MSG Side Effects and How to Avoid Them

Breaking the addiction to low quality foods can help to prevent devastating MSG side effects that include obesity, diabetes, liver damage, and more.

msg side effects

Studies indicate that this combination of MSG and trans fats can cause the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

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Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a brain stimulant that was originally extracted from seaweed in 1908. Most commonly associated with restaurant Chinese food, it is used pervasively as a flavor enhancer in fast foods, frozen meals, canned soups, and potato chips. This additive can be extremely harmful: MSG side effects range from obesity to liver damage.

Many studies link MSG to the development of obesity, and children are especially susceptible. The Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences discovered that MSG given to newborn mice increases their body weight by 7.9 percent.[1] It also causes an increase in body mass index and fat mass as well as significant increases in total cholesterol, triglycerides, VLDL, and LDL (both types of “bad” cholesterol). Additional studies show that maternal exposure to MSG during pregnancy leads to childhood obesity.[2,3] Research shows that increases in weight, body fat, and obesity also occur in adults who consume MSG.[4] 

MSG Side Effects: Brain Damage and Chemical Changes

Additional dangers to infants and prenatal subjects include brain damage.[2] This damage leads to convulsions and seizures during infancy.

Equally frightening are the following chemical changes that occur in the body as a result of ingesting MSG.

  • Adiponectin, a protein that helps the body regulate blood sugar and energy expenditure, is lowered by nearly 60 percent.[1] This causes an increase in blood sugar levels and a decrease in metabolism, a combination that can trigger weight gain and food cravings.
  • Leptin becomes unrecognizable to the brain. This chemical messenger is normally released by fat cells and then travels to the brain to deliver the signal to stop eating. However, in people who consume MSG, receptors in the brain become incapable of receiving this signal, despite its increased production by fat cells.[5] This leads to an increased appetite.

More MSG Side Effects: Liver Damage

In the liver, MSG causes the inflammation of blood vessels, the destruction of red blood cells, and the death of liver cells.[6] Studies also indicate that it stimulates the creation of chemicals that are responsible for inflammation.[7]

As an additional consideration, most MSG-laden foods are also dangerously high in trans fats. Studies indicate that this combination of MSG and trans fats can cause the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.[8] The result: a condition in which fat is deposited inside the liver and is thought to lead to cirrhosis. Fatty liver disease also triggers insulin resistance, resulting in high blood sugar and blood insulin levels.

Diabetes

This type of insulin resistance is the same as that which occurs in type 2 diabetes.[9] In both cases, insulin is being produced and sent into in the bloodstream, but body cells are unable to use it effectively. This prevents glucose from passing into cells, resulting in high blood sugar, decreased energy, and increased appetite.

Headaches and High Blood Pressure

Taste receptors on tongue cells are similar to glutamate receptors in brain cells.[10] This is why MSG has a stimulatory side effect on the brain, and why it can damage the brain cells of newborns. Research has established that MSG side effects also include headaches and significant spikes in blood pressure.[11] It is also noted that the body does not become tolerant to these effects over time, meaning that chronic use of MSG will continue to cause them.

How to Avoid MSG Side Effects By Replacement

It is easy to tell if something contains MSG, as the name must be present on lists of ingredients. It may be listed by any of the following names:

  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Hydrolyzed yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Hydrolyzed soy extract
  • Protein isolate

The best way to avoid MSG is to avoid fast food and frozen, pre-packaged meals. Be especially cautious of canned soups and rice, even at restaurants. Elevated pulse rate and blood pressure during a meal are signs that it probably contains MSG. Headaches that occur after a meal are also signs of MSG side effects. Mothers who are pregnant or nursing should be extremely careful to avoid MSG, and baby food ingredients should be carefully checked as well.

There are plenty of natural herbs and spices that not only improve flavor, but are also nutritious. Try cooking with oregano, parsley, thyme, basil, or sage. Use cayenne pepper or red pepper as spices, instead of store-bought mixtures. Sesame seeds and flax seeds also add flavor, as does lemon juice, lime juice, and other natural extracts or oils. Sea salt and Himalayan salt are also healthy replacements for MSG.

Share Your Experience on MSG Side Effects

What are you favorite herbs and spices to make food tastier? What is the biggest challenge that you face when avoiding MSG side effects? Share your questions and ideas in the comments section below.


[1] EPMA J. 2014 Jan 13;5(1):2.

[2] Environ Physiol Biochem. 1975;5(6):389-95.

[3] Int J Neurosci. 1984 Apr;23(2):117-26.

[4] Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008 Aug;16(8):1875-80.

