Research has demonstrated that excess glutamate accumulated in the human body is implicated in brain damage, kidney and liver disorders, obesity, reproductive disorders, neurodegenerative disease, and additional disorders such as headaches, asthma, diabetes, muscle pain, atrial fibrillation, ischemia, trauma, seizures, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, depression, multiple sclerosis, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), epilepsy, addiction, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), frontotemporal dementia and autism. A November 15, 2020 search of the National Library of Medicine using PubMed.gov returned 3872 citations for “glutamate-induced.
It has also been demonstrated that glutamate from exogenous (external) sources, often from ingestion of monosodium glutamate (MSG), produces brain lesions, reproductive disorders, gross obesity, and behavior disorders. A review of the literature has also demonstrated that studies concluding MSG is harmless, or finding no evidence that MSG is harmful, are seriously flawed, with double-blind studies using placebos containing excitotoxic amino acids that cause reactions identical to those caused by MSG.
So why aren’t researchers exploring the relationship between ingestion of glutamate-containing ingredients such as MSG and disease and disability?
It’s no secret that the FDA represents the interests of Big Food and Big Pharma – not consumers. Here is a small example of its allegiance to large corporations that we hadn’t noticed before. Unfortunately, many people still believe that if the FDA says something it must be true.
The FDA says that monosodium glutamate (MSG) is the sodium salt of the common amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid is naturally present in our bodies, and in many foods and food additives.
How is it made?
The FDA says that MSG occurs naturally in many foods, such as tomatoes and cheese. People around the world have eaten glutamate-rich foods throughout history. For example, a historical dish in the Asian community is a glutamate-rich seaweed broth. In 1908, a Japanese professor named Kikunae Ikeda was able to extract glutamate from this broth and determined that glutamate provided the savory taste to the soup. Professor Ikeda then filed a patent to produce MSG and commercial production started the following year.
What is MSG?
Mono (single) sodium glutamate in science-speak is glutamate tied to a sodium ion, just as monopotassium glutamate would be glutamate tied to a potassium ion. That’s the makeup of the mono sodium glutamate occurring naturally in our bodies. (Glutamate is rarely found “free,” but is ordinarily tied to an ion such as sodium or potassium.)
The monosodium glutamate that Ajinomoto is selling is made up of manufactured glutamate, the impurities that invariable accompany manufactured glutamate, and sodium.
How is it made?
MSG doesn’t occur naturally anywhere — it’s made – manufactured! The monosodium glutamate that Ajinomoto is selling is a product made in Ajinomoto’s plant in Eddyville Iowa where glutamate is produced by genetically modified bacteria that secrete glutamate through their cell walls, which is then mixed with sodium. (The process for manufacturing MSG has been patented, and as the process is improved over time new patents are awarded.)
Over the past few decades celiac disease (CD) has morphed into a “major public health problem.” Along with it, other autoimmune conditions such as diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis, are also topping the charts as very common disorders with dozens of heavily advertised drugs created to treat them.
If you ask why, the knee-jerk response is typically that better testing has uncovered all these otherwise undisclosed conditions. But does that really explain things? And it certainly doesn’t take into consideration what experts refer to as large numbers of people with undiagnosed autoimmune diseases, especially CD.
Back in 2015 two researchers with expertise in metabolic diseases, Aaron Lerner, a professor at Tel Aviv University, and Torsten Matthias, affiliated with the AESKU.KIPP Institute in Germany, first sounded the alarm on a largely unknown, widely used food additive – an enzyme called transglutaminase (TG). At that time, they proposed a “hypothesis” linking TG used in food processing to celiac and other autoimmune diseases. Four years later, however, the pair stated that further research and observations have closed the “gaps” in our understanding of how TG is an “inducer of celiac disease.”
Big Food’s favorite find to ‘glue’ things together
Transglutaminase, a.k.a. “meat glue,” is the darling of Big Food for lots of reasons: it can glue together scraps of fish, chicken and meat into whole-looking cuts (often called “Frankenmeats”); extend the shelf life of processed foods (even pasta); improve “texture,” especially in low-salt, low-fat products; make breads and pastries (particularly gluten-free ones) rise better, and, as one manufacturer puts it, allow for use of things that would ordinarily be tossed out — unappetizing leftovers and scraps of food that would “otherwise be considered waste ingredients, creating an added-value product.”
