The Durk Pearson & Sandy Shaw®
Life Extension NewsTM
Volume 12 No. 5 • October 2009

Monosodium Glutamate, a Natural Flavor Enhancer:
Can Dietary Supplementation of MSG Improve the
Health of the Elderly?

We always take our Ineffable Essence™ (combination of monosodium glutamate and disodium inosinate, two natural flavor molecules) with us whenever we travel so that we can enhance food flavors (we call it “replacement therapy for food,” as the natural levels of these molecules decrease rapidly as food ages) and of course we use it at home. You may be surprised to learn that many foods contain substantial amounts of natural glutamate, which is an important part of their savory (called umami) flavor. For example, the table below shows the natural glutamate content of various foods.

Food Glutamate (mg/100 g)
Parmesan cheese 8,210
chedder cheese 6,090
walnuts 658
fresh tomato 310
beans 880
steak >2,000
white mushrooms 400
salmon 3,840
broccoli 950

(These data from Ajinomoto Co., which manufactures and
sells MSG and sodium inosinate.)

Scientists recently published a paper1 asking the question: can supplementation with glutamate be used to improve health?

As the researchers explained, there is a decrease in sensitivity to and preference for L-glutamate (the umami taste) in elderly Japanese and Western as compared to middle-aged individuals. They report that “umami taste sensitivity is correlated with the protein preference score.” Not surprising, as amino acids contribute to umami taste. Favorable effects of MSG on palatability and appetite were reported in elderly patients with reduced sodium intake and in those who had lost body weight as a result of disease. Salivary secretion was reported to be increased after ingesting food containing MSG as compared to the same food without MSG. Thus, the authors suggest, umami may help “increase salivary flow” and, therefore, “have clinical potential in the elderly, who frequently experience dry mouth and its complications [e.g., tooth decay, difficulty swallowing].”

Another group was reported by the authors to find an improvement in immune function in the elderly after the enhancement of the flavors of “typical” institutionalized diets, while MSG supplementation (0.5% MSG added to the staple diet of elderly patients) in a different study resulted in a significant increase in peripheral lymphocyte concentrations (a possible improvement in immune function), as well as improvements in speech, facial expression, and eye opening.

  1. Yamamoto et al. Can dietary supplementation of monosodium glutamate improve the health of the elderly? Am J Clin Nutr 90(Suppl.):844S-9S (2009).

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