Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium Glutamate - What is MSG and Should We Be Scared of It?

 Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a food additive often used as a ‘flavour enhancer' in fast food, snack foods, tinned and frozen food. Why is MSG used so much, and is it bad for you?

Glutamate and the umami taste

Glutamate is an amino acid - one of the building blocks of the proteins found in all our cells and all the food we eat. When glutamate is not incorporated into proteins, it is known as free glutamate, and in this state it has some interesting properties. For one, it is responsible for the unique taste known as ‘umami', which roughly translates from Japanese as ‘savoury'.

The umami taste was first described in 1909 by a Japanese scientist, who isolated glutamate as the source of the unique taste, from dried seaweed. Dried seaweed has the umami taste because it is naturally high in glutamate, along with other foods including parmesan cheese, dried mushrooms and ripe tomatoes.

The idea of using glutamate as a food seasoning was born, and to make it convenient to use, it was manufactured as a stable white powder - monosodium glutamate. This powder is sold under names including ‘Ajinomoto', Ac'cent' and ‘Gourmet Powder' - you can find it in Chinese supermarkets in the UK.

Monosodium glutamate is found in many processed foods

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that adding MSG powder to something like soup improves the taste and texture - when compared to an identical soup without added glutamate. MSG is therefore an easy and convenient way to improve the flavour of any food, and is used a lot in processed food.

The glutamate added to foods may go under a different name, however. Added glutamate may be described as E621, glutamic acid, autolysed yeast extract or sodium caseinate, for example. MSG may also be included under vague descriptions such as ‘seasonings' or ‘hydrolysed protein'. The yeast extract in Marmite contains high levels of glutamate.

Is MSG bad for you?

The potential ill-effects caused by MSG were first described in a medical journal as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome'. Symptoms including numbness and palpitations were reported shortly after visiting a Chinese restaurant. Such claims have never been specifically linked to MSG however, and could be due to common allergies to ingredients like peanuts and shellfish.

MSG has been linked to many conditions including migraines, asthma, depression and Alzheimer's, but has never been isolated as a cause. Huge amounts of MSG have been fed to humans without causing ill-effects, and MSG is considered a safe additive by every government which tests these things.

Feeding excess glutamate to rats has caused some problems, including retinal damage, but only after feeding them massive amounts of MSG, much more than would ever be consumed by a human.

An ‘international team of experts' met in early 2007 to review the current knowledge of MSG safety, and concluded that MSG was ‘harmless for the whole population' (Consensus Meeting on monosodium glutamate, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition). They agreed that there was no new evidence (since their last meeting in 1997) that certain individuals reacted badly to MSG.

Glutamate is an important chemical in the brain, and there is the potential for neurological effects if very high levels of glutamate reached the brain. However, the ‘blood-brain' barrier effectively prevents this, and problems in rats have only occurred if massive amounts of MSG are given. The group did comment that people with some illnesses have a compromised blood-brain barrier, and the effect of this on brain glutamate levels is unknown.

All the evidence suggests that consuming normal amounts of added glutamate cause no ill-effects. However, it is possible that certain people could be particularly sensitive to glutamate, and if problems are linked to MSG-containing foods they may want to cut their intake of these foods.

The good news about MSG

Many people don't like the idea of MSG being added to their food, as it may be used to cover up poor ingredients, and it may stimulate the appetite. It is not clear whether any appetite-stimulating effect is actually due to effects on the ‘appetite centre' of the brain, or whether MSG increases appetite because it makes food taste better. MSG has been proposed as a good way of encouraging elderly people to eat when they have lost their appetite.

Adding glutamate may also have health benefits, as it reduces the need for added salt. According to the chef Heston Blumenthal, the umami taste adds ‘depth and strength' top the flavour of a dish. However, you can easily ‘add umami' to a dish by adding glutamate-rich ingredients such as parmesan cheese or soy sauce, rather than MSG powder.

