You Down With MSG?

Thanks to my friend Chris at Future 3 (, I’ve recently been re-educated in the taste-enhancing greatness that is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Well, perhaps not so much of a re-education as a re-evaluation.

I remember walking past various Chinese restaurants back home and them often proudly displaying a sign that had MSG circled with that red cross of anti-ism made famous by such campaigns as No Smoking and No Public Nudity.

Not really being clear on what MSG was, but knowing it sounded BA-AD, I accepted that if a restaurant was going to make a sign claiming they didn’t have it, it must be not so great and chucked it towards the dark recesses of my mind. Later I learned that MSG stood for Monosodium Glutamate, and life was not made clearer. I knew sodium was like salt, and most people said that was bad for me too, but mono meant one, and one salt didn’t sound all that troublesome. And glutamate… well, I had no idea. Glutamate.. glu.. glucose was sugar… could be related to that I guess, and who doesn’t like sugar? Sort of sounds like glue, and that was always a tasty treat as a kid.

Basically, I was clueless about MSG other than my multi-media induced aversion to it. When I reached China there was talk about it in our foreigner circles and someone mentioned it’s a chemical that basically causes your brain to like the taste of stuff (I am pretty sure I got this from a chemistry major who was teaching here). I guess, that is not a bad laymen’s definition looking back, but it didn’t really explain the myth and misinformation surrounding those three deadly letters.

I highly recommend anyone at all concerned or curious about MSG to give this excellent article a read: If MSG is so bad for you, why doesn’t everyone in Asia have a headache?

At no time has any official body, governmental or academic, ever found it necessary to warn humans against consuming MSG.

Basically, you’re best off reading the article and deciding for yourself, but a couple quick facts about MSG that I now hold in my cive-like mind.

  • Discovered/Invented in/from kelp by Professor Kidunae Ikeda, in early 20th Century Japan.
  • Large amounts found naturally (free form) in tomatoes, cured meats, parmesan cheese, and a boat-load of other things.
  • “It’s a chemical as much as water or oxygen are chemicals.”
  • “Every government across the world that has a food licensing and testing system gives MSG – ‘at normal levels in the diet’ – the thumbs-up. The US Food and Drug Administration has three times, in 1958, 1991 and 1998, reviewed the evidence, tested the chemical and pronounced it ‘genuinely recognised as safe.'”

And though a bit of a hypocondriac’s nightmare, has a plethora of information about MSG and Aspartame and all the alleged maladies that come with the consumption of either.

In the end, I’m still not certain if it’s harmless or the bringer of the apocalypse, but like most things, I’m just not going to worry about it. I think society is far too concerned with its longevity. Who wants a mind as clear as glass when they are old? Gimme crazy and forgetful, as the last thing I want is to be conscious and lucid while watching the nearing approach of death.

One Response

  1. Hello Ryan.
    I just came across your blog on MSG (from Dec 2005). I wanted to give a little depth to your view of the substance. In Jan 2009, I read the two web-sites you’ve referenced as part of some research I’ve done related to my own health issues. Turns out that “free glutamic acid” (of which MSG and 40-some other ingredients are derived from) is what caused a series of five grand mal brain seizures for me over the course of six years (2003-2009; age 34-40). I went through some tough times, but finally figured it out (my last seizure was Jan 17, 2009). I have since nearly eliminated these ingredients from my diet and have been seizure free (knock on wood). Turns out I have developed what’s called an “amine intolerance”. Tyramine, for example, gives me severe panic attacks almost exactly four hours after consumption (it also causes panic and dizziness/vertigo for two close friends of mine). I’d been having such panic attacks from 2006-2008 and figured this out in 2008 with help of my accupuncturist/kinesiologist (tyramine “accidentally” confirmed March 2009 when care giver gave me pumpkin seeds and naturopath prescribed milk thistle for something else; both have high levels of tyramine and caused panic attack after four hours). These two substances are in tons of food, of which you’ve listed several (tomatoes, aged cheeses, aged/game meats, etc). As I get older, my body is less tolerant of these ingredients (as many people develop food allergies over time). I still eat meat and a little bit of tomatoes and other ingredients, but in very small quantities. Large doses of amines (Tyramine, in particular) are often the ingredients that causes migraine headaches. I’d had periodic migraines starting at the age of ~19, but never knew what caused it (I used to eat those ramen noodles with the chicken packets all through college and beyond). Though I understand the argument that is made about Chinese having (or not having) migraines all the time, more evidence indicates that there are other complications that occur from these substances. I’m grateful that I was able to figure it out and so hope this information is useful, or at least of some interest, to you. (Interestingly enough, I note that the “inventor” of MSG died at the of 72 [1864-1936], relatively young for a Chinese born at that time?… I’m wondering if it was from a brain seizure??!)
    Best. B
    NH, USA

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