The Controversy about Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).

Common conditions, Food, Health, Lifestyle

CRS

In the food industry, great interest has been garnered over the use of a particular ingredient which has caused great controversy overtime. That ingredient is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). It’s often used as a flavour enhancer. Although additives can improve the taste of many foods, it does carry a threat of causing allergies, food intolerance and even certain conditions among some individuals. 

What exactly is MSG?

MSG is a crystallised water-soluble kind of sodium salt made up of the amino acid “glutamate”.

Glutamate is present in nature both in its free form and usually bound to peptides and proteins. The free form is used as additive and is responsible for the flavour enhancing properties. The bound form does not have any effect on taste and is considered an excitatory neurotransmitter (the ones that keep you alert and awake) as they mediate many signals in the brain and is involved in normal brain function such as cognition, memory and learning. 

Commercially, MSG is made by fermenting molasses, sugarcane, corn sugar or starch. MSG can also be obtained from natural protein-rich foods such as seaweeds. 

How does MSG work?

There are glutamate receptors present in many parts of our body like the brain, tongue and other peripheral tissues.  The MSG used in food stimulates the glutamate receptors of the tongue to give a “meat-like” or “umami” taste to foods. 

MSG – Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS)

MSG consumption has been linked to the term “chinese restaurant syndrome” since 1968. This syndrome is caused due to body’s intolerance to MSG. Although the use of MSG in chinese food is well known, other cuisines, processed foods and many fast foods also contain it. 

It is still considered as a common type of food intolerance that may possibly affect many individuals.  

Who can be more susceptible to MSG Symptom complex?

  • People with Respiratory problems like Asthma.
  • People with known immunity problems with histamine that causes allergies to additives.
  • People with intestinal problems like Coeliac disease.
  • People with a sensitive stomach to additives.

Signs and Symptoms of CRS

The type of allergic reaction, severity and frequency of symptoms can vary from person to person. Sometimes multiple symptoms can occur at the same time.

  • Neurological system:  anxiety or panic attacks, blurred vision, depression, dizziness, excessive sweating, fatigue, hyperactivity, irritable, poor concentration, sleep disturbance, mild to severe headaches, migraines, tiredness and leg cramps, numbness of the upper body, head and neck.
  • Skin problems: eczema, hives (urticaria), tissue swelling, tongue/ throat swelling, atopic dermatitis, facial flushing and burning, and angioedema (quick swelling of tissue under the skin).
  • Gut related problems: bloating(gas trouble), burning mouth or tongue, constipation, diarrhoea, indigestion, mouth ulcers, nausea,  vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping and irritable bowel syndrome.
  •  Respiratory symptoms: wheeze, cough, blocked nose and sinuses, hay fever, sneezing, rhinitis (inflammation of mucosal membrane inside the nose), unstable asthma, and laryngeal oedema.

When should you seek medical care?

Mild symptoms usually subside without treatment, however if symptoms are severe such as excessive swelling of the throat and tongue, difficulty in breathing and raised heart rate. It is best to immediately seek medical care to prevent the complication of allergic shock which is also known as “Anaphylaxis”. It is a potentially life-threatening allergic reaction with excessively severe symptoms associated with the MSG intolerance.

Diagnosis of MSG intolerance?

  • Medical evaluation (clinical assessment) can determine if the symptoms are not due to some other identifiable cause or disease process.
  • Heart rate and ECG-Electrocardiogram may be recorded to check the normal heart rhythm.  
  • Respiratory status will be checked for bronchospasm (narrowing of the airways).
  • Skin prick tests (or RAST) are used as a standard way of detecting allergen-specific IgE (a type of antibody produced in the body).

Prevention and treatment of MSG intolerance

Drinking water: Water can help flush out any allergens from the body especially MSG. It can reduce the impact and delay the occurrence of the allergic reaction. 

Elimination Diet: You can be put on a diet that excludes natural salicylates, amines and glutamate, as well as additives such as preservatives, colourings and MSG. This is to see if your symptoms improve with time.

Medication: Medical care can involve the use of prescribed medications that can help reduce the symptoms of allergic reaction.

Although, a reasonable amounts of such foods can be eaten among mild symptomatic individuals. It is best to avoid it as much as possible to prevent further complications.   

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What is Blood Pressure?

Exercise, Health, Lifestyle

Blood pressure main

What is blood pressure (BP)?

Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by the circulating blood on the walls of the blood vessels.

What system is it part of and why?

BP is a part of the blood circulatory system, which is also known as the cardiovascular system(Refer Fig 1)

  • The heart
  • The blood vessels – arteries and veins
CirculatorySystem

Fig 1: The Circulatory System

The heart acts as a pump that is responsible for,

  • pumping oxygenated blood carried by the arteries to our organs
  • pumping deoxygenated blood that it receives through the veins from our organs. 

One of the functions of the circulatory system is to regulate the blood pressure for maintaining good blood flow throughout the body. This is required in order to transport nutrients and oxygen for every body part, for regulating body temperature, pH balance and for normal functioning of the body.

