Our Search for Truth
Six years before the Truth in Labeling Campaign was incorporated, we knew little about Jack’s sensitivity. We knew only that it was brought on by ingestion of monosodium glutamate and other food additives that contained the toxic component of monosodium glutamate, i.e., processed free glutamic acid (MSG).
We were looking for answers to the riddle of Jack’s sensitivity – particularly his loss of consciousness. What, exactly, caused his reactions? Why did some people react, while others did not? But we found it extraordinarily difficult to look for answers when we didn’t know what the questions to others should be. Adrienne started with the phone book and the phone and looked up "dietician," and "nutrition," and "FDA."She called colleges and universities, and when those to whom she spoke couldn't answer her questions, she asked them to tell her who could. One call that paid off was to the University of Illinois, where she was referred to Dr. Steve Taylor at the University of Nebraska -- "the authority on MSG”. The Institute of Food Technologists referred her to Dr. Steve Taylor. The American Dietetic Association, the American Medical Association, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) referred her to The Glutamate Association.
Adrienne spoke to Richard Cristol at The Glutamate Association. He assured her that Jack could not possibly be sensitive to MSG, and he sent her a book that, he said, would prove that Jack was not sensitive to MSG. Richard Cristol also suggested that Adrienne speak to Steve Taylor, who assured her that Jack could not be sensitive to MSG, and suggested that she speak to Richard Cristol at The Glutamate Association. She had come full circle.
The book sent by Richard Cristol, Glutamic Acid: Advances in Biochemistry and Physiology(1), contained the proceedings of a symposium held in May, 1978 in Milan, Italy, for the thinly veiled purpose of appearing to prove that MSG was safe. It took only some carefully focused attention and a bent toward the truth, to realize that the research reported was, for the most part, built on inappropriate methodology and/or drew conclusions that did not follow from the results of the studies. There were, however, a limited number of papers that appeared to contain more than propaganda. One by John Olney was particularly interesting, and Adrienne set out to read more.
She read it all. When she couldn't understand what an author was saying, she went to the children's section of the library and took out elementary science books. She read dictionaries, encyclopedias, books, and journals. She had no difficulty reading scientific articles, and quickly discovered that there were two distinct sorts of studies: those that set out to uncover the truth, whatever that might be; and those that set out to lend credibility to the notion that monosodium glutamate was safe.
Some studies seemed to conclude that monosodium glutamate was a harmless substance, while other studies concluded that monosodium glutamate was toxic. That was very interesting to Adrienne the researcher, but told us nothing about the nature of the ingredients that caused Jack’s debilitating reactions, and why some, but not all, people suffered similar reactions. And that, after all, was what we were desperate to know.
The answers to our questions did come eventually, not from studies of the safety/toxicity of monosodium glutamate, but from individual consumers, manufacturers, food chemists, food technologists, food encyclopedias, trade magazines, people Jack met on airplanes, and intuition. First we came to understand that all of the adverse reaction triggers named by Dr. Schwartz contained free glutamic acid, i.e., glutamic acid that existed separate and distinct from protein. Then, as consumers began reporting that they reacted to products in addition to those with ingredients named by Dr. Schwartz, we began to realize that MSG-reactions were always associated with ingredients that contained manufactured free glutamic acid, be it freed from protein through some manufacturing process or through fermentation, or be it produced by genetically modified bacteria that were grown to excrete monosodium glutamate through their cell walls.
From trade journal articles and advertisements we learned that ingredients that contained processed free glutamic acid could be substituted for monosodium glutamate without sacrificing the perception of desirable taste. In addition, we learned that people in the food industry understood that there was profit to be made from monosodium glutamate substitutes that had “clean labels,” i.e., no indication that there was any processed free glutamic acid (MSG) in their product.
From a study done by Rundlett and Armstrong(2), we learned that processed food that contained free L-glutamic acid invariably contained free D-glutamic acid. And with that knowledge, we were able to search out information about the various impurities found in monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contained manufactured/processed free glutamic acid (MSG).We even found an explanation of impurities present in monosodium glutamate tucked away in the files of the FDA’s Dockets Management office.
On the Internet, we found copies of patents associated with the production of monosodium glutamate. It was from patents that we learned that in 1990, Ajinomoto’s monosodium glutamate was made by a process of bacterial fermentation wherein carefully selected genetically modified bacteria that were fed on various carbohydrate media secreted glutamic acid through their cell walls. Thus it became clear that the “monosodium glutamate” found in the marketplace prior to 1957, the time that Ajinomoto’s means of production changed, and the “monosodium glutamate” for sale in the United States after 1957, were essentially different products.
