Monosodium glutamate side effects

Monosodium glutamate is an additive that is used to enhance the flavor of various food items. When it is added to foods and processed items, it makes even the blandest and cheapest of foods to taste great and wonderful.

The story about the discovery of monosodium glutamate is quite fascinating. It is a known fact that for centuries, Japanese cuisine has used kombu and other such seaweeds to augment the flavor. In the early 1900s, a Japanese scientist discovered that glutamic acid was an active ingredient of kombu. Subsequently, the Japanese people started using its sodium salt, i.e. monosodium glutamate to add additional flavor to their foods.

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During the Second World War the American soldiers came to know that the Japanese foods that were supplied to the soldiers were a whole lot tastier and flavored than the American rations and that monosodium glutamate was the reason behind it. This knowledge spread to the Americas which resulted in the widespread use of monosodium glutamate in food items by the food industry.

Monosodium glutamate is cheap and wonderfully incorporates various kinds of flavors to even bland and tasteless foods such as fat-free or low fat vegetarian diets.

It is very cheap to manufacture monosodium glutamate as well as its other forms. On occasions, it can even be a by-product of another food process. The best known example is the brewer’s yeast which is a by-product of the brewing process and does contain glutamic acid. Therefore all the manufacturers actively use this ingredient in most of their processed foods.

Glutamic acid or monosodium glutamate is easily available in proteins. When such proteins are consumed in an unprocessed format, it provides a lot of nourishment to the body and does not cause any problems or health complications. However, when it is hidden in several different ingredients of processed food items, then it can lead to several adverse reactions of the body.

It is also important to note that monosodium glutamate does not have a taste or flavor on its own. It has to be combined with another food item to produce a consonant savory taste and smell. In addition, the quantity and concentration of monosodium glutamate along with other taste-active compounds has to be balanced to produce an overall taste in certain dishes.  An excess of monosodium glutamate will definitely end up in ill-flavored and unpleasant dishes. Food items such as beef, poultry, meat and fishes as well as various varieties of vegetables, soups, sauces and marinades can be mixed with monosodium glutamate to improve the taste and flavor of such dishes.

There are several side effects ranging from moderate to life threatening that result from the consumption of monosodium glutamate in processed and manufactured foods. Some of them are listed below:

  • Brian lesions or injury
    • Monosodium glutamate or glutamic acid can excite the neurons located in the brain. This process that results in the formation of excited neurons is what causes the food to taste better and more pleasurable. Most of the areas of the brain such as the hypothalamus have many receptors for monosodium glutamate. However, they do not have a blood-brain barrier that is impermeable. This gives free access for the assimilation of monosodium glutamate into the brain which can ultimately lead to brain injuries as well as the death of neurons and the formation of brain lesions.
    • Obesity-
      • Research studies indicate that intake of monosodium glutamate results in excessive amounts of insulin production by the pancreas. The increase in the secretion of insulin eventually leads to retention of fat resulting in obesity among individuals. The use of monosodium glutamate in processed foods is one of the leading causes of obesity in the United States.

Besides the above two side effects, there are several other side effects that are listed below. People should be aware that each individual has a different reaction to the ingestion of monosodium glutamate in processed foods and the side effects mentioned below may not be visible in all individuals.

  • Cardiac problems such as-
    • Arrhythmias
    • Rapid heartbeat
    • Severe drop or rise in the blood pressure
    • Angina
    • Circulatory problems such as-
      • Increased swelling
      • Excessive stiffness
      • Muscular aches and pains
      • Joint pain
      • Flu-like achiness
      • Neurological Problems such as-
        • Depression
        • Migraine headache
        • Disorientation, mental confusion
        • Seizures
        • Anxiety, Panic attacks
        • Hyperactivity or behavioral problems in children
        • Dizziness, light-headedness and/or loss of balance
        • Slurred speech
        • Lethargy, sleepiness and/or insomnia
        • Numbness or paralysis
        • Sciatica
        • Gastrointestinal problems such as-
          • Diarrhea
          • Stomach cramps
          • Bloating
          • Nausea and/ or vomiting
          • Irritable bowel
          • Respiratory problems such as-
            • Sneezing
            • Asthma
            • Chest pain and/or tightness
            • Shortness of breath
            • Runny nose
            • Skin problems such as-
              • Hives or rash
              • Facial flushing
              • Temporary tightness of the skin
              • Partial paralysis accompanied by numbness or tingling of the skin
              • Mouth lesions
              • Extreme dryness of the mouth
              • Urological problems such as-
                • Nocturia
                • Swelling of prostate
                • Visual problems such as-
                  • Blurred vision
                  • Difficulties in focusing
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