MSG (Glutamates) in Protein Powders Dangerous?

Many protein powders taken by bodybuilders contain MSG (also known as Glutamates). Before we discuss the controversy, we have to understand what exactly is Glutamates and MSG. MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate and is a common taste enhancer added to foods. MSG is just a free form salt form of the amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamates are free form, whereas Glutamic acid is the regular natural bound protein form. Don't confuse Glutamates with another amino acid Glutamine, which is commonly supplemented by many bodybuilders. The only connection between these amino acids, is that inside the body Glutamine can convert to Glutamic acid and both are utilized by the intestine cells.

Protein found naturally in food, has most of the amino acids bound up in many long amino acid chains. It requires the stomach to break the amino acid chains down into smaller chains, in order to properly digest it. When natural protein is processed commercially to make protein powders, especially with hydrolyzed protein ("digested"), they result in a large amount of free form glutamates. This creation of free form of glutamates, is the source of controversy.

I've come across many websites and experts, claiming that MSG (and the other free glutamate forms) found in protein powders and other processed foods is highly dangerous. They claim it leads to cancers, neuro-degernative diseases, and other illnesses. Dr. Russell Blaylock the author of the book Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills in 1995, first mentioned the dangers of MSG along with aspartame and calls them excitotoxins. He believes that these unatural processed free forms of Glutamates like MSG, overstimulate the neurotransmiters of the brain and cause disease. Although natural forms of protein already contain bound up glutamines, he theorizes that during commercial processing of protein powders and other foods, it releases the glutamates into free forms of Glutamates. He then believes this allows the liver to easily absorb many more times glutamate than normal, leading to a overstimulation of the glutamate receptors in the body. This overstimulation then causes a toxic effect all over the organs in the body which have glutamate receptors.

The problem with his argument that free forms of glutamates are dangerous, is that the intestines absorb almost all free glutamates and use them directly for energy. (Journal of Neuroscience 27 (1): 111-123) , (J. Nutr. 137:2384-2390) , and (Pediatric Research. 62(4):468-473). The intestine metabolizes these glutamates for cellular functions, before it can even get into the blood stream to affect the rest of the body. Glutamates also have trouble getting through the blood-brain barrier, so most of it can't go anywhere else, except through the digestive tract. Therefore, after a meal full of glutamates, your intestines will absorb most of it and use it metabolically. The intestines have a unique affinity in wanting to use Glutamates for their own metabolic processes, since they have glutamate receptors.

A study by National Taiwan University showed almost no difference between the blood levels of glutamates, between those who had MSG containing food and a high protein meal. Human and animal milk even contains free form glutamates naturally. There is little point as you can see, to understand the dangers of excessive glutamate stimulation inside the blood stream on different organs glutamate receptors, since it never even gets to those places in large amounts he claims in the first place!

One reason why the negative theory on glutamates continues to be perpetuated by many is because of what is called "Chinese restaraunt syndrome". Chinese restaraunts were notorious for adding lots of MSG. These people suffering from this, seem to have a adverse reaction to MSG containing meals causing a variety of symptoms. Whether this condition exists or is caused by something else I don't know. If high amounts of MSG in meals do cause some adverse reactions in some, then, apparently those people are extra sensitive to glutamate levels in the body. They would have to be so sensitive to the stimulation, that a large amount of MSG might change the blood levels just enough to cause a reaction, whereas for most people it would not.

Peanut Butter Causes Cancer?

Bodybuilders are suggested to eat a high amount of good fats in their diet for hormonal and joint health, and for a good source of calories. Peanut butter is a very common source of fat for most bodybuilders in their diet. Most eat natural peanut butter because it doesn't contain hydrogenated fats. Peanut butter is considered a good source of fat because it is low in saturated fat and high in monosaturated. The truth is, peanut butter is really not that healthy long term.

Why peanut butter can cause cancer:

Unfortunately a mold commonly winds up growing on peanut butter. This fungus Aspergillus flavus releases a cancer causing metabolic product (mycotoxin) called aflatoxin B1, which is a officially recognized carcinogen (cancer causing compound). Workers around peanuts even have to wear protection because of the health hazard. It is common knowledge that farmers and animals around peanuts have increased liver cancer.

How much of this fungus and to what degree it converts to the mcycotoxin aflatoxin seems to depend on where the peanuts are grown and how they are stored and for how long. Peanuts have less of this problem if they are farmed in dry climates, as the fungus seems to thrive in humidity. Other foods have this fungus growing on it such as walnuts and grains, but peanut butter and corn seem to be the worst afflicted foods.  The risk of peanut butter giving liver cancer is a bit exaggerated by some. But most bodybuilders consume it everday, often in high amounts, which could be a problem.

