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Deanne Repich is an internationally
known anxiety educator, teacher, author, and former
sufferer. She is the creator of the Conquer Anxiety
Program, author of more than one hundred articles on
anxiety, and a member of the Anxiety Disorders
Association of America.
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has appeared as a Guest Expert in publications worldwide.
Could MSG Sensitivity Affect You?
THE AUTHOR: Deanne Repich is the Founder of the National Institute of Anxiety and Stress,
Inc., an anxiety educator, teacher, and former anxiety sufferer. Deanne created
the Conquer Your Anxiety Success Program, a simple, action-oriented
"how-to" course that has helped thousands across the
globe conquer their anxiety.
She also conducts seminars, writes articles, and publishes the
free "Anxiety Tips" newsletter.
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The powerful link between food and mood can either
help or hurt our efforts to live a healthy, anxiety-free
life. Many anxiety sufferers have experienced first-hand
how ingredients like caffeine or aspartame (NutraSweet (R))
can trigger or worsen their physical symptoms.
MSG is another ingredient that may trigger symptoms in
some people. Most Americans consume MSG daily,
due to the
fact that it is present in thousands of processed
What Is MSG?
MSG is shorthand for monosodium glutamate. It is a
manufactured flavor enhancer that is commonly added to
many of the foods Americans eat every day, such as
soups, processed meats, Asian cuisine, and frozen
Glutamate is found in two forms. "Bound" glutamate is
linked to other amino acids, forming a protein molecule.
"Free" glutamate is not linked.
MSG is processed, "free" glutamate. MSG is created by
separating, or "freeing" bound glutamate from its links to
protein molecules. This manufactured separation process
adds an extra "punch" to the flavor of food.
When a person has an adverse reaction after recent ingestion
of monosodium glutamate (MSG) and/or any other ingredient
that contains processed, free glutamic acid, we call them
The food industry uses the term "MSG" to refer to
monosodium glutamate only. In reality, consumers use the
term "MSG" when referring to any form of processed free
glutamic acid that
causes adverse reactions.
Here are a few examples of adverse reactions that have
been reported after ingesting MSG. Keep in mind that
these are only a few examples, not a complete list
the adverse reactions that have been reported.
-- Migraine headaches
-- Skin rash
-- Mood swings
-- Chest tension
-- Heart palpitations or rapid heart rate
-- Burning sensations
-- Excessive thirst
-- Difficulty concentrating
-- Lethargy or sleepiness
-- Changes in blood pressure
Do you experience any of these symptoms? If you notice that
symptoms are triggered or aggravated within an hour or two
after eating, then you may be MSG-sensitive.
Just as people have different symptoms to neurological drugs,
seem to have different reactions to MSG. Some people
are affected by MSG and others are not. It's unclear as to why
some people have adverse reactions and others do not.
MSG Symptom Complex
According to the FDA, two groups of people can experience
short-term reactions, which are referred to as MSG Symptom
Complex, as a result of ingesting MSG.
The first group of people are those that eat large does of MSG
grams or more), especially on an empty stomach. The
second group of people are those with severe or poorly
controlled asthma who
A few MSG Symptom Complex symptoms include nausea,
rapid heartbeat, drowsiness, chest pain,
The FDA states that a typical serving of food containing MSG
contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG. With that said, I know
from personal experience and by talking to others with MSG
sensitivity, in certain individuals even small amounts of
MSG can trigger or worsen symptoms.
Debate Over the Safety of MSG
In 1959, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified
MSG as a "generally recognized as safe" food ingredient
under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Hundreds
of scientific studies confirm the safety of MSG.
However, the use of MSG in food has remained controversial.
Several independent reports have questioned studies as
seriously flawed for a variety of reasons.
Here are a few of the reasons that bring some research
confirming the safety of MSG into question:
pivotal MSG investigations used monkeys instead
of mice (mice
more closely approximate human reactions);
used included MSG-related products that could
placebo and non-placebo results indistinguishable;
included a narrow range of symptoms that participants
could select from when describing their reactions;
-- People with MSG
sensitivities were not accepted into study
Despite the FDA approval, many consumers remain skeptical
because several independent studies have shown adverse
reactions as a result of ingesting MSG.
Another concern is the fact that FDA approval is based on data
provided by studies that have
been in some way financed by
groups with a vested interest
in MSG's success.
How Is MSG Different from the Glutamic Acid that Is
Present Naturally In our Bodies and Foods?
