When some people hear Monosodium Glutamate, they immediately think of Chinese restaurants. What may not be thought of or understood is why MSG can cause issues and where else it lurks. This, as it turns out, is Jack Samuels’ passion. His knowledge regarding MSG and how it impacts children is the focus of this article.
Symptoms of Common MSG Sensitivities in Children
1. Migraines. According to a 2003 article published in Pediatric Neurologyi , MSG and aspartame were listed as dietary factors that can induce migraines in children. The authors recommended excluding these triggers prior to drug therapy. In addition, a researcher in Brazil found that when he conducted studies on patients whose migraines were triggered by food that a large number of placebo patients were also reporting migraines. Upon further investigation, the researcher discovered the placebos were housed in gelatin capsules which are made from hydrolyzed animal protein – a source of MSG. The conclusion was the capsules were causing the same symptoms as those from the foodii.
2. Obesity. MSG has been linked with increases in obesity in several studies conducted in Germany. Both studies recommended excluding MSG from our diets, as MSG has the potential to damage the hypothalamic regulation of appetiteiii, iv. Jack Samuels states that the recent rise in type 2 diabetes in children can also be attributed to MSG.
3. Hyperactivity. In Canada, a 10-week study was conducted in which 24 hyperactive preschool boys and their families participated. The families were asked to eliminate artificial colors, MSG, preservatives and caffeine. More than half of the boys improved significantly in behavior as well as sleeping, night waking, and halitosis.
4. Asthma. The CDC reported that from 1980 to 1996, the incidence of asthma in children increased by an average of 4.3% per year, from 3.6% to 6.2%, resulting in 14 million lost days of school.v In 1981, two researchers in Australia published studies in which they concluded that MSG could trigger asthma in some subjects.vi Since that time, glutamate industry-funded studies have contended that their conclusions are false, but Jack Samuels states that he receives many reports from people who experience asthma, or whose children experience asthma, following ingestion of MSG.
Where Does MSG hide?MSG can go by many names. Some of the most common pseudonyms for MSG containing products are:
- Hydrolyzed Protein
- Protein Bars
- Canned Vegetables & Soups
- Sodium Calcium Caseinate
- Ice Cream
- Milk Based Products
- Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract, Yeast Food, or Yeast Nutrient
- Textured Protein (Used in soy products, particularly as meat alternatives)
- Glutamic Acid (Used as plant growth and crop yield enhancement)
- Whey products
- Monopotassium Glutamate
- Breakfast cereals such as rolled oats
- Sports drinks
- Gelatin (marshmallows and gelatin desserts)
Is MSG Natural?
L-Glutamic Acid can be found in foods such as tomatoes, seaweed, and mushrooms; so why is it bad for us? According to the Balavia Natural Health Center, there is a difference between what is found in nature and what is being added to our food. The glutamic acid that comes naturally through food is L-glutamic acid. This type is an amino acid used for neurotransmitters and recognized by our bodies.
Processed MSG contains both D and L-glutamic acid, as well as other contaminants. D-glutamic acid is a mirror image of L-glutamic acid and has different chemical qualities.x When we consume MSG, we will have both D and L-glutamic acid needing to be absorbed by our bodies, resulting in both correct and incorrect chemicals making their way through our stomach and nervous system.
The Truth in Labeling Campaign, an organization co-founded by Jack Samuels, discusses the use of the word “natural” as defined by the FDA. Natural means only that the ingredient started out in nature, not that the ingredient is safe. Lead, mercury, and poison ivy all start out in nature as well, but this doesn’t make them safe additives.
Child Specific Products containing MSG
According to Mr. Samuels, MSG is allowed in food products for babies and children. It is in everything from formula to vaccines to supplements. Many infant formulas contain MSG. In addition, hypoallergenic formulas tend to contain more MSG than traditional formulas according to a Canadian study conducted in 2002.xi If breastfeeding is not an option, there are great MSG-free formula recipes in the book The Truth About Children’s Health by Robert Bernardini.
Vaccinations are such a hot topic today already without throwing MSG into the mix. Much attention has been drawn to the thimerasol component of the vaccine, but what about the other ingredients? The CDC reports that some vaccinations contain MSG to help the vaccine remain unchanged even in presence of heat, light, acidity, and humidity.
Supplements are another place that children can be exposed to MSG. Some fish oils encased in a gelatin capsule, some soy and whey protein powders, and Flinstone vitamins contain MSG or aspartame; just to name a few.
How to Reduce the Risk of MSG Exposure
1. Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables - they are usually a safe bet.
2. Meats, steaks, and roasts. If the meat is cut at the store it is usually safe. Vegetarian hamburgers are usually NOT safe.
3. Fresh unprocessed turkey is safe. Some commercial brands have been injected with hydrolyzed protein prior to freezing and this could cause reactions in MSG sensitive individuals.
4. MSG free recipes can be found at www.msgmyth.com.
Jack Samuels is president and co-founder of the Truth in Labeling Campaign (www.truthinlabeling.org), a non-profit organization with the goal of having all MSG fully identified on processed food labels. He has a Master of Science degree in Hospital Administration from Northwestern University.
i. Millichap JG, Yee MM. Pediatric Neurology. 2003 Jan; 28(1):9-15.
ii.Strong, FC 3rd., Clincal and Experimental Allergy, 2000 May; 30(5):739-43.
iii. Hermanussen M, et al. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006 Jan;60 (1):25-31.
iv. Hermanussen M and Tresguerres JA. Journal of Pediatric Encrocrinology Metab 2003 Sept; 16(7):965-8.
vi www.pubmed.gov (monosodium glutamate, asthma)