Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer that is widely used to get the umami taste in food, making food taste better. However, it's been in our daily conversation to say that MSG is not good for our health. Some have said, "Too much MSG makes you dumb, and it's unhealthy for you." Is it true that MSG is bad for your health? What does science tell us so far?
MSG is widely sold and used both commercially in F&B establishments and personally in households. For every package of MSG to be sold, it usually has to go through the regulation to be approved by the food safety department from each country. "Although it is generally recognized as being safe by food safety regulatory agencies, several studies have questioned its safety to be used in the long run." (1)
Most studies on the MSG’s effects are experimented on rats, not on humans. The results show some possible impacts on the liver, increased levels of triglycerides, LDL cholesterol, cholesterol and insulin, obesity, and many more. (2)
Some symptoms are discovered to appear in some people after consuming the food with MSG, that's how the term Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS) came in the first place. This term was "first used more than four decades ago." (3) It was first coined after "patients experience complaints such as a burning sensation at the back of the neck, blistering on both arms and occasionally on the anterior thorax, general weakness, fatigue, and palpitations." (4)
The symptoms occurred 20 minutes after consuming foods rich in MSG, and other symptoms such as "flushing, dizziness, syncope, and facial pressure" may also appear later. From a comprehensive review study, only 1 out of 5 studies that have tested the causality of MSG to headache, only 1 study shows that group of women had "significantly higher incidence of a headache than control." (5) So we still can't come to the conclusion that MSG consumption will cause headaches.
Because of its ability to increase the palatability of foods, MSG is likely to stimulate one's appetite to consume more foods and have a higher intake of calories which leads to becoming overweight or obese. However, the results are still not 100% settled yet. Some studies found that the food enriched with MSG didn't increase energy intake, while others found that it increased energy intake. (6)
Many things are still not crystal clear on the impact of MSG on our health. More studies on the effect of MSG on human health still need to be done. Instead of using artificial food enhancers (MSG), it might be more beneficial to season our foods with natural ingredients such as garlic, ginger, coriander, oregano, turmeric, etc. because it comes with phytochemicals that are not found in MSG.