But more than just turning “waste ingredients” into new food products, there are a host of other reasons why you should do your best to steer clear of meat glue.
‘Tight junction dysfunction’
The 2015 research published by Lerner and Matthias detailed how certain food additives may be behind the steady rise of autoimmune diseases due to something called “tight junction dysfunctions,” which can set the stage for a wide variety of serious ailments, calling out transglutaminase as one of the commonly used food additives that can enhance “intestinal junction leakage.”
A subsequent study in 2019 recognized transglutaminase as a “likely culprit” in celiac disease.
In 2020, Lerner and Matthias published yet another paper on transglutaminase and celiac disease, calling it a “potential public health concern” and saying that they hope their review will “encourage clinical, scientific and regulatory debates on (its) safety to protect the public.”
Despite all the warnings and additional research, use of the enzyme is booming, and all its food uses are now considered GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA.
TG and MSG
The similarities between MSG and transglutaminase are quite noteworthy. Not only is the enzyme manufactured in great quantities by Ajinomoto (as is MSG) but the way TG is promoted by the company is remarkably similar to its long-running propaganda campaign claiming that MSG is a safe ingredient.
For example, Ajinomoto states on its websites and elsewhere that both MSG and TG are “found in food naturally,” are “safe,” used in many countries and considered GRAS in the U.S. by the FDA. And just as MSG supposedly in no way causes serious reactions, the company says that TG in no way causes celiac disease – in fact, under some circumstances the TG added to food can actually help CD patients, Ajinomoto says.
While transglutaminase is found naturally in the human body (as is glutamate), there is a significant difference between microbial TG (the manufactured additive) and “our own transglutaminase” says Lerner. (Just as there is a major difference between manufactured MSG and the glutamate in your body).
That’s because the tissue TG produced in the body “has a different structure (from) the microbial sort, which allows its activity to be tightly controlled. Microbial transglutaminase itself could also increase intestinal permeability,” he says, “by directly modifying proteins that hold together the intestinal barrier.”
The FDA has “no questions”
Once the FDA pretended to look into the safety of a product before granting it GRAS status, but not even that is done any more. Now a company simply turns in a statement that a product should be referred to as GRAS, and it’s done.
Starting in 1998 Ajinomoto filed four notices of “self-determined” GRAS status for TG with the FDA. The first was to use TG in seafood. In 1999 they sent in more intended uses for hard and soft cheeses, yogurt, and “vegetable protein dishes/veggie burgers/meat substitutes.” In 2000 Ajinomoto sent another notice to the FDA regarding using transglutaminase in pasta, bread, pastries, ready-to-eat cereal, pizza dough and “grain mixtures.”
And in 2002, Ajinomoto asked that anything else it might have previously overlooked, referred to as “use in food in general,” be given GRAS status. None of these GRAS notices elicited any objections from the FDA. Nothing that Big Food asks for is even questioned any more.
Included in the 2001 “everything else” notification from Ajinomoto were some details of a 30-day toxicity study using beagles. Despite findings that included dogs that had developed a pituitary gland cyst, discoloration of the lungs, an enlarged uterus and “significantly” lower prostate weights, all that was considered “incidental and unrelated” to TG. Why they bothered to include a study that shows that their product causes harm to the animals studied can only be understood if you know how Ajinomoto operates. Having done a study, they can later refer to the study that they did as though it proved that their product was “safe,” knowing that no one will challenge them. Such claims have great propaganda value.
The FDA had “no questions.”
Transglutaminase, here, there and everywhere
Lerner and Matthias have been warning for years about TG hidden in processed foods, saying it’s “unlabeled and hidden from public knowledge.” As we mentioned in another blog on TG, aside from “formed” meat products sold in supermarkets in the U.S. where the enzyme must be called out on the ingredient statement, TG can easily go undercover.
And Ajinomoto has even added its own tips to help food manufacturers avoid labeling by providing an explanation of how TG is just a “processing aid,” as well as making available a letter authored by a law firm in Germany stating that aside from use in “formed” meat or fish, transglutaminase is “no ingredient” and as such in the EU does not have to be included on a food label. In fact, the lawyers go so far as to state that if a substance (such as TG) is “without any function in the finished product,” listing it on the ingredient label can “mislead the consumer.”
