Tired but Wired

7 PM: The crab cakes are amazing—the best I’ve ever had. They have huge chunks of crabmeat in them, almost no filler, and are seasoned to perfection. My daughter and son-in-law enjoyed these delicious crab cakes at a restaurant at the shore; knowing we’d like them too, they splurged to bring some home to us. We thoroughly enjoy the meal and call our kids to thank them again.

3 AM: I’m still awake after climbing into bed at 11:30; I’ve dozed a bit, but never really slept. I realize my husband isn’t in bed beside me, so I get up and find him sitting at his computer reading blogs—also wide awake and not looking happy about it.

As I look at Bill, something clicks in my brain.

“Do you think there was . . . ,” I begin to say,

Bill finishes my thought, “. . . MSG in the crab cakes? Yes. Absolutely.”

Oh boy. Another good night’s sleep lost to the siren song of chemically enhanced food. Because, unfortunately, this isn’t the first time this has happened to us. Chinese food has kept us awake more than a few times, so has Mexican food, Vietnamese pho, canned soup, and snack foods—too many times to count. 

It’s funny that Bill and I both have the same reaction to MSG, because there are so many other side effects people claim to experience after consuming it. Here’s a list of the more common complaints:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

There is a huge, hotly contested debate going on concerning MSG. One camp (including the FDA) says it is perfectly safe and natural, and suggests that people who claim to have side-effects after eating it are imagining things. The other camp says it is a harmful chemical that needs to be limited or avoided altogether.

If I were not a person who feels the effects of MSG in such a pronounced way, I might find myself in the first group. But since my husband and I experience sleeplessness even when we had no reason to believe our food contained MSG, I’m quite certain we aren’t imagining our symptoms.     

For the record—If you like MSG and it doesn’t seem to bother you: enjoy it. I’m not trying to tell you to avoid it. I’m simply writing this about my own experiences with the stuff, some other facts I picked up along the way, and what I found to counteract the effects MSG seems to have on me.    

Here are a few facts about MSG:

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a food additive which acts as a brain stimulant. First developed in Japan in 1908, it is used to enhance the “umami’ or “5th taste” flavor of a wide range of savory foods such as potato chips and other snack foods, soups, sauces, salad dressings, frozen meals, fast foods, and so on.

MSG increases appetite by interrupting leptin, the chemical messenger which tells the brain that you’ve had enough to eat. If you’ve ever found yourself eating some processed food (nacho cheese tortilla chips come to mind) and you felt like you couldn’t make yourself stop, chances are that food contained MSG. The additive also causes an increase in blood sugar levels and a slowing of metabolism. When you put all this together you get a recipe for obesity, and studies suggest that children are especially susceptible.

MSG has also been linked to liver disease, high blood pressure and diabetes, and is believed to be a trigger for migraine headaches. 

The best way to avoid MSG is by preparing meals at home—from scratch. When buying prepared foods, read labels carefully and be aware that there are other additives that are very similar to MSG and can cause comparable side-effects (I learned this the hard way!) Some of these are: Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, hydrolyzed soy extract and protein isolate.

And now for some good news—

As I researched MSG a few years ago, I read about an amino acid called taurine, which counteracts the effects of MSG. Our bodies produce taurine, and it is also available as a supplement. Because I knew taurine is often used in energy drinks, I was hesitant to take it at bedtime, but in desperation in the middle of a sleepless night, I tried it—and it worked! It calmed my racing mind and jittery body, and put me to sleep quickly. Now I reach for it as soon as I sense that I’m not falling asleep normally, if I think MSG may be the culprit.

I always love it when writing one of these health pieces leads me to valuable information I didn’t know existed. As I read about taurine, I learned that it has been used to successfully treat tinnitus (ringing in the ears). My daughter has suffered from tinnitus for a number of years, so I immediately went out and bought a bottle of taurine for her, and I’m hoping it will alleviate her symptoms.

I’ll keep you posted.

———

Sources:

www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/…/faq-20058196

http://www.msgmyth.com/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3501277/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18178378

http://www.rlcure.com/glutamate2.html

Photo by Khusen Rustamov via Pixabay