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Study examines how MSG contributes to obesity

Is MSG added to foods causing you to gain weight and/or experience other health-related symptoms? The MSG (monosodium glutamate) that various restaurants and some processed/canned food or cold cuts and deli items that manufacturers include on the ingredients label could lead to obesity, metabolic syndrome, progressive liver disease, fatty live, msg-induced migraines, and "hot dog headaches" or "restaurant syndrome," strange feelings of anxiety or facial sensation changes, as well as a wide variety of symptoms. A new study, "A Dietary Restriction Influences the Progression But Not the Initiation of MSG-Induced Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis," that identifies MSG as a critical factor in the initiation of obesity and shows that a restrictive diet cannot counteract this effect but can slow the progression of related liver disease is published online March 3, 2014 in the Journal of Medicinal Food, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. For those exploring research on food as medicine, you could take a look at the various studies or their abstracts in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

Study examines how MSG contributes to obesity.
Photo by Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

The commonly used food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) has been linked to obesity and disorders associated with the metabolic syndrome including progressive liver disease. A new study that identifies MSG as a critical factor in the initiation of obesity and shows that a restrictive diet cannot counteract this effect but can slow the progression of related liver disease is published in Journal of Medicinal Food, a peer-reviewed journal from Mary Ann Liebert, Inc., publishers. The paper is available on the Journal of Medicinal Food website.

Makoto Fujimoto and a team of international researchers from Japan, the U.S., and Italy monitored the weight gain and development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and its progression to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in MSG-treated mice fed either a calorie-restricted or regular diet. They report their findings in the article "A Dietary Restriction Influences the Progression But Not the Initiation of MSG-Induced Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis."

"Although MSG has been deemed a safe food additive, its dosage, interaction with other drugs, effects on vulnerable populations, and effects on chronic inflammatory diseases and neurological diseases are unknown," writes Co-Editor-in-Chief Sampath Parthasarathy, MBA, PhD, in the Editorial "How Safe is Monosodium Glutamate? Exploring the Link to Obesity, Metabolic Disorders, and Inflammatory Disease."

Parthasarathy is Florida Hospital Chair in Cardiovascular Sciences, University of Central Florida, Orlando. He writes in the Editorial, 'How Safe is Monosodium Glutamate? Exploring the Link to Obesity, Metabolic Disorders, and Inflammatory Disease,' the findings by Fujimoto et al. "may have far reaching implications, as childhood obesity is a major problem across the globe," according to the May 27, 2014 news release, "What what role does MSG play in obesity and fatty liver disease?"

If you walk into any type of buffet and ask foodservers whether the food has MSG in it, many wouldn't know what it is or whether it's added to the food or added the cans of foods, sauces, or soups that eventually get added to the restaurant's food, usually because the manager didn't tell the food servers what MSG is, whether it's in that sauce that comes from a can added to the food, or that a percentage of the population has adverse reactions to MSG in food. Some foodservers are savvy enough to know what MSG is and how it affects people, and some eateries do put up signs such as "We add no MSG to the food." The issue then becomes, what about those sauces that are added to the food coming from a factory, where the sauce or other ingredient is in a can and comes with a percentage of MSG already added? Unless the restaurant can whip up a dish of steamed vegetables with no other ingredients added for you on request, you may not really know what's in the food.

The Journal of Medicinal Food is an authoritative, peer-reviewed, multidisciplinary journal published monthly in print and online. Led by Editors-in-Chief Sampath Parthasarathy, MBA, PhD, and Young-Eun Lee, PhD, Wonkwang University, Jeonbuk, Korea, this scientific journal for leaders of the nutraceutical and functional foods revolution publishes original scientific research on the bioactive substances of functional and medicinal foods, nutraceuticals, herbal substances, and other natural products.

The Journal explores the chemistry and biochemistry of these substances, as well as the methods for their extraction and analysis, the use of biomarkers and other methods to assay their biological roles, and the development of bioactive substances for commercial use. Tables of content and a free sample issue may be viewed on the Journal of Medicinal Food website. You also may wish to check out the website of the publisher, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc./Genetic Engineering News.

MSG headaches?

What about the constant consumption of MSG and high salt in sausages, hot dogs, and smoked meats? Not everybody gets headaches after eating a meal at a buffet restaurant that puts MSG into their foods. But some people get symptoms of various types. The name for MSG symptoms is sometimes referred to as the restaurant syndrome. It used to be called the Chinese restaurant symptom in the past. But why attach an ethnicity to MSG? Sometimes it's called hot dog headache when it's added to processed meats.

