MSG and seizures

Hi everyone

I've gotten the direction from my doctor to avoid MSG and MSG related foods. I'm a little confused. It seems EVERYTHING nearly has some sort of MSG in it. Some things naturally contain MSG. I don't think I can avoid everything. I've been horrified to eat anything! I wondered if any of you got this same direction from your doctor and what do you do?


Re: MSG and seizures

It is possible, by changing food shopping habits and visiting stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes (and so on) to consume whole, additive-free foods. Is MSG deemed to be what's really behind most seizures? No. Are a few children and adults extremely sensitive to a few food additives (not all food additives) and feel better by choosing foods which do not contain those food additives? Yes. Will that cure epilepsy or ADHD or some other similar neurological challenge? No (my view). The whole area of food additives is a little controversial since it appears that most persons are immune to food additives or food additives are not a concern to most persons. At the same time, there are a small number of reports which clearly show a (subtle) link between paying attention, cognition, and memory and a few food additives for a few persons with ADHD, epilepsy, and so on (not everyone with ADHD, epilepsy, and so on). Have read a number of books on the topic of food additives over the years and the one I remember as being well-documented (since it was about completely hidden food additives) was a How To (understand) Hyperactivity book (1981) about ADHD Inattentive by C. Thomas Wild with Anita Uhl Brothers, M.D. which called for full disclosure ingredient labeling for drugs and foods which contain food additives such as FD&C Yellow Food Color No. 5 (tartrazine), the artificial sweetener, sodium saccharin, MSG, etc. Neither Wild nor Brothers believed that food additives cause classic ADHD at all but it is clear that a few food additives do act as powerful, undisclosed drugs for a few persons that can affect a variety of areas from cognition, to sleeping, to how fast wounds/scrapes heal, etc.

Re: MSG and seizures

PGD is right...Trader Joe's and Whole Foods are the ticket.  (I have terrible food allergies and I'm comfortable shopping there.)

Now for the spiel on MSG:

Don’t be fooled by the term “free glutamate”…

Some foods advertise “No MSG”, or “No added MSG”, but actually, they contain large amounts of a hidden MSG derivative, called “free glutamate”. Many people experience adverse reactions but are not aware that the cause may be exposure to this substance, free glutamate, which is created in manufacturing processes. When any product contains at least 79% free glutamic acid it must be called MSG. Quantities of less than this amount, do not fall under MSG labeling restrictions, and can be called any number of innocent sounding names, such as “natural flavoring”. In larger quantities, free glutamate is toxic to everyone, but for those who cannot metabolize it effectively, even very small doses can act like a poison. MSG stimulates or damages glutamate receptors, making them more sensitive to subsequent ingestion of MSG. Science suggests that free glutamates may act as a “slow neurotoxin” with damage, such as dementia, only becoming apparent years later.

Stealth dangers…

The tricky part for consumers is that current labeling allows for free glutamate to be hidden under more than 40 different names making it extremely difficult for MSG sensitive individuals to identify. For example, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, another name for free glutamate, is widely used in many manufactured food products. Brain lesions have been produced again and again experimentally using hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Also, it has been determined that when these substances are combined together, as can be found in the lengthy ingredient list of many prepared foods, they become much more toxic than when used individually. Commercial soups, sauces, and gravies that are in liquid forms are even more toxic than solid forms, because liquids are rapidly absorbed and attain high concentrations in the blood.

Hidden names and sources of MSG…

This is where it gets scary.  MSG is hidden in more foods and ingredients than you’d ever dream of.  Here are some examples:

“Enriched”, fermented, protein fortified, ultra pasteurized, broth, bouillon, caramel flavoring, corn syrup, cornstarch, dry milk solids, natural flavoring, gelatin, gums, malt extract, milk powder, modified food starch, potassium glutamate, seasonings, soy protein, soy sauce or extract, stock, vitamin “enriched,” whey protein, yeast extract and yeast nutrients.

So, buyer beware.  Read those food labels carefully!      Phylis Feiner Johnson


Re: MSG and seizures

Thank you for this Phylis! Very informative. I myself am trying to follow a Low GI diet in an effort to gain control with my generalized epilepsy, my medication is just not cutting it, and am finding it a minefield and very confusing. I wish there was more information like this available - everything I read is directed at the weight loss brigade and it is so frustrating trying to get clear cut info.

Your remark that the free glutamates have been shown to cause damage such as dementia is a real red flag to me - I am 31 and my memory is APPALLING now, after previously having a near photographic memory in high school. I am extremely worried about the future in this regard, as much if not more so than my seizures, and wish there was more epilepsy-focused literature on how to easily stick to a diet day to day that is best for me in the long run.