Alternatives to peanut butter:

Almond butter is the best food alternative for peanut butter. Flaxseed oil would even be better, but it's not a substitute in food as a butter. Almond butter actually has higher omega 3's than peanut butter anyways and isn't contaminated with this fungus. Almond butter is not as tasty as peanut butter, but at least you know you won't be posioning your body. If you decide to use peanut butter, see if you can get peanuts grown in dry areas, to help reduce or eliminate fungus contamination.

Does Tryptophan Help Depression?

Tryptophan is a regular amino acid, so it may be hard to believe that it would really help much in treating depression. Tryptophan is a pre-cursor to 5-htp, which is the pre-cursor to the powerful mood neurotransmitter serotonin. In theory, 5-HTP should work better than tryptophan in treating depression and mood problems, since it is the direct pre-cursor to serotonin. You can read my previous blog post on 5-HTP here.

Do Melatonin Supplements Work to Improve Sleep?

Pharmaceutical companies are spending millions to advertise on T.V “purple pills” or commercials with green butterflies, for their sleeping pills. Melatonin may be a safe effective alternative to these potent drugs. Bodybuilders know the importance of a good night sleep, so melatonin may be helpful to those struggling with sleep.

What is Melatonin?

Melatonin is a hormone released from our brain when our eyes sense darkness. It is a way for our body to regulate it’s sleeping pattern. Melatonin secretion decreases as we get older, which may be why we require less sleep as we get older.

Melatonin Supplementation Usage:

The purpose of melatonin supplementation is to help aid the sleep of those with insomnia issues. It could also help older individuals or those with jet lag while traveling.

Does melatonin supplements work?

Most people see a difference in their sleep when taking melatonin. They sleep longer, deeper, and feel more refreshed when they wakeup. There seems to be about 20% of the users according to studies, that don't respond well to melatonin supplements. They either feel overly tired and groggy or feel nothing. I suspect that these two extremes, probably is due to too high of a dose in the first case and too low of a dose in the latter.

Short Side effects of melatonin supplementation:

Researchers have given up to 3000 times the normal dose without any immediate problems. There are many people who should stay away from melatonin completely; pregnant women, women trying to conceive, and children, those with severe allergies or other immune disorders. We don't know the effects it can have on children and on the immune system, so it's best they avoid it.

Long term health effects of melatonin supplementation:

Melatonin is a powerful sleep hormone that should not be abused. Some believe that melatonin supplements may cause long term health problems that we aren't aware of yet. Melatonin supplements have only been on the market for about a decade. Some may assume this means it's safe, but we are still finding out new things, for drugs and supplements that have been around much longer. It is probably best to use very small doses and cycle it off and on.

Melatonin Dosage & Timing

Melatonin should be taken 30 minutes before you go to sleep. If you don't feel rested in the morning, but instead groggy or hung over, then try reducing your dosage. If it doesn't work very well in improving sleep, then slightly increase your dosage. Everyone seems to have different dosages that work best for them, so it may require trial and error.

Whole Grain Diet Effects on Inflammation & Insulin

In a previous article I discussed the role of IL-6 chemical in the body and it's role in causing weight regain. IL-6 is an inflammatory hormone that promotes the same cascade of reactions, seen as a result of excercise. Reducing inflammation in the body is important for health reasons, but it also is important for bodybuilding reasons.

Whole grain diet studies:

Many studies have shown a reduced inflammation and better insulin sensitivity,on the body, as a result of a high whole grain diet. Am J Clin Nutr. 2006 Feb;83(2):275-83 and Br J Nutr. 2007 Aug;98(2):397-405. Epub 2007 Mar 29 both showed better glycemic control with these diets. The latter study also showed
reduced body inflammation too. A recent study published in J Nutr. 2007 Jun;137(6):1401-7. showed the same results between dieters on
refined grains compared to whole grains. Therefore, you just
need a high grain diet to get this effect.

Importance to bodybuilders:

A high grain diet is important to bodybuilders for two reasons. Increased insulin sensitivity always results in better body recomposition(lower bodyfat % and increased muscle gains). Lower inflammatory levels of hormones such as IL-6, leads to less muscle breakdown and fat rebound. Bodybuilders should definitely include whole grain oats, such as oatmeal, in their diets for this reason.

Do Pro-Biotics Work?