Has hot dog headache made you sleepless in Sacramento? See, The dangers of MSG. Overstimulation of that part of the brain can produce marked changes. Are you worried about the effects of glutamic acid on your brain?

You need both sides of the story, of course. So read the studies from the Glutamate Association which conducts research and makes public statements regarding the use and 'safety' of MSG and associated products. See the website, The Glutamate Association. Okay, now you have access to both sides of the story.

Why enhance the flavor with MSG when you can enhance the flavor with herbs, garlic, onion, or cilantro and celery or pepper and curry? If you want to find out whether MSG is safe, instead of asking the FDA, ask the people who have MSG restaurant syndrome. Back in the 1950s, people called it Asian restaurant syndrome. If you want to find out what it feels like, check out the website, Chinese restaurant syndrome.

In Sacramento, any type of restaurant can add MSG to food if it wants to. Usually there are no signs up telling you MSG has been added to food or comes with the canned sauces put in the food. Some restaurants in Sacramento have signs saying "We don't add MSG to the food."

Other Sacramento eateries will tell you they don't add the MSG to food already cooked, but the canned foods and sauces may have MSG. Sometimes soy sauce or oyster sauce may have MSG, but the food cooked in the restaurant don't have added MSG...The sauces have it because they come from another manufacturer outside the restaurant. So check carefully if MSG gives you an adverse or allergic reaction.

The old cliché, " Chinese restaurant syndrome" refers to a collection of symptoms that some people experience after eating Chinese food where the restaurant adds MSG to the food. In the past decades restaurants of many different ethnicities or varieties used to add MSG to food as a flavor extender, to make the flavor stronger in order to coax you to come back again to buy more food that tastes like that. MSG is a food additive called monosodium glutamate (MSG), and has been implicated, but it has not been proved, to be the substance that causes this condition.

The names of MSG adverse reactions include, hot dog headache, glutamate-induced asthma, and MSG (monosodium glutamate) syndrome

Does MSG affect or excite the brain, nervous system, and various organs? See the abstract of the study, "Transplacental neurotoxic effects of monosodium glutamate on structures and functions of specific brain areas of filial mice." Or check out the abstract of the study, "Cognitive and biochemical effects of monosodium glutamate and aspartame, administered individually and in combination in male albino mice."

Back here, in Sacramento, a few years ago one individual sitting across from me eating a soup that contained MSG, said she felt as if her cheek bones were protruding forward through her skin. This feeling of facial pressure is one of the typical symptoms of an adverse reaction to MSG in any given food. She didn't like the symptoms, which went away when she stopped eating fast food containing MSG to extend the flavor.

MSG flavor extender and its effects on the brain

According to the Chinese restaurant syndrome article, "In 1968, reports of a series of reactions to Chinese food were first described. MSG was reported to cause these symptoms, but subsequent research produced conflicting data. Many studies were performed, but a majority failed to show a connection between MSG and the symptoms that some people describe after eating Chinese food. For this reason, MSG continues to be used in some meals. However, it is possible that some people are particularly sensitive to food additives, and MSG is chemically similar to one of the brain's most important neurotransmitters, glutamate."

The Chinese Restaurant Syndrome article also noted the symptoms of MSG reactions. Note, that it's not just Asian restaurants that put MSG into food. It can be any restaurant in Sacramento that can put MSG in food if the restaurant wants to. The idea is to find out before you sit down in a restaurant whether MSG is in which foods.

Many times, here in Sacramento, club meetings take place in restaurants where the food is full of MSG. So check before your pay in advance when making a reservation if the food served has MSG and whether you get adverse reactions to it. Not everyone has adverse reactions. Do you? Also see the article, Hot Dog Headache - RightHealth.

Maybe you're getting tired of the MSG (monosodium glutamate) in some fast-food restaurants in Sacramento. You'll find MSG more in restaurants that serve Asian or Pacific Islands foods, but not always. So just ask the manager to ask the cook whether there is MSG in all foods, or some foods. MSG enhances flavor. But it may also make a few changes in your brain chemistry. If you want to read about neurodegenerative symptoms, check out the study, Histological and biochemical effects of monosodium glutamate on on the frontal lobe of adult Wistar rats. Okay, rats shouldn't be eating food containing MSG, but what about people? There have been some human clinical trials.

