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Monosodium Glutamate/MSG: The Topic


Fat Guy
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Lots and lots of BS around MSG. It is indeed too small to be an allergen. In fact it is just an amino acid that is found in all kinds of food.

It could of course have other functions. Many things in biology are polyfunctional. But no evidence for that that I know of.

When people say that they are allergic or react to MSG,I often ask if they like Doritos (its loaded with it). They never say no.

People who are gluten allergic...eg celiac disease, often say they can't eat MSG. But there is no connection between gluten and glutamate other than the letters in the words.

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You don't even have to look at parmesan and tomato, it's conclusive that MSG sensitivities are overblown because MSG doesn't only appear in Chinese restaurants anymore. Take Minor's Chicken Base for example. Walk into any average mid priced western style restaurant in the country and there's a 50/50 chance that there's a bucket of Minor's Chicken Base hiding somewhere. Look at the ingredient list, the 4th ingredient listed is MSG, ahead of even sugar. Anything made with Minor's Chicken Base is going to have even more MSG in it than the average mid priced Chinese restaurant and yet, because it's hidden away in the kitchen, people mysteriously don't complain about headaches. If you're complaining about getting headaches only from Chinese food, then you definitively don't have a MSG sensitivity simply because MSG appears equally as often outside of Chinese food as in.

Ive been using it,(MINORS) for many, many years, never have had any problems with it(at home not in commerical kitchen)..

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I find Chinese restaurant owners/cooks are just as ill-informed about the presence of MSG. Several have proudly told me and advertise to the public that they no longer use MSG, but that they are using "chicken powder" such as Knor or no-name bulk instead. MSG is usually the 3rd or 4th ingredient on the list with salt often being 1st or 2nd ingredient! The food is often salty because they also add salt when cooking.

Dejah

www.hillmanweb.com

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Sad when these threads come up, because they usually devolve into a lot of name-calling (in fact, Chowhound usually deletes comments / threads about MSG for this very reason). Good timing on this thread, because I was just reading this thread earlier tonight:

http://www.chow.com/food-news/69604/youre-not-allergic-to-msg-and-6-more-culinary-secrets/

Overall, I do think people are right to be skeptical of those with MSG "allergies", and of course, if these same folks don't have problems with other foods with comparable amounts of glutamates, they are probably full of it, barring a sensitivity to something used to produce the MSG, or another ingredient (the current popularity of chicken base or chicken MSG vs "traditional" MSG complicates things further).

Some of it's a naming / branding problem. In China, where MSG (and these days, chicken MSG or chicken base) are ubiquitous (and MSG allergies almost unheard of), the name sounds a lot better (味精 - "wèi jīng, or 鸡精 in the case of chicken MSG) - an overly literal translation might be something along the lines of 'flavor essence'. Of course, there are lots of ways to technically have "no MSG", but still add a savory / umami component to food as flavor enhancers - hydrolyzed soy protein, mushroom extract, etc., not to mention other flavor enhancers.

More personally, though, I had an experience while on INH (narrow spectrum antibiotics), where almost all foods high in glutamates and / or tyramine would trigger horrible headaches. I didn't realize why until I read the detailed information about possible side effects a few months in. Apparently, folks on MAO inhibitors also may have problems with these foods. I would get headaches not only from foods containing a lot of MSG, but also foods with high amounts of glutamates and / or tyramine (fermented soy products like soy sauce and miso, nutritional yeast, foods with concentrated tomato flavoring, etc.). Of course, this is anecdotal and not a double-blind study, but it was very reproducible for me, and it seems clear that there are at least some credible evidence that certain foods can be migraine triggers for certain people [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1842472/ seems to have some studies, for starters]. Given that the two have a lot of overlap, and that Chinese food uses a lot of soy sauce, it's entirely possible that tyramine sensitivity is part of the problem for some people.

Since being off the meds, I notice fewer of these problems, but still occasionally find that too much of these foods seem to still be a headache trigger.

Edited by Will (log)
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I find Chinese restaurant owners/cooks are just as ill-informed about the presence of MSG. Several have proudly told me and advertise to the public that they no longer use MSG, but that they are using "chicken powder" such as Knor or no-name bulk instead.

