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New Link Between MSG and Fatty Liver

Besides giving you a headache and heart palpitations, MSG (monosodium glutamate) might be contributing to obesity and a fatty, inflamed liver.

Most of us know monosodium glutamate by its initials, MSG. This flavor enhancer can transform food from tasting average to unbelievably delicious. Unfortunately, it may not be the safe food additive it is claimed to be. Although any problems with MSG had previously been attributed to food sensitivities, new research demonstrates that MSG consumption could initiate obesity and fatty liver disease.

Many mistakenly assume that only Asian restaurant foods contain monosodium glutamate, but it is found in everything from soups, to chips, to main courses. In fact, you can even buy MSG in a small bottle in the grocery store’s spice section. Adding MSG to food tends to give it a boost known as ‘umami’ – a taste sensation that is savory…and addictive.

According to The Glutamate Association, MSG has been used safely for 100 years to enhance the savory taste of food. Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, one of the most abundant amino acids in the diet that occurs naturally in protein-containing foods such as meat, vegetables and dairy products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classify monosodium glutamate as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe.” Nonetheless, countless reported problems render the use of MSG controversial. As such, the FDA has mandated that monosodium glutamate must be listed on the label whenever it is added to food.

Despite the FDA’s safety claim for monosodium glutamate, there have been a significant number of adverse reactions to this food additive. Known as MSG symptom complex, the short-term symptoms most frequently reported include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial Pressure
  • Numbness
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Chest Pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

While these symptoms are considered to be mild and self-resolving, some researchers have delved deeper into the potential for MSG to cause harm.

In 2008, Japanese researchers published a study in the Journal of Autoimmunity investigating the connection between MSG and inflammation in the liver. The investigators found that MSG induced obesity and diabetes with fat accumulation in the liver accompanied by inflammation. Although this research was conducted on mice, the authors suggested reconsideration of monosodium glutamate as a safe substance.

Recently, some of the same researchers partnered with others from the U.S. and Italy, and published an article in the March 2014 edition of the Journal of Medicinal Food. This time, MSG was identified as a critical factor in the initiation of obesity. In addition, they found that MSG-treated animals fed a calorie restrictive diet continued to manifest obesity and early stage NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). Considered to be a component of metabolic syndrome, NASH is fat accumulation in the liver with accompanying liver inflammation.

Although human trials and years of irrefutable evidence will be needed to change MSG’s ‘safety profile,’ those who are at high risk for or are already dealing with fatty liver disease can take a valuable message away from this research. Although your favorite Pork Lo Mein or bag of Doritos® may bring you comfort and umami joy, they may not be as innocuous as previously thought. To be on the safe side of metabolic and liver health, check to make sure you aren’t consuming monosodium glutamate, regardless of whether or not you suffer from MSG symptom complex., What Role Does MSG Play in Obesity and Fatty Liver Disease, Vicki Cohn, Retrieved June 1, 2014, AAAS, 2014., 5 Surprisingly Toxic Items To Your Liver, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved June 1, 2014, Natural Wellness, 2014., What is MSG? Is it Bad for You?, Katherine Zeratsky, RD, LD, Retrieved June 1, 2014, Mayo Foundation for Clinical Education and Research, 2014., Monosodium Glutamate, Obesity and Liver Disease, Retrieved June 1, 2014, MediLexicon International, Ltd., 2014., MSG Facts – Everything About Monosodium Glutamate, Retrieved June 1, 2014, The Glutamate Association, 2014., Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): A Villian and Promoter of Liver Inflammation and Dysplasia, Nakanishi Y, et al, Retrieved June 1, 2014, Journal of Autoimmunity, February-March 2008., A dietary restriction influences the progression but not the initiation of MSG-Induced nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, Fujimoto M, et al, Retrieved June 1, 2014, Journal of Medicinal Food, March 2014.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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