MSG, or Monosodium
Glutamate is a salt of the amino acid - Glutamic Acid (glutamate). A salt
is the chemical name for a molecule held together by opposite charges.
Basically one (mono) sodium atom is "stuck" to the amino acid glutamate.
an amino acid?
Amino acids are often
called the building blocks of life because it takes many of them linked
together in a chain to create a protein. DNA tells the body how to make
the chain and in what order the amino acids must line up. Some amino
acids must be eaten because the body cannot make them (essential), some
the body can make (non-essential), and yet others are able to be made
during some times, but not others (conditionally essential). The life
processes are all dependent on proteins which play critical roles in the
body as structure, messengers, enzymes, and hormones.
Proteins are globular
and clumpy because the amino acid chains fold in on themselves. This is
how the immune system recognizes proteins. They are large compared to
single amino acids, and they are uniquely shaped. The immune system does
not recognize tiny MSG as an allergen. However, trouble can begin because
the body can attack the larger enzymes like GAD, responsible for turning
excess MSG into GABA.
Enzymes are simply
proteins with interesting day jobs. Enzymes help make things happen by
helping to create other proteins and by helping break them down too.
Enzymes are not straight chains, they are globular and clumpy, because
they are folded into intricate shapes like other proteins. It is these
shapes that help them create and break down other proteins and compounds.
What is a
Hormones are extremely
potent protein based messengers that travel around the body connecting the
lines of communication between glands of the endocrine system. These
glands direct important functions like metabolism, growth, and sexual
development. It has been found lately that smaller amounts of hormones
are more effective than larger amounts because the body has feedback
mechanisms that don't take kindly to overdoses of hormone. Things shut
down because it is considered a trouble signal if there is too much
hormone present. By affecting the part of the brain - the hypothalamus,
that controls the master gland of the body - the pituitary, MSG may affect
hormone production in the body.
Protein Building Block and Excitatory Neurotransmitter....
Glutamate is just one
of many amino acids used by the body and linked into the chains of protein
in the body. However some amino acids are free to float around by
themselves as well as being found linked into proteins because they serve
vital functions - some are neurotransmitters which carry nerve cell
impulses throughout the body. Amino acid neurotransmitters are like
chemical messengers carrying news from nerve cell to nerve cell. Some
amino acid neurotransmitters like glutamate trigger nerve cells to fire,
others like taurine and gamma amino butyric acid tell those firing nerve
cells to cease firing. It is a delicate balance. An important balance.
Researchers are finding out just what happens when that balance tips. In
patients who suffer a stroke, for example, an excess of glutamate in the
brain causes the nerve cells to die from overstimulation. Glutamate
blocking drugs are being used to prevent some of this damage.
the body usually deal with excess amino acids?
Most amino acids if
not used right away, are not stored as amino acids. The body has
elaborate means of changing extra amino acids into other amino acids, and
removing nitrogen and changing amino acids into fuel to be stored. There
are processes such as "transamination" and "deamination" which occur
mostly in the liver. In patients with compromised livers, however, they
may have trouble transaminating cysteine, for example, into taurine, the
amino acid that acts counter to glutamate. Also, an excess of the amino
acid aspartate (found in Nutrasweet) may result in excess glutamate, since
the body can convert aspartate directly to glutamate. Aspartate and
glutamate affect some of the same receptors. In a different example,
there is an enzyme that the body uses to convert excess glutamate into
another neurotransmitter called GABA. In many patients with Type II
Diabetes, their bodies view the enzyme responsible for turning MSG into
GABA as an enemy and create antibodies to attack it so that it cannot do
its job. This is a problem. The body is compromised in its job of
getting rid of excess glutamate. It again is a question of balance, and
what tips it.
manufactured MSG a problem?
According to some MSG
opponents the glutamate added to foods is "bad" and the natural glutamate
in our bodies is "good". MSG sellers argue that MSG is exactly like the
glutamate in the human body, therefore it must always be "good". It is
not so simple. There are contaminants in processed MSG. An anology that
can be used is that there are right-handed amino acids and left handed
ones. They are like mirror images of each other. Processed MSG contains
not only the kind of amino acids the body is used to handling, but mirror
image ones too. This may cause problems because it is like putting the
wrong glove on your hand. It's not quite the same. We don't exactly know
what problems this may cause. On the other hand (so to speak) the fact
that glutamate the body is used to handling is also in MSG may present a
problem because an excess of naturally occurring glutamate is well known
by neuroscientists to be a problem in many disease states. Natural
glutamate can cause problems we already know about. The reason food
processors "free" glutamate from its bound form, is that it acts as a
neurotransmitter in its free form. The food industry's claim that free
glutamate is as harmless as bound glutamate is disingenuous
at best. If it was exactly the same, they wouldn't need to hydrolyse
vegetable protein (split the amino acids apart).
they make MSG or Free Glutamic Acid?
following links explain exactly how the food industry can make free
glutamic acid by hydrolyzing vegetable protein or by fermentation of
glucose from starchy foods. In essence, MSG manufacturers can not only
free bound glutamic acid from foods, but create it chemically.
Food Product Design article
Scientific paper on fermenation formation of MSG
food companies add MSG to foods?
There are several
tricks your tongue into making you
think a certain food is high in protein and thus nutritious. It
is not a "meat tenderizer". It is not a "preservative". The food
industry is trying to confuse the issue by focusing on the "fifth" taste
sense they call umami. Free glutamic acid is
detected by the taste buds as a simple way to signal the presence of
protein in a food, just as there are fat receptors to detect fats and
receptors that sense carbohydrate or sweet flavors. The purpose is to
help us discern real food from inedible matter. It changes your
perception of not simply taste but the nutritious
qualities of what you put into your mouth. However,
and here is the main problem with free glutamic acid
- It is the very same neurotransmitter that your brain
and many organs including your ears, eyes, nervous
system and pancreas in your body use to
initiate certain processes in your body.
stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin.
So many diets these days are concerned about the
Glycemic Index of foods and yet none of them address the fact that MSG
and free glutamic acid stimulate the pancreas to release insulin when
there doesn't even have to be carbohydrates in the food for that insulin
to act on. The food industry has found their own "anti-appetite
suppressant". It's a convenient way to keep consumers coming back for
more. The blood sugar drops because of the insulin flood. And you are
hungry an hour later. Sound familiar?
body changes excess glutamate to GABA. GABA may be
addictive. It is calming and affects the same receptors in the brain as
The illusion created by adding MSG to a food product enables the food
processor to add LESS real food. The illusion of
more protein in a food allows the food producer to put LESS protein in
it. The consumer perceives the product - say chicken soup - to
have more chicken in it than is actually there. Example: A well-known
brand of dehydrated chicken noodle soup. Is that chicken in there, or a
piece of confetti?