This is the bane of my existence, though for different reasons than wanting to avoid flavor enhancers. I'm vegetarian, and eat at (non-vegetarian) Chinese places a lot; chicken stock / chicken base / chicken powder is almost ubiquitous, and while the words are different in Chinese (see above), restaurants tend to use the terms interchangeably, so when I ask for "no Chicken MSG", a lot of times, I think they're thinking "oh.. another white person who doesn't want MSG".

Yes, some of the brands don't actually have much or any animal ingredients, but most of the stuff contains chicken and / or beef fat, or other animal-derived ingredients.

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One other thing to keep in mind is that many of the products used in restaurants and in processed foods have multiple flavor enhancers (even some "MSG-free" mushroom seasoning powders come with other flavor enhancers). Some of these apparently have the effect of multiplying the flavor enhancing effect of MSG or other glutamates already present in the food.

The "Traditional Hong Kong Recipe" Knorr Chicken Powder, for example, contains both MSG and Disodium 5'-ribonucleotides (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disodium_5%27-ribonucleotides), or, as they say it, E621 and E635*.

So even if folks don't have a bad reaction to naturally occurring glutamates or pure MSG, it's possible, even if not scientifically documented, that some of them may have reactions to other ingredients frequently combined with them, or to combinations of ingredients.

* http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flavour_enhancer

Edited by Will (log)
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  • 2 years later...

Greetings guys!

Karl Spencer here. I am an avid foodie and have been traveling for the past 6 years. I have spent the last 4 in India, traveling the country in width; loved the diversity there! Right now I am in Thailand and have noticed a substantially higher amount of MSG in the food here. Now don't get me wrong I simply love Thai food and will settle for some Pad Thai anytime, however I have also noticed that consuming MSG tends to elevate my heartrate and I am left feeling flushed and exhausted.

I have, like most people (I imagine) heard conflicting reviews about MSG, some say its downright harmful, others say its just hogwash and nothing happens if you take it in, while others have said its alright if you consume it in very little quantities. This is mostly from people who are talking what they heard from hearsay, are there any persons here who have an informed opinion on the matter.

Thanks!

Kind Regards

Avid traveler and food lover. Right now in Thailand and lovin it! Reviewer and Writer at Bangkok Best Dining.

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With all the pure MSG that naturally forms on aged parmesan cheese, you'd expect people to have not only a Chinese Restaurant syndrome but also an Italian Pizzeria syndrome - yet no such thing has ever been heard of. MSG has been studied extensively and is considered mostly harmless when not consumed in excess. However, it should be noted that MSG, like salt, does contain sodium and therefore its intake should be kept limited. Total sodium intake should ideally stay below 2400 mg per day for an adult.

Whether the MSG is to blame for your elevated heart rate, I can't tell. After all: fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, fermented red bean curds... They're great ways to add flavour to food, all hugely popular in Asia, and all have a very high salt content. It may well be that many of the effects attributed to MSG are really to blame on salt.

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Check out this thread.

The whole Chinese restaurant syndrome myth started with an observational letter published in the 1968 New England Journal of Medicine. The story is so familiar it's cringeworthy. Published in reputable journal, must be right. Mass reporting in popular press. Combine this with suggestibility in the general populous and a subsequent expectancy that they will have negative effects. The rest is not difficult to predict.

The guilty chemical was burnt at the stake of myth, rumour, and self deception. It's still smouldering despite heaps of reputable evidence to discredit the original opinion.

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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I'm trying desperately to remember what my (not anti-MSG) physiology professor told me when I recounted my reaction to MSG.

Many reference works were opened, many tables and diagrams shown, but the gist of it was that, in general, most people are apparently not unusually sensitive to 'moderate' amounts of MSG, most of the time, under most circumstances. Which is vague, but the take-away was that occasional MSG consumption is harmless. I've been in restaurants where, as I waited for my takeaway, I saw MSG shaken over the cooking food with abandon, and at those levels, it wouldn't be too surprising if some people showed some sort of physical reaction.

If I eat something MSG-heavy on a completely empty stomach, I tend to hallucinate (this is actually kind of entertaining, my main concern being to look normal and not giggle, as time accelerates around me and I become able to feel the molecular structures of objects), which as far as I can remember is probably due to the behaviour some neurotransmittor, but I'd be lying if I said I recalled any details of a discussion I had over a decade ago. My heart rate may go up too, but not surprisingly, I haven't noticed one way or the other.

If I put something else in my stomach before I eat something containing MSG, I'm fine.

