People have been asking for the latest news regarding processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Not a week goes by that I do not receive several questions by email through our website, www.truthinlabeling.org, asking why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows MSG to be included in foods without clear disclosure, and what is being done about the fact that so many people are reacting to MSG.
The government is doing nothing about MSG… unless you want to count their support of big business. The last FDA action regarding disclosure of MSG in processed foods was published in the Federal Register in 1993. This inadequate proposal for regulation was dropped with no action following dismissal of the federal lawsuit, which was initiated by the Truth in Labeling Campaign and concerned citizens asking the courts to force the FDA to require full disclosure of MSG on food labels.
As previously reported, in order for us to win our lawsuit, we had to demonstrate that the FDA had been arbitrary and capricious in its handling of the MSG issue. We believed that this would have been demonstrated through the court’s review of certain documents we requested under the discovery process. The FDA refused to produce the documents we requested, claiming protection from such disclosure under the Administrative Procedures Act. The court allowed the FDA to keep the requested documents from the court, resulting in a dismissal of our case on the grounds that congress had given the FDA the power to determine what was safe. We could not prove that the FDA had acted improperly without the documents the FDA refused to show the court.
Following the loss of our lawsuit, a sympathetic congressman asked for one of the documents we had requested in court. After first trying to present the congressman with the wrong document, the FDA advised us, in writing, that the document we requested, a document that was earlier denied us under a Freedom of Information Act request, was unavailable and probably destroyed. The document in question was a study that cost the FDA over $500,000.
Through the years, more and more food companies have begun to display “No MSG” or “No added MSG” prominently on processed food labels, all while contending that there is no concern about MSG in food. Most of these products do contain MSG in a “hidden” form. Such products are mislabeled, as defined in an FDA Backgrounder dated August 31, 1995, but still in use, and such labeling is considered deceptive and misleading under Section 403(a)(1) of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. The FDA has rarely taken action against companies that have mislabeled foods and, to our knowledge, has not taken such action regarding the mislabeled use of MSG in recent years.
For a number of years, I visited members of congress in Washington to ask that action be taken to force full disclosure of MSG on processed food labels. Rarely did I enter an office without finding that at least one staff member talked of their problems with MSG or the problems that one or more of their loved ones had with MSG. In several cases, the legislators admitted that they had an MSG-sensitive spouse. Yet, nothing has ever been done legislatively to force full disclosure of MSG on processed food labels.
Over the past several years, Republican members of congress failed to take action on the MSG issue, and some of the Democrats that I spoke to claimed that nothing would be done while the Republicans controlled congress. Now that the Democrats control congress, I wonder what the new excuse will be.
In the meantime, the Republican-controlled congress passed the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 (Public Law 108-282, Title II), and we are now beginning to see full disclosure on food labels of what the FDA contends are the eight allergens that cause 90 percent of food allergies. They are milk, eggs, fish (e.g., bass, flounder, cod), crustacean shellfish (e.g., crab, lobster, shrimp), tree nuts (e.g., almonds, walnuts, pecans), peanuts, wheat, and soybeans.1 MSG is not covered by the Act.
According to the FDA, an estimated 2 percent of adults and about 5 percent of infants and young children in the U.S. suffer from food allergies, with approximately 30,000 consumers requiring emergency room treatment and 150 Americans dying each year because of allergic reactions to food. Interestingly, the FDA has stated that 25 percent of our population incorrectly believe that they have food allergies, a figure that just happens to match the 25-30 percent of subjects reported to react to MSG in epidemiological studies conducted in the 1970s, based on the amount of MSG in processed foods at that time.2,3,4
With the ever increasing use of MSG in processed foods (hidden under more than 40 difference ingredient names—see www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html), and even being sprayed on our crops (see www.truthinlabeling.org/msgsprayed.html), it would not surprise me that over 40 percent of our population are experiencing at least periodic reactions from MSG.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
I have been told that the most common condition found in physicians’ offices today is irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a condition that I believe is the result of all of the hidden forms of MSG in our food supply, and the use of aspartame. (Neuroscientists have found in animal studies that aspartic acid, which comprises about 40 percent of aspartame, loads on the same receptors as does glutamic acid, causes identical brain lesions and neuroendocrine disorders as does glutamic acid, and acts in an additive fashion with glutamic acid.) Yet, to my knowledge, scientist have not looked at an MSG link to IBS, a diagnosis that is primarily based on conditions presented to a physician rather than through a diagnostic procedure.
In the summer, 2004 issue of Wise Traditions, I reported that MSG was likely the main cause of the obesity epidemic (see www.truthinlabeling.org/obesityepidemic.html), but governmental agencies and the media continue to blame a lack of exercise and high-fat foods. Recently, studies supporting this thesis have appeared in scientific journals,5,6 but our government agencies still refuse to look at MSG as a possible cause for much of the obesity problem, and our efforts to submit our findings to the American Diabetes Association have failed, even though obesity has been acknowledged to be a major contributor to the diabetes epidemic. In the meantime, a number of scientists who have seen our article on MSG-induced obesity have advised us that regular intake of MSG would affect insulin levels, resulting in reduced glucose levels and a feeling of hunger.
