In 1908, in Japan, Kikunae Ikeda invented the food ingredient, “monosodium glutamate.” About one year later, with a partner, he formed a company, Ajinomoto, to produce the product. Monosodium glutamate did not appear in the United States to any degree until the late 1940s, following the Second World War. During the war, it had been noted that Japanese soldiers’ rations tasted better than the rations used by our soldiers. The difference was believed to be “monosodium glutamate.” Today, “monosodium glutamate” or its reactive component, “processed free glutamic acid,” is found in almost all of the processed foods that are manufactured in the United States.
In 1957, Lucas and Newhouse found that normal neonatal mice suffered acute degenerative lesions in the inner retina when “monosodium glutamate” was administered by feeding tube.1 In 1968, during a replication of this study at Washington University Medical School, St., Louis, Missouri, Dr. John W. Olney noted that, some of the mice had become grotesquely obese. He determined to sacrifice some of the mice to confirm his belief that lesions would be found in the hypothalamus region of the brain. Not only was his suspicion confirmed, but further testing indicated that there were also other neuroendocrine effects from the “monosodium glutamate.” His findings were published in 1969.2 Dr. Olney, a National Academy of Science scientist who is credited for the voluntary removal of MSG from baby food in the 1970s, continues to publish research on the toxicity of glutamic acid, often using “monosodium glutamate.”
In 1968, the New England Journal of Medicine published a Letter to the Editor3 in which Ho Man Kwok, MD, asked for help in determining why he and his friends suffered reactions shortly after eating in some Chinese restaurants, though he never experienced such reactions when he lived in China. The journal titled the letter “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” and researchers from around the country wrote the journal to suggest that Dr. Kwok and his friends’ problem was an intolerance to MSG. One letter indicated that 30% of the population reacted to MSG.
In 1969, apparently concerned with the bad reports regarding “monosodium glutamate,” the glutamate industry formed a nonprofit organization to defend the safety of MSG, the International Glutamate Technical Committee. Later, in 1977, they increased their efforts with the development of a nonprofit subsidiary, The Glutamate Association, primarily operating as a public relations arm of the glutamate industry. In about 1990, the glutamate industry turned to the International Food Information Council (IFIC), another nonprofit industry-funded organization, to be their spokesman and to promote the safety of MSG along with the other products that they represent.
The literature is clear in demonstrating that MSG is toxic to humans and that over 25% of the population suffer adverse reactions from MSG. In the opinion of this writer, the subject is only controversial because of the input of the three organizations mentioned above and because of research they have funded to discredit findings of others and to tell the story that the glutamate industry wants told, research that is flawed to the point of being worthless.4
“Monosodium glutamate” is approximately 78% processed free glutamic acid and 22% sodium (salt) and moisture, with about 1% contaminants. It is the processed free glutamic acid that causes people to suffer adverse reactions, and, unfortunately, there are over 40 food ingredients other than “monosodium glutamate” that contain processed free glutamic acid in varying amounts.5 Consequently, consumers refer to all processed free glutamic acid as MSG, regardless of the name of the ingredient.
People differ in their tolerances to MSG, but typically always suffer similar reactions each time they ingest amounts of MSG that exceed their tolerances for the substance. Reactions experienced vary dramatically, as if MSG finds the weak link in the body.6 Typically, people will suffer reactions at approximately the same time each time they ingest amounts of MSG that exceed their tolerance levels. However, that time lapse can vary among people from immediately following ingestion of MSG up to 48 hours following ingestion. Use of alcohol or exercise prior to, during or following an MSG-containing meal will exacerbate an MSG reaction in many people. MSG-sensitive people will typically suffer similar reactions to aspartame.
Neuroscientists believe that the young and the elderly are most at risk from MSG. In the young, the blood-brain barrier is not fully developed, exposing the brain to increased levels of MSG that has entered the bloodstream. The elderly are at increased risk because the blood-brain barrier can be damaged by aging, by disease processes, or by injury, including hypertension, diabetes, hypoglycemia, and stroke. Throughout life, the blood-brain barrier is “leaky” at best.
MSG has now been implicated in a number of the neurodegenerative diseases, including ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and Huntington’s disease.
In general, the natural glutamic acid found in food does not cause problems, but the synthetic free glutamic acid formed during industrial processing is a toxin. In addition, when MSG is formed using hydrochloric acid the final product includes carcinogens.7
Since 1998, some of our agricultural crops have been sprayed with AuxiGro WP Metabolic Primer (AuxiGro), a product that includes 29.2% processed free glutamic acid (MSG). Produce sprayed with AuxiGro is not identified as being sprayed. Therefore MSG is back in baby food,8 without disclosure.
As of this date, the use of free amino acid, such as the free glutamic acid present in AuxiGro, has not been approved by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) for organic crops. However, there are at least two organic fertilizers currently on the market that contain free amino acids. Both contain hydrolyzed protein. The hydrolysis of protein invariably results in the freeing of individual amino acids and if acids are used in the process, carcinogenic contaminants are produced. This means that some organic crops may contain free glutamic acid (MSG) and carcinogens.
Recently, AuxiGro’s manufacturer, Auxein Corporation, applied in California for approval of AuxiGro as a pesticide to be applied to grapes. California is the only state that has not approved AuxiGro for use on crops as a pesticide. When the California Department of Pesticide Regulation received many letters of objection from people located throughout the country, the Auxein Corporation changed its strategy and obtained approval for AuxiGro to be used on grapes as a fungicide. Previously, AuxiGro was approved in California as a fertilizer for use on tomatoes.
My advice to you is to do your best to eliminate MSG from your diet. You will feel better. That means avoiding all processed foods. My advice to investigators of school violence is to investigate the effects of toxins in children’s diets. There are high levels of MSG in soy products and seasoning mixes used in school lunch programs, fast foods and snack foods. My advice to growers is to avoid using fertilizers and pesticides that contain hydrolyzed protein and/or free glutamic acid, often listed on product labels as L-glutamic acid. Use of such products will only create a backlash against the use of all chemicals in agriculture.
- Amer. Med. Ass. Arch. Opthalmol. 58: 193 1957
- Science 164: 719-721 May, 9, 1969
- Volume 278, 796
- See Accountability in Research peer reviewed article reproduced on http://www.truthinlabeling.org/l-manuscript.htm
- See http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.htm
- See http://www.truthinlabeling.org/adversereactions.html
- See http://www.truthinlabeling.org/manufac.htm
- See http://www.truthinlabeling.org/msgsprayed.htm
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2000.