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MSG, a flavor enhancer, is linked to a host of health issues including fibromyalgia (1), obesity (2), fatty liver (3), high insulin and blood sugar (4), high cholesterol (3), metabolic syndrome (4), high blood pressure, disturbances in the gut-brain connection (5), neurological and brain health issues (6) and much more.
What is MSG?
In the 1960’s the phrase, “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” was coined by an article in The New England Journal of Medicine. Twenty minutes after eating Chinese food, some very sensitive people would experience tingling, brain fog, numbness, chest pressure and pain.
Monosodium Glutamic Acid (MSG) refers to a chemical process in which glutamic acid is isolated, and then, as a purified white powder, it is added to foods as a flavor enhancer. MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it amps up and stimulates sensory nerves – in an enhanced, tastier way. As a flavor enhancer, the toxic form of MSG or glutamic acid is called D-glutamic acid.
There is a non-toxic form of glutamic acid called L-glutamic acid, which naturally occurs in many foods and proteins in the body. The average human has 4.4 pounds of L-glutamic acid in the body and there are no reactions. Glutamic acid is a main component of proteins. It is found in meat, eggs, poultry, milk, eggs, cheese, fish and even wheat. It is also found in most grains, beans, vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, and sea weed.
In these natural forms, the glutamic acid is bound to other proteins in chains of amino acids or proteins. In general, glutamic acid does not exist as free glutamic acid in the body. The only way the glutamic acid becomes free in the body, which is called D-glutamic acid or MSG, is through a chemical or pharmaceutical process. The process of freeing the glutamic acid from the protein chains is what causes the toxicity.
So, avoiding MSG should be easy right? As a flavor enhancer, MSG is required by the FDA to be listed in the ingredients. However, as a processing agent, which is very common in many food products, MSG does not require labelling. This exposes many of us to D-glutamic acid on a regular basis.
Interestingly, only a small percentage of the population reacts to MSG, and much seems to depend on the amount of MSG one is exposed to and how sensitive their intestinal wall is to toxins.
In a healthy body, proteins are broken down in the stomach and small intestine by hydrochloric acid (HCL) and digestive enzymes. The body’s digestive tract controls how much glutamic acid is freed up from the protein chain, but the free L-glutamic acid absorption is highly limited and most of it is passed off as waste through the intestinal tract.
The D-glutamic acid, on the other hand, is made in a lab and the body does not seem to recognize it. This type of free glutamic acid is rapidly absorbed into the blood stream where it triggers a neuro-excitatory toxic response in the body.
How To Avoid Non-Labelled MSG
Without a doubt we should be reading labels and avoiding any food with MSG in it. Even if you do not seem to be sensitive to it, MSG is an irritant or neurotoxin and can damage the intestinal wall over time and create other problems down the road.
To avoid the non-labelled MSG that is used in very small quantities as a processing aid, all processed foods must be avoided. This includes many health foods such veggies burgers, turkey sausages, textured or hydrolyzed proteins and some highly processed protein powders.
Health food companies that go through the trouble of avoiding processed proteins in such a way that avoids free D-glutamic acid or MSG will include that on the label.
While processed proteins are most commonly found to contain D-glutamic acid, most processed veggies, grains, beans, fruits will also contain free D-glutamic acid. The key is to avoid large exposures to MSG and, while being aware of your reaction to all processed foods, always choose fresh, non-processed foods as often as possible.
That said, since a small amount of D-glutamic acid is incredibly hard to avoid, the most logical thing to do is to continue to support the health of the intestinal skin so that it continues to act as a protective barrier against toxins. If the inner skin breaks down, numerous undigested toxins can enter the blood stream and lymph and become irritants, toxins, allergens and trigger similar symptoms to MSG. Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity is a perfect example.
My 3 favorite Ayurvedic herbs designed to support the health of the skin that lines the intestinal wall are:
To learn more about how these herbs can support the skin of the intestines, click here.