MSG

Dear Dr. B: I was wondering if you could write on allergies to MSG.

Dear reader: MSG stands for monosodium glutamate also called monosodium L-glutamate, or sodium glutamate. It is white crystalline substance, a sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid.

MSG is used to intensify the natural flavor of certain foods. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, MSG was first identified as a flavor enhancer 97 years ago by Kikunae Ikeda of Japan, who found that soup stocks made from seaweed contained high levels of MSG. His discovery led to the commercial production of this substance.

National Institute of Nutrition’s website says MSG is produced on a massive scale by fermentation of beets. North Americans consume more than 25,000 tons of MSG every year, mostly as a food additive. It is present in wide variety of canned, packaged and prepared food.

About 36 years ago, reports appeared to suggest that some people who ate at Chinese restaurants developed symptoms such as headache, flushing, sweating, sense of facial pressure or swelling, numbness or burning in or around the mouth and chest pain. This is called Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. It was believed to be caused by MSG.

It is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of diners suffer from some of the these symptoms after eating food that contains MSG.

Subsequent investigation has shown that MSG is not solely responsible for these symptoms. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has classified MSG as generally safe. MSG continues to be used in some meals as a food additive.

There have been reports where MSG is supposed to have triggered asthma attacks, headaches and it may cause retinal damage and blindnes. Some reports have suggested that MSG may cause brain damage.

A study published in the Journal of Nutrition in April, 2000 says, “The present study led to the conclusion that Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses; rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found.”

How do we know what food contains MSG?

This is difficult to know. Food labels generally use the terms “natural flavor,” “flavoring,” or “hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)” which may mean presence of MSG. HVP typically contains 10-30 percent of MSG.

It may be easy to remember that MSG is generally found in oriental and processed foods. And if you think your symptoms are triggered by MSG then try and avoid these types of foods. For most people, MSG in small amount does not seem to be harmful. But we haven’t heard the last word on it yet. If you have food allergies then you have to be careful what you eat and where you eat.

Thought for the week:

“A new year is not really new if we just live the same old life”.

-Unknown Author.

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