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MSG: the "toxic spill" in food and the saga of a crusade to identify a hazardous food additive.

MSG: The "toxic Spill" in Food and The Saga of a Crusade to Identify a Hazardous Food Additive

"Better Living Through Chemistry" is a concept that has become a belief through the power of advertising. Some of our "better living," however, has been achieved by paying a severe price. We are slowly discovering the magnitude of contamination, toxic spills, and polluted water that chemicals can foster.

In this context it becomes easy to comprehend the passive and rapid acceptance of monosodium glutamate (MSD) and other flavoring agents that can cause health problems through food.

This particular chemical acts like a drug upon the body; its true nature can be better understood because neuroscience links it with impaired brain function. When monosodium glutamate is ingested, we might view its long-range effects as a toxic spill into the food supply.

It isn't easy to avoid MSG; it also shows up in various disguises such as hydrolyzed proteins and autolyzed yeast in many forms unidentified. Except for the purpose of flavoring, MSG and its derivatives serve no essential purpose. They do not preserve food, nor do they fill a nutritional need.

Since its beginning in this country, MSG has become a multi-billion dollar industry. Food companies rely upon it to flavor, disguise unwelcome tastes, and even compensate for inferior ingredients used in products.

Thix "toxic spill" in our food cries out for attention. Its defenders voice rebuttals that echo the attempts at explaining the harmlessness of tobacco, the safety of radiation. The Food and Drug Administration, a federal agency empowered to regulate food additives, does not view MSG as dangerous despite growing evidence that, for some people, its effects can be disabling.

Since the book In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome was published, the need for intensified vigilance has become clear. As the consumer becomes enlightened, labelling deception seems to broaden. Often the problem is compounded by the fact that an ingredient containing MSG is not required to be identified because it is composed of variations of MSG.

Many people react to the MSG experience. They are not always benign or transient. In our experience, patients have developed neurological conditions similar to Giles de la Tourette Syndrome, Trigeminal Neuralgia, and unspecific symptoms mimicking multiple sclerosis and muscle degeneration.

In our practice we have observed reactions of severe palpitations, heart rhythm disturbances and liver abnormalities. Psychological disturbances including depression and anxiety attacks have also been seen after MSG ingestion.

Gastrointestinal distress, headaches, dizziness and mental confusion are not unknown in these reactions, and asthma attacks are of great concern.

Particularly distressing are the hyperactivity and learning disorders that can be attributed to the absorption of monosodium glutamate by children. They symptoms are often misdiagnosed and attributed to "junk food."

One of the questions frequently asked is why this additive produces so many diverse symptoms? One assumption is that it strikes where the patient is most vulnerable, the brain being most often affected.

It is not unusual to suffer a variety of side effects when dealing with a substance that shocks the nervous system.

A New Entrant: Autolyzed Yeast

Recently food processors have begun adding monosodium glutamate in the form of autolyzed yeast. It serves as economic purpose for processors because it is less expensive than hydrolyzed protein and its low cost is an incentive for the baking industry to use instead of MSG and hydrolyzed protein. But autolyzed yeast contains ten to twenty percent MSG. Unfortunately, the label is permitted to list the ingredient as "yeast extract" or "natural flavoring." Small comfort for the uninformed consumer who is also sensitive to MSG.

The Matter of Natural Flavoring

A question often posed is, "Just how natural is hydrolyzed protein?" This "natural" flavoring begins as animal blood or from other decaying protein sources. The substance is then subjected to acid hydrolysis (usually concentrated hydrochloric acid) at temperatures that range from 200 to 220 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of four to six hours. Sodium hydroxide is then added (also sold commercially as Drano) to neutralize the solution.

A black material of unknown chemical composition permeates the mixture. This sludge is referred to as humin and is suspected of being carcinogenic. It is then filtered off, and the compounds can be processed through as many as six additional chemical processes, ultimately to be drum-dried and sprayed with oil. It eventually appears as a "natural flavoring" on the list of ingredients!

Health-food stores are not always able to avoid this stream of toxic spill. Some of their products labeled "all natural" contain up to 40% MSG.

Another strange aspect of misleading labeling: when hydrolyzed protein and autolyzed yeast are listed as "flavorings," their protein source need not be identified.

Because the United States Department of Agriculture (U.S.D.A.) requires a minimum protein content in meat products, for example, the use of MSG and its derivatives as flavorings also provides an inexpensive means for achieving necessary protein proportions. A recent USDA ruling is attempting to close this loophole of evasion (Federal Register: 3/1/90).

Various other sources of MSG include hydrolyzed milk proteins that are permitted to be labeled sodium caseinate or calcium caseinate. These additives are often included in frozen dairy products such as ice cream and yogurt without identification. they are also found in some hot chocolate mixes, breads, and processed meats.

Neither the book, nor those of us who have been critics of the MSG industry, has been unhampered in our efforts to acquaint the public with the proliferating dangers of MSG in the food supply. We are being sued by one food company, a maker of seasoning, and are being constantly attacked by other interests for persisting in exposing the often-disguised presence of MSG in well-known brands.

One organization, a Washington, D.C. based group has awarded us the Giraffe Project Award. It is a trophy that honors individuals and groups who are willing to crusade against adversity for the public welfare.

Another result of growing awareness of the MSG problem has resulted in the formation of the National Organization Mobilized to Stop Glutamate (NOMSG). For more information about this consumer action group send self-addressed, stamped envelope to: NOMSG, P.O. Box 367, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504.

Our book, In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome, has sold out in its early editions and is being reprinted in paperback form.

George R. Schwartz, M.D., is an internationally known physician and toxicologist. He is the author of Food Power and senior editor of Principles and Practice of Emergency Medicine. In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome is his latest work.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Vegetus Publications
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:monosodium glutamate
Author:Schwartz, George; Schwartz, Kathleen
Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1990
Previous Article:Reactions to food additives widespread.
Next Article:Preventing deafness.

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