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MSG and the Athlete on Steroids

Bad or too much Hype

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the non-essential amino acid, glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is a very common amino acid and exists freely in nature both as the free acid or as the sodium salt. In most cases, glutamate is bound to other amino acids which make up proteins.

Being an abundant acid, it makes up anywhere from 10-20% of animal protein and some plants are made up of more than 40% glutamate. Sodium glutamate is also a very common substance in all types of foods. High concentrations of this chemical are found in fresh vegetables like tomatoes, peas, mushrooms and many types of cheese.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a very common food flavoring agent widely used all over the world in all types of cooking and frequently used in processed food. In most cases the MSG is added as the purified salt but in some cases, it is combined with a mixture of proteins (hydrolyzed vegetable protein). Since the awareness of MSG, it has been discovered that many other food flavoring agents such as sodium caseinate and flavoring agents contain significant amounts of MSG.

The controversy about MSG in foods has been going on for at least the past 4 decades. In the 60s -80s, there were many reports of individuals developing a range of adverse reactions when they had eaten foods containing MSG. Many athletes will rather take illegal anabolic steroids and growth hormone but shun away from MSG. MSG inspires a revulsion as if it is worse than herpes. Four decades after the first reported case of MSG, the controversy still rages on. IS MSG THAT BAD?

MSG first gained a universal reputation for eliciting a variety of symptoms, ranging from headache to dry mouth to flushing. Since the first report of the so-called Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS) 40 years ago, clinical trials have failed to identify a consistent relationship between the consumption of MSG and the group of symptoms that encompass the syndrome. Furthermore, MSG has been described as a trigger point for asthma attacks and worsening of migraine headache. But so far there are no consistent data to support this relationship. Although there have been reports that some individuals may be hypersensitive to MSG, this has not been shown in any placebo-controlled trials.

Numerous conventional toxicity studies using dietary administration of MSG in several species did not reveal any specific toxic or carcinogenic effects nor were there any adverse outcomes in reproduction and teratology studies.

There is some evidence which suggests that ingestion of large amounts (≥3g) of MSG may be responsible for causing symptoms similar to CRS in a small subset of individuals. These symptoms, although unpleasant, are neither persistent nor serious and appear more likely to occur when MSG is ingested in the absence of food. As MSG would always be consumed in the presence of food, an important question that remains unanswered by the scientific literature is what effect consumption with food would have on the incidence and severity of symptoms.

So what does this mean?
Despite a prevalent belief that MSG can induce a headache, among other symptoms, there are no consistent clinical data to support any of these anecdotal claims. Review of the literature indicates that there is no consistent evidence which suggests that some people may be hypersensitive to MSG. Infact the FDA recommends that health care workers make a better effort in trying to find the real cause of the symptoms which happens to people after eating in Chinese restaurant. No Evidence of Side Effects and MSG
Ironically one study found that eating food with MSG in a non-Chinese restaurant by the same individuals had no effect. Infact, the FDA believes that Monosodium glutamate is so safe that no allocated daily requirements are even recommended. This means that one can eat all the MSG one wants and nothing will happen. For those who continue to have symptoms after eating in a Chinese restaurant- go eat elsewhere.
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