If anyone knows of anything I would love to hear about it!

Re: MSG and seizures

There are 3 anti-seizure diets which people turn to when they're not getting results from their meds.

The Ketogenic Diet — One of the oldest treatments for epilepsy.

There are many children and adults for whom epilepsy medications like Lamictal, Depakote, and Zarotin are ineffective in controlling or even reducing seizures. These drugs, especially in combination, can also cause unpredictable and serious side-effects.

That’s why many people have turned to alternative therapies for seizure management. Because ketones seem to have an anti-convulsive effect, one of the most promising and least invasive alternative treatments for seizures has been the Ketogenic Diet.

The diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet which works by fasting which in turn, creates ketones, which are by-products of the fat-burning metabolism that happens while fasting.  And during this time, the body goes into a state known as ketosis— which has an anticonvulsant effect.  Seizures often lessen or disappear during these periods of fasting.

With careful and proper monitoring, the Ketogenic Diet has been found to reduce seizures in two-thirds, and eliminate seizures in one-third, of people for whom anti-epileptic drugs are ineffective.  And if it is successful, it’s usually continued for two years. During this time, the person is often gradually able to lessen or discontinue the amount of medication they take for seizures. And interestingly, many children (and some adults!) seem happier and more alert on the diet, even before medication is significantly lessened.

The Atkins Diet — May reduce seizures in children and adults with epilepsy.

Along with helping some people shed unwanted pounds, the popular low-carbohydrate, high-fat Atkins Diet may also have a role in preventing seizures.  That good news comes from the prestigious Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

In a limited study of six patients, including three patients 12 years old and younger on the Atkins regimen for at least four months, two children and one young adult were seizure-free and were able to reduce their anti-convulsant medications. Findings of the study, also showed that seizure control could be long-lasting on the diet…for as much as 20 months.

The researchers caution that the Atkins Diet should not lead to routine use, nor should it be used to replace the Ketogenic Diet — the rigorous high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet already proven to reduce or eliminate difficult-to-control seizures in some patients.

The common elements in both diets are high fat and low carbohydrate foods that alter the body’s glucose chemistry. The Ketogenic Diet mimics some of the effects of starvation, in which the body produces ketones, a chemical byproduct of fat that can inhibit seizures. Those who remain seizure-free for two years on the Ketogenic Diet often can resume normal eating and often their seizures don’t return. The Atkins Diet, while slightly less restrictive than the Ketogenic Diet, also produces ketones.

In the short term, the Atkins Diet could be used by selected patients as a “trial run” for those considering the Ketogenic Diet in the future.  In the Johns Hopkins study, five out of six patients attained ketosis within days of starting the Atkins Diet and maintained moderate to large levels of ketosis for periods of six weeks to 24 months.

Johns Hopkins researchers will further examine the role the Atkins Diet plays in the management of epilepsy in a larger clinical study of 20 children with epilepsy, which began in September 2003 and already has enrolled several patients.

MAD — Modified Atkins Diet — More user-friendly.

Although it’s referred to as “MAD”, the Modified Atkins Diet is really the best of both possible worlds.

This modified version of the popular high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet can significantly cut the number of seizures in adults with epilepsy.  And it has shown promise for seizure control in children too, offering a new lifeline for patients when drugs and other treatments fail or cause complications.

It’s a less restrictive, higher in protein and carbohydrates, a dietary therapy for those who would otherwise use the Ketogenic Diet. So far, it’s been used and researched for the past five years with outcomes similar to the Ketogenic Diet. Recent data has also suggested this valuable new therapy leads to a rapid seizure improvement when effective.

It’s not exactly know, how ketones reduce and eliminate seizures, or why the diet works for some and not others. Researchers are especially interested in why some people remain seizure-free after discontinuing the diet. Further research is needed, since the Modified Atkins Diet has only been used since 2004.

But it’s promising to note that clinical research did show that about half the patients experienced a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of their seizures by the first clinic visit. About a third of the patients halved the frequency of seizures by three months. Side effects linked with the diet, such as a rise in cholesterol or triglycerides, were mild.

In general, the Modified Atkins Diet is recommended for: adolescents, adults, and younger children with difficulty staying on or starting the Ketogenic Diet…families with limited time…those lacking financial resources to cover the costs involved with the Ketogenic Diet…and patients at centers with limited dietitian support.

