I did not recognize the problem in the beginning. For many years, a meal out at a restaurant would be followed by an "upset stomach", feeling of fullness, slight shortness of breath, and mental "haze", followed by facial and extremity swelling, and a typical headache lasting 24-48 hours. However strangely, I never even wondered why. It was soon over and forgotten - until the next time. Then came a time when I felt ill not just occasionally, but every day. I was also losing weight rapidly, not having been over-weight in the first place. As I had digestive problems, the doctor tested for celiac disease but the result was normal. He thought further investigations should be done, and ordered tests after tests, at the end of which he diagnosed Crohn's Disease. I started the treatment, a handful of capsules every day, and three months later I wasn't feeling any better. After repeat tests I got un-diagnosed with Crohn's and he declared that it is IBS..."most young women have it...its hormonal and stress related..." and advised me to be sure to come back to him if things did not improve. I did not need to go back: things improved greatly.
I set out on my own to educate myself about this condition and try to find an answer. I had the medical knowledge accumulated in medical school, but things didn't add up. My symptoms didn't resemble anything that could be found in the medical literature. Upon examination of my dietary practices, which my doctor never questioned, I've found that Splenda was responsible for some of the symptoms. Eliminating it from my diet did improve my discomfort, however the symptoms periodically returned, mainly after eating out. And then...I stumbled upon a very important piece of information: Monosodium Glutamate.
However, what most people are unaware of, is that there are over 40 ingredients, all used by the food industry, which contain the chemical monosodium glutamate (processed free glutamic acid) that causes the bad reactions - but unfortunately these ingredients do not have to be labelled as MSG. Therefore they are sometimes referred to as the "hidden sources" of MSG. A full list can be found on two very helpful websites (1).
Reactions can occur immediately after food or up to one or two days later. The reaction time is usually the same for an individual - in my own case it was about six hours after food.
If you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), or if you suspect that you react badly to certain foods, it is possible that your symptoms are being caused or made worse by MSG. To find out whether this is the case, you will need to exclude MSG and its "hidden sources" from your diet for three weeks. This is long enough for you to notice if there is any improvement. The ingredients you will need to exclude are those listed on the websites mentioned above (1). It is important that you also exclude the artificial sweetener aspartame, as people who react to MSG usually react to aspartame as well.
When I consume MSG, it is my digestive system that is affected and I get a full body swelling, but it is not the same for everyone. There are many other conditions which can be caused or made worse by MSG and its hidden sources. These include migraine, fibromyalgia, sleep disorders, arrhythmias, tachycardia, chest pain, palpitations, dizziness, panic attacks, autistic spectrum disorders and hyperactivity (ADHD) in children, as well as neurological diseases such as Parkinson's: for a fuller list, see Debby Anglesey's website and book (1, 2).
The list of ingredients to avoid looks long and rather daunting, especially when you realise the number of products in cartons, tins or packets which contain one or more of them. You will find that even some organic foods (which are not supposed to contain any MSG), as well as foods labelled as being free of MSG, do in fact contain some of the hidden sources of MSG! Cooking whole, fresh foods from scratch is the best answer to avoiding them. Is it worth the effort? If you have been feeling "under the weather" for some time, had no help from investigations and medications (many tablets and nutritional supplements contain some of the hidden sources of MSG), it certainly is.
There is another reason for excluding these harmful food additives: none of us should be eating foods which contain them because they can cause or aggravate long-term neurological conditions whether we react to them in the short-term or not (3). The food industry has its own "scientific" research papers to inform us that neither MSG or aspartame are harmful. Sadly, this is not independent research, so when you read up on the subject you need to check the source of the information. There are huge financial implications as far as the food industry is concerned. MSG and it's hidden sources are flavour enhancers, and they work. Less real food is needed when they are present. I noticed a tin of chicken soup which included just 3% chicken. Without the flavour enhancers it would surely need a great deal more chicken - and this is just one example I happened to look at recently. Is cheap food such a good idea if it comes at the expense of the our health? In any case, fresh foods cooked at home do not need to be more expensive, and may actually work out cheaper than processed products.
So the choice is yours. I have mainly written about the two sets of symptoms I have experienced. I believe that health could improve for many people both in the short and the long- term by avoiding these harmful ingredients, referred to by one expert as excitotoxins or brain toxic additives (3), and if you have young children, by doing so you will certainly be giving them a good start for a healthy life.
1. Battling the MSG Myth - www.msgmyth.com
Truth in Labeling - www.truthinlabeling.org
2. Debby Anglesey Battling the MSG myth.
Front PorchProductions ed. 2011.
For further details see www.msgmyth.com/order_book.html
3. Russell L. Blaylock, M.D. Excitotoxins: the taste that kills Health Press 1997.
For further details see www.russellblaylockmd.com