Glutamic acid, the main component of MSG, is one of the amino
acids that make up proteins. While some proponents of MSG imply
that it is naturally occurring glutamic acid, it is not. The MSG that
is found in processed foods is NOT identical
to the glutamic acid
that is present in our bodies and foods
The difference is that the glutamate that occurs naturally
foods, such as meat, vegetables, and milk is "bound" to protein
and peptides. Because
it is bound, it is not toxic.
MSG is created by "freeing" the glutamic acid from food, such
as corn and wheat through manufacturing processes. Manufactured
"free" glutamic acid is broken down rapidly in the body because it
lacks the links to other amino acids. The sudden increase in
acid can cause adverse reactions.
Naturally-occurring free glutamic
acid present in some foods,
such as tomatoes and mushrooms,
has not been shown to
cause adverse reactions. Only manufactured free glutamic
acid triggers symptoms.
Hidden Sources of MSG
Few people realize how prevalent MSG is. Fewer still realize that
there are many different names for processed free glutamic acid.
MSG is often combined with other substances and renamed, or
created by the manufacturing process.
These ingredients ALWAYS contain MSG:
-- Monosodium glutamate
-- Calcium caseinate
-- Textured protein
-- Monopotassium glutamate
-- Glutamic acid
-- Sodium caseinate
-- Yeast nutrient
-- Autolyzed yeast
-- Hydrolyzed corn gluten
-- Hydrolyzed soy protein
-- Hydrolyzed wheat protein
-- Hydrolyzed protein such as vegetable protein (the word
"hydrolyzed" on the label is a good tip-off)
If a product label says it contains some form
of "hydrolyzed" protein,
it contains MSG.
These ingredients OFTEN contain MSG (or MSG is created during
-- Malt extract
-- Soy protein isolate
Natural pork flavoring
-- Citric acid
-- Malt flavoring
-- Barley malt
-- Soy sauce stock or soy sauce extract
-- Soy protein or soy protein concentrate
-- Bouillon and broth
-- Natural chicken flavoring
Natural beef flavoring
-- Whey protein concentrate
-- Whey protein
-- Whey protein isolate
-- Protein fortified
Note: Even if a product label says "MSG free," it may still contain
processed free glutamic acid concealed under one of its other
the label to be sure.
During a recent trip to the grocery store I found several items
containing MSG, including:
-- Potato chips
-- Infant formula
-- Packaged stuffing
-- Taco seasoning
-- Packaged box dinners
-- Salad dressing
-- Soy sauce
-- Frozen dinners
-- Canned vegetables
-- Processed meats
That's what I found in only ten minutes! Just think how many
items you'll find on a more thorough check!
My Personal Experience with MSG
I first learned about MSG through my own adverse reactions
several years ago when I noticed that my anxiety symptoms
seemed to worsen soon after I ate certain types of foods.
To test this hypothesis, I kept a food diary for a few months
and tracked symptoms that occurred within two hours of
Much to my surprise, I found that MSG was present in most of
the foods that triggered my symptoms! I also noticed that my
body could handle a small amount of foods containing MSG
without symptoms, yet if I ate more than a small amount, my
body reached a trigger point and symptoms occurred.
Upon discovering this revelation, I decided to remove the
trigger foods containing MSG and tracked the results. I
quickly noticed a dramatic improvement in how I felt!
What You Can Do
Each person is unique. While many people experience adverse
reactions after ingesting MSG, you may not. The amount of
MSG you can eat without experiencing symptoms varies with
the individual too.
If you suspect you are sensitive to MSG, keep a food diary for
a few weeks. Track the foods you eat, note any symptoms that
within two hours of eating, and whether or not these foods
This process will help you determine if MSG may
be a factor in
triggering or aggravating your symptoms.
Try removing foods containing MSG from your diet for a few
weeks and see how you feel. Print out this article
and bring it
with you to the grocery store to help you recognize which foods
I think many of you will find, as I did, that your symptoms
after reducing the amount of MSG in your diet.
Keep in mind that removing MSG from your diet is not a quick
fix or magic solution to overcoming anxiety. An anxiety disorder
is more than just physical symptoms. Anxiety-promoting thought
patterns and behaviors also play a key role.
However, you may find that reducing your consumption of MSG
reduces or eliminates many physical symptoms. When your
symptoms are reduced, it becomes easier to focus on changing
anxious thought patterns and behaviors -- which are key to
overcoming an anxiety disorder.
© Copyright February 17, 2004 by
Deanne Repich and the National Institute of Anxiety and Stress,
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