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MSG: Is It a Problem?

by Olivia Guptill on February 22, 2014

One of the many topics of discussion in public health in our country is the almost unavoidable consumption of food additives. Food additives are added to food for many reasons, including changes in taste, texture, appearance, preservation, etc. One of the most commonly discussed food additives is MSG, otherwise known as monosodium glutamate (and a variety of other names). MSG consumption is a heated topic of debate, for it can be found in almost 80% of the foods we buy at a supermarket, including chicken, sausage, parmesan cheese, ranch dressing, soy sauce, fish, chips, soy protein,  hot dogs, gravy, and even unexpected sources like cigarettes and vaccines (Hoernlein, 2013). This is a problem due to the effects it seemingly has on our body’s health.

What is MSG? Hoernlein (2013) explains that MSG is a amino acid salt of Glutamate. “A salt is the chemical name for a molecule held together by opposite charges. Basically one sodium atom is ‘stuck’ to the amino acid glutamate.”

Why is MSG added to foods in the first place? There are a few reasons. First, MSG is a flavor enhancer. Primarily, it mimics the qualities of “high protein” foods, causing the body and tongue to perceive it as more fulfilling and nutritious than what might be true. Second, MSG stimulates the pancreas. When the pancreas produces insulin, blood sugar temporarily drops, and soon after when your body becomes hungry again because it is in need of nutrients, you will return to eat more food. Third, it is cost efficient for the seller to add MSG to the food. More MSG means that less food feels more fulfilling to the consumer, which allows the consumer to pay more for less food (Hoernlein 2013).

  There have been many studies that have tried to determine whether MSG adds an increased risk of obesity and cardiovascular issues. A study done in 2012, where the subjects (rats) were fed msg and compared to a control group, “ Body weight, Lee index, and epididymal white adipose tissue values were higher in the monosodium glutamate group in comparison to the control group. The monosodium glutamate-treated rats displayed insulin resistance” and “The mean arterial pressure values were higher in the monosodium glutamate rats, whereas heart rate variability (>7 times), bradycardic responses (>4 times), and vagal (~38%) and sympathetic effects (~36%) were reduced as compared to the control group” (Konrad).

To break down the information above, the rats who were fed MSG displayed higher body weight and fat tissue, higher blood pressure, insulin resistance (as displayed in diabetes), and a decrease in heart rate variability and sympathetic nervous system response. These issues are among concern for they contribute to our contry’s severe health, weight and cardiovascular problem, and this additive can be found in almost 80% of the foods we as a society consume.


Hoernlein, P.E., C. (2013). “What Exactly Is MSG?” MSG Truth, 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2014.

Konrad SPFarah VRodrigues BWichi RBMachado UFLopes HFD’Agord Schaan BDe Angelis KIrigoyen MC. (2012). “Monosodium glutamate neonatal treatment induces cardiovascular autonomic function changes in rodents. Clinics, Vol.67(10),p.1209-1214

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