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.
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.
- Monosodium glutamate and asthma
- The administration to Indonesians of monosodium L-glutamate in Indonesian foods: an assessment of adverse reactions in a randomized double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study
- Food additives as a cause of medical symptoms: relationship shown between sulfites and asthma and anaphylaxis; results of a literature review
- Review of alleged reaction to monosodium glutamate and outcome of a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled study
- The safety evaluation of monosodium glutamate
- Plasma amino acid patterns and visceral protein status in users and nonusers of monosodium glutamate
- The significance of excursions above the ADI. Case study: monosodium glutamate
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.