Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Is MSG good or bad?

This is one of the confusing issues in health. One would think that after all these years of research, people would have resolved this but it has become one of those unsolved dilemmas that persist on and on. Kind of like the mysteries of Stonehenge :-) One day, it is a burial site and the next day, it is a sophisticated astronomical observation site.

MSG (Mono sodium glutamate) is a sodium salt of glutamic acid (an amino acid, one of the building blocks of protein). This was isolated by a scientist in Japan in 1907and then marketed as "Aji no moto" or "the essence of taste". In Japan, MSG is supposed to give "umami" or a "savory taste" when used in cooking. This company went on to become a money spinner and entered various markets across the world. So when you want to step into a Chinese restaurant and wonder why your home-made Chow mein does not taste the same, it's probably because they add MSG as a flavor enhancer.

Now there was a furore caused in the 1960s that MSG was bad for health, claiming that it is an excitotoxin or neurotoxin which has degenerative effects on the brain and the nervous system. According to scientists, MSG has been linked to degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and also causes migraine headaches, asthma attacks, heart irregularities, etc. Excitoxicity basically means that it allows Ca2+ to enter cells and the infiltrated Ca2+ causes the production of enzymes which in turn destroy cell components such as the cytoskeleton (structure within the cytoplasm that maintains the cell structure), cell membrane and DNA.

But I can't help wondering how these effects are shown in Asian populations, especially since MSG is an integral part of the Asian diets such as Japanese, Chinese cooking, etc. This becomes all the more strange when you consider the fact that Glutamate is found naturally in sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, Shiitake mushrooms, certain types of seaweed and various meats and fish.

Please give me your two cents on these.

1 comment:

kouji | haiku said...

i've heard as well that it's bad for one's health. but it's yummy. :O