The Mystery Behind MSG

Posted by Renee Chan on

If you’ve ever felt headache-y or sleepy after ingesting Chinese food, you might have eaten too much MSG. This probably sounds familiar but let’s dive deeper into what exactly MSG does to your body. 

What Exactly is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)?  

It is a popular food additive that brings a unique taste called umami, which translates to “savory” and is the fifth basic taste along with sweet, sour, salty and bitter (Zanfirescu et al.). Due to its popularity in many countries, the debate of whether this food additive is detrimental to our health or not has been going on for many years. 

The ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’

MSG has been widely discussed and has been linked to obesity and other metabolic defects, or “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, plus negative effects on our reproductive organs and neurotoxic effects in the brain (Husarova and Ostatnikova). 

Even after reading through the experiments done and other literature reviews, there’s still so much more research to be done on MSG and its effect on our bodies. Yes, there are negative effects from consuming too much MSG but there aren't significant results where a ban of MSG from the food market is necessary. 

With Chinese Restaurant Syndrome, the symptoms are so complicated that we cannot completely understand whether the cause is solely from MSG or not (Niaz, Kamal et al.). MSG’s toxic effect on the reproductive system and the brain does show up in animal studies; however, those studies use a higher-than-normal dose of MSG so further investigation is still needed ((Zanfirescu et al.), (Husarova and Ostatnikova)). In terms of obesity and other metabolic effects, it’s too difficult to directly correlate MSG consumption with it as there are other body mechanisms that can potentially lead to obesity (Husarova and Ostatnikova). 

So...Can I Still Eat Chinese Food? 

As the results are too inconclusive, it seems a little daunting to even think about consuming MSG. But don’t worry! The consumption of vitamins (A, C, D and E), quercetin and diltiazem has been suggested to counteract the potential toxicity of MSG (Niaz, Kamal et al.). It might be why you always see orange juice on the menu. 

All in all, MSG has not been scientifically 100% proven it’s toxic to your body. Some people (like myself) may be more sensitive towards MSG. But, this also doesn’t mean that you should start eating spoonfuls of MSG everyday.

Remember the best rule in every meal - Everything in moderation. 

Remember to always consult a dietitian or health professional before taking any new supplements or starting a different health plan.

Written by: Natalie Man
Edited by: Ev Wong

References (MLA)

  1. Husarova, Veronika, and Daniela Ostatnikova. “Monosodium Glutamate Toxic Effects and Their Implications for Human Intake: A Review.” JMED Research, 2013, pp. 1–12., doi:10.5171/2013.608765.

  2. Niaz, Kamal et al. “Extensive use of monosodium glutamate: A threat to public health?.” EXCLI journal vol. 17 273-278. 19 Mar. 2018, doi:10.17179/excli2018-1092

  3. Zanfirescu, Anca, et al. “A Review of the Alleged Health Hazards of Monosodium Glutamate.” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety, vol. 18, no. 4, 2019, pp. 1111–1134., doi:10.1111/1541-4337.12448. 

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