The FDA told us that if TG is used as a “processing aid” it’s considered an “incidental additive” and is “exempted from ingredient labeling.”
Even organic products aren’t safe from TG, as TG is considered A-OK to use it in organic foods, falling under the “allowed” generic category of “enzymes” on the USDA “National list of allowed and prohibited substances” in organic food and farming.
Perhaps the most devious use of this enzyme is to improve the appearance of gluten-free bakery products. Manufactured, microbial transglutaminase “functionally imitates” natural-tissue TG, which is known to be an autoantigen (a “self” antigen, reacting to something produced by the body that provokes an immune response) in those who suffer from celiac disease.
Steering clear of transglutaminase
The TG story could very well be called a case against processed foods, as the only sure-fire way to avoid this gut-wrenching enzyme is to make/cook all your food from scratch. That being a very unlikely prospect these days, the next best thing is to avoid the following:
Low-fat and low-salt products, especially dairy and dairy substitutes;
Chicken nuggets, along with any other “formed” meat products;
Expensive cuts of meat being sold much cheaper than they should be (that especially is true for restaurants);
Sushi from unreliable sources, formed fish sticks and balls;
Veggie and tofu burgers; and
Cheaply produced pasta (TG is said to help when using “damaged wheat flour”).
When asked what he would consider to be an important take-away regarding transglutaminase, Professor Lerner told us that it would be for the FDA to “reconsider the classification of (manufactured) TG as GRAS.”
Dr. Stephanie Seneff’s 2021 book Toxic Legacy: How the Weedkiller Glyphosate Is Destroying Our Health and the Environment, dissects the truth about glyphosate, a toxic chemical incorporated into hundreds of weed-killing formulations – the most widely known being Roundup.
Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, documents the case against glyphosate, that she describes as a chemical that can deliver the “slow kill” as it gradually accumulates in your tissues and over time becomes the catalyst for some “horrible diseases.”
Seneff connects use of the herbicide with a long list of illnesses and conditions including kidney and liver disease, diabetes, multiple types of cancers, urinary tract infections, antibiotic resistance, mineral deficiencies, and the destruction of our beneficial gut bacteria leading to immune-system malfunctions.
If you follow the Truth in Labeling Campaign blogs or have visited our website, you know that we have lots of information on glutamate: How protein (meat, chicken, fish, milk, etc.) contains bound glutamate along with other amino acids that, when normally digested, are vital for normal body function. How free glutamate, which is found in monosodium glutamate (MSG) and dozens of other food additives, differs from the glutamate found in nature. And how, when glutamate is present in the body in excess, it causes brain damage.
Seneff, however, describes a new dimension of danger.
She links glyphosate exposure to glutamate neurotoxicity, noting that the weedkiller interferes with the mechanisms that prevent excess – brain damaging — glutamate from accumulating. As told in Toxic Legacy, “Roundup increased the amount of glutamate released into the synapse (the point of communication) by neurons. It also interfered with the ability of brain cells to clear glutamate from the synapses by converting glutamate to glutamine.”
Seneff describes the normal cycle of glutamate production and clearance, an amazingly complex system that depends on the trace mineral manganese to prevent the accumulation of excess – brain damaging — glutamate. And manganese “can be chelated by glyphosate, making it unavailable.”
As Seneff says, “There is no question that glyphosate disrupts glutamate.”
Seneff also makes it clear that excess glutamate “is a known factor in several neurological disorders, including depression. Abnormally high levels of glutamate lead to excessive oxidative stress in the brain, causing neuronal damage, particularly in the hippocampus.”
But avoiding glyphosate, like avoiding free glutamate, is a challenge.
Glyphosate-based herbicides, which are totally unregulated and available just about anywhere, are sprayed in back yards, driveways and parks. They are also doused on hundreds of millions of acres of genetically modified crops, such as corn, cotton and soy, and are sprayed on non-organic wheat, barley and oats to speed up drying. Despite the fact that glyphosate is considered a “probable” human carcinogen by the World Health Organization and currently the subject of thousands of lawsuits over its role in causing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and other cancers, it sells like water in the desert.