My real objection to MSG is that it tends to make things seem so damn tasty (including things I might normally find unappealing), I sometimes lose my grip and eat something along the lines of an entire tube of Pringles, even though reason is screaming in my ear that this is a terrible idea, and I will feel utterly disgusting afterwards :wink:

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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With all the pure MSG that naturally forms on aged parmesan cheese, you'd expect people to have not only a Chinese Restaurant syndrome but also an Italian Pizzeria syndrome - yet no such thing has ever been heard of. MSG has been studied extensively and is considered mostly harmless when not consumed in excess. However, it should be noted that MSG, like salt, does contain sodium and therefore its intake should be kept limited. Total sodium intake should ideally stay below 2400 mg per day for an adult.

Whether the MSG is to blame for your elevated heart rate, I can't tell. After all: fish sauce, soy sauce, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, fermented red bean curds... They're great ways to add flavour to food, all hugely popular in Asia, and all have a very high salt content. It may well be that many of the effects attributed to MSG are really to blame on salt.

Aah that makes a lot of sense! I did not notice this before however i have felt my heart rate elevate when I have consumed soya sauce as well. So it is entirely possible that the high sodium content is the reason why I feel that way after having consumed it.

Avid traveler and food lover. Right now in Thailand and lovin it! Reviewer and Writer at Bangkok Best Dining.

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I'm trying desperately to remember what my (not anti-MSG) physiology professor told me when I recounted my reaction to MSG.

Many reference works were opened, many tables and diagrams shown, but the gist of it was that, in general, most people are apparently not unusually sensitive to 'moderate' amounts of MSG, most of the time, under most circumstances. Which is vague, but the take-away was that occasional MSG consumption is harmless. I've been in restaurants where, as I waited for my takeaway, I saw MSG shaken over the cooking food with abandon, and at those levels, it wouldn't be too surprising if some people showed some sort of physical reaction.

If I eat something MSG-heavy on a completely empty stomach, I tend to hallucinate (this is actually kind of entertaining, my main concern being to look normal and not giggle, as time accelerates around me and I become able to feel the molecular structures of objects), which as far as I can remember is probably due to the behaviour some neurotransmittor, but I'd be lying if I said I recalled any details of a discussion I had over a decade ago. My heart rate may go up too, but not surprisingly, I haven't noticed one way or the other.

If I put something else in my stomach before I eat something containing MSG, I'm fine.

My real objection to MSG is that it tends to make things seem so damn tasty (including things I might normally find unappealing), I sometimes lose my grip and eat something along the lines of an entire tube of Pringles, even though reason is screaming in my ear that this is a terrible idea, and I will feel utterly disgusting afterwards :wink:

So can one drop Ajinomoto and go tripping? :laugh:

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I have a reaction to some Chinese and Thai restaurant food, and to some processed food containing MSG (such as instant soups). Whether the reaction is to MSG, a different ingrediant, or a combination of MSG with something else, I cannot say. What I experience is a type of headache in which my brain does not function right and I cannot think. This can range from being mildly unpleasant to having to go to bed. It is a different sort of headache than, say, a migraine.

I've read Modernist Cuisine's defence of MSG, but I'm not totally convinced. True, my evidence is circumstancial: one of the worst examples of this poisoning was when a friend and I both had the reaction about an hour after eating in a certain Chinese restaurant, where subsequently I noticed an empty 100 pound drum of MSG.

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The whole Chinese restaurant syndrome myth started with an observational letter published in the 1968 New England Journal of Medicine.

It was somewhere around 1960. I was a teenage piano student, and I traveled to Seattle with my piano teacher and two other students to see the young sensation Van Cliburn in a concert. We had dinner beforehand at a Chinese restaurant. Within about 15 or 20 minutes of starting to eat, I experienced flushing, a heat wave, increased heart rate, dizziness, and a really bad headache that was strange. I was so undone that I had to leave the table and I ended up missing the concert. This was a BIG DEAL so I remember it pretty well. My body was "pure" in that I had never had any stimulants except for maybe a coca cola every once in a while -- certainly no alcohol or other drugs. Where I lived we had no "ethnic" restaurants whatsoever, so I had never had Chinese food(or anything other than basic foods). So maybe in that "unadulterated" teenage state, I had a strong reaction to something new to my body. I do know that I definitely experienced these symptoms, and this was way before your 1968 article. It was afterwards that people told me I might have had a reaction to MSG. Just one person's experience. : )
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When it is studied in controlled conditions the effect sees to disappear or appears independent of the presence or otherwise of MSG. All the anecdotes above suggest the possible involvement of MSG but do not prove it. Perhaps if we publicise MJX's experience we might get people queuing up for Chinese food.

