Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), the Neurotoxin You Consume Every Day

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MSG, monosodium glutamate, is everywhere these days. And yes, it’s a neurotoxin. Not only that, but you consume a bit of MSG with nearly every meal you eat unless you’re a true purist, a label reading maniac, and cook most if not all of your own food at home.

There are dozens of websites on the Internet that tout the complete and utter safety of MSG, claiming that it’s never yet been proven dangerous in even one double blind scientific study. Wikipedia loves it. Make a statement about the dangers of MSG, and you’ll have oodles of attackers all over your thread, pooh-poohing your concerns and, if you’ve had a negative response to ingesting MSG, you must be a complete psychosomatic sucker who knoweth not your own body.

So there.

MSG has been used in a food additive for more than 100 years, and the controversy over the substance has been raging for at least 50 of them. My own sensitivity became apparent one afternoon in a Chinese restaurant in Rapid City, South Dakota, circa 1992–and there was no way I imagined it because, as luck would have it, I wasn’t even thinking about MSG at the time. My family and I had tucked into great bowls of won ton soup and other goodies. I’d just finished my meal when I happened to notice that my heart seemed to be running a lot faster than it should be when I, myself, was not running. When I’m in reasonable physical condition, as I was that year, my resting pulse rate hits 72 beats per minute, give or take. Curious but not alarmed, I checked my pulse.

94 beats per.

“I’m 22 beats above normal,” I told the others. It was my wife (who later became ex-wife #6) who thought of MSG as a possible cause. We asked our waitress: Did the restaurant add MSG to its scrumptious dishes?

Yes. It did.

The speedy pulse rate did not last all that long, dropping back to its usual 72 beats per minute within a couple of hours. There were no other symptoms. I did not get a headache or angina or anything else that other people sensitive to MSG have reported over the years. But now I had an internal “MSG meter” that has proven itself time and time again in the ensuing years. Every so often, especially with Chinese restaurants I’ve not tried before (many of whom use MSG quite liberally but without advertising the fact up front), I’ll apply the pulse test as follows:

    1. Check pulse rate prior to eating.

    2. Check pulse rate after eating.

    3. Ask restaurant staff if they use MSG.

So far, the pulse test has never failed. If there’s been a jump of 22 beats per minute, give or take (never less than 20 nor more than 24 beats higher than the base measurement), the waitress will admit that yes, they do use MSG. If there’s been no noticeable increase, it will turn out that they do not use MSG.

This post was inspired by a radio program I caught while driving to Home Depot today. The speaker (I didn’t catch her name) stated unequivocally that monosodium glutamate is a neurotoxin that stimulates brain cells to the point that they die.

All of the “debunkers” on the Net deny that, of course. “Where’s your proof?” They cry, “You have no proof!”

As far as I’m concerned, though, the best kind of proof has nothing to do with test tubes and laboratories and printed research. It has to do with what I know from experience…and I’m not alone. One of the best anti-MSG (i.e. pro-consumer) websites out there is truthinlabeling.org. It’s definitely worth a quick look. It must be; I don’t include an outbound link in more than one out of every hundred posts.

Here’s just a quick little quote from that page:

Ban MSG? Not a chance. If the FDA banned MSG, the drug companies would lose billions. Think about how much money they make treating asthma, migraine headache, seizures, depression, heart irregularities and all of the other reactions to MSG. And cancer, too. Acid hydrolyzed proteins contain carcinogenic propanols.

That food label you’re checking shows no monosodium glutamate but does list hydrolyzed protein? Uh, yeah. Different words, same substance.

The reason MSG is currently found in so many processed foods is not controversial. Quite frankly, it does act as a potent flavor enhancer, making a wide variety of foods taste better. The manufacturers of MSG undoubtedly make a lot of money, and any food seller who does not include the stuff…hey, that’s just giving the competition a leg up, right there. It also helps you decide to eat more, so you get fatter.

Sound familiar, America?

It’s also reported to be addictive–perhaps because food without it tastes like cardboard by comparison, perhaps due to other factors, but one way or another, if you chomp down some of it in a given food, you want more.

Which certainly explains a lot about the original Pringles potato chips slogan: “Bet you can’t eat just one.”

