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Is MSG Bad For You?

Also Known As: monosodium glutamate



Short answer

MSG is bad for you. It acts on your body like glutamate and negatively affects your hypothalamus that controls major organs in the body.



Long answer

MSG’s use in foods remains incredibly controversial in the general public. The FDA recognizes its use as generally safe for consumption. MSG occurs naturally in some foods like tomatoes, cheese, “hydrolyzed” food ingredients, yeast extract, soy extract and protein isolates in the form of glutamic acid. The MSG in processed foods is chemically synthesized from the fermentation of starch, beets, sugar cane or molasses. The natural versions do not have to be listed on ingredient labels but the synthesized type does. So there must be a difference!

MSG is added to foods to enhance the flavor, typically giving it a savory flavor. But at what cost?

Many people report experiencing adverse effects after eating foods that contain this additive. These symptoms are collectively referred to as the “MSG symptom complex” and include symptoms such as headache, skin flushing, sweating, pressure, tightness, numbness, tingling, or burning in the face, heart palpitations, chest pains, nausea and muscle weakness. These are not just anecdotal complaints, though. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study by Yang et al. in 1997 confirmed that MSG causes this symptom complex at an average of 2.5 grams of MSG.

Everyone may not experience these type of symptoms immediately following a meal containing MSG, but that does not mean it is safe for you. MSG is cumulative in your body, meaning it builds up over time and exposure – it may not bother you today, or tomorrow, or even next week but eventually you will hit your threshold. MSG is a form of glutamate, an excitotoxin that stimulates the nervous system, and MSG acts the same way on your body. This overstimulation and inflammatory response in the body makes the body more and more sensitive to the substance producing a stronger reaction when the threshold is met.

Greater amounts of exposure to chemically synthesized MSG causes some pretty serious effects on health as demonstrated in mouse research. Since humans have glutamate receptors on every major organ, on our tongues, and in our brains, our sensitivity is roughly 5 times more intense than those mice. Chronic exposure in mice was shown to cause brain damage, nervous system damage, and hormonal changes.

Here is a warning pregnant women should be aware of: MSG does not just accumulate in your body, it can also cross the placental barrier and affect your growing baby. And after birth while your breastfeeding, infants and young children are 4 times more sensitive to MSG than you are. In kids, the effects of MSG can be seen in learning disability, behavior and emotional control issues and endocrine problems like obesity and short stature. These problems arise because glutamate acts on the hypothalamus in the brain which controls sleeping, temperature, pain, hormones and controls your heart, digestion, lungs, and bladder. This is one of the major reasons kids should avoid processed foods.

Possible short-term side effects

  • headache
  • skin flushing
  • tightness/pressure in the face
  • numbness/tingling
  • burning in the face/neck
  • heart palpitations
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • muscle weakness
  • hives or other allergic reaction

Possible long-term side effects

  • inflammation
  • brain damage
  • nervous system damage
  • hormonal changes
  • endocrine problems
  • learning disability
  • obesity
  • short stature

Commonly found in

  • chinese food
  • chicken / sausage products
  • dipping sauces
  • flavored snack chips
  • parmesan items
  • salad dressings
  • soy sauce
  • beef jerky
  • canned goods


  • flavor-enhancing
  • enhanced satiety

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Published on: 12-28-2015
Last updated: 12-10-2016

Thank you for your feedback!

Written by Kristin Brown, DC, MS
Published on: 12-28-2015
Last updated: 12-10-2016

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