For example, when the heart pumps out oxygenated blood through the arteries, the blood flow exerts a force on the walls of the arteries. This force is measured as arterial blood pressure as shown in Fig 2. Any problems with this arterial BP may lead to a problem with the normal functioning of the body.

blood pressure

Fig 2: Arterial Blood pressure 

How is Arterial BP measured? 

The instrument that can measure the blood pressure is called Sphygmomanometer (Refer Fig 

Sphygmomanometer

Fig 3: Sphygmomanometer

It consists of:

  • a cuff,
  • a pump, and
  • a calibrated mercury scale

Typically two numbers that are being recorded on the scale which is written as a ratio. For example, BP of 120/70 mmHg, where 120 is the top number and 70 is the bottom number.

BP Measurement

Fig 3: Measuring BP

As shown in Fig 3, the BP is measured in four steps,

Step 1: Locate the pulse on an artery of the arm

Step 2: The health professional wraps the cuff around your arm and inflates it to squeeze your arm. This is done to temporarily press on the artery and close the blood flow in your arm. 

Step 3:  After the cuff is inflated, the health professional will slowly let air out. While doing this, he or she will listen to your pulse with a stethoscope and watch the mercury level on the calibrated scale to accurately note the measurements. The first pulse sound is heard and simultaneously measured on the scale.

Step 4: As the successive pulse sounds continue the professional hears it until the last pulse sound is heard which is again measured. 

The scale used is in “millimeters of mercury” (mmHg) to measure the pressure in your blood artery.

Blood pressure numbers- what does it indicate? 

systole and diastole

Fig 4: Systole and Diastole of the heart

The top number- Systolic pressure

The top number, which is also the higher of the two numbers, is the measure of the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats or contracts to pump the oxygenated blood. This is also known as the systole of the heart as shown in fig 4. 

The bottom number- Diastolic pressure

The bottom number is also the lower of the two numbers. It indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart muscles are relaxing between two heart beats and refilling with blood. This is also known as the diastole of the heart as shown in fig 4.

BP Categories

Fig : BP Categories

Fig 5: BP Categories

Typically more attention is given to the top number (the systolic blood pressure), however, both the systolic and the diastolic pressures are important for indicating if a person is at risk of any heart disease.

What are the risk factors that will lead to high or low BP?

Risk factors

High BP

Low BP

  • Family history of High BP
  • Advanced age
  • Men get High BP more than women
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Poor diet, excessive salt intake
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Sleep apnea- a sleep disorder in which tissues in the throat collapse and block the airway.
  • Prolonged bed rest
  • Pregnancy
  • Trauma- loss of blood from major trauma, dehydration or severe internal bleeding
  • Certain medications
  • Abnormally low heart rate 
  • Endocrine problems- thyroid problems, Diabetes
  • Severe infection
  • Severe allergic reaction
  • Anemia
  • Nutritional deficiency- low blood volume due to Vit B12 and folic acid deficiency
  • Extreme heat- hot sauna and hot bath

When to seek Medical help?

There’s a common misconception that people will experience symptoms such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping or facial flushing. But the truth is that changes in blood pressure can be a symptomless condition. If you ignore your blood pressure because you think symptoms will alert you to the problem, you are actually taking a risk. It is important to know your blood pressure numbers as everyone should prevent blood pressure problems.

However, there are few signs and symptoms that may possibly occur with low and high BP. 

Signs and symptoms 
High BP Low BP
  • Severe headaches
  • Severe anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds
  • Blood spots in the eyes
  • Facial flushing

 

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration and unusual thirst
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Cold, clammy, pale skin
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Depression

 

How to manage BP problems?

Routine Check-up: Most people are unaware of their BP problems and going for a check-up will detect any blood pressure problems. This will prevent any potential health conditions. 

Understand your normal level of BP: There is no healthy level of high blood pressure or low blood pressure.  Your healthcare professional will determine your treatment goals based on your overall lifestyle and your body.

Lifestyle modifications

  • A nutritional diet, which may include reducing salt depending on High or low BP, Vitamin and mineral rich diet.  
  • Physical activity – exercise
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Stress management
  • Smoking cessation support
  • Alcohol limitations
  • Prescribed medication in specific cases

Take precautions while exposed to heat 

When your body gets heated up during hot weather or during a hot tub or sauna bath, your blood pressure could drop and your heart rate may increase to counteract a drop in blood pressure. Normally, these events don’t cause problems. However, if you have an existing low BP you may be at risk of fainting, falls and heart problems.

Some of the precautions can be,

  • Limit your exposure to heat. Most experts say no more than five to 10 minutes is safe.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Regulate water temperature during hot tub or sauna baths.

Conclusion

Managing blood pressure requires an individual’s adherence to the lifestyle changes and habits. It is advisable to get early assessment and treatment of your blood pressure problems in order to have a healthy circulatory system and to prevent the risk of many health conditions.