One parent claims MSG causes autism. It makes the news.

It’s disturbing that this is news. It’s one person’s story but too many will believe it with NO critical thinking. There is no basis for it to be an accurate claim at all.

Chemist claims she reversed daughter’s autism

A Bay Area biochemist thinks she’s found a sort of autism smoking gun: monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

It’s a chemical compound almost exclusively connoted with Chinese food, but Katherine Reid points out that it’s found in all but 5 percent of processed food, largely unbeknownst to us: It appears on the food label only about 1 percent of the time.

According to Reid, many neurodevelopmental disorders like autism are potentially linked with an improper balance of glutamate intake.

“We have glutamate receptors in our body, and 50 percent of our nervous system is excited by glutamate, so we need certain amounts to function,” Reid told “But it’s all about balance. There’s a huge amount of scientific literature that links many diseases with a glutamate imbalance. And it’s not just autism, but a number of neurological disorders too – there’s a connection to this glutamic imbalance.”

The San Francisco Chronicle points out there “is no science to back up many of her claims,” with two doctors confirming to the paper that no MSG studies of the sort have been carried out.

“According to Reid…” That’s all these things are. Sorry, knowledge doesn’t work that way. This is a belief. There are currently no studies, experiments, papers, mechanism or any reputable source that supports these claims. There is zero reason to take them seriously at this point. I am appalled that the San Fran Chron would print this. It lends false hope and provides misinformation. This MSG-autism link is promoted by a few non-credible autism info sites. The idea oversimplifies “autism” which is a complex diagnosis.

What’s the harm in changing a diet to become an extreme form of food observation? This woman gave up her job to this issue. There are other explanations here that do not involve MSG, a product that is one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids. In use over 100 years, there is no evidence that MSG has a role in chronic and debilitating illnesses.

It also does not cause what people commonly refer to as “chinese restaurant syndrome” which is a complete myth.

Student Questions: Food Woo, Food Woo, and More Food Woo.

Tip: Kevin O’Malley

  15 comments for “One parent claims MSG causes autism. It makes the news.

  1. Chris Howard
    March 20, 2014 at 10:52 PM


    I’ve got the original Roman recipe from well over a thousand years ago.

    If you make it like the ancient Romans did you realize there’s nothing to it, and that unless you have some weird food sensitivity it’s pretty harmless.

    It was so popular in the ancient world that it was one of the most widely traded cooking ingredients, and was considered such an important element of flavor that even people in exile weren’t denied it.

    Synthesize it in a lab though, and suddenly it’s a sinister, toxic, chemical unfit for consumption.

  2. Shell Bush
    March 20, 2014 at 11:21 PM

    Well, it may not be shown to have a roll in ‘causing’ illnesses, it does have one in agitating certain maladies. My wife suffers from interstitial cystitis, which is a deterioration of the bladder’s lining. She has to avoid foods containing MSG as it irritates the lining and causes severe – sometimes debilitating – pain. So no more KFC or Doritos or prepackaged “Chinese” like La Choy frozen items. Most legit Chinese restaurants haven’t used it in years.

    Note they state two doctors said there have been no studies to confirm or deny this theory, so perhaps this lady might want to run one and let peer review sort things out? I certainly think that it might be worth checking to see if perhaps we are now consuming too much of it and it is triggering responses not previously seen, as I kind of doubt the ancients were eating as much crap as we do.

  3. March 21, 2014 at 3:33 AM

    It’s interesting that while the Japanese are the ones that “invented” monosodium glutamate… It’s “almost exclusively known” as ingredient in Chinese food, eh?

    And if people really have glutamate imbalance, then what are those super-glutamate burgers i.e. Umami burgers doing to the eaters?

    On the other hand, there had been some calls for investigation

    But this should be easy to test, since there are glutamate blocker drugs, right?

  4. Blargh
    March 21, 2014 at 9:09 AM

    Ok Chris, now you have to share that recipe. 🙂

  5. Chris Howard
    March 21, 2014 at 9:42 AM

    No problem. Here’s the archeological site that has a link to the authentic recipe. It involves leaving fish (anchovies) out overnight, unrefrigerated.

