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For Better or Worse
Jack L. Samuels

A quarterly commentary on food ingredient issues

December, 2000

The Truth Is Out

In late September, I was privileged to address the annual meeting of the Celiac Sprue Association. People with Celiac Sprue, a genetic disease that results in malabsorption of grains, have some of the same problems with food labels that MSG-sensitive people have. Grains are often hidden in food under names other than wheat, rye, barley, or oats.

I wish to share with you what was presented by Samuel Page, Ph.D., Scientific Director, Joint Institute for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (the Joint Institute), Washington, DC, one of the other invited speakers. Dr. Page presented a talk entitled "Toxins in Human Foods." The Joint Institute is a cooperative effort between the University of Maryland and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to pool specialized knowledge, equipment, and facilities. It is clear that the Institute has a direct connection with the FDA.

During the course of Dr. Page's presentation, he discussed the eosinophilia myalgia syndrome (EMS) outbreak of 1989 related to use of the essential amino acid, L-tryptophan, as a supplement. During this outbreak, over 35 people died and over 1,000 people became ill, many with life long debilities.

Dr. Page explained that L-tryptophan is found in many of the foods that we eat. Turkey, for example, is known to be high in L-tryptophan. That is why many people become sleepy following a big turkey dinner. Many people who had difficulty sleeping bought L-tryptophan as a supplement to help them sleep. Although it is reported to have been effective in improving sleep, it was found to be causing severe health problems.

In the investigation that followed, it was determined that most of the L-tryptophan used in our country came from one Japanese firm, Showa Denko. Laboratory analysis of the Showa Denko product, involving chromatography, indicated that their L-tryptophan product contained a contaminant or contaminants. Although the FDA made no final determination, word spread that L-tryptophan was generally safe, and that only the product produced by Showa Denko contained a contaminant, and the contaminant caused EMS. Today, if you ask your health store operator about L-tryptophan, he/she will repeat this story, and inform you that L-tryptophan, though available through prescription from some compounding pharmacies, is banned as a dietary supplement.

The FDA continues to have a number of unanswered questions regarding L-tryptophan, including why some people who were affected with EMS used an L-tryptophan product that was not produced by Showa Denko.

During Dr. Page's talk, he clearly stated that although the FDA has found contaminants in L-tryptophan supplements, they have not been able to identify what specific contaminant caused EMS. He clearly stated that the researchers are now beginning to believe that some people are sensitive to the contaminants found in the L-tryptophan that is found in supplements, a manufactured product. Dr. Page went on to explain that people vary in their tolerances to substances and that, therefore, some people can react to minute amounts of a substance that they are not able to tolerate.

Well, isn't that interesting? A number of years ago, my wife, Adrienne, and I shared with the FDA the fact that MSG-sensitive people typically only react to glutamic acid that has been freed from protein through a manufacturing process (like L-tryptophan), and that MSG-sensitive people refer to such processed free glutamic acid as "MSG." Furthermore, we pointed out that this processed free glutamic acid (MSG) ALWAYS includes contaminants (like L-tryptophan). In the case of glutamic acid, the contaminants include D-glutamic acid, pyroglutamic acid, carcinogenic propanols (in cases of acid hydrolysis), and, carcinogenic heterocyclic amines (in some, if not all, reaction flavors). (See http:www.truthinlabeling.org/manufac.html)

As you know, The FDA currently refuses to acknowledge that MSG contains anything besides L-glutamic acid, and maintains that MSG is identical to the L-glutamic acid found naturally in unadulterated, unprocessed higher organisms (which is truly L-glutamic acid, only). The FDA further contends that no one will react to less than three grams of MSG, ingested on an empty stomach. The FDA refuses to acknowledge the fact that some of us suffer SEVERE reactions to processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and that some of us react to minute amounts of the substance. On the other hand, Dr. Page made it very clear in his talk that people vary in their tolerances to substances and that, therefore, some people can react to minute amounts of a substance that they are not able to tolerate.

Dr. Page's statements are very significant. They indicate to me that the FDA has the technology to determine why we react to processed free glutamic acid (MSG), and that the FDA knows that some people can react to minute amounts of a substance to which they are intolerant. The FDA's experience with L-tryptophan, an amino acid, demonstrates that it is understandable why some people are suffering debilitating and/or life threatening reactions to another amino acid, glutamic acid.

The time has come for the FDA to stop misleading the public about the safety of MSG. Its time for all processed foods to me measured for free glutamic acid, post production, and to require that processed foods that are found to contain free glutamic acid list the term "MSG" on the label, with the amount present in the product stated in milligrams.

Court Decision Regarding Bioengineered Foods

In 1992, the FDA adopted a policy of "inaction" regarding bioengineered foods, in disregard to warnings from its own experts about unique health hazards and disagreement among other scientists regarding the safety of such foods. Since that time, the FDA has insisted that it is not necessary to label bioengineered products, in spite of the fact that other countries have mandated full disclosure.