Maybe there is a link, maybe not. Research evidence tends to support the latter, anecdote and rumour supports the former. I know which source I prefer to look at to shape my views. As a scientist, my view is always open for refutation given evidence from controlled, double-blind studies (sorry MJX, that rules out your experience as "proof" - the placebo effect is too strong to deny a possible psychogenic origin for your symptoms). At this stage I haven't seen it and this in an area where a scientist's reputation would be enhanced by unequivocally demonstrating a link between the symptoms and the alleged cause.

I'm not denying any of your experiences, which are very real to you and of concern, but am sceptical that it was MSG that caused them.

Edited by nickrey (log)

Nick Reynolds, aka "nickrey"

"The Internet is full of false information." Plato
My eG Foodblog

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If you search "Longest life expectancy" by country, you will find many countries with long life expectancy are also locations where lots of MSG are consumed.

dcarch

If there is really a connection between MSG and a greater life expectancy then it has been dealt an unfair hand. For some reason, everytime MSG has come up in a conversation, people end up linking it with cancer! :blink:

Avid traveler and food lover. Right now in Thailand and lovin it! Reviewer and Writer at Bangkok Best Dining.

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When it is studied in controlled conditions the effect sees to disappear or appears independent of the presence or otherwise of MSG. All the anecdotes above suggest the possible involvement of MSG but do not prove it. Perhaps if we publicise MJX's experience we might get people queuing up for Chinese food.

Maybe there is a link, maybe not. Research evidence tends to support the latter, anecdote and rumour supports the former. I know which source I prefer to look at to shape my views. As a scientist, my view is always open for refutation given evidence from controlled, double-blind studies (sorry MJX, that rules out your experience as "proof" - the placebo effect is too strong to deny a possible psychogenic origin for your symptoms). At this stage I haven't seen it and this in an area where a scientist's reputation would be enhanced by unequivocally demonstrating a link between the symptoms and the alleged cause.

I'm not denying any of your experiences, which are very real to you and of concern, but am sceptical that it was MSG that caused them.

 

My experiences were not described as 'proof' of anything.

 

However, that some people, under some conditions, react atypically to certain substances at certain concentrations is true of pretty much any highly concentrated (e.g. crystallized) substance.

 

I've had this particular reaction only when I've ingested a significant quantity of savoury food on a completely empty stomach.

It hasn't been restricted to Chinese, or even Asian food (once it was fries and gravy), and it's never been expected: Tripping your face off is sort of distracting to dinner conversation, so I generally eat a couple of Wasa or something before dining out.

 

The effect is brief (possibly 45 minutes) and not unpleasant, so I can't describe it as a concern; I have no particular problem with the use of modest amounts of MSG in food, and don't go out of my way to avoid it; I have some in the kitchen.

 

It might not be MSG, or it might be glutamates in general having this effect (or something completely different, although nothing comes to mind; any ideas?), but this has happened out of the blue on about half a dozen occasions; something is going on, although I can't say I'm worried about it.

 

 

So can one drop Ajinomoto and go tripping?  :laugh:

 

 

Don't know about anyone, but I keep a packet of the stuff about, so anyone is welcome to have a whack at it!

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
Manager, eG Forums
mscioscia@egstaff.org

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I've always been astonished / amused by the number of people visiting Chinese restaurants in London who report signs of discomfort after their meals.

They seem to forget that the 10 pints of lager they drank before hitting the local "Chinese" restaurant may have more to do with their feelings of dehydration and general nausea. They also forget the potato crisps (chips), instant meals, etc they eat which have more MSG than Chinese food but doesn't affect them at all!

Isn't weird that MSG makes people sick, but food additive E621 doesn't bother them at all? Despite being the same thing.

It's all nonsense - with a added seasoning of racism.

Edited by liuzhou (log)

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

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I've always been astonished / amused by the number of people visiting Chinese restaurants in London who report signs of discomfort after their meals.

They seem to forget that the 10 pints of lager they drank before hitting the local "Chinese" restaurant may have more to do with their feelings of dehydration and general nausea. They also forget the potato crisps (chips), instant meals, etc they eat which have more MSG than Chinese food but doesn't affect them at all!

