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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. MSG side effects also include 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.
MSG Side Effects: Brain Damage and Chemical Changes
Additional dangers to infants and prenatal subjects include brain damage. 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. 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. 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. Studies also indicate that it stimulates the creation of chemicals that are responsible for inflammation.
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. 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.
This type of insulin resistance is the same as that which occurs in type 2 diabetes. 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. 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. 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.
Originally published in 2014, this post is regularly updated.