How can something that tastes so good be so very bad for you? I might ask that of a lot of things but today I am going to discuss MSG. It’s a sodium salt of the amino acid, glutamic acid that is used as a flavor enhancer. I thought it was mainly used in Asian cooking until I did some research and realized it is used all over the food industry. Everything from bouillon cubes, to flavored potato and tortilla chips, canned food, flavored jerky, barbeque sauces, and seasoning mixes (think taco and guacamole mix) can contain MSG.
When reading labels, look for MSG, monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed yeast, and autolyzed yeast. Do not trust a label that reads, "no MSG added" to mean it is free of all MSG. It simple means extra MSG wasn’t added to the food you’re eating.
Patients often report a myriad of symptoms with MSG exposure such as: asthma, hyperactivity, migraines, gastrointestinal distress, rashes, heart palpitations, flushing, nausea, and generalized fatigue.
It is important to note that L-glutamate is an important excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain. It is important to have some because we need it for learning and memory-- however too much can cause a problem such as cell death. This excess excitotoxicity has been linked to epilepsy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, autism, attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD), and Alzheimer's disease.
Glutamate also inhibits GABA in the brain. GABA is your great anti-anxiety, relaxation hormone. If glutamate is continually high, then you may be persistently unable to relax or calm down. This can manifest as an ADHD child or an anxiety prone woman.
If you’re having symptoms without any explanation, consider giving up MSG for awhile. Start reading labels and look for flavorings that could be causing your headaches, hyperactivity, or anxiety. Look for ingredients you understand such as salt, pepper, lemon, chives and other herbs. Flavorings don’t need to contain MSG to taste yummy.