MSG = Bad?

In the previous post we introduced Carol Hoernlein whose bio says, among other things, that with degrees in Engineering and Food Science, she worked in research and development for several gigantic corporations. Although she had set out aspiring to feed the world, Hoernlein quit her job as a Food Process Development Engineer more than 15 years ago. The precipitating incident was when, in her words, the Food and Drug Administration “failed to honestly inform the public about the science behind this widely used food additive in American processed food.”

Hoernlein’s pages are full of interesting and alarming information about the problematic substance made from wheat gluten. Glutamate is a useful amino acid except when it roams around unsupervised. It is called “non-essential” because beyond what the body makes on its own, any more is excess to requirements. Of even the natural kind, there can be too much, and it plays hell with Type 1 diabetes, as Hoernlein carefully explains.

And then, there are things we don’t even know about yet, including how much worse manufactured MSG is than the body’s own naturally produced glutamate. Hoernlein says,

[T]here are right-handed amino acids and left handed ones. They are like mirror images of each other. Processed MSG contains not only the kind of amino acids the body is used to handling, but mirror image ones too. This may cause problems because it is like putting the wrong glove on your hand. It’s not quite the same. We don’t exactly know what problems this may cause…

Why do we care?

We care because anything that even comes close to linking up with childhood obesity needs to be looked at at least once. The most obvious reason to blame MSG is that it makes food taste better, which is of course a cue to overeat. It encourages appetite by stimulating the pancreas to produce insulin, and that increases hunger.

Also, free glutamic acid is a chemical messenger and neurotransmitter. When the blood concentration rises, some people don’t even notice, while others experience unpleasant symptoms. So that is another strike against it, because feeling sick is stressful, and many stressed people, seeking to blot out pain and gain comfort, tend to eat.

Mixed signals

Even though MSG may cause adverse effects, the body does not recognize it as a true allergen, so that is another problem. Another drawback is that the body converts excess glutamate to GABA, a calming substance, and what’s not to like about that? It affects the same brain receptors as valium, and might even be addictive.

Next, some people are really mad because this whole MSG thing is a big scam designed to separate consumers from their money. MSG tricks the tongue’s perceptions, and persuades the body that it is ingesting actual protein. Thus, the manufacturer can include less real food in the recipe.

On this page the author points to several studies relating MSG to obesity. Another page lists dozens of ways in which MSG affects the system. One of them is Type 2 diabetes. Hoernlein says,

MSG, when eaten triples insulin release. Quickly. Glutamate is what tells the pancreas cells to release insulin. This is despite the fact that glutamate is not a carbohydrate. If the body is not getting rid of free glutamate fast enough, excess insulin may be the clue. In obesity studies, diabetes and obesity can be reliably induced in mice.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “MSG Truth,”, undated
Source: “What Exactly is MSG?,”, 12/31/18
Source: “What Makes Me MSG Sensitive?,”, 05/5/2018
Photo credit: illuminating9_11 on Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
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Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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