Why do so many people think MSG is bad for you?
Most people seem to believe MSG is bad for you. In fact, it is far more likely to be good for you.
Simon Oxenham covers the best and the worst from the world of psychology and neuroscience. Formerly writing with the pseudonym "Neurobonkers", Simon has a history of debunking dodgy scientific research and tearing apart questionable science journalism in an irreverent style. Simon has written and blogged for publishers including: The Psychologist, Nature, Scientific American and The Guardian. His work has been praised in the New York Times and The Guardian and described in Pearson's Textbook of Psychology as "excoriating reviews of bad science/studies”.
Follow Simon on Twitter
Like Simon on Facebook
Follow Simon on Google+
Subscribe via Email
Subscribe via RSS
Contact Simon directly by Email
In last week's post, we looked at the placebo effect's evil cousin, the nocebo effect, which can lead people to experience side effects from placebo pills and believe that WiFi and wind farms are causing them to become sick. A seemingly far more common belief that also appears to be caused by the nocebo effect is the idea that monosodium glutamate (MSG), the common ingredient in oriental foods, can cause headaches and other side effects.
MSG quickly becomes glutamate when it meets with water, resulting in the taste of “umami” or the savory flavor we associate with foods such as Parmesan, soy sauce, and Roquefort — all natural sources of glutamate. Glutamate is also contained to a lesser extent in plenty of everyday foods including pork, beef, chicken, eggs, potatoes, corn, tomatoes, squid, scallops, and sardines.
Since way back in 1968, anecdotal reports of negative reactions to Chinese food have been attributed to MSG, after a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine in which the phenomenon was branded "Chinese restaurant syndrome." But despite the apparent popular consensus, this is most likely another syndrome that exists only in the mind. Decades of research summarised in a 2009 review of the literature on MSG refutes the existence of Chinese restaurant syndrome.
Negative symptoms have been reported in past studies involving MSG, but crucially, these studies were all small, uncontrolled, and unblinded, allowing the participants' expectations to impact the results. When studies have been placebo-controlled and double-blinded, there is no difference in symptoms between participants ingesting normal amounts of MSG and participants who ingested a placebo.
Recent research suggests MSG might not only not be bad for you — it could actually be used to help people eat a healthy diet, as the savory foods that stimulate umami taste buds are important for overall health. A study published recently in the journal Flavour found that old people who had lost the sensitivity of their umami taste buds complained of appetite and weight loss. The researchers measured umami sensation by placing monosodium glutamate (MSG) on specific areas of the mouth and tongue. The researchers found that giving their participants kelp tea, which is rich in MSG, resulted in improvements in salivation, taste function, and appetite.
Next time you are having dinner with someone and they mention they react badly to MSG, you might want to ask them if they have ever heard of the nocebo effect.
Sasano, T., Satoh-Kuriwada, S., & Shoji, N. (2015). The important role of umami taste in oral and overall health. Flavour, 4(1), 10.
Williams, A. N., & Woessner, K. M. (2009). Monosodium glutamate ‘allergy’: menace or myth?. Clinical & Experimental Allergy, 39(5), 640-646.
Image Credit: Shutterstock
Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.
- Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
- Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
- Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.
- A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
- It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
- Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.
If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.
Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.
Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons
13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.
It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.
But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.
John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."
What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.
Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.
The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.
- The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
- The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
- It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.