Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Does MSG Deserve Its Reputation With Headaches?

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Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common flavour enhancer found in canned foods and is typically associated with Chinese restaurant meals or takeaways.  Some of the side effects reported from its consumption include headaches, dizziness, flushes and asthma.  Where is the evidence to support these claims?

It’s an interesting topic for debate.  I was inspired to write about it today as I felt that my knowledge in this area was not especially spectacular.  I cannot say that I can recall having experienced any of these symptoms after a Chinese takeaway either.  But then again, how often do I enjoy Chinese?  I would say, once in a blue moon.  Tinned fruit or vegetables, ah yes – you will definitely find these in my cupboards and in yours probably too. 

Having said that, I particularly love home cooked wholesome meals and limit preservatives wherever possible.  I think that you will agree, that you cannot really rid your diet completely from artificial additives or preservatives.  All that you can ever do is to minimise intake.

The controversy with MSG related headaches are that children do not report these symptoms and this is because immature or young cells appear immune to the effects of MSG as reported in a study in International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Medicine in 2009.  In contrast, adult mature mice cells did exhibit cell swelling or injury but this was entirely dose dependent. 

It was also discussed that boiling food for up to 10 minutes did not destroy MSG in a particular food item.  Vitamin C on the other hand appeared to show a protective effect against MSG damage.  Pre-exposure to a low dose of MSG could also either prevent or reduce the symptoms experienced post eating MSG containing foods.  

In other words, you can build a tolerance level to MSG intake and thus reduce headaches experienced after ingesting foods containing MSG.

The final word, although MSG has been quoted to hold the ability to trigger migraines, the findings from adult clinical trials are not conclusive.  For individuals who believe that they do experience headaches associated with MSG intake, learn to recognise these symptoms.  Consider keeping a headache journal and don’t forget to evaluate; is it MSG or could it be the lack of sleep, inadequate fluids or your high caffeine intake?

Either way, even if you do decide to place MSG behind bars, one solution is home prepared meals with increased use of natural and fresh ingredients where ever possible.  So perhaps, fewer sauces out of a can and more of those freshly prepared home dishes with a rich array of coloured fruit and vegetables. 

If you need ideas to get started, see Sicilian Inspired Prawn Pasta With Homemade Passata.

What are your thoughts on MSG lovely readers?  I'm sorry if this post appears very haunted, but then again, it is Halloween!