Although monosodium glutamate (MSG) was discovered way back in 1908 in Japan, till date researchers are yet to comprehend the full functioning of the amalgam or how it adds zing and flavor to food and makes it better for consumption. Nevertheless, the ability of monosodium glutamate (MSG) to make food taste better has presently led to a corpulence pandemic across North America.
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Actually, MSG stands for glutamic acid that is generally isolated from protein either through processing or by bacteria fermentation. While MSG was discovered in Japan in 1908, it was introduced in North America in 1948 and the United States Food and Drug Administration permitted its use as a low-risk food preservative in 1958. It is interesting to note that ever since both the reputation as well as the exploitation of monosodium glutamate (MSG) has soared higher and higher. During the last few years, people have expressed concern over the random use of MSG owing to the obesity epidemic spread by it in North America compelling the health authorities to re-evaluate the safety of using the compound in foodstuff. Notwithstanding such public outcry, the FDA appears to be firm on its stand that MSG is a harmless food addictive. However, neither the FDA nor any other regulatory body has still fixed the amount of MSG contained in a single meal and hence there is no control on the use of the compound in food.
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The office of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was inundated with protests from the general public who seemed to be concerned over the unfavorable consequences of using MSG and the probable health hazards posed by the food additive during the period between 1980 and 1994. People were worried that the random use of MSG to add flavor to foodstuff might lead to health hazards like deterioration of the retina, neuroendocrine disorder or ailment of the hormones and the nervous system, obesity, reproductive problems, undersized growth as well as behavioral problems.
While most of these protests were not registered by the health authorities, they did record as many as 622 complaints. During the investigation, it was found that headache was the most common symptom from the use of MSG in food. Incidentally, even the asthma patients registered complaints stating that they experienced severe bouts of the disease following ingestion of food containing MSG. Despite these, the FDA did not deem the complaints to be serious enough to initiate any action in this regard. Moreover, it has been found that the reactions caused by consuming food containing MSG products were so delayed that it is virtually difficult to ascertain any connection between the two. Hence, the complaints and concerns raised by the people were not only neglected, but also dismissed for want of evidence.
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What is, however, more significant is the fact that the FDA also preferred not take into account the findings of a research conducted on the use of MSG in 1978. The research demonstrated that rodents left out in the open to MSG in the course of food and water intake for a period between three to six months established that the compound was harmful for their well being. The research further claimed that prolonged use of MSG by the mice showed symptoms of brain injuries as well as made them susceptible to ailments like obesity and an assortment of neurological disorders. Ignoring the findings of this research, the FDA asserted that the effect of MSG on humans would be entirely different and hence the food additive may be considered safe for consumption by the humans. Such a statement from the FDA not only perplexed the general public, but also raised many eyebrows in medical circles as mice are considered to be the test subjects in the majority of preliminary neurological tests and research to find treatment for human disorders!
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However, the FDA finally relented to public concern in 1995 when it instituted a scientific research on the issue. As expected, the findings of the FDA-sponsored research corroborated the public apprehensions as well as conceded that the consumption of MSG had certain adverse effects on people too. The FDA research ascertained that MSG consumption was likely to result to a smoldering feeling in the back of the neck, forearms, and chest, lack of sensation in the back of the neck, searing to the arms and back, itchiness, heat and feebleness in the face, temples, upper back, neck and arms as well as facial pressure or tautness. In addition, the report also did not rule out the possibility of symptoms like chest pain, headache, vomiting, faster heartbeat, sleepiness or drowsiness, feebleness and broncho-spasm or difficulty in breathing in MSG-intolerant people suffering from asthma.
The report of the FDA research also pointed out that following MSG ingestion different people will respond in their own way, but the reaction will be constant. For instance, some people may display any of the above mentioned symptoms within 10 minutes of ingesting one serving of soup containing as little as 0.6 grams of MSG. On the other hand, there are people who will require three servings of the soup containing three grams of MSG and will show symptoms some 48 hours after consuming the MSG-contaminated food. The report also hinted that the reaction is more strong and forthcoming if the MSG is consumed in large amounts or in a liquid. Incidentally, some food products are known to contain as high as five grams of the food additive.
