The scientific research supporting the safety and benefits of monosodium glutamate (MSG) is extensive.
Also, the scientific consensus among experts who have objectively studied MSG – and affirmed its safety – continues to grow. Despite this, there are some claims, often circulated on the Internet without any scientific or medical support, that MSG can cause certain side effects or symptoms. Here are the facts, based on the science evaluating this popular food ingredient that has been used safely in foods for more than a century.
Because monosodium glutamate is used widely as a food ingredient, a great deal of reputable research has been completed on MSG safety and efficacy. In fact, literally hundreds of trustworthy scientific studies have been conducted on glutamate with a focus on its use as a food ingredient (monosodium glutamate). This extensive body of research has been reviewed by scientists and regulatory authorities around the world including the Joint Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, the EU Scientific Committee for Food (SCF) and the United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All of these authorities have concluded that MSG is safe.
MSG is approved by governments worldwide, including those in the U.S., Europe, Japan and other Asian countries, North and South America, Africa and Australia and New Zealand. Many of these governmental safety evaluations can be accessed here: Scientific Evaluations of MSG.
The Human Body Treats Glutamate and MSG in Exactly the Same Way
Glutamate is a natural part and occurs in many foods that are consumed in a normal diet, including vegetables (such as tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots and potatoes), fish, meat and cheese. It is also a component of mother’s milk. The body treats glutamate in exactly the same way whether it comes from these foods or is added as seasoning to food as monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate also has important nutritional benefits. It is, for example, the main source of energy for the cells of the digestive system.
The extensive research on MSG, combined with its long history of use, clearly demonstrates that monosodium glutamate is safe for the general population, including for use by children and pregnant women. Numerous scientific conferences over the past several decades have evaluated the current usage and effects of MSG, including MSG’s physiology. Their conclusions have been published in major scientific journals. For example, in 2006 experts from a range of scientific disciplines met at the University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart, Germany to review and evaluate recent work on the physiology and safety of monosodium glutamate. The objective was to update the Hohenheim consensus of 1997 which dealt with metabolic and safety aspects of monosodium glutamate. The group took into account newly available information, including findings from the “International Symposium on Glutamate” in 2000 (Fernstrom and Garattini, 2000).
The conclusions reached by the experts have been published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Among the points agreed by the group were the fact that glutamate from all sources is mainly broken down and used as energy by the cells of the intestinal lining; that even in very high doses glutamate causes no ill effect and will not trespass into fetal circulation; that for those with a decreased appetite, the palatability of food can be improved by using a small amount of monosodium glutamate; and that the general use of glutamate salts as a food seasoning can be regarded as safe for everyone. The expert review dispels a number of common misconceptions about monosodium glutamate and supports its use as a safe and effective flavor enhancer.
For more information:
- K Beyreuther et al.; Consensus meeting: monosodium glutamate – an update; European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007), 61, 304-313
- Myths about Monosodium Glutamate Dispelled by this Scientific Conference (page 3)
Scientific Conference Evaluates History and Benefits of MSG
An example of a scientific conference evaluating the benefits of monosodium glutamate, where the proceedings were published in a reputable, independent and peer-reviewed scientific journal, is the symposium held in Tokyo, Japan, 11-13 September 2008. The symposium was held to honor the discovery a century ago by Kikunae Ikeda, a professor of physical chemistry at Tokyo Imperial University, of the active taste principle in a seaweed favored by the Japanese in cooking. The component of this taste turned out to be simple, the sodium salt of glutamic acid (monosodium glutamate; MSG). This taste was termed umami (a Japanese word) and is similar to the taste described in English as “meaty” or “savory.” Interestingly, the uniqueness of the taste of monosodium glutamate and of other umami substances (e.g., inosinate, guanylate) would not become widely accepted until the end of the 20th century. In addition to the historical retrospective, the symposium also assessed the roles of glutamate in gastrointestinal function, metabolism, and physiology.
For more information:
Claims (Myths) about MSG Explained – and Refuted – Based on Credible Science
Experts on the safety and usage of MSG have stated that the health issues relating to dietary MSG (monosodium glutamate) center around basically five claims. Here are the main claims as well as the facts related to each claim: