Find out if MSG is good or bad for you

Multiple newspapers, including The New York Timespublished articles on the “mysterious” syndrome, creating the public and lasting impression that MSG is dangerous. But decades later, Jennifer LeMesurier, a professor at Colgate University, began investigating the curious origins of the 1968 letter.

“One would expect doctors to be very clinical, but this quickly turned into ethnic slurs,” LeMesurier wrote in the Colgate University journal.

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LeMesurier determined that “Dr. Ho Man Kwok” was actually Dr. Howard Steel, a Colgate alumnus and former school administrator. As a young orthopedic surgeon in the 1960s, he was taunted by a colleague that he was too stupid to publish in a journal as prestigious as The New England Journal of Medicine. At that time, Steel and his colleague used to eat at a Chinese restaurant, where they ate too much and drank too much beer. While this would inevitably leave them feeling ill, his escapades inspired Steel to write his letter to the medical journal.

“I’ll make it so obvious that they’ll know right away. [that the letter was fake]Steel said. But despite multiple attempts to tell the newspaper that his letter was false, Steel was ignored.

The public impression has been set and the foodservice industry still faces misconceptions about MSG. “To avoid any negativity, a lot of my friends who have Asian restaurants say, ‘We don’t put MSG in any of our food.’ And I think a lot of people appreciate that,” said William Lendway, chef and assistant professor at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, a school whose specialized degrees include culinary arts and food safety.

Can MSG make you sick?

Although the FDA has received reports of people experiencing headaches and nausea after eating MSG, the agency considers the ingredient to be “generally recognized as safe.”

In the 1990s, the FDA asked an independent scientific group, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, to review the safety of MSG. While the study concluded that MSG was safe, it did identify some mild short-term symptoms, including headache, numbness, hot flashes, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness.

Study participants who reported a sensitivity to MSG consumed at least 3 grams of the ingredient without any food. Meanwhile, a serving of food with added MSG typically contains 0.5 grams. So the chance of consuming more than 3 grams of the additive is low, the FDA said.

Robyn Goldberg, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in Los Angeles, has routine migraine headaches that she says can come back after eating MSG. “I get wavy, flickering lines that mess with my vision,” she said. “But there are diseases that have not been shown to be from MSG, whether they are mobility problems, heart attacks or tumors.”

Those who experience mild symptoms of MSG do not require treatment and need not worry about lasting problems, according to the National Institutes of Health.

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