The conclusion of that study, Histological and biochemical effects of monosodium glutamate on on the frontal lobe of adult Wistar rats noted the following information: "The side effects of its consumption on the frontal lobe have been shown from this study based on the biochemical and histological alterations observed. It has been shown that nerve cell degeneration and brain lesions result from MSG consumption.

How might the changes affect your brain?

"These changes might affect locomotion, reasoning, memory, language, and social and sexual behavior. With these results, it is feasible that the functions of the frontal lobe as the organ for executive decision may be adversely affected. It is recommended that further research be carried out investigating the effects of MSG on specific areas of the frontal lobe (for instance, Broca’s speech area) and other parts of the brain."

Are you still ready to enhance or extend flavor with MSG? When any given restaurant enhances flavor in foods with MSG, it's to bring you back again to buy more food next time you eat there. So the goal in many cases is to make money for the restaurant, especially when competition is keen between restaurants.

There are quite a few Chinese restaurants in Sacramento that have put up signs or listed on their menus that they add no MSG to the food. Maybe they add no MSG, but what about all those canned sauces for example, packaged soy sauce or canned oyster sauce that come from manufacturers outside the restaurant that may have added MSG? Even some canned soups have MSG. If you check the supermarket label, you'll notice a few popular soup brands have taken out the MSG they had in there a decade or more ago and substituted processed salt or sea salt.

Symptoms of adverse and/or allergic MSG reactions include the following, according to the Chinese restaurant syndrome article

Chest pain



Numbness or burning in or around the mouth

Sense of facial pressure or swelling


Chinese restaurant syndrome is usually diagnosed based on the symptoms. The health care provider may ask the following questions as well: Have you eaten Chinese food within the past 2 hours? Have you eaten any other food that may contain monosodium glutamate within the past 2 hours?

The following signs may also be used to aid in diagnosis

Treatment depends on the symptoms. Most, such as headache or flushing, need no treatment. Life-threatening symptoms require immediate medical attention. They may be similar to any other severe allergic reaction and include symptoms:

Chest pain

Heart palpitations

Shortness of breath

Swelling of the throat

Most people recover from mild cases of Chinese restaurant syndrome without treatment and with no lasting problems. People who have experienced life-threatening reactions need to be extremely cautious about what they eat and should always carry medication prescribed by their doctor for emergency treatment.

According to the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome article, "If you experience any symptoms such as shortness of breath, heart palpitations, chest pain, or swelling of the lips or throat, go to the nearest emergency room immediately."


Bush RK, Taylor SL, Hefle SL. Adverse reactions to food and drug additives. In: Adkinson NF Jr., Yunginger JW, Busse WW, Bochner BS, Holgate ST, eds. Middleton's Allergy: Principles and Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa; Mosby Elsevier; 2003: chap 90.

Lawrence DT. Dobmeier SG, Bechtel LK, Holstege CP. Food Poisoning. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2007:357-373.

What 10 food additives or shortenings used by some Sacramento restaurants and eateries or sold by manufacturers to supply cafeterias, restaurants, and eateries are considered most toxic to your health and yet labeled as safe to put in food or use as shortening?

Possible Health Effects of Various Processed Food Additives

Why raise your risk of health problems? Many Sacramento restaurants use vegetables, binders, fillers, or extenders to flesh out the volume of other foods. But basically, any food that has been canned, dehydrated, or had chemicals added to it is a processed food can be one of the toxic ingredients. These additives make up about 60 percent of the average American diet. Here's a list of toxic foods to avoid. For more information, check out the article, "Processed Food Pitfalls: Top 10 Toxic Food Ingredients," by Jillian Michaels, creator of, published at the Everyday Health site.

When you read the article, "Processed Food Pitfalls: Top 10 Toxic Food Ingredients," you'll see in detail what the various food ingredients mentioned may do to your body. Food mentioned include the hydrogenated oils/transfats, some artificial sweeteners, white flour, BHA, a preservative put in packaging, MSG, and certain artifical food colorings. So check out that article for explanations what those ingredients may do to your body.

Also mentioned in the top toxic food article are some products made with white flour such as pasta. You also can refer to my January 17, 2011 article on not always eating white rice, white bread, or white beans. See, Don't eat white foods in the evening - Sacramento Nutrition Examiner. It's just that colorful red and black beans have more nutrition than white beans. But when it comes to bread, that whole wheat bread will raise your blood sugar just as much as the slice of white bread. And when it comes to transfats, skip them.

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