The last few years I’ve seen a lot of health gurus talking about Pro-biotics. To me I never paid much attention to it until recently because it always seemed like pseudo science to me. I decided to do some more digging on the issue for this blog.

What are Pro-biotics?

Pro-biotics are the opposite of anti-biotics. When you take anti-biotics, one common side effect is diarrhea, due to the killing of good bacteria in the digestive tract. Anti-biotics kill both good and bad bacteria in the body because they do not discriminate against against the bacteria they kill. Pro-biotic supplements in contrast, help promote good bacteria growth and digestion.

How do Pro-Biotics work?

According to studies done on pro-biotic supplements, pro-biotics can work by the following mechanisms; competing with harmful bacteria in the digestive tract, increasing the fermentation of fiber, preventing fat in the diet uptake, and by boosting the immune system.

Research on Pro-Biotics:

But what does science really say about it? The British Nutrition Foundation Bulletin recently released a article called Are probiotics beneficial for health? Without repeating the whole article I'll give a summary of the main point of the article. The research currently out shows that pro-biotics have no benefit for people who eat regular whole food nutritious diets. It is shown so far in research to be beneficial for those who have a intestinal microflora imbalance due to bad diet and mineral deficiencies.

Accupuncture: Cure for Knee Pain?

You always see bodybuilders practically forming a line on the leg press. They always claim they can’t do squats cause of “bad knees”. I’m pretty cynical of most people who claim “bad knees” as an excuse at the gym, but accupuncture may help for those actual genuine cases. Recent research has shown, that when acupuncture and arthritic drugs were used together, it helped the knee pain better than arthritic drugs by themselves.

Excercise Cures Depression?

Many people believe in the power of excercise to help overcome chronic depression. Often it helps aid people to make serious changes in their life and break addictions. What does science really say on the issue though?

A few years ago a study was done by Belgian researchers. They found that excercise itself does not have a direct result on curing depression. Excercise is considered a aversive activity to a degree. Webster defines aversive as "causing avoidance of a thing, situation, or behavior by using an unpleasant or punishing stimulus, as in techniques of behavior modification". The aversion of excercise causes a coping mechanism in depressed individuals. These coping mechanisms as a result, become helpful for those in depressed states.


For bodybuilders suffering from depression, 5-HTP may be a miracle supplement. But it also has even more benefits than that.

What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP stands for 5-Hydroxytryptophan. 5-HTP was first a supplement in 1994 in the U.S, but was used as a medicine in Europe dating back as far as the 70's. It is the direct pre-cursor in the body to the powerful neurotransmitter serotonin. The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor to 5-HTP. Serotonin is the chemical involved in addiction and involved in feeling "satisfied". It also effects your overall mood, sleep, and appetite. Anti-depressant drugs deal with interactions with Serotonin in the brain. Serotonin also is involved in the gastrointestinal tract and blood cells.

Benefits of 5-HTP:

Your energy and mood will feel better overall when taking 5-HTP. If you suffer from depression it will dramatically help you. You will feel more refreshed and have better sleep on 5-HTP. This will lead to better gains as a bodybuilder. 5-HTP also helps reduce appetite. Due to it's action on serotonin, it can make a person feel satisfied with less food. While cutting this supplement could do wonders for curbing your appetite.

Side Effects:

Despite it being on the market for so many years, it's long term usage is still unclear. People do seem to build a tolerance also. For this reason, it is recommended to only stay on it for short brief periods (cycle it), until more research is done. However, 5-HTP certainly can't be any more unsafe, than current anti-depressants on the pharmaceutical market, since 5-HTP is naturally found in the body and in nature.

Does 5-HTP Really work?

Yes, bodybuilders report a definite improvement after taking 5-HTP. As a direct pre-cursor to serotonin, there is no doubt it works directly on serotonin.

Diabetes Caused by Types of Carbohydrates Eaten

When thinking of diabetes , most people think that while what kind of carbs you eat is important, that large amounts can also be equally as bad as leading to diabetes. In other words, if you eat a ton of lower glycemic indexed carbs, that is almost or just as bad as eating a low amount of high glycemic carbs. However, according to recent research says, it seems to be wrong. It’s not so how much carbohydrates you eat that causes type 2 diabetes, but more importantly what kind.

A study done by Havard medical school researchers took data over 25 years of studies. The results showed that fat and protein were not correlated with type 2 diabetes. However, simple carbohydrates had high correlations and corn syrup had a .84 correlation. 1 is the strongest correlation you can have between cause and effect. Other "low glycemic" carbohydrates had low correlation between diabetes.

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