This certainly makes sense since over the years, we have had a number of people who have reported weight gain when they regularly ingest MSG. H. J. Roberts, MD, a board certified internist who has extensively studied the effects of aspartame, reported in 1990 that 34 patients he treated had gained weight while using aspartame. The average weight gain was 19 pounds and one of his patients gained 50 pounds while using diet soda sweetened with aspartame.7
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently acknowledged that the incidence of autism in our country is now one in 150 children. For years, I have believed that there is a connection between MSG and autism, with particular concern that hidden sources of MSG are used in every vaccine that I have reviewed and in every infant formula on the market.
Vaccines also contain mercury, and one study found that mercury, in the presence of free glutamic acid increases the effects of neurotoxic glutamic acid.10 Up until recently, mercury-containing thimerosal was a common ingredient in vaccines. It is now reported that thimerosal has been removed from some vaccines, but it has been found to be present in small, undisclosed amounts in some “thimerosal free” vaccines. I suspect that thimerosal is being used in the medium in which bacteria used in vaccines are grown.
Recently, scientists reported that autistic children have a defect in their glutamate transport systems.11 It is of interest to note that several alternative medicine practitioners who treat autistic children have told me that autistic children appear to be MSG-sensitive, and, in fact, are highly allergic individuals.
In May, 1998, The National Institutes of Health conducted a two day symposium entitled “The Glutamate Cascade: Common Pathways of Central Nervous System Disease States.” Speakers and audience members came from around the globe to discuss the effects of glutamate and its involvement in certain medical conditions. The underlying message was the need for pharmaceutical companies to develop glutamate-blocking drugs.
At that time, the pharmaceutical industry believed that it would be relatively easy to develop glutamate-blocking drugs, but that was not to be the case. Now, however, almost ten years later, some glutamate blocking drugs are beginning to come to market. For example, Namenda is now on the market as an effective treatment of moderate to severe Alzheimer’s Disease.
Rilutek, another glutamate-blocking drug, is now marketed for the treatment for Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease). It is the only drug currently licensed for the treatment of ALS.
Both Namenda and Rilutek are being studied for treatment of another severe neurodegenerative condition, Huntington’s Disease. In a report on the study, researchers stated,
“… a drug called memantine [Namenda], which is used to treat Alzheimer’s disease, and Riluzole [Rilotek], used in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, did protect the cells. Memantine demonstrated a stronger effect in the study. Memantine has also shown evidence of retarding the progression of Huntington’s in people, while Riluzole has helped relieve some symptoms.”12
BBC News has announced that glutamate-blocking drugs being developed for treatment of strokes may also be helpful in the treatment of multiple sclerosis,13 and such prestigious organizations as the University of Maryland Medical School have stated, “A number of experimental drugs are being investigated for Parkinson’s disease because they block the actions of glutamate, an amino acid that is a particularly potent nerve cell killer. Some of these drugs block a receptor group to glutamate called N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). NMDA antagonists are showing some promise for reducing symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, particularly tremor.”14
Richard Hennebery, PhD, a neuroscientist, stated it well when he testified at an open meeting on April 7, 1993, held by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology in conjunction with an FDA-funded study they were conducting on the safety of MSG in food. He said, “I consider it ironic that the pharmaceutical industry is investing vast resources in the development of glutamate receptor blockers to protect CNS [central nervous system] neurons against glutamate neurotoxicity in common neurological disorders, while at the same time the food industry, with the blessing of the FDA, continues to add great quantities of glutamate to the food supply.15
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), relying, at least in part, on claims of the FDA that MSG is safe, has allowed the use of free glutamic acid, a known neurotoxic amino acid and endocrine disruptor, on all agricultural crops. The EPA continues to approve the use of AuxiGro WP Metabolic Primer (AuxiGro) for use on crops, a product that contains over 30 percent processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
The FDA has approved countless new food ingredients that include processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
The FDA has refused to take action against companies that mislabel foods regarding MSG or to take action to require disclosure of MSG on food labels.
Our government has allowed the introduction of an artificial flavor to replicate the effects of MSG without requiring testing for adverse reactions. The product, called Senomyx, is heavily financed by such food giants as Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Nestle SA, Campbell’s Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, Cadbury Co., and Ajinomoto Co., Inc. Senomyx, Inc. claims that they will follow their MSG replacement product with a sugar substitute and a salt substitute. Company literature tells us that Senomyx products work neurologically, using the same pathways as those used by MSG to perceive enhanced flavor.
Recent efforts to ban aspartame in New Mexico were defeated, apparently through the efforts of a number of industry lobbyists. In recent years, there has been activity in the Republic of the Philippines to ban aspartame, but industry forces have kept such a ban from being approved.
There is no question in my mind that the effects of MSG on the health of our nation and, in fact, the health of other nations that are now using the same processed foods that we use, is even greater than informed people like myself believed. MSG use in our food supply may turn out to be a more severe problem than the use of tobacco.
