I first heard of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) when I was 5 years old. Our family ate at a local Chinese restaurant and for the rest of the night my mom was bedridden with excruciating stomach cramps and vomiting. As a little kid I had no idea that a food additive could cause such misery to anyone, and I was freaked out by her condition. MSG is like poison to her and for me, it causes intense headaches for up to 3 hours. Although these are more extreme symptoms, MSG is one nasty customer and affects every person in different ways.
MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in packaged, canned, and processed foods, in some Asian restaurants and in many fast food restaurants. It started being used in foods in the late 1940’s but it wasn’t until 1968 when adverse affects began being researched. Dr. John Olney found that MSG killed retinal cells and neurons in the brain when rats were given a dose of this chemical (1). Now thousands of products contain MSG.
Like aspartame, MSG is an excitotoxin, meaning it mimics neurotransmitters in the brain and excites these cells until they are exhausted and die. Glutamate is an actual neurotransmitter and is needed for normal brain function, but with MSG being introduced to our diet it is now present in toxic levels in our brains and bloodstream.
When children begin developing their brains, trillions of neurons become organized and the brain starts to form into a highly functional organ. In fact, young brains have more circuits and connections than they can effectively use, and in order to consolidate and become more efficient, the brain creates a surge of glutamate, which eliminates unneeded connections. Now, this mechanism normally works in perfect harmony but when it doesn’t, in for instance, Down’s Syndrome, not enough circuits are sheared off and the brain is overwhelmed. When too much glutamate is released, too many circuits are cut down, and problems like learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism are found.
Knowing this information, try to imagine what happens when a child is on a steady diet of MSG-containing snacks and getting a LARGE dose of glutamate to their fragile brains. They are getting a chemical dose of a substance that naturally eliminates excess neurons. A child’s brain is 4 times as sensitive to MSG than an adults brain, so it was no surprise to researchers when they observed erratic and aggressive behavior immediately after children were given an MSG containing lunch (1). Doctors will tell you that the rise of learning disorders is a mystery, while I and others believe that chemicals like aspartame and MSG are dumbing down these poor children.
The implications of MSG and children are tragic to say the least. Adults also experience countless symptoms from MSG consumption. Commonly reported problems with MSG intake include migraines, memory loss, epilepsy, early onset of Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease, and obesity. There are even glutamate receptors in the heart, that if over-stimulated can cause arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) in the elderly.
MSG injected into the hippocampus of rat’s cause them to have outbursts of extreme rage. Glutamate affects both our hippocampus and amygdala, the latter being involved with emotions including fear and anger. When prisons take out high sugar foods and MSG foods they see drastic changes in inmate behavior.
MSG, like clockwork, causes obesity in test mice. In fact, after this astonishing discovery was unearthed in 1968 by Dr. Olney, scientists today use MSG to purposely make rats obese for various tests. It’s the fastest and cheapest way to do this. As a side note, I realize I am using multiple animal studies but it is important to note that human brains are 5 times more sensitive to MSG than mice (1). In the last 50 years, childhood obesity rates have quadrupled (1). MSG intake at a young age has been shown to increase cravings for high carbohydrate, sweet, and high fat foods. Also, researchers have discovered that MSG given to children makes them eat like teenagers. MSG, being a manmade taste enhancer, acts like a drug and causes us to crave more food, especially MSG rich foods. There are hundreds of explanations for the obesity epidemic in the U.S. but it is my belief that MSG is huge contributing factor to this massive problem.
MSG does not always appear on the label as Monosodium Glutamate. It has numerous aliases including casein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed soy, yeast extract, and rice syrup. Check food labels. I know at first it can be a pain but then you can start to archive what foods have what chemicals and avoid them.
If you manage to avoid these MSG foods you are doing a huge service to your body, especially your brain. I have said this before: as we age, it is not normal to get Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative disorders. Sure, with aging we may forget things we once remembered but there is no reason we can’t stay sharp. I’ve heard so many people say they don’t want to live to the point where they don’t know who their family members are. Avoiding MSG and other chemicals will surely contribute to that sad story from not happening.
As a final note, for those working in the school systems or have kids, its time we started getting proactive in making sure kids do not have access to MSG, aspartame, and other chemical-laden foods. We cannot continue to allow young kids to be punished because the food industry wants to make an extra buck. Every child deserves to reach his/her potential and that cannot happen when they ingest brain-damaging chemicals.
Thanks for Reading,
1. Blaylock, Russell. Health and Nutrition Secrets. Health Press. Albuquerque, NM. 2006.