At the time, we found the contrast between the fact recorded in numerous US patents and the descriptions of the manufacture of monosodium glutamate mounted on the web pages of The Glutamate Association and other industry-friendly groups to be most interesting. Over time, we found that discrepancies between fact and glutamate industry propaganda created from glutamate industry fictions to be endemic.
Before we were finished, we realized that any glutamic acid that was ingested as a single amino acid would cause MSG reactions in people who exceeded their tolerances for the substance. We also came to understand that this processed free glutamic acid (MSG) can be intentionally produced/manufactured in food or chemical plants by acid hydrolysis, autolysis, enzymolysis, or bacterial fermentation; and MSG will be produced, possibly unintentionally, when a protein source is left to ferment. We found that MSG can be produced through a complex cooking process wherein a product referred to as a “reaction flavor” is produced from a combination of specific amino acids, reducing sugars, animal or vegetable fats or oils, and optional ingredients including hydrolyzed vegetable protein. And last but not least, we found that acid hydrolyzed proteins contain carcinogenic mono and dichloropropanols(3), and reaction flavors contain carcinogenic heterocyclic amines(4).
As pieces of the puzzle came together, we began to give serious consideration to the discrepancies in the published literature: the so-called scientific studies. We knew that processed free glutamic acid (MSG) caused adverse reactions. How could it be, then, that industry was able to produce studies from which it could conclude that MSG was safe?
The key to understanding how data could be manipulated to come up with the predetermined conclusion that monosodium glutamate could be considered a harmless flavor enhancer, still eluded us. Then, through careful rereading of each industry-sponsored study, we became aware that none of these studies met the assumptions of the statistical tests used and cited, and on that basis alone, the conclusions drawn from each and every study were invalid.
But there was something more. In the double-blind studies, where subjects ingested monosodium glutamate on one occasion and a placebo on another, researchers reported that there were as many responses to placebos as there were to monosodium glutamate test material. And that, we knew, could not be true. Unless, of course, those placebos were not truly inert, as placebos must be. But that was unthinkable. It was unthinkable that anyone – anyone -- would lace placebos with material that might cause adverse reactions.
By the beginning of 1991, however, we were thinking the unthinkable. And on February 4, 1991, at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) hearing on the Safety of Amino Acids Used in Dietary Supplements, Jack raised the question that should have rocked the glutamate industry’s world, and immediately removed monosodium glutamate from the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list. Jack questioned the propriety of placebo material being used by the International Glutamate Technical Committee (IGTC) in their double-blind studies of the safety of monosodium glutamate. And in a March 22, 1991 letter to Sue Anne Anderson, R.D., Ph.D., Senior Staff Scientist with the Life Sciences Research Office at FASEB, IGTC chairman Ebert acknowledged that since 1978, all of the placebos in double blind IGTC-sponsored studies had been laced with aspartame – an ingredient that contains an amino acid know as aspartic acid, which causes brain lesions, endocrine disorders, migraine headache, depression and all the other adverse reactions that can be caused by the free glutamic acid found in monosodium glutamate, hydrolyzed protein products, autolyzed yeast, etc.
We had started our quest with two questions, the first being, “What is the nature of the products that cause Jack’s reactions?”But before we found the answer to that first question, we had raised two others. First, given the fact that monosodium glutamate and the other ingredients that contain processed free glutamic acid (MSG) have toxic potential, and there are no studies from which it could be legitimately concluded that monosodium glutamate was “safe”, why does the FDA allow the intentional addition of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) to processed food? And second, why isn’t the US population aware of MSG’s toxic potential?
When TLC was incorporated, we were still deluding ourselves with the hope that given a face-saving “out”, the FDA would admit to the toxicity of MSG and label MSG-containing ingredients appropriately. However, repeated visits to legislators in Washington, a law suit brought against the FDA over labeling, the FDA’s rejection of the “independent” study on the safety of MSG done for the FDA by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), the EPA’s refusal to evaluate the toxic effects of MSG used in products they regulate, and California’s acquiescence to the forces of the glutamate industry, finally convinced us that no amount of truth would be sufficient to counter the glutamate industry’s control of the US government and our health care community. The power of industry and the greed of people in all walks of life and with all degrees of power who are fed by industry have made it virtually impossible for the consumer to know the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about MSG. That’s our opinion.
Glutamic acid: advance in biochemistry and physiology.Filer LJ Jr., Garattini S, Kare MR,
Reynolds WA, Wurtman RJ (Eds),
New York: Raven, 1979.
2. Rundlett KL, Armstrong DW. Evaluation of free D-glutamate in processed foods. Chirality. 1994;6:277-282.
3. Carcinogenic mono and dichloro propanols
4. Carcinogenic heterocyclic amines