Yep. I just looked, and sure enough, my favorite sour cream and onion Pringles chips do have monosodium glutamate right there in the list of ingredients. It must not be as much of the stuff as some of the Chinese restaurants use–I’ve not detected any speeded up heartbeats after munching a fistful of chips–but it’s some, and as far as I’m concerned (now that I’m aware of it), any amount is too much. I killed off enough of my own brain cells during my drinking days; I don’t need to murder any more. Bye-bye, Pringles.

Monosodium glutamate, MSG, well up in the Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips ingredient list.

Monosodium glutamate, MSG, well up in the Pringles sour cream and onion potato chips ingredient list.

Other websites already show long lists of foods that currently contain MSG, including pretty much every processed product from every fast food chain out there plus many, many, many of the canned goods and such that we have in our own pantries at this moment. I decided to see just how bad it was. Ramen noodles have it, but there were a number of items on hand here at the Border Fort that do not include monosodium glutamate or hydrolyzed protein in the ingredient lists. The cereals were clean (though some of those did contain high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t great, either). Pam’s Triscuits were okay, too; so were the refried beans and, surprisingly, the cans of Mary Kitchen/Hormel corned beef hash.

The soups were another matter. All but one flavor of Campbell’s (in both chunky and condensed versions) included MSG. Chunky Baked Potato with Bacon and Cheddar Bits avoided the curse…only to include high fructose corn syrup. We have plenty of soup on hand, so I didn’t bother to check all of them, but the following Campbell’s flavors were checked and definitely included monosodium glutamate:

1. Cream of Potato
2. Beefy Mushroom
3. Country Sirloin Burger with Country Vegetables
4. Chunky Baked Potato with Steak and Cheese

We only have one can of Progresso soup in the house at the moment–and it, too, contains MSG.

5. Vegetable Classics, Hearty Penne in Chicken Broth (MSG as “Corn Protein, hydrolyzed”)

About ramen noodles: The Maruchan brand of chicken flavored (or beef flavored) ramen noodles we have on hand are now being consumed by our housemate, Alta, but I swore off ramen a couple of years ago. One container per night, a nice warm snack before heading to bed around 4:00 a.m., was speeding up my heart rate, and I finally decided enough was enough. Continuing to consume a food that affected my body that way would be–well, there’s stupid, and then there’s stupid.

When I finally thought to check for MSG in the ramen, it was there with bells on, both as monosodium glutamate per se and as three kinds of hydrolyzed protein.

Campbell's Beefy Mushroom soup:  Contains MSG.

Campbell’s Beefy Mushroom soup: Contains MSG.

Campbell's Cream of Potato soup:  Contains MSG.

Campbell’s Cream of Potato soup: Contains MSG.

Campbell's Chunky Sirloin Burger with Country Vegetables soup:  Contains MSG.

Campbell’s Chunky Sirloin Burger with Country Vegetables soup: Contains MSG.

Campbell's Chunky Baked Potato with Steak and Cheese soup:  Contains MSG.

Campbell’s Chunky Baked Potato with Steak and Cheese soup: Contains MSG.

Campbell's Chunky Baked Potato with Cheddar & Bacon Bits:  No MSG; includes high fructose corn syrup instead.

Campbell’s Chunky Baked Potato with Cheddar & Bacon Bits: No MSG; includes high fructose corn syrup instead.

Progresso Hearty Penne soup:  Contains MSG (as Corn Protein [hydrolyzed]).

Progresso Hearty Penne soup: Contains MSG (as Corn Protein [hydrolyzed]).

Maruchan ramen noodles are LOADED with MSG, both as monosodium glutamate and as the more "hidden" hydrolyzed protein (corn, wheat, AND soy).

Maruchan ramen noodles are LOADED with MSG, both as monosodium glutamate and as the more “hidden” hydrolyzed protein (corn, wheat, AND soy).

So…is the current drenching of our national food supply in MSG cause for concern? If you’re sensitive to the substance or you would like to keep a few of your brain cells alive or you eat too much because MSG-enhanced foods urge you to do so, then yes.

If you’re a methane breather from Uranus who’s utterly immune to such things, then perhaps not.