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"yeah my mum gets puffy eyes when she eats it and it used to inflame my dads gout every time without fail. thats not normal food. and peanuts are natural by the way not brewed up in a lab and called "food""


"msg in this form.. is not natural. I do not care if people are sensitive to it or not.... it is used to get people addicted to food, if it has a psychological effect and is addictive.. it should be banned. It makes poor nutrition food taste great... it is a deceptive drug full stop period."


"MSG is based on a natural food enhancer that the Chinese used for thousands of years, which is derived from certain mushrooms. This natural food enhancer is okay. It's the synthetic version that is not. and obviously with the man made version being far far cheaper then... money means everything to corporations, peoples health is secondary if there at all! "


"I have a very severe allergy to MSG. In my case it caused asthma and interstitial cystitis, the cystitis persisting for three years (this is NOT the ordinary, bacterial type of cystitis - it is much worse and causes constant, unbearable pain). How can you post such a whitewash? This is a dangerous substance. it has robbed me in permanent pain for several years of my life and others should be warned against it.
(Admin: Many people are allergic to food products/additives e.g. nuts. This does not mean they should be banned. MSG is consumed by 100's of millions of people each year. A few people, as can be seen below, have life changing conditions which are linked to MSG via anecdotal evidence. This does not make this a 'whitewash' article. It simply states the results of larger studies into its effects - which on the whole show it to be safe even in large quantities. If anyone has evidence of different conclusions in large scale, peer reviewed studies, then we would be glad to look into. I suspect that as RHW states below that a very small percentage of people are susceptible to quite severe effects - which is highly unfortunate - but does not make the basics of the article incorrect.
Does anyone who suffers from suspected MSG allergies have advice for fellow sufferers e.g. non-obvious foods to avoid?)"


"It is definitely MSG that gives me migraine that last up to 5 days. This has been happening for most of my life and I had no idea why (now 53). I can't function properly. Every movement is agony, can't cough or sneeze without raging piercing pain shooting through my head. It took me a long time, and a lot of bad pain in my head to realise what it was doing it. Trying to avoid it is very difficult as it is in so many things. Chinese food, packet/tin soups, pot noodle, crisps, manufactured pies, gravy mixes, the list goes on - basically anything savoury that you don't make yourself. I now make my own stocks for cooking, make everything from scratch and ask for gravy on the side at all restaurants so I can just drizzle a little on. Despite what the official bodies say, there are some of us out there that react badly to it. So those that say it's our imagination can go whistle."


"hi im 16 going on 17 and i always have a reaction to msg and i don't notice the only people who notice are my family and i become slow at every thing i do my mum has told me lots of times and it is the MSG in food that makes people like myself become slow or other things and for 3 years i had food with no chem's in and no MSG i have just had some thing yesterday with MSG in and the first people to notice fere my family so for some like me are sensitive to the additive and it has been proven that MSG has side effects dizzy ness, ECT so please try not to have any of this additive in food thank you"

James Aldous

"Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and it is known that excess glutamate can damage nerve cells. There are mechanisms that prevent glutamate brain levels from reaching toxic concentrations when blood glutamate levels are high however in some people these mechanisms may be less efficient. High glutamate levels following ingestion of glutamate rich foods can trigger events such as migraines. Aspartic acid which is also very similar to glutamate and is released when aspartame is ingested causes the same effects as glutamate. Last year Aarno Palotie published an article on August 29 in Nature Genetics which showed that patients with a particular DNA variant on chromosome 8 between two genes, PGCP and MTDH/AEG-1, have a significantly greater risk for developing migraine. The variant appears to alter the activity of MTDH/AEG-1 in cells, which regulates the activity of the EAAT2 gene; the EAAT2 protein is responsible for clearing glutamate from brain synapses in the brain. The results suggest that an accumulation of glutamate in synapses in the brain may play a key role in the initiation of migraine attacks. Not only has EAAT2 been linked with migraine but also with other neurological diseases including epilepsy, schizophrenia, and various mood and anxiety disorders. My migraines are triggered by foods containing added glutamate such as packet soups, cereals containing malt extract and natural glutamate sources such as Parmesan cheese. Therefore although glutamate may not show immediate harmful effects in most people there are individuals that are genetically predispoded who will manifest these toxic effects of excesss glutamate and who should eliminate or reduce glutamate in their diet."


