Is sodium glutamate harms health?

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) is a popular food additive used as a flavor enhancer, MSG was suspected of many adverse reactions, hence it is a very thoroughly tested substance. Large food organizations, both European and American, consider MSG to be added However, everything is harmful to excess, therefore it is better to avoid highly processed food, which is the main source of glutamate in the diet.


Monosodium glutamate – properties and acquisition

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a salt of glutamic acid, whereas glutamic acid is an amino acid naturally occurring in some foods and in the human body, belonging to the endogenous amino acids, that is produced in the body.

Monosodium glutamate is in the form of white crystals or powder, it is virtually odorless and has a umami flavor called meat, broth or fungus. MSG is used as a food additive to enhance the taste.


On the labeling of products, monosodium glutamate is found under the designation E621.

Glutamic acid was first isolated from wheat gluten in 1866 by German scientist Karl Ritthausen, but its sensory properties were not studied.” Progress in the production and use of monosodium glutamate took place in 1908. Then Japaneseresearcher Kikunea Ikeda took up the “katsuobushi” “With kombu seaweed (Japanese larva), very popular in traditional Asian cuisine.

He noticed that the seaweed has a characteristic taste that can not be classified as one of the four known flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour). Ikeda obtained from the kombut glutamic acid, which was responsible for its taste. The scientist combined glutamic acid with various elements, such as sodium, potassium or calcium, and found that the most favorable properties in terms of solubility and crystallization are shown in the sodium salt of glutamic acid.

The new taste associated with the content of glutamate was called umami, which means delicious, delicious from Japanese.” Kikunea Ikeda soon began producing Aji-no-moto (“The essence of taste”) in the form of pure monosodium glutamate.


Glutamate can be isolated from natural sources, e.g. by hydrolysis of lye from sugar beet refining or gluten hydrolysis from wheat and corn, and then converted into salt.

However, on an industrial scale, it is produced by fermentation of a carbohydrate-rich medium by appropriate bacteria (eg Micrococcus glutamicus). Glutamic acid in the form of crystals is obtained from fermentation wort and then MSG is synthesized. Annual global production is about 400,000 tonnes .


Glutamate sources in food

Monosodium glutamate is primarily associated with processed food and is added to it to improve its taste and often hide in this way a dubious quality composition. Monosodium glutamate usually occurs in pure products as E621, but it can be found on the list of ingredients also as yeast extract, fish meat extract, protein hydrolyzate.

Mostly, monosodium glutamate is found in the broths and mixtures of spices, sauces and instant soups, marinades for meats, fast food, cured meats, pates, sausages, preserves, ready-made dishes, salty snacks, eg crisps.


Worth knowing

Natural glutamate in mother’s milk

Glutamic acid, present in food in a free form, and unrelated to other proteins, has the same properties as sodium glutamate, which is responsible for the umami taste.

Its sources in natural food products are meat, seaweed, sea algae, crustaceans, some fruits and vegetables, cheese and … milk for women. Interestingly, the concentration of glutamic acid in woman’s milk is nearly 30 times higher than in cow’s milk.The combination of sweet taste and umami means that the child eagerly and long feeds on the mother’s food.Glutamic acid in breast milk is designed to protect the baby’s internal mucous membranes, act as a neurotransmitter and provide a source of nitrogen. ”

Monosodium glutamate is self-limiting, which means that adding more to the food does not result in an ever-better taste, too high a dose may even worsen.” The most acceptable palatability is obtained with a content of 0.2-0.8% of monosodium glutamate in the mass of the product, MSG in processed foods shall be used in such quantities.


The importance of glutamate to the human body

On the subject of monosodium glutamate, there are 3 terms for the monosodium glutamate itself, i.e. the addition of glutamic acid to the food, which is an amino acid, a sodium glutamate precursor and glutamate – an ion formed after the dissolution of the two previous substances in water.

Both glutamic acid produced by the human body and supplied with food as well as the monosodium glutamate added to food products in the body are dissociated, i.e. they break down into glutamate and the second ion.

In fact, the effect of glutamate (ion) on human health should be considered, not on monosodium glutamate, because sodium after dissociation is used separately.” Glutamate is naturally produced by the body and has various functions

is a substrate for the synthesis of proteins,

is an important neurotransmitter, responsible for the proper functioning of the brain and nervous system,

is a component of glutathione – a scavenger of free radicals,

supplied with food is the main source of energy for intestinal cells.


Is monosodium glutamate safe for health?

Monosodium glutamate is considered safe for human health.” This request was made on the basis of reviews of scientific studies carried out by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1958, the Joint FAO / WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives in 1987 and by Scientific Committee on Food of the European Commission in 1991

However, in 1995, the Federation of American Associations of Experimental Biology stated that there is a group of particularly sensitive healthy people who react undesirably to the intake of high doses of MSG within 1 hour.MG is a very carefully studied food additive, which is a reason for its safety.

On the other hand, large food companies using sodium glutamate do not care about showing the negative effects of its excessive use, and they are often a source of funding for large-scale research.

As in all things, moderation is important in the consumption of MSG, it is certainly worth giving up eating highly processed food, which is the main source of MSG, and its food promotes overweight, obesity and metabolic diseases.


Chinese restaurant syndrome

The phenomenon described as a Chinese restaurant syndrome was based on the appearance of hypersensitivity in many people after eating a Chinese meal, such as headaches and dizziness, tightness in the chest, numbness of the neck, back and hands, weakness, arrhythmias, hot flushes , fainting.

These symptoms were initially associated with the presence of monosodium glutamate in meals.” The phenomenon began to be seen in the 1960s, and after thorough scientific research, it turned out that monosodium glutamate was not involved in the induction of symptoms, it was associated with other popular ingredients of Chinese cuisine, like nuts, shrimps and various herbs that are common allergens.


The effect of glutamate on headache

After reviewing scientific research into the possibility of headaches caused by monosodium glutamate, the taste enhancer has no such effect.” were given high MSG (3%) solutions, an increased frequency of headache, but the methodology of these tests was questioned because people could easily sense which solutions contain sodium glutamate and could self-suggest, believing that they are hypersensitive to MSG.


The effect of glutamate on asthma attacks

It has been suggested to increase bronchial asthma attacks after ingestion of monosodium glutamate, but scientific studies have not shown such association even after a single intake of large doses.” There were no changes in bronchial hyperreactivity or increase in markers of inflammation.


Effect of glutamate on urticaria

In a placebo-controlled, double blind study, the frequency of reactions to food additives in people with chronic urticaria was investigated. It was stated with 95% certainty that monosodium glutamate did not affect the exacerbation of urticaria.