In 1998, a coalition of public interest groups, scientists, and religious leaders, coordinated by the Alliance for Bio-Integrity, filed suit against the FDA. The suit challenged the FDA's presumption that bioengineered foods are safe, its refusal to require that bioengineered foods be tested for safety. and its refusal to require that such foods be labeled.

As occurred in the suit against the FDA in which the Truth in Labeling Campaign participated in a suit to force full disclosure of MSG on processed food labels, the FDA was only required to submit evidentiary material that the FDA wanted to submit. In this case, that meant that the FDA only provided the court with the written record of the agency when it made its decision in 1992, omitting all additional information that the FDA has received since that time.

On October 2, 2000, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that despite "significant" scientific dispute, the FDA's decision not to regulate bioengineered foods is technically legal. Although the court recognized that the FDA's own scientists warned about unintended side effects from bioengineered products and that there was a lack of scientific basis for the FDA's policy, the court held that the FDA's political appointees were legally entitled to disregard such expert input.

In 1994, the Truth in Labeling Campaign suit ended similarly.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

An August 25, 2000 Associated Press article indicated that Lotronex, a new drug for irritable bowel syndrome, could cause severe intestinal side effects, including, in some cases, the need for surgery. Reports of side effects were apparently only from women. The article included the fact that irritable bowel syndrome now affects up to 15% of the population.

In response, the FDA ordered Glaxo Wellcome Inc., to attach a "plain English" pamphlet to their product, explaining the risk, and stating that women should stop taking it at the earliest sign of a problem.

Irritable bowel syndrome is a disease that is diagnosed solely from symptoms that are presented to a physician. As an MSG-sensitive physician friend of ours in Ohio who has suffered from the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome recently stated, "There is no such thing as irritable bowel syndrome. I had over 50 patients with symptoms of the disease who were totally cured through avoidance of MSG."

How sad it is that millions of people have to suffer from unnecessary maladies because the FDA refuses to acknowledge that MSG can cause adverse reactions in some people. Avoidance of MSG should help people who believe that they suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. It won't help Glaxo Wellcome, Inc., producer of Lotronex.


Asthma rates have more than doubled since 1980. Although the rise mostly includes inner-city poor, upper-income suburbanites are also included. The nonprofit Pew Environmental Health Commission predicts that some 19 million Americans will suffer from asthma by 2020.

As stated in an October 17, 2000 Associated Press article, "Scientist from Maryland to Michigan are studying humble house dust to find ways to reduce allergens that leave over 17.3 million asthma sufferers wheezing." Although less than half of the states track asthma cases, the article points out that, each year, 5,000 Americans die from asthma and 500,000 asthma sufferers are hospitalized.

Scientists continue to study dust mites, cockroach dander, pet dander, mold, and pollen as asthma triggers. That confuses me greatly since it seems to me that all of these "suspected triggers" existed long before we had an explosion in the incidence of asthma.

When will scientists realize that the growing use of processed free glutamic acid (MSG) and aspartame is likely contributing to the increase in asthma? There are many signs to support this claim. Certainly, the inner-city poor are less able to afford fresh foods than are upper-income suburbanites. There are peer reviewed studies that have concluded that MSG can cause an asthma attack, and the few glutamate industry sponsored studies that attempt to refute these claims are flawed to the point of being worthless. It is known that high school kids eat a great deal of junk foods, foods that typically contain some MSG. Large numbers of high school athletes suffer from exercise induced asthma. Although we have no data, we are told that some Arab countries are experiencing a growing incidence of asthma in the young who have turned to junk (convenience) foods.


The incidence of diabetes has increased 33% from 1990 to 1998, jumping over 70% in the past decade among people in their 30s. Type 2 diabetes affects 16 million Americans, based on 1993-94 data. This form of diabetes typically occurs as an adult and is associated with the body not producing enough insulin or not using insulin effectively.

In a study published in the September, 2000 issue of Diabetes Care, an endocrinologist from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated, in part, "We're now beginning to see the consequences of physical inactivity and weight gain that go well beyond feeling good about yourself or cosmetic issues."

Why don't we begin to look at the cause of obesity. The toxicity of MSG was first published in professional journals in 1969 when John W. Olney, M.D., Washington University, St. Louis, MO, noted that laboratory animals being fed MSG were becoming grotesquely obese. He found that the animals had lesions in the hypothalamus region of the brain and that MSG caused endocrine disorders later in life. Dr. Olney's findings have been replicated over and over through the years. At this time, some scientists use MSG in animal studies as an ablative tool to kill brain cells.

Clearly, something in our environment is contributing to the increase in diabetes. We are not saying that processed free glutamic acid (MSG) is the cause of diabetes, but it is known that MSG can result in obesity in animals and affects hormone levels and metabolism.