Monosodium Glutamate (or eating crow)

I should know better as I always put my foot firmly in my mouth in these kind of situations but somehow at lunch today the issue of MSG came up. As I have never noticed a personal reaction to MSG and I happen to like food that has it added I don’t have a problem with it but I know that lots of people claim it’s a problem for them. I mentioned this to some friends and one of them told me that it wasn’t true. MSG has been proven to have no known side effects. Being pretty sure of myself as I usually am I thought “they must be crazy, I’ve read all about it”.

I told them so :-s and suggested that I could bring in proof from the net. They said that’s cool but we agreed no random net references. They had to be from medical journals.

So, when I got home I researched it first by going to the Journal of the American Medical Association and then from there to PubMed of the National Library of Medicine.

Guess what….They were right, I was wrong. MSG does NOT have any bad side-effects. In study after study that I looked up all the tests came up negative. In many of the tests they even used people that claimed they got headaches or tight chests from MSG. (The so called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”). In double-blind tests they gave these people MSG capsules and placebo capsules and the results indicated that there is no effect from MSG.

Just in case, I *think* double-blind means that (1) the person being studied doesn’t know if they are getting MSG or the placebo AND (2) the person GIVING the test doesn’t know if the capsule they are giving is an MSG capsule or not.

#1 is important because if you know you got MSG you are expecting a headache and if you know you didn’t get MSG you are not. Therefore you might *generate* a headache, real or not but it might not be because of the MSG it might be *power of self suggestion*.

#2 is important because for example if the researcher knows it’s MSG and they believe MSG causes headaches they might, for example, stare vary concernedly at people receiving the MSG subtly implying to the patient they expect that person is going to get a headache and therefore the patient notices that, worries and gets a headache.

It’s therefore important that the tests be double-blind. If they aren’t then the tests are invalid. I mention this because according to what I read, a study from 1987 that got alot of people to stop eating MSG was NOT double-blind and had many other problems with it. Nobody has been able to re-produce the claimed results once they used proper testing techiques.

Here are some of the studies I found.

I did find a few counter examples. There’s this site which has a list of references. I tried to look up about 10 of them. Unfortunately I couldn’t find most of them and also several of them are not studies but just anecdotes.

I did find this one on PubMed but it’s results were covered by some of the later studies above.

Kind of scary what the press can get you to believe by only reporting the scary stuff *MSG is bad for you* and not reporting the real research. Very much like the breast implant issues in which the press only reported bad research and people only believed anecdotes.

  • danchan

    Didn’t we talk about MSG not being bad for you before? Someone brought it up a while ago (was it Dan Arey?).

  • grego

    Or how about "Global Warming"…

    DISCOVER magazine, Oct 1989, pg. 47. In part, it reads:
    On the one hand, as scientists, we are ethically bound
    to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell
    the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but…. On the
    other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings
    as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world
    a better place, which in this context translates into our
    working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous
    climatic change. To do that we need to get some broadbased
    support, to capture the public’s imagination…. So we
    have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified,
    dramatic statements, and make little mention of any
    doubts we might have…. Each of us has to decide what
    the right balance is between being effective and being

    – Grego

  • grego

    As an extra tidbit, "Accent Flavor Enhancer" (sold in the US) is almost pure MSG (if I remember correctly)…I use it for some of my cooking.
    – Grego

  • greggman
    Check out Frontline too

    There’s this article about it too. It was very interesting to read the one scientist’s opinion that it’s all a bunch of hooey.

  • DonTauer
    On Monosodium Glutamate safety

    MSG is a key player in the current obesity epidemic. Evidence? See

    Then google the words “monosodium glutamate insulin”. Be prepared to wade through a lot of scientific jargon.

    Related: Lab mice and rats do not get obese, therefore the standard method of obtaining obese rats and mice is by the administration of MSG. These animals are also observed to suffer brain damage. Could this be related to the ‘modern’ plague of obesity and ADD? You might object that there is a paucity of studies on humans. Long term studies require a lot of money and the money is on the side of the food industry. In my research I noted that the google hits on such studies tended to result in “page not found”. I do not subscribe to the scientific journals, nor am I a scientist, but if it makes for fat and retarded mice, I don’t plan to eat it.

  • Sorry but that certain doesn’t fit very obvious counter examples:

    Japanese and Chinese eat lots of MSG. MSG is in almost all Japanese food and has been for years and yet neither the Japanese or the Chinese have an obesity problem.

    You should also know that MSG is an natural product. No different in complexity than bread, cheese or wine. What puts people off is it’s got a chemical sounding name.

  • yuko
    In Support with Greg…

    Japan has one of the lowest obesity rate in the world (from a newspaper source about 5 yrs ago)!

    In addition, Okinawans has the longest average life span in the world (still true. There are numerous scientific American researches done – “The Okinawan Centenarian Study”). They have a super healthy sex life, too, in their 80’s or something!!

  • Kathy

    I am so glad to finally find this site.  I use Accent (msg) in just about everything I cook – meats, salads, mashed potatos, vege’s.  Every day my family eats msg so I’m glad to know that its not harmful for you.  THANKS!

  • Adrian
    Internet as a definitive source – Personal experience to the contrary

    My post is to restore some balance to this article.

    I do suffer painful side effects from MSG.  For a long time I would simply be very thirsty after eating certain foods, but more recently (10 years plus) that thirst gave way to headaches (mild to severe).

    It scares me to think people will read this and assume MSG is fine for you. I firmly believe that you can achieve good taste using good quality ingredients and do not need to resort to MSG to make something taste good.  Surely that fact in conjunction with the substantial indications of the risks, should be sufficient to take a cautious stance to using MSG.

    A friend was telling me the other day that their mother in law added additional MSG to their babies food, citing reports/blogs such as this.  Scary what words/articles like this are missguiding people to do.

    MSG does without any doubt cause me discomfort and/or headaches depending on how much is contained within.  I don’t believe it is OK as is suggested here and I think it is irresponsible for someone to post like this.  Use good natural ingredients and there’s no need to ‘flavour enhance’ with MSG.

  • MSG is as natural as salt

    The only reason people think salt is more natural than MSG is because we call salt by the name “salt” instead of NaCl, its chemical name.

    Your belief that MSG causes your symptoms doesn’t mean that MSG causes your systems.

  • Science:1
    Anecdotal Evidence: 0