Isn't weird that MSG makes people sick, but food additive E621 doesn't bother them at all? Despite being the same thing.

It's all nonsense - with a added seasoning of racism.

I tend to agree.

They should bear in mind that the vast, vast majority of Japan uses instant dashi now...which is basically MSG, and the Japanese diet is touted as one of the healthiest in the world.

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  • 1 year later...

Two nights ago I experienced a mild case of the reaction I have always attributed to MSG from none other than my own cooking.  Interestingly it was a very simple meal (with alcohol, of course, beforehand but alcohol intoxication is in no way similar to the extremely unpleasant effect I attribute to MSG).

 

The dishes were:

 

Ichiban dashi, consisting of distilled water, konbu, katsuo, Kosher salt, and a small amount of US brewed Kikkoman soy sauce.

 

Nasu no nibitashi, consisting of eggplant sautéed in (in this case) virgin coconut oil, a portion of the aforementioned ichiban dashi, and a bit more Kikkoman soy sauce.

 

Rice, just rice and water.  Name of rice withheld to protect the innocent.

 

Sake (of course).

 

 

Always before when I've had a reaction it was after eating Thai or Chinese restaurant food.  Maybe four severe reactions in my lifetime.  Clearly there was no added MSG in my dinner, however there was a lot of glutamate from the konbu.

 

The thing is, I've enjoyed these same dishes before without an observable reaction.  The only thing that was different is I finished up one bottle of Kikkoman and went on to another bottle of the same Kikkoman that had been open in the refrigerator for several years (don't ask).

 

I was and am perplexed.  And I have done a good bit of googeling as to what may be the cause.

 

A little light bulb went on when I read that the effects of 3-nitropropionic acid poisoning were similar to carbon monoxide poisoning.  I have experienced carbon monoxide poisoning, and, yes, the feeling is the same as or similar to what I have attributed to the MSG effect.  3-nitropropionic acid is a mycotoxin.  Katsuo is rich in 3-nitropropionic acid, as is probably the soy sauce, not to mention sake.  Yet Japanese people don't seem to die from 3-nitropropionic acid poisoning, unlike some other people in Asia.

 

There is a mystery here, but I think that in my own case I have exonerated MSG.

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One of the complicating factors with studying things like migraine triggers is that it seems like it isn't necessarily a binary response - you get a migraine or you don't - but rather some kind of additive thing going on where multiple different triggers combined together are necessary to get a migraine. So some one with a sensitivity to glutamates might be fine one day, but another where there are other things going on (stress, presence of other food triggers, hormone levels, etc.) and bam, migraine. It isn't really the msg exclusively, just that it was enough to push things over the edge.

Or so goes my understanding of recent thinking about migraines, anyway. Certainly my own seem to behave better if I consider what else is going on before indulging in certain food items. (Mainly because of the possible triggers, food intake is one of the easier to control. If I've been very stressed and suddenly the stress is gone - a very common time for me to get a migraine - then that is probably a bad time for me to have some aged cheese or whip out a bag of Doritos, no matter how tasty.)

(I imagine there is some degree of flexibility in amount of exposure before the trigger is significant in some people, also. I once had a meal prepared by family on two separate occasions that were of approximately the same degree of my general levels of stress, etc. one meal was fine and very tasty. Second time, bam, migraine. Questioning revealed that the recipe was the same except the second time the person preparing it used a very generous hand with the msg as that was her tendency. Everything else should have been the same, so my best guess is a little is fine but a lot was just too much.)

I'm impressed they manage to get people with migraines to participate in studies about these things, though. I see the value of science and medical research and yet I'm not sure I could bring myself to line up to potentially have intentionally triggered migraines For Science.

(We have identified some folks with genetics that make them react in strange ways to medications, too. It's just a very small group so it took a while to identify that there was something consistent enough to be worth studying and then a while after that to pin it on the genes. So for all we know in a few years time we will find that there is some small number of people where glutamates are not all processed equally or something. Human bodies can be weird.)

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Yes, human bodies can be weird!

 

I am subject to migraines on occasion, but the food reaction in question for me is not like a migraine.  For one thing there is no migraine aura.  It is as if my brain shuts down, in a most unpleasant fashion...just like carbon monoxide poisoning.

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