"I am a chef, and Chinese cuisine is part of my menu, but without MSG...all my menu's are done without MSG...most of my customers found it great, some cant believe how i done it without MSG. for me,fresh and natural recipe is the best, u dont need additives or enhancers to make your food taste better...its all about using the right recipe. MSG is addictive..people who are using it,make them attached to its unami taste...and hard to be satisfy if the food doesn't have they dont know what exactly the taste of natural foods. I dont agree making UNAMI the fifth kind of taste. how about the chili/spicy taste? is it the sixth then...???unami is just the mixture of sweet and salty... eat fresh...stay healthy"


"I get migrains from eating MSG myself (as do alot of people, who thob it off as \'stress related\' or just general busy/tiredness). Most of you will refuse to believe it\'s from MSG, aspartame or any of these horrendus added \'flavourings\' to our food and drink. It\'s almost hilarious (Almost, not quite) that we just sit around, eating junk and not even know what most of the stuff that is added to our food. (Probably not you reading this as you\'re on this website, but the majority). Surely, if you\'re reading this and agree that there are certain dangerous chemicals added in food, you don\'t think the government and all these scientists don\'t know this already? There\'s a much broader problem than just chemicals in our food. "


"I believe MSG has an adverse effect on people. I am sensitive to any chemicals, and cannot handle caffiene for instance. I started reading this page as someone suggested to me that I was reacting to the MSG in the Chinese meal Id eaten. I had a raging thirst all night, which 3 pints of water couldn't satisfy (and Id had no alcohol!) And I also didn't sleep at all, had a 'ringing' in my head and was sensitive to every little noise and just didn't feel sleepy! Also felt hot, and had palpitations. Now I feel tired, and have puffy eyes!"


"The augument against MSG has been going on and on for ages and reading the comments here it seems to me that as with ALL foods, different food effect different people. I worked as achef for about 40years and I love it.MSG is a wonderful flavour enhancer especially when you do not want to add more salt etc. Just use it sparingly. You can always add more but you cant take it out! So many people today want to have an allergy.Poor things."

Fred hartwell

"Hello. I am a neurofeedback therapist. With neurofeedback I help clients with ADHD, migraine, PTSD, stress related problems, depression, anxiety, etc. Neurofedback is a brain learning method where EEG is taken (brain wave frequencies are measured and the client modifies dominant frequencies). Therefore I have to do with lots of brains and brain conditions. Glutamate is a so called neurotransmitter. This transmitter from one neuron (brain cell) to another influences directly the communication in the brain. I work a lot with ADHD kids. Most of them love for example certain crisps. So I asked them for permission of a test. Always when they ate lots of crisps with added gutamate, the result was that their focus or concentration was significant worse compared to those kids who ate crisps without added glutamate. I even made a test with some of them with identical nutrition for several days with only the difference that in one group they ate food with added MSG. The difference were very clear! The group with glutamate was not able to focus or concentrate very well. The other group could better focus. And I compared the same individuals with and without glutamate. Very big difference! My conclusion: glutamate blocks certain communication from brain cells. Since this I always recommend to parents to look for a nutrition without added glutamate. Well, I know it is difficult to find it, because it is in so much different food. But it is worth to look for it. I also accept that glutamate is probably not the only factor, but at least ONE factor. And of course, sometimes stuff with glutamate is just more tasty, and I really appreciate the idea with elder people who have no appetite, eating msg added food to eat at least more. Still, I think that it is worth to look for good and healthy nutrition in any case. My clients at least have better results if they choose nutrition without or with less glutamate. "

Peer Siegel-Gradenwitz, Neurofeedback Practice London

"Good page,very useful."

andy hall

"We are all responsible for ourselves- we should not expect the government to look after us/ or a Chinese restaurant."


"the truth is that MSG is not proven safe regardless of what the FDA or and beureucratic instution says otherwise. It seems quite likey that hiding MSG with other words like "natural flavors" , is a clear attempt to hide the real truth about it. It is a neurotoxin poised to kill Neurons. We get headaches because MSG goes in to the bloodstream and begins the process of uptake in the brain. Therefore, the brain is not used to this toxin and reacts. Very simple to understand. also don't drink Fluoride, I beg you."