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The problem while treating a person affected by MSG-contaminated food is the pause in the display of the reactions. While the delay not only causes diagnostic dilemma as it makes it difficult for a person to identify the food that he or she is trying to cut down on. This is primarily owing to the reason that while the symptoms will continue to stay for some time, the basis of the problem will not be obvious. Several studies conducted on MSG have demonstrated that the food additive has the potential to have snowballing consequences in the human system. For instance, a person may not respond after consuming the MSG-contaminated food only once a week, but the same person will react when the food is ingested numerous times consecutively. Another important thing to remember is that even after you learn that MSG is the root cause of your problems, you may find it more difficult to do away with it from your life completely than you had originally imagined.
Despite the public concern and outcry against the use of the contaminated food additive, it is interesting to note that the MSG industry has become larger by leaps and bounds during the last two decades. Another problem that people face is that since the introduction of the 'no-MSG' labeling, it has virtually become difficult to identify the food additive in edible products. As a result of years of public concern, protests, and petitions as well as the media focus, unscrupulous manufacturers are now selling MSG concealed in other new compounds or have completely rechristened the contaminant food additive as a new product. However, you need to be aware that presently the substances available in the market containing MSG include glutamate, glutamic acid, gelatin, monopotasium glutamate, calcium caseinate (an amalgam of casein and calcium or sodium), sodium caseinate, textured protein, yeast nutrient, yeast extract, yeast food, autolyzed yeast, natrium glutamate, hydrolyzed corn gluten and any type of hydrolyzed protein like pea protein, whey protein or corn protein.
In addition to the above mentioned products, MSG may also be present in powdered protein, protein bars, binders and fillers used in the manufacture of medicines such as pills and tablets as well as dietary supplements. Moreover, MSG can also be found in cough syrups meant for children, intravenous fluids administered in health centers and hospitals and also in different inoculations. It may be mentioned here that several years back, MSG was sanctioned for farming use and was generally utilized for augmenting the growth of both organically as well as non-organically cultivated plants, fruits and vegetables. The compound was mixed with liquids and sprayed on plants. In fact, MSG is obtained from plant life and hence it is termed as an organic compound. Taking advantage of this aspect of MSG, many manufacturers use the compound in foodstuffs that are labeled as 'naturally flavored' on the package with a view to deceive the consumers.
It is interesting to note that since its discovery in Japan about a century ago, and more especially since it was introduced as a food additive in North America in the late 1940s, MSG has had diverse reputations. While some times the compound has been acclaimed as the most safe and sound food stabilizer or additive, at other times it has been denounced for concealing toxin inside. Here it is necessary to mention that the FDA's decision regarding the safety and use of the compound in food has often been inexplicable. For instance, the FDA's rejection of the results of the findings of the research exposing mice to MSG is really puzzling.
At the same time, the FDA has also come for criticism for the unchecked growth of the MSG industry and the extensive use of the compound despite complaints of adverse effects caused by it. The fact that the FDA has also refused to correlate the use of MSG to its symptoms as well as its reluctance to amend and expand its labeling rules to take into account all varieties, forms and levels of MSG have also raised several questions both among the common public as well as in scientists' circles. Add to this the absence of adequate systems to test as well as set a standard of the intensity of the compound for daily consumption by an adult. All these aspects have raised accusing fingers at the functioning of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) vis-à-vis MSG.
Now the most pertinent question is that taking all these things into consideration, whether we can give good reason for putting our delight of flavor over our health concerns? It is essential to concede that even a latent health hazard like harm to our brain or nerves is sufficient reason to completely do away with such substances from our life. Anyways, we can no more afford to feign ignorance regarding the adverse effects of such substances present in our daily foodstuff. As no more of petitioning or protests are going to work your way, the best way to avoid harmful substances like MSG is to ensure that we always consume fresh, complete and natural food.