Poison in the pantry – the MSG syndrome

Poison in the pantry – the MSG syndrome – monosodium glutamate

Poison in the Pantry — The MSG Syndrome

The amount of MSG used in food processing is increasing. It finds its way into many products on the market shelves. It is served in many of the “best” restaurants. Unsuspecting parents may be shocked to learn that it is used as a flavoring in school lunchrooms.

Older people are particularly susceptible. The reasons are not understood, but many individuals develop a sensitivity to MSG as they grow older. “Sometime around the age of fifty,” a restaurant cook noted, “I began reacting to some of the food we were preparing. I had to stop tasting because many of the prepared foods we bought were loaded with MSG.”

George Schwartz, M.D., has written a powerful polemic against the use of MSG in processed foods sold to an unsuspecting public. His experience with patients who reacted to the substance with various results prompted him to compile a book that may hasten regulation of the chemical.

In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome aims at a wide audience. By calling attention to the proliferation of MSG “tainted” products, he hopes to reach both a professional and non-professional audience.

“I have become increasingly aware,” he writes, “of how many of my patients and associates developed the well-documented headache, facial flush, gastrointestinal symptoms, and depression. In 1978 I published an account in the New England Journal of Medicine which detailed the case histories of two individuals who developed physical and psychiatric symptoms, including severe depression, whenever they ate foods containing MSG. Their emotional symptoms were particularly disturbing,” Dr. Schwartz notes, “because they began as late as 48 hours after exposure to MSG and sometimes continued for several weeks.”

The author recounts the case of a child whose school and home adjustment had been severely affected for years by the MSG present in his ordinary diet. “Completely eliminating MSG,” he explains, improved his behavior to such a degree that within weeks his teacher and psychiatrist were calling his parents to ask what had changed!”

Dr. Schwartz notes that his article in the medical journal elicited instant publicity, favorable and otherwise. Among the critics, he notes, were food processors who did not relish their products being ignored on the supermarket shelves and a critical letter from the Glutamate Association, an organization that represents the interests of those who market the substance. The letter, he says, “imputed the standards of the New England Journal of Medicine for printing it.”

Monosodium glutamate can be considered a “natural substance” just as salt and sugar are categorized. It is derived from a seaweed. It is used in most commercial recipes to enhance flavor. Soy sauce usually contains MSG, as do many prepared soups, salad dressings, flavored roasted nuts, frozen meals, and a wide variety of meats and poultry that have been processed: fried chickens sold in fast-food stores, frankfurters, tuna salads, etc.

Labeling practices have compelled many processors to list MSG among the ingredients. Dr. Schwartz points out, however, that the term hydrolyzed vegetable protein can snare the unsuspecting buyer. It is one of the chemical methods of producing MSG and contains as much as 20% MSG.

Schwartz insists that MSG intolerance is not an allergic reaction. He contends that it has a true drug effect. He cites clinical studies that indicate sensitive individuals may develop long-term effects.

Asthmatics are especially vulnerable, Dr. Schwartz complains. Confirming information recently appearing in Nutrition Health Review, issue #47, Asthma, he says that the presence of MSG can provoke near-fatal reactions. The overall death rate from asthma increased 23% between 1980 and 1985, he notes. He wonders whether there is a coincidence between that alarming statistic and the increased popularity of MSG among food processors.

This book is abundant with warnings. The author lists various products that contain MSG, including spaghetti sauce, noodles (even sold in health-food stores!), canned tuna fish, spaghetti and meat balls, bacon-onion seasoning, garlic salt, chicken with rice soup, chicken cacciatore, canned beef consomme, chicken noodle soup mixes, pepper pot soup, kosher beef frankfurters, beef-flavored mushrooms, potato crunchies, tuna salad, packaged chicken, beef stew, chow mein, cookies, cured meats, frozen vegetables (in sauces), potato chips, gravies, spices. The brands read like a list of the nation’s outstanding food sources!

Dr. Schwartz is especially critical of fast-food restaurants where MSG is used in breaded and fried products. The public has no way of knowing that foods include MSG. The identification that can warn a purchaser in the supermarket is not provided in a restaurant.

Although the author absolves Amtrak food purveyors saying the chief dietician avoids products containing MSG, he is not as tolerant of the corporations serving food to the airlines. He suggests avoiding seafood, salad dressings, and sauces in flight.

COPYRIGHT 1989 Vegetus Publications

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group