Good news: The Modified Atkins Diet doesn’t deprive you of rich foods like butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise, oils, cheese, bacon, eggs, hamburger, and whipped cream. The diet doesn’t cause children to become overweight, and overweight children often lose weight. But daily supplements are necessary to replace vitamins that are missing in the diet.  Suggested vitamins include: Vitamin B-1…Vitamin B-2…Vitamin B-3…Vitamin C…Folate…Vitamins D…and E.  Check your multi-vitamin to see if ALL of these are included..

Although there are considerably fewer side effects than with drugs, the Modified Atkins Diet for seizures can cause dehydration, constipation and, occasionally, kidney and gall stone complications. Side effects can also develop in children who are unable to digest large amounts of fat. As with all treatments, initial evaluation and careful monitoring by parents, a neurologist, and a nutritionist are all mandatory.

We do know that the Modified Atkins Diet for seizures is as effective, less restrictive, and far easier than the Ketogenic Diet. It’s an inexpensive alternative treatment option with few side effects that often works when all else has failed.  And that is good news for all of us who have tried previous diets and given up hope or even the strict discipline.

G.A.R.D –The Glutamate-Aspartate Restricted Diet – A life-long elimination diet.

Let me start by saying the G.A.R.D diet is highly controversial.  While some claim “dramatic improvements in the severity and frequency of their seizures,” others find it a diet difficult to maintain.  And if you cheat a smidgen, your seizures will come back. So, consider this a life-long commitment…or else just skip it.

Essentially, the G.A.R.D is an elimination diet, specifying definite foods (which includes food products and ingredients) that must be avoided.  So strict vigilance is mandatory for this diet to work.

Here is a line-up of the forbidden foods: gluten – commonly derived from wheat and grains…casein – protein found in cow milk (and most dairy products)…soycorn – including corn syrup and corn derivative products…MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) – a very common food ingredient in processed foods even though it is rarely clearly labeled as such…aspartame – commonly used as a sugar substitute…glutamate – found in high concentrations in most beans/legumes…and hydrogenated oils.

And if that’s not depressing enough, there are no clinical trials proving the effectiveness of the G.A.R.D Diet, just anecdotal evidence.  However, if it does work for you, seizure control could begin within days to weeks after starting the diet.

The only good news I can see, is the G.A.R.D Diet is a carbohydrate junkie’s dream come true.  But there’s so many other foods and ingredients you have to sacrifice, it hardly seems worth it to me.        Phylis Feiner Johnson


Re: MSG and seizures

You have to be really careful even in Trader Joe's or Whole Foods.  You have to read labels.

The MSG thing is tough.  MSG is a natural product, usually derived from soy.  Soy sauce is loaded with it.  Other sources of MSG like substances are parmesan cheese (Parmigiana Reggiana), tomatos (especially tomato paste), beets, mushrooms, the things that add "savor" to foods.  It's a drag not being able to eat them or cook with them.

I apologise for not remembering, but the writer who mentioned bouillion and such is right.  Hydrolysed vegetable protein is the first ingredient in bouillion cubes, gravy mixes, soup starters, dried soup mixes, etc.  Make it from scratch or by high grade stocks without additives. 

Beware of natural flavorings unless you can get the manufacturer to tell you what they are.  D'Artagnon Demis-Glaces are expensive, but premium quality, products that can be used the way you would use bouillion cubes with far superior results.  Again, make sure you check out any spices or natural flavors, but I think the D'Argagnon are OK.

Corn starch and hydrolysed starches are not a problem unless you are allergic, which I am.  Corn and soy are in almost everything, including packaging where they do not have to be listed as an ingredient.  I found that out the hard way by being very sick for a very long time.

Now, I'm allergic to all of the above-mentioned items except beets.  I had to stop eating them.  It took me ages to figure out that every time I ate beets, I would have a seizure.  One more food to add to the verboten list.

Another thing to avoid is tyramines.  They are potent migraine triggers and anything that triggers migraines, triggers seizures.  There is a lot of bad info out there on tyramines.  The only accurate data on tyramines that I have read come from The Essential Psychopharmocology:  The Neuroscientific Basis and Practical Applications by Steven M. Stahl.  It is available from Cambridge University Press.

My rule is:  If I can't get my mouth around the ingredient list (pronounce the ingredient names), I certainly don't want to eat them.  Better living through chemistry.  (not!) 

Please read my latest blog post:  Epilepsy Carpe Diem:  Psychiatric Patient Abuse Google Searching for Answers

Baruch Hashem.  Hoshia na.

Devorah Zealot Soodak the zealot needs help!