[5] Am J Physiol. 1997 Jul;273(1 Pt 1):E202-6.

[6] Ann Med Health Sci Res. 2011 Jan-Jun; 1(1):21-29.

[7] Basic Clin Pharmacol Toxicol. 2011 Jun;108(6):406-13.

[8] J Lipid Red. Aug 2009; 50(8): 1521-1537.

[9] Curr Pharm Des. 2010 Jun;16(17):1941-51.

[10] J Neurophysiol. 1999 Nov;82(5):2061-9.

[11] J Headache Pain. 2013 Jan 24;14(1):2.


Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.

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Comments
  • IDK, I noticed tons of benefits when my family and I got away from MSG. You have to realize that most people are eating it every day!
    Even if it’s not dangerous, getting off of it will help you to stop eating bad fast foods, but the research here does seem to support the article anyway.

  • The bad thing in MSG is sometimes called “processed-free glutamic acid” and is a neurotoxin. This is established fact. It is used as a brain poison during brain research in lab mice. Fact.

    The hardest thing about avoiding it, for me, is being with a group who don’t care if I have to go to ER after eating it. I have adopted a new motto: “I’m not the kind of person who has to eat just because there is food-like substances in front of me.” Like the wary wolf that will not eat the poison meat. Trouble is they get insulted if I just don’t want to eat it, as do so many others for whom it is not of their business what I eat.

  • i have spent 5 years wokring out what all this is about… i found the answer for me last year.

    i have a histamine intolerance.. and plenty of foods with additives set it off… msg is the worst.. but red wine, champagne, ready meals, any almost any restaurant food (apart from curry).. and even stuff like supermarket yoghurts, cakes these days also include flavour enhancers

    my symptoms are a jolt awake when i’m literally about to get to sleep… when its really bad this can happen like 100 times a night = no sleep at all. or like 3 hours sleep late at like 4am.

    so there seems to be a food supplement that works for me – it stimulates an enzyme release which seems to digest the histamine and so i dont get an overload.

    anyway i use a food supplement called Daosin – this isnt a shameless plug, it has changed my life. i can now eat whatever food i like, though i tend to stick to boring diet for much of the time as i dont want my body to get used to the supplement.

    try it it might change your life too!

  • I “discovered” that I was very sensitive to MSG after a heavy consumption of a meal to which I had added 2 Maggi cubes. That night I woke up to go to the ladies and realised that something was terribly wrong with my system. I felt very unstable as I walked to the bathroom… The problem continued for nearly a week. Moving my head triggered a terrible experience of imbalance, confusion, headachiness….. Only those sensitive like me can understand…..
    I had never used maggi cubes before and I generally do not use any flavour enhancers in my food except for dried herbs. My husband used to have severe migraines and I had read that MSG can trigger migraines. Avoiding MSG has drastically reduced the incidences of not only severe migraines but also headaches for my husband.
    On the day that I used the maggi cubes, my husband was not around. All the same I decided to check the ingredients of the maggi cubes. I continued to read about the effects of MSG. Thanks God I did this, otherwise I would never have known the cause of my problem. What I do not understand is why this had never happened before…..probably the large dose and the naiveness of my body system. Henceforth, I have become extremely sensitive to MSG in all its presentations. I avoid MSG but I can always tell whenever i consume it by mistake.
    The other day I felt the MSG-ishness, as i have come to describe how i feel Only to check the contents of some ingredient I had used on the basis that it had clearly been labelled “no MSG” but when it contained corn starch! Yes, and that was the cause …
    I have become an ardent crusader against MSG telling anyone I see consuming it about its possible side effects. I usually get the reaction……” Now I understand why I normally feel ”
    Many people experience side effects but have never associated these side effects with “something” in what they eat.
    This terrible poison should be banned. I wonder how many people are suffering terribly without knowing the cause of their avoidable suffering.
    Whenever I have time , I want to read and understand more and more about MSG.
    Thanks for such sites.

  • MSG causes terrible bloating for me, often accompanied by abdominal pain. I usually cook everything from scratch, but it is hard to avoid it in restaurants……

