MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a taste enhancing and hydrolysed vegetable protein. At the time of discovery, MSG was thought to be safe since it was a natural substance (an amino acid). The amount of MSG alone added to foods has doubled in every decade since the 1940’s and by 1972 262,000 metric tons of MSG were produced. In 1957 two ophthalmologists, Lucas and Newhouse decided to test MSG on infant mice in an effort to study an eye disease known as hereditary retinal dystrophy. When they examined the eye tissue of the sacrificed animals they made a startling discovery. MSG had destroyed all the nerve cells in the inner layers of the animals retina which are the visual receptor cells of the eye. Ten years later John W. Olney, M.D. a neuroscientist working for the Department of Psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis repeated Lucus and Newhouse’s experiment in infant mice. He found that MSG was not only toxic to the retina, but also to the brain. When he examined the animals brains, he discovered that specialised cells in a critical area of the animals brain, the hypothalamus, were destroyed after a single dose of MSG. At this time the concentrations of MSG found in baby foods was equal to that used to create brain lesions in experimental animals and in all these experiments, immature animals were found to be much more vulnerable to the toxic effects of MSG than older animals (this was true for all animal species tested). The FDA refused to take action after Dr. Olney informed the FDA and it was only after his testimony before a Congressional committee that the food manufactures agreed to remove MSG from baby foods. But instead of adding MSG, added hydrolysed vegetable protein. Today excitotoxins are still added to our food, usually in the form of caseinate, beef or chicken broth, or flavouring. In fact, there are over 400 ‘secret’ or ‘hidden’ names for MSG.
In experimental animals “MSG babies” are found to be short in stature, obese and have difficulty reproducing. This effect only becomes evident long after the initial use of MSG exposure. More detailed studies have found that “MSG babies” have severe disorders involving several hormones normally produced by the hypothalamus. MSG is not the only taste “enhancing” food additive known to cause damage to the nervous system. They all share one important property. When neurones are exposed to these substances, they become very excited and fire their impulses very rapidly until they reach a state of “extreme exhaustion”. Several hours later these neurones suddenly die as if the cells were excited to death. As a result, neuroscientists have dubbed these class of chemicals “EXCITOTOXINS.” Several excitotoxins are man made,– others are found in nature– such as glutamate, aspartate and cysteine – all which are amino acids. MSG is a modified from of ‘glutamic acid’ in which sodium is added to the molecule. But the toxic portion is the glutamic acid, not the sodium. Often manufactures will mix MSG with other substances to “disguise” it.
Hydrolysed vegetable protein also referred to as vegetable protein, or plant protein is a mixture made from “junk” vegetables,– unfit for sale, especially selected so as to have naturally high contents of “glutamate”. The extraction process of “hydrolysis” involves boiling these vegetables in a vat of acid, followed by the process of neutralisation with caustic soda. The resulting product is a brown sludge that collects on top. This is scraped off and allowed to dry and the end product is a brown powder that is high in 3 known excitotoxins — glutamate, aspartate and cystoic acid (which converts in the body to cysteine). It’s then added to the food manufacture. All these chemicals stimulate the taste cells in the tongue, thereby enhancing the taste of food. Another excitotoxin additive is the artificial sweetener Nutra-sweet, 40% of the compound is composed of the excitotoxin “aspartate”. Like glutamate, aspartate is a powerful brain toxin, which can produce similar neuron damage. It is well recognised that ‘liquid’ forms of excitotoxins are much more toxic to the brain than dry forms, as they absorb faster and produce higher blood levels than when mixed with solid foods.
But the negative effects of excitotoxins are not limited to small children. There is growing evidence that excitotoxins play a major role in a whole group of degenerative brain diseases in adults – especially the elderly. These diseases include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and more disorders of the nervous system. What all these diseases have in common is a slow destruction of brain cells that are specifically sensitive to excitotoxin damage. More and more diseases of the nervous system are being linked to excitotoxin build-up in the brain. For example, disorders such as strokes, hypoxic brain injury, hypoglycaemic brain damage, seizures, migraine headaches, hypoxic brain damage, ADD, ADHD, and even AIDS dementia have been linked to excitotoxins ‘damage’. Obesity is common in countries where MSG is used extensively (Australia, USA, Asia and Europe). Amazingly, the key to weight loss in many cases is simply removing MSG from the diet. There is evidence that some individuals born with “metabolic” defects in certain brain cells may be particularly susceptible to excitotoxin damage. The food industry and representatives of the glutamate manufactures have joined together to fight anyone who would dare criticise the use of flavour enhances, in fact they have formed a special lobby group to counter any negatives about their product. This group is called the Glutamate Association and is made up of representatives of major US food manufacturers and the Ajinomoto G. based in Japan, the chief manufacturer of MSG and hydrolysed protein.
Be aware, most countries do not regulate the amount of carcinogens allowed in “hydrolysed vegetable protein” or the amount of hydrolysed vegetable protein allowed to be added to food products. Manufacturers disguise MSG in foods, it is disguised as hydrolysed vegetable protein, natural flavourings and spices, each of those may contain 12%-40% MSG.
MSG-free: Avoiding the hidden sources
“Sufferers of monosodium glutamate (MSG) toxicity syndromes have long been dismissed by the makers of glutamate and food additives and by the FDA, whose labelling standards for foods containing the controversial flavour enhancer are fairly lax. For many of these MSG sufferers, the experience of coping with the ambiguities of food labelling leaves them feeling like Han Solo navigating his way through an asteroid field. Not only is it confusing — it can be very dangerous.” ~WebMD
Sources of MSG include: MSG, Monosodium Glutamate, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Vegetable
Protein, Hydrolysed Plant Protein, Plant Protein Extract, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate,
Yeast Extract, Textured Protein, Autolyzed Protein, Autolyzed Yeast, and Hydrolysed Oat Flour.
Additives frequently containing MSG: Malt extract, Malt Flavouring, Bouillon, Broth, Stock,
Flavouring, Natural Flavouring, Natural Beef or Chicken Flavouring, Seasoning and Spices.
Additives that usually contain MSG or Excitotoxins: Carrageenan, Enzymes, Soy Protein Concentrate, Soy Protein Isolate, and Protein Concentrate. Protease enzymes of various sources can release excitotoxin amino acids from food proteins.
Foods to watch out for include: Soybean milk (naturally high in glutamate / often has hydrolysed
vegetable protein added to it), kombu, miso, fish sauce and soy sauces all contain MSG.
Blaylock, R. (1997). Excitotoxins – The Taste That Kills, Albuquerque, NM: Health Press NA.
In my clinic, to best defence is a good offence. Practice avoiding MSG in your shopping and when you dine out. Use of high B group vitamin containing superfoods is essential. Magnesium, B6, Flax Oils and beneficial bacteria are all critical. Try using Natraprac Plus Superfood formula and Cellfood as a way of combatting free radicals and toxins.
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