Whoever believes what they read on the internet, believe what they want to only. Not because it is true, or false. But this is closer to the truth than anything else.

"The sad fact and a resent study showed that a lot of natural food contain Glutamate, this includes mushrooms, broccoli and tomatoes to name a few. It showed that some people have an allegy to Glutamate and have a adverse reaction and the sad thing is as soon as people demonise something everyone jumps on the bandwagon and blames the additive, regardless that it occurs naturally in certain foods."

M Lyne

"complete rubbish! Natural glutamate is one thing but when it is manufactured it is produced in the form of a stereo isomer and is handled differently by the body"


"All this fuss about MSG causing problems - how do you know it's the MSG? Have you been tested for acute insensitivity to MSG, or you just supposing it was the Chinese meal you ate? MSG occurs naturally in tomatoes and brocolli among other thinks, so perhaps you just get yourself tested like anyone else before you go pointing the finger of blame."

Dave R.

"It's so nice to know that I am not alone with my reaction to MSG. It's not just chinese food that I cannot eat though, it is crisps! Although i have noticed that a few of the crisp companies have taken MSG out of their ingredients, I wonder why that is....."

Vicky, UK

"My vote is definitely against MSG. I try and avoid it, but it is often added to food in restaurants and to fast foods. I only find out that the food that I ate contained MSG when I get severe migraine (I ONLY get migraine when I eat MSG) or a very bad diaree. If using it in their food, restaurants should be forced to disclose it."


"I am 54 years old and Monosodium Glutamate is very Dangerous and causes me to have Epileptic Siezures only Chemicals cause me to have Siezures. I have had Epilepsy since age 10 for 44 years after having falling off my bike they didnt have helmets for kids in 1966 and i suffered from a concussion and MSG is an excitotoxin to the brain my Dr. said and it causes Siezures"

Judy Brauman

"Those people calling for this stuff to be banned - just because you don't get on with it (or at least believe that) doesn't give you the right to stop the rest of us from enjoying it. I don't get on with ibuprofen, but I appreciate other people get on fine with it so live and let live. Stop being so selfish and self centred - I'm sorry it means you may have to read the labels of any food you eat, but honestly you should be doing that anyway. I have no food sensitivities but I still like to know exactly what I'm eating. Also, those folk who are complaining they can't eat Chinese food anymore but they really used to love it - you used to love it so much largely because of the MSG! I guarantee that most of the people who claim to avoid it are not doing so as it has so many different names and companies have so many different ways of hiding it as an ingredient that it's all but impossible to avoid unless you personally prepare everything from fresh."

MSG Forever

"I am quite sure there are those people who react very badly to MSG. Lots of people do to shellfish and peanuts too! I haven\'t added MSG to food in a long time, but when living in Hong Kong it was a daily practice, by myself and a couple of million other people, and there was absolutely no sign of everyone dropping like flies after imbibing it."


"Over how many years has MSG been used in the everyday foods we eat? I doubt few people were aware of its general use and, looking at the extended life span of modern man, it would not appear to have done any harm. There will always be the alarmist to try and scare the wits out of the vulnerable ... they seem to relish in this type of propaganda."


"i have had facial swelling so bad that i could not go out and have had weeks off work . i have even been given a epipen as my reaction was very bad it took a lot to realise what it was i was allergic to and i too feel it should be band . i had bad head pains in my chest and could,t feel my arms . since avoiding foods with msg in i have not had any reactions. i read everything before i eat it now"


"What a load of nonsense some people write, they eat in a restaurant, feel ill and it must be MSG, NOT the seafood or chicken that's past its sell by date, there must be some people that are upset by eating MSG but no more than are upset by peanuts, mussels / any seafood etc "


"I found this information to be quite helpful and understanding. What some people should realize,and must come to the realization that they are responsible for what gose into their bodies. We should know if something is good or bad for our health. To much of any one things is never good any-ways. How often people take time to read the labels of their foods before eating?. Most times in order for them to pickup good habit, they will\'ve to get ill frist in order for them to start reading the does and the dont. I\'m a lover of chinnes food, but I don\'t take-out any-where often. It is the same like KFC and all the others, you just have to be careful what you do, and how you do it my friend. "

Grenada Black Berry

"If you're going to tell me that MSG, or anything else, is harmless, I expect to see verifiable citations, and/or links to the supporting research. All we have in this article is unsupported opinion no more - and no less - valid than anyone else's opinion in this thread."

