Because of food labeling loopholes and deceptive packaging claims, many people don’t realize that MSG occurs in the majority of processed foods . It is in many foods labeled “all natural”, “organic”, even “no MSG added!”. I’ve also seen it in a number of baby and toddler foods and that makes me want to throw a bigger tantrum than this house has ever seen. That’s big.
HOW DOES THE FOOD INDUSTRY GET AWAY WITH IT?
Many food manufacturers stopped adding MSG directly to food because they know consumers don’t want it. But a loophole is that MSG occurs during processing. This is a win for food manufacturers because they get the extra boost of addictive flavor and preservation without having to disclose it.
HOW DOES MSG OCCUR DURING PROCESSING?
Many natural foods contain the amino acid glutamine, the precursor to glutamate. Glutamine is fine and good when it is bundled with other aminos, the way God intended. But during extreme processing it becomes FREE glutamate and at this point it is already problematic. If there is sodium present (almost always) it attaches itself and voila – Mono-Sodium Glutamate.
This is true in the case of chemical processing as well as so-called natural processing using high heat or enzymes.
WHY SHOULD THIS CONCERN YOU?
MSG is an excitotoxin. An excitotoxin is a substance that excites brain cells so much that when taken in high doses, the neurons die off. This isn’t an obscure crunchy health term. It is a medically accepted fact. Ask your local neurosurgeon. I did!
But wait a second! “Glutamate is one of the most common neurotransmitters in the brain.” (Russell L. Blaylock, retired neurosurgeon and author of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills). If glutamate permeates the brain, why would additional glutamate be harmful? According to Blaylock:
Being excitatory transmitters, glutamate and aspartate are involved in activating a number of brain systems concerned with sensory perception, memory, orientation in time and space, cognition, and motor skills. It is important to appreciate that the brain is an organ that depends on a delicate balance of excitatory and inhibitory systems, that is, positive and negative impulses. Disruptions of this balance can lead to anything from a minor tremor of the hands to an uncontrollable writhing motion of the body, or even the violent explosion of a full blown seizure. In the living organism, a balance of positive and negative systems is important.”
We are wonderfully made, but the balance of our system is delicate. And in the modern age, we are set up for an overload of excitatory response without a lot of inhibitory (calming) action.
THE GOOD NEWS
There is a protection mechanism in place to keep toxins in the blood from entering the brain. It is called the blood-brain barrier (BBB) and it is designed to allow good things in and keep bad things out. You can imagine a tightly woven, but semi-permeable filter in the capillaries that enter the brain. This filter is present throughout the body, but is much more secure near the brain, which is more susceptible to damage. (Thank you to my local neurosurgeon for this explanation!)
THE BAD NEWS
1. Babies (including those in utero) and children have a developing blood brain barrier and are much more susceptible than adults to overexposure of excitotoxins. One study shows that excitotoxins pass through the placenta and even concentrate on the fetal side. Other studies show that the placenta is a more effective barrier. Although the evidence is inconclusive (hard to study/measure) it is apparent that the placenta, like the blood-brain barrier is also semi-permeable, and not absolute when it comes to keeping out excitotoxins (Blaylock).
2. Many conditions can create leaks blood brain barrier:
- inflammation and certain inflammatory conditions including Epilepsy, MS and Meningitis.
- many neurologic disorders
3. In the last several decades the consumption of MSG and other excitotoxins has gone through the roof. Combine this with the sharp rise in BBB-compromising conditions we have in modern society. Alarming.
INGREDIENTS THAT ALMOST ALWAYS CONTAIN MSG:
- natural flavors (usually 20-60% MSG)
- yeast extract
- hydrolyzed protein (a heavy dose of MSG)
- pea protein isolate, soy protein isolate, anything protein isolate
- broth (for instance, tuna canned in broth)
WHAT CAN YOU DO ABOUT THIS?
This is really bad news, I realize. But I find it best not to remorse over the past (how much we fed this to our children, how many bowls of that awesome thai soup we ate while pregnant…) but to calmly & steadily stride ahead into a new future.
It takes a little time to make a lasting change.
- First, observe. You may be tempted to drop these foods altogether and fast. Understandable. If that works for you, go for it. However, I suggest looking at this as a long-term project. Read labels. See how often MSG or it’s “pseudonyms” are making it into your grocery cart. Trim what is easy to get rid of. (Maybe you can move your kids to natural snacks like apple slices and cheese for instance.) Take it one step at a time.
- Teach yourself how to flavor foods naturally (and stay posted because tips and strategies are to come!) It may take time for your tastebuds to adjust from the assault and bombardment of flavors designed to addict. But eventually, you can reform your palate. Lemon, garlic, herbs, sea salt, tamari, sesame oil, a pure red curry paste… Keep learning ways to excite your own taste buds!
- Just eat real food. Food that’s out of a box.
- Balance your Omega 3-6 ratio. This helps to balance all brain chemicals.
- Shrimp has a good dose of GABA, which has an inhibitory action that balances excess excitatory action. Here’s a truly natural shrimp-red curry soup recipe you can try. It has only six ingredients!
- Get on the gelatin train. Gelatin is loaded with amino acids that have an inhibitory action on the cells. Make stock or your own fruit juice gelatin (here’s a recipe for apple pie flavor – seriously delicious!) I even dissolve it in hot green tea.
I AM NOT A PURIST
I’ll say it again and again! For the most part we avoid anything containing excitotoxins because I feel better when we do. And my kids are less picky when their tastebuds are not under the influence of MSG. But it slips in from time to time (in some “organic” sausage or bacon, the occasional carton of almond milk, etc.)
All we can do is try our best, while preserving our sanity.
To learn more, watch Dr. Blaylock’s seminar on YouTube.
(Dr. Blaylock is by no means the only doctor who espouses this information. I originally learned it from Dr. Sears and have heard it from many other trusted sources. I just happen to have read Dr. Blaylock’s book and since he is at the forefront of this issue I quote him the most.)