MSG (Glutamates) in Protein Powders Dangerous?

March 2nd, 2008 by Paul Johnson

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.

  1. Gina Alajar on April 12th, 2009

    I didn’t realize the dangers of MSG until I read this.

  2. Canadian Bodybuilding on August 30th, 2009

    MSG is very bad. I didn’t know they put this in protein!!!

  3. Kevin on September 3rd, 2009

    I also didn’t realizse the dangers of MSG..

  4. Robert Bender on January 23rd, 2010

    Just in case Russell Blalock, a nuero surgeon is right and you are underestimating the risks of hydrolized protein, glutamine, and glutamic acid, is there an excitotoxin free form of protien powder a person can use with lower or no risk compared to other forms ?

  5. joe on March 9th, 2010

    I’ve read this whole hack job. The people who want you to continue to eat that toxic mess we call protein powder seem to rest their case on the blood brain barrier/absorption: Dr.Blaylock clearly explains how this is easily bypassed. Protein powders are lower than dog food when it comes to the quality of materials used.

  6. Anabolic Supplements on September 5th, 2010

    It has side effect so…

  7. Matt on February 23rd, 2011

    Thanks for the read. Theres not substitute for real food thats for sure. I try to get my protein in that way.