In Monday’s column, we laid out the scientific consensus after nearly 40 years of research: MSG is completely harmless, and there is no evidence for a complex of allergic symptoms (“Chinese restaurant syndrome”) caused by MSG. Nonetheless, our friend and colleague, Nancy Piscatello, the New York Health Food Examiner has written her minority views on the subject and published them in two columns since then. She has indicated there may be a third column on the way.
As we indicated in our previous article, MSG is not only a common ingredient in prepared foods, but occurs naturally in cheeses, such as the Parmesan (shown in the photo) purchased at Stop and Shop and soy sauces.
MSG is also present in the hydrolyzed proteins and yeast ingredients she lists, although there are some errors in her list. Citric acid is extracted from citrus fruits and is a pure compound containing no MSG. Likewise she lists “nairium glutamate,” but probably meant “natrium glutamate,” since “natrium” is Latin for “sodium.”
Much of the rest of her first article suggests that since MSG may appear in other ingredients, it is possible that we are consuming far more MSG than we think and that this is not safe. Of course there is no scientific evidence for this assertion. She also notes that MSG may appear in some vaccines. This is true, but since it has been ruled as safe for the entire population, this is not significant.
She notes that MSG in excessive amounts can become toxic, but neglects to note that in the experiments by Lucas and Newhouse in which rats developed corneal problems and brain lesions, their dry food was mixed with 10% to 20% by weight of MSG, rendering it pretty much inedible. They were lucky to be able to survive at all! MSG exerts is effects on taste when only very small quantities are present, and is self-limiting: larger amounts have no further effect. Adding very large amounts of MSG causes a very unpleasant, bitter taste, so it is pretty difficult to imagine eating MSG in any significant quantity. And at the outrageous amounts in the experiments noted, almost any additive (including salt) would become a poison.
She provides a link to an article by noted nutritionist Marion Nestle which she says indicates that she knew of “problems caused by MSG” since the 1970s. She neglects to include this very important quote, however:
That is why I told the reporter that there was no clinical evidence for problems and why “I thought the issue was settled though I know a lot of people will never believe that.”
Finally she brings up the issue of MSG in a “manufactured version” versus a naturally occurring version, claiming that the manufactured version contains mono and dichloro propanols. Actually this happens when cheap soy sauce is made by acid hydrolysis rather than by fermentation. You will find this problem in some cheap Asian imported sauces. The FDA is well aware of the problems of these cheap sauces and has set compliance levels of 1 ppm for these products. Higher amounts can result in the products being seized.
In her second column, she again brings up the burning sensations allegedly causes by MSG, even though placebo-controlled scientific research has concluded that no such reaction exists, even in a subset of the population.
She also cites publications by Dr Russell Blaylock claiming that glutamate causes cancer to “grow like wildfire,” and has similar criticisms of aspartame. Blaylock is a retired neurosurgeon who also believes that vaccines are dangerous, that dental amalgams and fluoridated water are harmful and that we should not use aluminum cookware. He has abandoned science-based medicine for pseudo-science or to put it less politely, is a crackpot.
It is a common debating trick, frequently used by politicians on the wrong side of the facts, to claim that they are only “contributing to the debate,” when in fact the facts are absolutely clear. There is no longer any debate on this issue: hundreds of scientific experiments have concluded that MSG is safe for the entire population.