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Battling the MSG Myth » Sharing Media Reports and Letters Related to the Issue » What could be healthy or natural about an acid (MSG) meant to trick our taste buds? « Previous Next »

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Posted on Tuesday, May 24, 2005 - 5:22 pm:   Delete PostPrint Post   Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

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What could be healthy or natural about an acid (MSG) meant to trick our taste buds?

By Dave Russell
published: May 18, 2005 6:00 am
My journal entry of Dec. 18 starts out, "We went out to eat yesterday (Thursday) at a Chinese all-you-can-shovel place and I started off with a bowl of hot-n-sour soup that was more monosodium glutamate than either hot or sour and had to go home and go to bed. ... I felt like a 30-gallon trash bag stuffed with jello and bowling balls with a headache."

Immediately after eating the soup, I could feel my face flushing and my heart racing. We had out-of-town guests, but before a second trip to the buffet, I could think only, "Get me to my sofa." I somehow drove myself home, more like I'd had a bucket of beer than a bowl of soup.

It's pretty common knowledge that MSG is a common ingredient in Asian cuisine, but when I felt the same symptoms eating other things (MSG is a common ingredient in processed foods), I decided to do a little investigating of this kryptonite-in-a-shaker.

MSG was invented by Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese scientist who isolated it from Kombu, a seaweed popular in Japanese cuisine, in 1908. Knowing he was on to a good thing, he formed the firm Ajinomoto, which announced last Friday a net profit of 44.82 billion yen ($417,718,607.42) for fiscal 2004. That's a lot of dollars and MSG.

It made its way to the U.S. after World War II. Our military discovered that Japanese tinned rations tasted a lot better than what we were serving our G.I.s in the South Pacific. That's one of MSG's specialties: enhancing the flavor of canned foods by suppressing the tinny taste.

Ajinomoto claims MSG is another basic flavor to accompany the traditional four - bitter, sweet, sour, salty - which they call "umami," or "deliciousness." MSG really doesn't have a flavor of its own, however. It is an acid that causes a reaction in our taste buds, sort of turbocharging the nerve endings on our tongues and in our mouths. AC-T holistic health writer Lexie Ross explains it, "(MSG) electrically excites the nerves of the tasting apparatus."

That is also what causes the negative reactions.

Headaches (such as my thunder-boomer that Thursday) are the most common symptom of MSG exposure to us sensitive people. I also experienced an irregular heartbeat.

The FDA describes my reaction as "MSG symptom complex, a condition characterized by one or more of the following symptoms: burning sensation in the back of the neck, forearms and chest, numbness in the back of the neck, radiating to the arms and back tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and bronchospasm (difficulty breathing) in MSG-intolerant people with asthma drowsiness weakness."

Sounds like an allergic reaction, aye? Well, it's not. "MSG is not an allergen," according to the Ajinomoto Web site, which goes on to say, "... it is possible that some people may be sensitive to MSG, just as people are sensitive to many other foods and ingredients. Regardless, severe reactions are not associated with consuming MSG."

Ajinomoto also points out that the "... U.S. Food and Drug Administration has classified MSG as a Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) ingredient since 1958."

Thirty of my fellow sufferers joined the Truth in Labeling Campaign (TLC), a consumer watchdog group, in filing a citizen petition with the FDA in 1994, asking for "... mandatory listing of MSG as an ingredient on labels of manufactured and processed foods that contain manufactured free glutamic acid," according to the FDA.

They also requested that food manufacturers list the amount (in grams, with the amount present carried out to the third decimal place) of MSG and put a warning that some are sensitive to it on packaging.

The FDA did not respond and the case ended up in court, going against TLC in 1998.

Obviously I am one of those MSG-sensitive people, one of millions. How many millions? No one knows, as MSG is in so many things that sensitive people may be affected by it all the time in varying degrees and not have a clue.

George R. Schwartz, author of "In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome," cites a story of a young woman so MSG-sensitive she ended up in hospital weighing 77 pounds and on an IV-feeding tube. None of her doctors knew what was wrong with her. Every time she began to show some improvement, her nurses would give her clear broth - with MSG - and she'd get sicker again. She heard Schwartz on a radio show, cut MSG from her diet and remains healthy as long as she does so.

There's plenty of information and opinion out there on MSG. Ajinomoto touts research showing MSG could enhance flavor perception in those who suffer from a decreased sense of taste due to age, illness, medical treatments or medications and its use as a healthy salt replacement. Others refer to it as a "toxin," responsible for a long, long list of ailments.

Either way, you could chase me down the road with a shaker of it.

Readers can write to Russell at P.O. Box 2090, Asheville, N.C., 28802; phone him at 236-8973; or e-mail him at
Posted on Friday, July 07, 2006 - 9:58 pm:   Delete PostPrint Post   Ban Poster IP (Moderator/Admin only)

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