Top 7 MSG Side Effects and 15 Foods to Avoid That Contain It
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Top 7 MSG Side Effects and 15 Foods to Avoid That Contain It

Rachel Link, MS, RD via Dr. Josh Axe — Food is Medicine
Aug 28, 2018

MSG contains an isolated and highly concentrated form of glutamic acid that’s processed very differently in the body and can increase levels of glutamate in the blood very rapidly. 

MSG is one of the most controversial ingredients on the planet. While some claim that it’s a totally safe and healthy food additive that can help ramp up flavor and minimize sodium intake, others have dubbed it a cancer-causing food and have tied it to side effects like headaches and high blood pressure. (Photo Credit: Dr. Josh Axe/ Food is Medicine)

Despite being found in abundance throughout much of the modern food supply, MSG should by no means be a staple ingredient in a healthy diet. Not only can it cause negative symptoms in certain people who are sensitive to its effects, but it’s also primarily found in unhealthy, heavily processed foods that are lacking in the essential nutrients that your body needs.

So why is MSG bad, and how can you be sure to keep your intake in check to reduce the risk of adverse side effects? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is MSG?

MSG, also known as monosodium glutamate, is a common ingredient and food additive used to boost the flavor of processed, canned and frozen foods. MSG seasoning is derived from glutamic acid, a type of protein that is abundant in many types of food, including fruits and vegetables. It’s produced through a fermentation process and brings a savory taste to dishes.

So why is MSG controversial? Because it contains an isolated and highly concentrated form of glutamic acid, it’s processed very differently in the body and can increase levels of glutamate in the blood very rapidly. It’s believed that this can cause a long list of potential side effects, with studies linking excess MSG consumption to everything from asthma attacks to metabolic syndrome and beyond.

MSG Side Effects and Dangers

  1. Causes Reactions in Some People
  2. Can Cause Free Radical Formation
  3. May Contribute to Weight Gain
  4. Could Increase Blood Pressure
  5. Has Been Linked to Asthma Attacks
  6. Could Be Linked to Metabolic Syndrome
  7. Found Mostly in Unhealthy Foods

1. Causes Reactions in Some People

Research shows that certain people may be especially sensitive to the effects of MSG and may experience a slew of negative MSG side effects after consuming it. Nicknamed the “Chinese restaurant syndrome,” one study actually showed that MSG triggered side effects in many people with a reported sensitivity to MSG, causing symptoms like muscle tightness, numbness/tingling, weakness, flushing and the well-known MSG headache. (1)

Although researchers are not entirely certain what causes MSG sensitivity, they have theorized that eating large amounts can cause small amounts of glutamate to cross the blood-brain barrier, interacting with the neurons to cause swelling and cell death. (2)

  1. Can Cause Free Radical Formation

Some animal models and in vitro studies have shown that consuming large amounts of monosodium glutamate could cause oxidative damage to the cells and contribute to free radical formation. For example, one animal model published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Disease Research showed that feeding rats very high doses of MSG increased the levels of several markers of oxidative stress in the heart tissue. (3Free radical formation has been tied to the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. (4) However, keep in mind that most research shows that it would take a very high dose of MSG significantly greater than the average intake to cause damage.

  1. May Contribute to Weight Gain

Studies are still inconclusive when it comes to the effects of MSG on weight control. Although some research shows that it can enhance satiety to keep you feeling full and decrease intake, still other studies have found that it may actually be associated with weight gain and increased intake.

One study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, for instance, showed that adding MSG to a high-protein meal had no effect on satiety and actually increased caloric intake later on during the day. (5) Meanwhile, other studies have found that regular consumption of MSG could be associated with weight gain and a higher risk of being overweight in certain populations. (67)

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