  • The dangers of monosodium glutamate are very real. It’s bad for everyone. But I happen to be extremely sensitive and the results can be excruciating. I get headaches from it so bad that I have pretty much limited where I eat out and what I eat. I do really well eating at home simply with vegetables and meat with fruit in between. But today my husband had brought home some NO MSG sausage. He said…it says right on the package no msg. I ate it and my blood pressure dropped to 85/68. I began feeling very faint and dizzy. I believe the reason this occurs is because A. I was exposed to a lot of msg in French onion soup mix, meat tenderizer (which is pure msg), celery salt, bullion and Campbell’s soups. My mother, unknowing of course, cooked with these. I’m just the canary in the coal mine. I have these symptoms from being sensitized and because being from a family with ADHD and Bi-polar…we have no neuron sheaths over the nerve endings. MSG blisters those nerve endings. The damage done to the human brain is awful and it should be illegal for a manufacturer to use it in any form. People who have the normal neuron sheaths are not aware of the damage it’s doing to the brain…but believe me it’s one of the worst things that people do to their bodies. Did you know that a study done on elderly people who had heart attacks proved that they had ALL had an Asian meal in the 12 hours preceding their heart attack? It’s not just the brain MSG affects. Eat simply. Have a pork chop and lots of fresh made veggies. You’ll be much healthier because the consequences of MSG will catch up with you and you could twitch your old age away with Parkinsons’s,, Alzheimer’s/Dementia or ALS.

  • MSG intolerance is very real! My intolerance has worsened since taking antidepressants. I can feel throbbing in my head along with having flu-like symptoms! It is banned in Europe and should be banned in the US! I guess as long as there is the Food and Drug administration we will have to be concerned about heavy chemical laden foods!

  • I wish it were banned in Europe, as far as I can tell it is not. Many foods contain things called “flavor enhancer”, or any of the names that MSG is known under. even when the package says “No MSG” one often can find these substances listed on the label. It is almost always added to processed meats, sausages, soups, snacks, even things like yogurt and ice cream. Since it gives me terrible bloating I always check every label and order with extreme caution in restaurants.

  • I, too, am very allergic to MSG. I know that a lot of Oriental restaurants have this in their food. My married family all seem to enjoy Oriental food but I am not one of them. Are you saying it is in TV dinners as well? I live alone and buy them like from the frozen food departments. I don’t always check the contents in these. I will start doing this and also send information to my children to be aware of this. I also have been on anti-depressants for a very long time and maybe this is ONE OF THE REASONS for my depression. Will bring this up to my Psychiatrist at my next visit this month..

    T

  • Yes, glutamic acid is one of all the amino acids, which our body breaks down slowly, and our body needs it and we have many receptors in our body. What we do not need, and what is harmful, is all the added free glutamate in our perverted food supply. The FDA is out of touch, because declaring something ‘generally regarded as safe’, when they have no idea how much an individual might ingest on a daily basis, is in my opinion dangerous and irresponsible. It took me over 10 years of suffering, trips to emergency rooms and tremendous stress at home, before I finally found out that all those hidden sources ( over 40 different ones added to many foods ) of free glutamate caused so many disabling and often frightening symptoms. My husband, a medical researcher, did not believe me and all my symptoms where ‘anecdotal’ to him, because he had no proof. But then he tried to shed a few pounds and started eating protein bars and SlimFast drinks. Within a week, he started having severe headaches, then diarrhea and more. I get extremely dizzy, a tight chest and perspiration, my arms and legs feel kind of numb, my intestines are reacting badly and I can not sleep. When my system is cleared of the glutamate, I sleep like a baby-and I am an older girl already. I believe more an more people are suffering ill-effects of this toxin in our food supply, because everybody will react to it, if their personal threshold has been reached. I am like the ‘canary in the coal-mine’, when it comes to Glutamate, but we are all victims of the chemical cuisine that greedy companies are allowed to sell as food, even often calling it natural food, because glutamate can be derived from food sources. I wish more physicians would speak up, but that is probably not going to happen.And the lobbies are so powerful, so more and more of this s… is going to be added to our food. I cook everything from fresh foods, read every label, and I know, when I get a little lazy and by prepared foods, I most often pay for it. It is hard work and it should not be like this. In Europe, there is a limit of how much can be added to foods, but in this country, sadly, no restrictions at all. Sad !!!!

  • I suffer from arterial fibrillation and every time I eat MSG I suffer a really bad episode also if I drink any alcohol even a glass of wine especially red wine. If I eat at a Chinese or McDonallds the next day I have to not go to work, can’t drive and it feels like a really bad hangover.

  • Sorry to say that im happy I see other ppl suffer like I do after eating MSG. While I dont experience the headaches, I do get the really bad bloating that feels like its pushing against my other organs and beats me up in my back. This usually happens later in the evening and therefore keeps me up all night with no sleep bc of the pain. I have been to an Allergy Doctor who made me feel like I was crazy and this isnt a thing and then ultimately told me to just stay away from it ( easier said than done) . Can anyone suggest something to take or do when u bloat after eating MSG?

