Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
Processed foods,snack foods,restaurant dishes
MSG, monosodium glutamate, glutamate, glutamic acid, fat, weight gain, diet
Neuroexcitatory and pro-inflammatory effects
The Relationship between Monosodium Glutamate and Inflammation
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a widely used food additive that serves as a flavor enhancer, particularly in savory foods. Over the years, MSG has been the subject of controversy and debate, with some suggesting that it may be linked to inflammation and various health issues. This article aims to explore the relationship between MSG and inflammation, discussing the available evidence and potential mechanisms. Sources will be cited, and references provided for further reading.
Monosodium Glutamate: A Brief Overview
MSG is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. Glutamate is found in many foods, including tomatoes, mushrooms, and cheese, and plays a crucial role as a neurotransmitter in the human body. MSG was first isolated and commercially produced in the early 20th century, and since then, it has been used as a flavor enhancer in a variety of processed and restaurant foods (1).
The Relationship between MSG and Inflammation: Current Evidence
While some studies have suggested a link between MSG consumption and inflammation, the overall evidence remains inconclusive. Here, we examine the key findings from various studies on the topic:
Animal studies: Some animal studies have suggested that MSG may be associated with inflammation, particularly in the context of obesity and metabolic syndrome. For example, a study in mice showed that high doses of MSG led to increased levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF-α and IL-6, in adipose tissue (2). However, it is important to note that these findings may not directly translate to humans, as the doses used in animal studies are often much higher than those typically consumed by people.
Human studies: Human studies investigating the relationship between MSG and inflammation have produced mixed results. Some studies have reported associations between MSG intake and increased levels of inflammatory markers, such as CRP and IL-6 (3, 4). However, other studies have found no significant associations between MSG consumption and inflammation (5, 6). The discrepancies in these findings may be due to differences in study design, population characteristics, and MSG intake levels.
While the exact mechanisms linking MSG to inflammation are not yet fully understood, several hypotheses have been proposed:
Glutamate receptors: Glutamate receptors, which are involved in the neurotransmission of glutamate, are also found in immune cells and are thought to play a role in the regulation of immune responses (7). It has been suggested that excessive activation of these receptors by MSG could lead to the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines, promoting inflammation (8). However, more research is needed to confirm this hypothesis.
Oxidative stress: Some studies have proposed that MSG may induce oxidative stress, which can contribute to inflammation (9, 10). In particular, a study in rats found that MSG administration increased levels of reactive oxygen species and lipid peroxidation in the liver, along with elevations in inflammatory markers (10).
Hypersensitivity reactions: Although rare, some individuals may experience hypersensitivity reactions to MSG, which can manifest as symptoms such as headaches, flushing, and chest pain (11). These reactions may involve immune system activation and the release of pro-inflammatory mediators, although the exact mechanisms remain unclear.
Indirect effects: It is also possible that any observed associations between MSG and inflammation may be due to indirect effects, such as poor diet quality, excessive caloric intake, or the consumption of other pro-inflammatory ingredients in processed foods containing MSG (12).
The relationship between MSG and inflammation remains a topic of ongoing research and debate. While some studies have reported associations between MSG consumption and inflammation, others have found no significant effects.