Ron Graves.

"Every time I have ANYTHING with MSG in it, I have sickness and diahorrea. Also I am a migraine sufferer which, from your article, appears to be linked. I think it should be banned!"


"Thanks for the info! I think the basic problem is, there's way too much negative press about MSG that most common folk equate this to a proven carcinogen - like tobacco. Agreed that it is probably bad for *some* people, but then, so are peanuts! In the end, I think MSG in moderate quantities is no problem unless you're allergic or something."


"I love chinese food, and often cook it myself. I never use MSG in my cooking, and have never had a bad reaction to it. I do, however, often have palpitations and hypertension after eating at some chinese restaurants, which I therefore put down to MSG. I have been reading up on MSG intolerances, and find that one point always seems to be missing - SODIUM - this is that part of salts that cause hypertension. As someone that suffers from mild hypertension, I watch my salt intake very carefully - I use spices and herbs to flavour food rather than salt where possible, and only use Sea salt crystals when cooking. MSG is totally unnecessary - it should be possible to get the flavour into food without having to "enhance" it with other additives. As is often pointed out MSG does not affect everyone, in fact those that it does affect probably have a food intolerance in the same way that some people have intolerances to gluten, peanuts, fish, dairy products, etc. The big difference is that on food labelling those are pointed out on allergy warning labels, and in restaurants, most menus warn about the presence of nuts - there is no such warning for MSG - on packaging, you HAVE to check the label, and in restaurants, I have never seen any warning of MSG."


"I had a bad experience at a chinese restaurant a year ago - fainted, sick, the lot. Consequently off chinese food, which I loved. I asked my local Chinese takeaway why they used so much, and they told me they could cook for me without msg, I only had to ask! Tastes better too!!!"


"type2 diabetes sugar levels rise 100 per cent "

samuel dunne

"it took ages to work out it was msg taht made me feel so ill, and to see theres loads in mushrooms, cheese n toms, n marmite which is yeast based, all of which i have an intolerance to. found this out when i had a sensitivity test done at holland n barretts, cost 45£ about 10 years ago, best money ive ever spent, i thought i had m.e., but was eating stuff htat didnt agree with me. cut it all out, spent 3 days off the planet, ten days coming back again, and am rarely ill now. i would recommend the test to every one, my daughter had one done n she is also sensitive to loads of stuff. seems to get rid of depression also. the worst one for me is artificial sweeteners, foam at the mouth, halucinate, the works!! PHONE HOLLAND N BARRETT SEE IF THEY STILL DO SENSITIVITY TESTS, ITS WORTH IT!!!!"

janet watson

"very interesting information and very informative.thanks."



bob george

"whilst abroard in 2001, I had an anaphalactic reaction which turned out to be due to monosodium glutamate, this was found through subsequent tests,I have since made sure I dont have it in my diet, which is a pain as this ingredient is in such a lot of food and I did like chinese food. there is no need to put this in food, so why do we do it! "

julie Farrell

"I saw am article on msg on another website, which scared me a little, as checking my food stocks everthing from ham, cup-a-soups and most items contain this ingrediant. This other websight called it the silent killer. so to be sure I checked at random and I was relieved that all he said had been investigated and I am now reassured that it is a safe product. "

Malcolm Cadey

"I have had so many problems with the so called 'chinese restaurant syndrome'. not long after eating at several different Chinese restaurants, i found myself with a swollen and rashy face and extreme nausea, so bad i was hospitalized. i've never eaten at a Chinese restaurant or take away since and i have been told by many doctors that it was due to the high content of MSG. :( how annoying, i love chinese food so much too :("

ryan allen

"Flavour enhancers are only necessary if the natural qualities of a product's ingredients are diminished. Old faint-smelling spice becomes smelling like fresh and brings profit. It's something to fool a consumer. That should not be tolerated. The price must be lowered if producers had to "enhance" their food."