  • This product is a menace and the FDA should ban it. Delis, grocers, restaurants and mfg sneak this rubbish into our foods causing severe reactions. Ban it, use natural products

  • I am so glad I stumbled upon this site! Recently a friend converted me to veganism and I have been following it pretty strictly. I’d say I’ve been vegan for about 6 months. I was very excited that I lost ten pounds without trying but very disappointed when nothing else happened in the weight department, no matter how contentious I was about reading labels, eating fresh, eating tofu and tofu products that mimic meat. This week I fell off the wagon due to having too many stressful situations happening and building; one upon the other until I finally cracked and had an episode. Fortunately, I was able to stop myself sorry of destroying property or making such a scene in public that it was what I’d call a mini meltdown I suppose. After reading about all the symptoms people experience after consuming msg, I was shocked. When I went off the rails I ate everything. Processed meats, frozen dinners, high fructose corn syrup, and Chinese food. My family owned a Chinese restaurant and I know how much msg goes into everything. The chest pressure, the headaches, the back pain, the sleep disturbance, I had it all. Granted, some of it could be due to stress, but when I read that bipolars are particularly sensitive to it…that it’s like stripping your nerve endings raw and making you even more susceptible to being overwhelmed. So even if I don’t lose another ounce, I am back on the vegan wagon. I had no idea how badly the chemicals were affecting my condition.

  • MSG is linked to obesity? so is sugar and fat guess what, people who eat more MSG than most people are eating more foods than most people. guess what? fat and sugar are stored in the body just like MSG, so of course you can expect to see it increase your weight if exposed to enough of it. if that’s a concern try eating less food.

    also, saying type 2 diabetes is a side effect of MSG is like saying obesity is a side effect of eating. the more fat you have, the less able your body is to properly use insulin in predisposed individuals. again, eating less total food will help prevent this.

  • I have been msg allergic for decades. Nowadays there is more and more deception in food ingredients, and less and less quality control, inspections by regulators and food safety in general. Our corporate food system is ruled by short term greed driven thinking, which sells us the worst, cheapest products possible, enhanced with un-proven, unsafe chemicals that are designed to help the taste, appearance and shelf life of these products dubiously labelled as food. We never have been able to trust a system whose ethos is determined by greed, and never will be able to. Trust no labels. Do vigorous research into all products. Contact food manufacturers directly and ask them pointed questions, to directly determine what is in their products, as well as protect yourself. The other huge issue is that msg is cumulative, i.e. the reactions get worse as you age.

  • I am really tired of people telling other people that their sensitivity to MSG is not real. When I eat any food with a large amount of MSG my blood pressure goes sky high (175/104) and stays that way for 3 days. When it has worked it’s way out of my system I can literally tell. Just a little in say Parmesan cheese doesn’t bother me. However I have found as long as I eat fresh vegetable, make my own soups and season my food with regular old salt and pepper and use fresh herbs I’m ok.

  • ” It [msg] may be listed by any of the following names:
    Hydrolyzed vegetable protein… yeast extract … Protein isolate”

    If you’re confident you haven’t greatly overestimated your readers’ ignorance, you might want to add: white sugar, meat, non- gluten-free bread, pickled Ukrainian sausage, beer…

  • I have been suffering horribly since 2007 and couldn’t figure out why, many times around 2 hours after eating, I would feel a little heart burn, feel pressure building up in the stomach and the discomfort would keep building up and pain too until a few hours later I would have to vomit. It almost feels like you are having a heart attack. The only way I get relief is to vomit. If I would add one more thing to the stomach, even water, the discomfort only gets worse. It is interesting to note that somewhere in these articles, I see that MSG can also cause liver problems. Well, I have been so sick that I wonder how many more times my body and mind can live through another attack. I am sure going to read labels more carefully, and I have already started being really careful what I get from a restaurant (hardly anything is okay). And, oh yes, when I indicate that I can’t eat certain things, I feel scorned and like I am so weird. I WISH THAT POISON WOULD BE BANNED ONCE AND FOR ALL.

  • Every time I eat anything with msg I bloat like I am pregnant and my stomach starts cramping and pain and then diarrhea starts about 20 to 30 in after I eat.Now that is a fact.

  • Years ago I noticed that when I ate at a Chinese restaurant, during the meal I would start to feel strange, like I was drugged. This debilitating state lasted about 2 hours after the meal.

  • My wife and I have been eating at home and on the Keto diet for about 4 months. She ate food at a local restaurant. They put msg in their flower and most everything else. Her blood has been running steady at around 130/75. That day it went to 185/85 and after the second day it’s still 152/76. It also causes her heart to skip beats and fast heart rate.

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