I personally believe that each and every congressman and senator should be embarrassed to represent a government that brags about passing the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act, a law that may help 2 percent of the population. Meanwhile, MSG, a well-known neurotoxic, endocrine disrupting substance, is being sprayed on fields and added to processed foods in ever increasing amounts, and there is no effort to require full disclosure of MSG on food labels even though it is clearly stated in the literature that MSG adversely affects more than 25 percent of the population, and, in many cases, is causing life-threatening and life-altering reactions.
As we lead up to another presidential election, I cannot believe that our congress would remain silent on the MSG issue if every member of the Weston A. Price Foundation would write to their congressman and senators in Washington and insist that the FDA be required to have all MSG fully disclosed on food labels. I would suggest that, when appropriate, the writer’s reaction to MSG should be stated, and the difficulty in identifying MSG from food labels and obtaining reliable information from food producers and sellers should be reported. Proper disclosure of MSG on labels of processed food would require that food producers have every processed food analyzed for free glutamic acid, post production, and that if free glutamic acid was found in the food that it be disclosed on the label as “MSG,” with the amount present stated in milligrams. After the initial analysis of processed foods on the market, analysis would only be required for new products and any product that undergoes a change in recipe. The cost to a company would be less than $100 per product, a small expense for improved health in our country.
MSG and Cancer
Russell L. Blaylock, M.D., author of the outstanding book, Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills, in a September 27, 2006 interview with Mike Adams of NewsTarget.com stated that MSG and aspartame have been found to dramatically promote cancer growth and metastasis, making cancer cells more mobile. Dr. Blaylock also reported that researchers have found that glutamate blockers, when administered with conventional pharmaceuticals like chemotherapy drugs, significantly enhance the effects of the cancer drugs.
In 1993, the Truth in Labeling Campaign advised the FDA that acid-hydrolyzed proteins are accompanied by carcinogenic propanols. (In the US, acid hydrolysis is the most common method of hydrolyzing proteins because it is the least expensive and most efficient method of hydrolysis.) The FDA advised us that the amount of carcinogens from acid hydrolyzed proteins was too low to be a concern for humans. However, in the last several years, the food regulatory agency in England has removed certain sauces from grocers’ shelves because of a level of carcinogens that they believed to be unsafe. Recently, the English agency acknowledged to me that all of the recalled items contained an acid-hydrolyzed protein, and the carcinogenic agents were propanols. Now, as the English government works on an international level to resolve the problem, the FDA has joined forces with them.
In 1978, Nemeroff and co-workers found that the levels of the hormone prolactin were elevated in MSG-treated male rats.8 Recognizing that the excessive use of MSG can increase prolactin levels, and that increased prolactin levels could affect the health of prostate and breast tissue, I contacted scientists, but no research followed on the subject. Now, in 2006, Harvey and co-workers have published a paper in which they state that “… recent findings from human epidemiology and molecular biology suggest that prolactin is a risk factor for breast cancer, and probably prostate cancer.”9
MSG and Bees
In early 2007, the news media reported that honeybees were vanishing, placing crops and beekeepers at peril. To date, no reason for the mass death of honeybees has been found, but I cannot help but wonder if the increased use of AuxiGro WP Metabolic Primer (AuxiGro) throughout our nation, with its content of more than 30% neurotoxic processed free glutamic acid (MSG), could be a factor. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and at least three major organizations involved with bees have been contacted without reply.
- Reif-Lehrer L. A questionnaire study of the prevalence of Chinese restaurant syndrome, Fed Proc. April, 977;36(5):1617-23.
- Kenney RA, Tidball CS. Human susceptibility to oral monosodium glutamate. Am J Clin Nutr. Feb 1972; 25(2): 140-6.
- Schaumburg H. Chinese-restaurant syndrome. N Eng J Med. May 16, 1968; 278(20):1122.
- Hermanussen M, et al. Obesity, voracity, and short stature, the impact of glutamate on regulation of appetite. Eur J Clin Nutr. Jan, 2006;60(1):25-31.
- Fernandez-Tresguerres Hernandez JA. Effect of monosodium glutamate given orally on appetite control (a new theory for the obesity epidemic). An R Acad Nac Med (Madr). 2005; 122(2):341-355 – discussion 355-60.
- Roberts, HJ. Aspartame (NutraSweet)—Is it Safe? ISBN 0-914783-37-8, 1990; Chapter 17: pages 147-50.
- Nemeroff CB et al. Models of neuroendcorine regulation: use of monosodium glutamate as an investigational tool. Dev Neurosci. 1978; 1(2):102-9.
- Harvey PW et al. Hyperprolactinaemia as an adverse effect in regulatory and clinical toxicology: role in breast and prostate cancer. Hum Exp Toxicol. July, 2006;25(7): 395-404.
- Aschner et al. Methylmercury alters glutamate transport in astrocytes. Neurochem Int. Aug-Sept, 2000; 37(2-3):199-206.
- Shuang M, et al. Family-based association study between autism and glutamate receptor 6 gene in Chinese Hans trios. Am J Med Genet B Neuropsychiatr Genet. Nov 15, 2004; 131(1): 48-50.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2007.