegetable protein.   In the late 1970s manufacturers “voluntarily” removed all obvious MSG-containing ingredients from baby food.

Today MSG is found in most soups. Salad dressings, processed meats, frozen entrees, ice cream, and frozen yogurt, in some crackers, bread, canned tuna, and very often in “low fat” and “no fat” foods to make up for the lost flavor when fat is reduced or eliminated.   It can be found in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and dietary supplements.   It is also found in vaccines.   In hospitals it is hidden in jello , chicken soup, and in some IV solutions.   Even in agriculture it is found in plant growth enhancers, fertilizers, and fungicides.

Many degenerative conditions have been linked to MSG.   “Slow neurotoxins,” problems showing up years after overt exposure, have recently been attributed to the ingestion of MSG (Dr. Peter Spencer’s work etc.).

The MSG industry continues to deny that exposure to it causes adverse reactions including hives, asthma, seizures, migraine headaches, learning disorders, endocrine disorders, and is associated with stroke, epilepsy, schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, and degenerative conditions such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Problems of labeling have surfaced in the courts.   Here are some examples of false and misleading labels of ingredients that contain MSG:

•  Original Spike All Purpose Seasoning – “No MSG Added ”   Contains special high flavor yeast; hydrolyzed protein.

•  Bragg Liquid Aminos – “No MSG Added ”   Contains glutamic acid.

•  Trader Joe’s Split Pea Soup – “No MSG Added ”   Contains yeast extract.

•  Campbell ‘s Healthy Request Chicken Broth – “No MSG ”   Contains chicken stock, chicken flavor; flavoring.  (and most other Campbell ‘s soups).

•  And on and on the list goes.

In summary, avoid MSG and related foods that have suspicious labeling.

  • About

    • This site contains educational articles that can impact your health. Dr. Logan is licensed as a Naturopathic Doctor in Utah. He graduated from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, now called the National University of Natural Medicine.
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