"Just like there is a significant minority allergic to peanuts, & peanut products, it doesn't mean peanuts are dangerous or poisonous to normal people. Billions woof down lots of MSG every day with no ill effects. I use MSG a lot, & cooked for a lot of people/events, yet nobody has ever fallen ill after eating my stuff. Just like the minority who allergic to peanut products, if you are sensitive to MSG you should avoid it. But don't call peanuts, peanut butter, & MSG poison, & take it away from everybody else. There will always be some food that won't agree with a a few, or that they are allergic to, that are fine & possibly healthy to most of the population. Then there are some who aren't sensitive to normal amounts of MSG, but the cook got carried away or careless & used way too much. I think nobody ever fell ill eating my stuff is I use just enough, & not too much so it drowns out the natural food tastes, & leaves an after taste."


"Every time I eat out at a restaurant serving oriental food, I feel flushed and pulse rate increases Once after eating a soup with prawns in Singapore,I woke up a few hours later and everyone asked me what was wrong looking at me. I felt dazed,unsteady, disorientated and a doctor admitted me to hospital. On arrival I had extremely high BP and was treated and returned home after a few days.Am I allergic to MSG? I put down my high BP to an excess of MSG accidentally added due to the cooks hurry to serve as many as possible and did not look at the quantity he added as this was a fast food place. Am I right?"


"thanks for this information, it was really helpful "


"who is the author of this article?"


"Thanks for the valuable information."


"Hmm, I lived in Japan for ages and never had any problems. It's such a healthy and long-lived country and there's MSG in most things."


"thank you for the information about MSG, Thank you!"

josh draven

"the truth is that MSG is not proven safe regardless of what the FDA or and beureucratic instution says otherwise. It seems quite likey that hiding MSG with other words like "natural flavors" , is a clear attempt to hide the real truth about it. It is a neurotoxin poised to kill Neurons. We get headaches because MSG goes in to the bloodstream and begins the process of uptake in the brain. Therefore, the brain is not used to this toxin and reacts. Very simple to understand. also don't drink Fluoride, I beg you."


"thankyou very much, this information was very helpful!"


"I had an unfortunate experience in a London Chinese restaurant recently. Their food is very good quality overall, but as I had just finished eating I felt suddenly nauseous, sweating profusely and in danger of fainting. I managed to walk part way across the floor towards the toilet until I had to bend and cling to one of the chairs. I soon found myself being cradled by one of the waiters, as I came round. This was clearly MSG poisoning. I wonder how many other people have experienced this degree of MSG?"

F Davis-Burden

"According to the US Government, I don't exist: MSG makes me ill. We should not be afraid of MSG, but we should be afraid of dangerously naive articles like this one. I am often amazed at how many websites continue to repeat mis-information provided mainly by the MSG manufacturers association (just visit their website), or by the US Government, the same one that held the official position for 200 years that smoking tobacco was not harmful to your health. Thanks to C. Everett Koop for fixing that mistake. Eventually, the fake report from FASEB notwithstanding, the truth about MSG will become clear."


"hello. i found your page on MSG very interesting as i have been having some strange symptoms such as palpitations, headaches, numbness in my face and hands, and shortness of breath. I came to the conclusion that these syptoms were due to a food allergy so i made a note of everything i ate and when the symptoms occurred. I found that the symptoms began about five minutes after eating, certain chinese foods, cup soups, certain brands of crisps and pot noodles. I found that all these foods had one ingredient in common .. MSG. So i completely avoided all MSG containing food and the syptoms disappeared completely. Yesterday i ate a bag of MC coys crisps which contained MSG and within 5 minutes i was feeling unwell. I may have a bad reaction to the ingredient but i think that people should be warned that MSG can cause some unpleasant symtoms and further study should be made to determine how safe MSG is for human consumption. Many Thanks Yvonne Turner."