Is it sound science, or does it simply sound like science?

It’s “just sodium and the amino acid glutamate, which is found in nature” is how Leslie Nemo, writing in, leads into the latest piece of MSG-is-good-for-you propaganda that’s been sent to us recently.

Not having a party to go to on New Year’s Eve, I thought it might be fun to pick apart what Nemo had to say about monosodium glutamate, starting with her title: MSG Isn’t Bad For You, According to Science.

So, let’s start at the beginning with “According to Science.” My guess is that Nemo’s version of science is what David Michaels wrote about in his book The Triumph of Doubt, Dark Money and the Science of Deception.”

The Triumph of Doubt reveals how “science for hire” tactics that can be traced from Big Tobacco to the current day affects food, cosmetics, cars and even professional sports.

If, for example, you use only subjects who have never had any reactions known to be caused by MSG, chances are good that the subjects in your study won’t have MSG reactions. If you limit your subjects to people on anti-migraine drugs, chances are good that your subjects won’t have migraines. Research by Ajinomoto (likely the world’s largest producer of MSG) has been carried out by a variety of academics from various universities and medical schools who were given study protocols and supervised by Andrew G. Ebert (Ajinomoto’s agent in charge of research at the time). Although they had common elements, no two studies were identical.

There was, however, one element that was shared by all — the use of excitotoxic amino acids in “placebos.” By giving subjects placebos that cause the same reactions as those caused by MSG, there could be as many reactions to placebos as there are to MSG test material. From that, researchers could declare they had demonstrated that people really don’t react to MSG. But to make sure the conclusion that MSG is harmless would be beyond reproach, glutamate-industry researchers guaranteed that subjects would react to placebos with the same reactions that are caused by MSG. They did that by using aspartame as the toxic ingredient in their placebos, which worked well because the aspartic acid in aspartame and the glutamic acid in MSG cause virtually identical reactions (as well as identical brain damage). Having set that up, glutamate-industry researchers (and the propaganda artists who quote them) will say “These people aren’t sensitive to MSG, they reacted to the placebo too.”

What Leslie Nemo would have us believe may sound like science but doesn’t begin to be sound science. First Nemo claims that research hasn’t backed up claims that physical symptoms develop after eating MSG. Study participants she says, given MSG or a placebo capsule are typically just as likely to get headaches or numbness, no matter which one they consumed.

Such studies would have been done under the direction of Dr. Ebert wherein placebos contained amino acids known to cause the same brain damage and reactions as those caused by the glutamic acid in MSG.

Another study mentioned in the Discover article was of 60 individuals, finding that two who had ingested MSG broth felt tightness or numbness — but so did six people who had coffee and spiced tomato juice which didn’t contain MSG.

In that study, the key to producing negative results (no effect of MSG) would have been to add “Equal” and/or aspartame to the coffee and spiced tomato juice “which didn’t contain MSG.” Both of those additives contain aspartic acid, an amino acid known to cause the same brain damage and adverse reactions as MSG.

Nemo also details a study where researchers who recorded the responses of 130 people who thought they were sensitive to MSG found that some individuals may show more symptoms when eating the additive without other food. But when participants ingested the MSG serving as part of their breakfast, their symptoms disappeared.

In that kind of study, potential subjects (usually graduate students) were told they would be paid several hundred dollars to participate in the study if they said they were “sensitive” to MSG. Sensitivity was never verified.

As told by Leslie Nemo, some of the world’s largest food safety governing bodies have approved MSG, and the FDA considers it to be “generally recognized as safe.” Many other organizations have decided the same, she says, including JECFA, an international scientific committee administered jointly by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization.

It is true that persons who have identified themselves as representing The Glutamate Association, an organization created and maintained by Ajinomoto, have declared that both the FDA and regulators around the world have found monosodium glutamate to be safe. However, neither independent scientists nor independent regulators have deemed monosodium glutamate safe. FDA studies, which were actually reviews, have always been staffed by persons with ties to the glutamate industry. And those regulators and/or authoritative bodies did no research of their own, but were given copies of FDA opinions on MSG safety or were provided review information by Ajinomoto, its not-for-profit corporations, and/or its agents — the International Food Information Council (IFIC) and the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), for example.

In addition to citing research, Nemo plays the “naturally occurring” card: “monosodium glutamate is just sodium and the amino acid glutamate, which is found in nature.” True, glutamate is found in nature, but the glutamate used in MSG isn’t culled from nature. In the United States it is produced in Ajinomoto’s factory in Eddyville, Iowa. The glutamate used in MSG is L-glutamate, the L enantiomer of glutamic acid (glutamate), an amino acid which when present in protein or released from protein in a regulated fashion (through routine digestion) is vital for normal body function. It is the principal neurotransmitter in humans, carrying nerve impulses from glutamate stimuli to glutamate receptors throughout the body. Yet, when present outside of protein in amounts that exceed what the healthy human body was designed to accommodate — an amount now readily available in a diet of processed foods — glutamate becomes an excitotoxic neurotransmitter, firing repeatedly, damaging targeted glutamate-receptors and/or causing neuronal and non-neuronal death by over exciting those glutamate receptors until their host cells die.

Predictably, Nemo failed to site research demonstrating the toxic potential of MSG – such as brain damage followed by gross obesity and infertility. You can learn more about that at the Truth in Labeling Campaign — — tells part of the story.

If you have questions or comments, we’d love to hear from you.  And if you have hints for others on how to avoid exposure to MfG, send them along, too, we’ll put them up on Facebook.  You can also reach us at and follow us on Twitter @truthlabeling