KENNEWICK - You'll never see a can of chicken soup in Debby Anglesey's cupboard.
This and many other foods contain monosodium glutamate, and Anglesey and MSG don't mix. Countless hours of research into the food additive led Anglesey to produce a self-published book, "Battling the MSG Myth."
Her personal battle against MSG has made the 52-year-old Kennewick woman an activist in a little-known war against the additive.
The roots of her crusade trace back 20 years to the beginning of Anglesey's sickness: debilitating migraine headaches, asthma and stomach problems.
"I wanted to die, literally," she said. "I had no energy." Nothing doctors prescribed helped.
And five years ago, her son, Michael, now 25, started having similar symptoms, complaining of migraine headaches and trouble concentrating. That's when Anglesey devoted what energy she could muster to find the culprit.
"When it happens to your kid, you do something about it," she said.
The literature described her son's and her own symptoms almost exactly. Anglesey called NoMSG, an anti-MSG education group. She since has joined the organization's board of directors, but back then, she was just looking for information.
What she read caused her to cut MSG out of her diet. It ended all her health problems, Anglesey said.
"Before we knew it, every symptom was better, even asthma," she said.
The Glutamate Association maintains although some people may have ill effects, the flavor enhancer is safe to eat. If someone thinks MSG is making them sick they should consult a doctor, but reactions are rare, said Sarah Dellea, spokeswoman for the trade group.
"MSG is one of the most thoroughly researched food ingredients in the world," she said.
The federal Food and Drug Administration and independent experts have reviewed volumes of research on MSG and deemed it safe, Dellea added.
Such arguments fail to comfort Anglesey, however.
She thinks believes removing MSG from their diets allowed her and her son to return to a normal life.
It's not an easy transition, however. Nearly every prepared food contains MSG, so keeping it out of her diet takes a lot of effort.
But Carol Hoemlein, a former food-process engineer, said, the problem is directly tied to the bottom line.
"It comes down to money," said the Tenafly, N.J., resident. "They can . . . give the illusion of more chicken in your chicken soup, for example. It's not like basil, where it adds taste. It adds taste by altering your taste buds - it doesn't change food, it changes you."
Ed Dratz, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Montana State University in Bozeman, said because MSG works directly on the brain, it can cause problems like the ones Anglesey describes.
The way MSG makes foods taste better - by triggering neurotransmitters - is precisely what makes it dangerous, Dratz said.
"When nerve cells are overstimulated, they get sick and die," he said.
For Dratz and others, such problems are compounded by the fact that food labels may not list MSG if it's added as part of another ingredient such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, natural flavors, spices and others.
Anglesey can be reached by e-mail at avengermsgmyth.com. Her Web site is www.msgmyth.com