Free glutamate found in MSG, yeast extract, hydrolyzed proteins and dozens of other flavor enhancers as well as protein substitutes, shows up in processed foods from soup to nuts. In addition, the latest big sellers, plant-based protein foods, are typically loaded with free glutamate. The Impossible Burger, for example, contains six potentially brain-damaging ingredients that include soy-protein concentrate, natural flavors and yeast extract.
Despite the pervasive nature of both glyphosate and free glutamate, there are still some steps you can take to avoid these toxins as much as possible.
If you can’t implement a totally organic lifestyle, always shop organic for the Big Five GMO foods: Corn, canola, sugar beets, soy and cotton (cottonseed oil is used in conventional nuts and chips, while canola is used in just about everything, as is corn and soy);
Buy organic dairy as well, since genetically modified alfalfa is extensively fed to dairy cows;
Whenever possible, buy organic versions of any products containing oats, wheat and beans, which don’t have to be genetically modified to be sprayed with glyphosate as a drying agent shortly before harvest.
When outside, steer clear of areas that have had pesticides applied, sometimes indicated by a white flag.
Make it a habit to avoid processed foods, especially ones that say “No MSG added” on the label;
Even without the helping hand of glyphosate, free glutamate is associated with Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, MS, stroke, ALS, autism, schizophrenia, depression and many other neurological conditions. Remember, the brain you save may be your own.
It’s obvious that your PR campaign is working really well when you can influence the Merriam-Webster dictionary to modify the definition of a long-used word.
Such is the case with “savory,” a respectable word meaning pleasant or having high moral standards. In a food sense, savory can be two types of aromatic mints as well as a tasty food that is “spicy or salty but not sweet.” And that’s how savory was defined for a very long time, its first known use being in the 13th century.
But at some point in 2019, as confirmed by the Internet archive way-back machine, Merriam-Webster added additional meanings that include none other than the all-time favorite word of the glutamate industry – umami – now defining savory as the “…taste sensation of umami” and the “taste sensation that is produced by several amino acids and nucleotides (such as glutamate and aspartate)…” (For more on “umami” check out our blog “Umami: the con of the decade?” here).
Savory is also utilized in what’s called the “savory market,” not surprisingly consisting of ingredients that all contain excitotoxic, brain damaging, free glutamic acid, such as: yeast extracts, hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, hydrolyzed animal proteins, monosodium glutamate, and nucleotides.
And that “savory market,” according to a new research report is booming. Of interest, included in that report are references to not just people food, but pet food as well. That makes careful label reading an important part of buying food for all members of your family.
When the non-profit Oxfam created a graphic several years ago showing how just 10 companies* control practically everything you’ll find in the supermarket — from pet and baby food to soup to nuts — it was an eye-opening look into the world of Big Food.
Now, Food & Water Watch has gone a step further. Its recent report The Grocery Cartels explains how the Covid-19 pandemic became a profit-maker for mega food retailers, helping dish out the final death blow to smaller grocers.
While operations such as Walmart and Costco appear to offer convenience and lower prices, the pandemic “pulled back the curtain on the idea that the current food system offers abundance, efficiency, and resilience.”
Despite the myth of a competitive marketplace, or the “illusion of choice,” the current food retail system we have now, says Food & Water Watch, “is functioning as it was designed: to funnel wealth from local communities into the hands of corporate shareholders and executives.”
For example, Food & Water Watch found that in 2019, four companies, Walmart, Kroger, Costco and Albertson’s, were taking in an estimated two-thirds of all grocery sales. When the pandemic took over in 2020, major supermarket chains saw “double-digit growth and surging stock values.” Walmart, in fact, takes in $1 out of every $3 spent at a food retailer.
Despite Walmart’s “Save money. Live better” slogan, Food & Water Watch reveals that the mega store is well-known to up its food prices once “it becomes the dominate grocery retailer in town.”
As Food & Water Watch points out, “market power enables intermediaries like retailers and processors to capture an ever-growing share of food dollars, at the expense of farmers, food chain workers and eaters.”
And while we’re encouraged to “shop small” at independently owned retailers, it seems our options where food is concerned, both brand-wise and where it’s purchased, are becoming smaller and smaller.