MSG and Food Sensitivities – What Can Happen When You Let Your Guard Down

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I did not expect my first blog to be about MSG (monosodium  glutamate) but it hit close to home last weekend. This story is also a good lesson in food sensitivities.

We had a lovely dinner with some friends on Friday night – we have been wanting to expose our six-year-old son to new foods so we tried a Thai restaurant. It had been a while since we have ventured outside our usual few hangouts. . . . and I forgot to ask for “no MSG.”

The food tasted great. But within an hour of eating, I started to get a headache. A classic sign of MSG exposure. I ached at the temples and it lasted the rest of the night. I had a slight headache the next day too. Like many, I am sensitive to MSG. However, it was not until three days later that I remembered how much MSG affected me. The following Monday I was not in a good place. Overall, I did not feel good but could not explain why and I was in a foul mood most of the day.

This is a classic example of food sensitivity. If you are allergic to a food or food additive, it usually affects you soon after you eat it – the effects are more immediate and often more severe. When you are sensitive to a food or additive, the affects can be slower to manifest and are often less serious, although they can be just as debilitating. It is not unusual for a food sensitivity symptom to reveal itself one to three days later (for some it may even be a week later) as the offending food or additive works its way through your system, often making a sensitivity more difficult to recognize.

What Are the Symptoms?

Monosodium glutamate is one of those food additives that commonly affects people’s health. It is known as “excitotoxin.” If you eat it often you might not even recognize the symptoms because you are perpetually putting it into you body. However, if you learn to stay away from it and then eat it by accident, that is when you can really tell.

Symptoms of MSG sensitivity will vary by person and can include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness or intense sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Burning sensation in the back of neck and forearms
  • Skin rash
  • Flushing or excessive sweating
  • Change in  heart rate or chest pain
  • Ringing in ears
  • Tingling in the mouth
  • Intense thirst

For those that are more sensitive, especially in children, it can cause more serious symptoms of asthma, incontinence, seizures, and attention deficit disorder (ADD) (source). It may also cause obesity (source), which especially makes sense if someone is eating MSG on a regular basis. MSG is known to stimulate insulin levels in the pancreas (source).

For me, an added symptom is the flaring emotions a few days after ingesting MSG. This reminded me of something an energy healer once told me. (An energy healer can see the energy fields that surrounds a person’s physical body.) Energetically, she noticed that MSG puts “holes” in our etheric (energy) body. That leaves us open to the negative energy around us that can affect (or attach) to us. . . . I tend to be more sensitive to other people’s energy already, so for me the MSG heightens this and blows it out of proportion.

Where is it found?  
MSG is more common than you may realize. It is derived from an amino acid called glutamic acid. It was originally discovered in Japan where it was extracted from a seaweed called Kombu. Now, MSG is typically produced industrially using a bacterial fermentation process (source). It has become one of the most widely used flavor enhancers in the world (source), used by food manufacturers and restaurants.

Many processed foods contain MSG. Food manufacturers use it as a flavor enhancer in foods such as canned soup, prepared gravies and mixes, sauces, salad dressings, chips and crackers, instant noodles, soup and dip mixes, luncheon meats, frozen entries, etc. By adding MSG, it allows the manufacturer to reduce the amount of real ingredients and still get the same taste, thereby making the product less expensive to produce (source). MSG also tends to be addictive, which is another benefit for food manufacturers (source).

However, if a label says “No MSG Added” it can still contain MSG – it simply means they did not add MSG directly. As manufacturers find new ways to make MSG and similar glutamate-based additives, new names are used on their product labels. You need to become a savvy ingredient reader to find MSG.

Different names for monosodium glutamate include:   

  • Natural flavoring
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Vegetable protein extract
  • Plant protein extract
  • Texture protein
  • Calcium or sodium cascinate
  • Calcium or magnesium glutamate
  • Yeast extract
  • Whey protein or whey protein isolate
  • Senomyx
  • Gelatin
  • Anything “hydrolyzed” or “autolyzed”
  • Disodium 5′

Some additives are more subtle and may contain small amounts of free glutamate because of the way they are processed, such as soy sauce, carrageenan, pectin, bouillon, broth, barley malt, smoke flavorings, citric acid (when from corn), and caramel flavoring (source). As you can see from the list even benign terms like natural flavoring and natural beef flavoring can indicate a hidden MSG additive. Another example is Bragg’s Aminos, a natural liquid food flavoring, which does not have added MSG but because of its fermentation process, MSG-like byproducts are created. Certain foods, such as parmesan cheese and tomatoes, can also naturally contain some glutamate.

Many restaurants use MSG, especially fast food restaurants (think chicken nuggets) and those with Asian cuisines. The MSG may be included in the prepackaged food they use to prepare your meal, or it may be added during the cooking process. (MSG is available in Asian markets and kind of looks like a big bag of salt.)

Ultimately, it is best to stay away from processed food as much as possible. When you do purchase prepackaged foods, be sure to read the labels. And, when you eat out, you need to ask them not to use MSG. If much of the restaurant’s foods is prepared using prepackaged ingredients, this may be difficult. Instead, select from foods made from fresh ingredients. A good selection would be a salad – but skip the salad dressing and request olive oil and vinegar instead.

As a family, it is not uncommon for us to bring our own “soy sauce” or salad dressing when we eat out. Obviously, I forgot my own advice when I ate out last weekend, but after this week I will not likely forget again anytime soon.

We have continued to branch out from our typical eating habits. Now when we eat out and I realize that I unknowingly ate MSG (or other food preservative that affects me), I take a homeopathic remedy to detox from the chemical. This eliminates the typical symptoms and brings my body back into balance. It works!

This article was written by Sharon Harmon, founder of Life Design for Health. She has a passion for helping people find their way back to optimum health. Please contact her if you would like to know more. There is a great deal of health-related information in her blog articles and on her website.

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