    Let me dig around for my recipe. It’s a little more sanitary– I hope. 😉

  6. Chris Howard
    March 21, 2014 at 9:43 AM
  7. Lee
    March 21, 2014 at 10:45 AM

    I like the fact the S.F. Chronicle itself claims there is “NO science to back up many of her claims” but we will print it anyway. They discredit her! Is there anything in our existence that is not news worthy. Yes there is but when it involves this ridiculous microcosm we have created EVERYTHING must be written about without any prior journey into the subject to see IF it is. Journalism once encompassed checking your subject matter, sources, what was written had validity to it. That is out the window. A great example of how this steam rolls involves how embedded “Gluten Free” is in our society. Everyone wants it out of their food yet if you ask a typical person what it is, they cannot tell you what it is. All we can do is examine an article or listen to a claim and become part of the information as we attempt to manipulate it towards validity or inaccuracy.

  8. Aruvqan Myers
    March 21, 2014 at 12:30 PM

    Garum isn’t left out overnight, it is fermented for months to *years* if made properly. Best modern substitute for it is either anchovy paste or asian fish sauce. I cheap out and substitute worchestershire sauce as it is one less bottle to have to find space in my fridge for.

  9. ryan
    March 21, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    That’s more a Roman fish sauce than it is an “original” recipe for MSG. Fermented/preserved fish products are loaded with glutamate, but they’ve more recently been pegged for their high levels or inosinate which basically just magnifies the effects of the glutamate. Beyond that they tend to have a ton of other stuff going on in terms of flavor, and uses beyond introducing a umami flavor.

    If you’re going to look for an ancient product that’s analogous or lead to modern use of MSG you’re probably better off looking at kombu kelp, broths like the Japanese dashi, or other Asian use of seaweeds. Good quality kombu is so loaded with MSG you can sometimes see crystals of the stuff crusted up on the outside. And really doesn’t have too much else going on in terms of strong flavors. Between the kombu and the dried fish used to make it, dashi is basically glutamate tea. And both MSG and umami were extracted/described from kombu, inspired by all the fun dashi brings to the table:

    I often wonder if people who fear MSG know how common it is. Things like mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, well browned meats, fish sauce, dashi, etc.; tend to have far more MSG than is added to your typical processed or Chinese take out meal. And noone seems to ever get the bizarre symptoms and sensitivities they peg to MSG when eating them.

  10. Bonnie
    March 21, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    You can save your fridge space for something else. Worcestershire sauce doesn’t need refrigeration. I keep mine in the cupboard. Even tho it can take me a year or more to go through a bottle, I’ve never had one go bad.

  11. BobM
    March 21, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    WS is great on bread and cheese 🙂

  12. March 21, 2014 at 8:36 PM

    I suspect there’s a lot of “no critical reading” either. I imagine lots of people will read the first sentence of that article and conclude the way to prevent autism is to never eat Chinese food and never feed your children Chinese food.

    Also, I notice the article is properly “balanced.” It uses the word balance three times, and the word imbalance three times.

    Okay, and it uses balancing once.

  13. terry the censor
    March 23, 2014 at 6:25 PM

    In the Chronicle article, Reid says, “Out of the 75 cases of diagnosed autism I’ve worked on, 74 drastically improved within five weeks” of her MSG withdrawal treatment.

    The effect Reid sees might be caused by something else: the overdiagnosis of autism.

  14. neko
    March 23, 2014 at 7:21 PM

    “Between the kombu and the dried fish used to make it, dashi is basically glutamate tea.”

    I like my kombu dashi with only kombu, my bonito dashi with only bonito. The kombu always has that deep emerald color that’s so striking, the bonito is good with misoshiru where the color isn’t so important. Of course, you can mix them together but I only suggest it with leftover dashi you need to get rid of quick.


  15. Carl M
    March 23, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    Glad to see that there are others who are upset that “real” news sources are treating (assertions about) a sample of one as evidence of something.

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