The following are excerpts from the article, “Is MSG Bad for Your Health,” written by Chau Tu and appearing in Science Friday.
“I see people all the time who are absolutely convinced that their allergic reactions are caused by MSG–it causes this, it causes that,” says allergist and immunologist Katharine Woessner of the Scripps Clinic Medical Group, who conducted a study on MSG’s effects. But, she says, “I think there’s a great misunderstanding.”
“Indeed, most scientists today agree that the notion that MSG causes sickness in humans is unfounded.
“Ken Lee, a professor and the director of food innovation at The Ohio State University, states, “It’s not true that MSG has any kind of toxic or causative role in food allergies.” Dr. Lee breaks down his reasoning: “MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. So sodium–everybody knows what that is–is the first ingredient in common table salt.”
Meanwhile, glutamate, the basic component of MSG, “is a synonym for glutamic acid [and] is a naturally occurring amino acid. It’s one of the building blocks of protein,” explains Dr. Lee. In aqueous solutions, MSG breaks down to sodium and glutamate.
“In 1999, Katharine Woessner’s team conducted a single-blind, placebo-controlled study to test the effects of MSG on 100 asthmatic patients (an earlier paper suggested that asthmatics with a sensitivity to aspirin might be sensitive to MSG). The researchers found that, while 30 participants believed they had a history of CRS [the so-called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”], only one showed signs of reduced lung function after exposure to MSG. When that subject was tested again–this time in a double-blind, placebo-controlled challenge–the test came out negative.
“Then in 2000, researchers conducted the largest double-blind, placebo-controlled study on MSG, consisting of 130 subjects who said they were sensitive to it. The researchers found that MSG produced short-lasting and minor reactions in a subset of people–but these could not be reproduced consistently upon retesting.
“Meanwhile, the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] calls MSG “generally recognized as safe” (a classification that the agency originally made in 1959). On its website, the agency writes, “Although many people identify themselves as sensitive to MSG, in studies with such individuals given MSG or a placebo, scientists have not been able to consistently trigger reactions.”
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