Symptoms of msg allergy

Does MSG Allergy Really Exist?

Flushing, sweating, chest pain, and weakness are all potential reactions to monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a flavor enhancer and popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Other symptoms include headache, facial pressure, drowsiness, and numbness and tingling in the face, back, and arms.

But while some people assume the symptoms they’re feeling are the result of an allergy, an MSG reaction is really more of a sensitivity than a true allergy. According to Andy Nish, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and allergy-immunologist practicing in Gainesville, Ga., the difference between an allergy and a sensitivity is the involvement of a protein called IgE, an antibody that works in the allergy department of your immune system.

True allergies, like pollen or pet allergies, are IgE-mediated. A sensitivity to MSG is not. It can seem like an allergy because symptoms arise after exposure to the offending ingredient. But without IgE involvement the reaction can’t be called a true allergy.

MSG Allergy Versus Sensitivity: Why Does It Matter?

Distinguishing between an allergy and a sensitivity is important because the treatment for each is different. The science behind allergies is fairly well-understood. There a number of treatments for symptoms, including medications and injections.

The science behind food sensitivity to MSG isn’t as established. Glutamate, the main ingredient in MSG, is a neurotransmitter — a chemical that carries messages in the nervous system. Scientists have been searching for a link between glutamate in the nervous system and the symptoms of MSG sensitivity. But a connection has not yet been made. So for now, Nish says, avoiding MSG if it bothers you is the best thing to do.

While MSG is best known for its use in restaurants, it can also be found in frozen meals, packaged snack foods, canned foods and soups, and even seasoning mixes. Check the ingredients lists on food labels. As a general rule of thumb, if you eat something that gives you a reaction you’ve had before you should eliminate that food from your diet.

The Bottom Line on MSG

Research hasn’t shown MSG to trigger allergy symptoms in large studies, but according to Nish, that doesn’t mean a sensitivity to the ingredient doesn’t exist. “No double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies have shown it to cause problems in a large number of people, I’m sure it can cause this in certain people,” he says.

So if you think you’re sensitive to MSG, figure out which foods trigger your symptoms and avoid them.

MSG or monosodium glutamate is an agent used to enhance the flavor of the food. It is a salt form of glutamic acid and is widely used as a food additive. Over the past years, studies have found that MSG induces a number of undesirable reactions or allergy-like symptoms in the body. Research-based studies have found that people have reported adverse reactions after consuming food with MSG, but an allergy to MSG has not yet been proved. It is further believed that MSG is a toxic substance that destructs the brain cells and causes diseases related to the brain.

Causes of MSG Allergy

It is not yet understood well how MSG causes allergic reactions. Some evidence has found that individuals who have asthma are more prone to MSG allergies.

More studies are required to understand, as to how MSG affects the body and causes the onset of symptoms.

MSG Allergy Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms of MSG allergy occur up to 48 hours after its ingestion, but some individuals may experience its adverse effects immediately after consumption of foods with MSG. Symptoms may vary from person to person, for example, some individuals may experience mild symptoms, whereas, for others, severe reactions may occur. MSG may also exacerbate or worsen the underlying health condition. Intake of foods with MSG may evoke a constellation of symptoms, which are described as the ‘Chinese Food Syndrome’ (CFS).

Below mentioned are the symptoms experienced by individuals who are sensitive to MSG:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence of gas formation
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Mild Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Numbness in the back of the neck
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Facial pressure or tightness or swelling
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Sweating
  • Heartburn or acidity
  • Upper body weakness

Severe symptoms of MSG allergy include:

  • Angina or severe chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing or suffocation
  • Swelling in the throat
  • Bronchospasm (in patients with asthma)
  • Anaphylaxis

Diagnosis and Tests of MSG Allergy

There are no skin tests or established tests to diagnose MSG allergy. However, self-observation of the symptoms is the best way to understand the root cause.

Self-Observation of Symptoms

For example- If a person experiences undesirable effects every time after he/she consumes foods with MSG, then there are chances of being sensitive or allergic to MSG. Observe your symptoms carefully and immediately visit your doctor. Explain your doctor about the adverse effects in detail. Inform him if you have experienced similar symptoms before.

Oral Food Challenge Test

Oral food challenge test is an accurate test to measure any food allergy. During this test, your allergist feeds you with the suspect food. If the symptoms are present, your allergist will guide you and explain you about how to avoid foods containing MSG. If symptoms are absent, your allergist will rule out the MSG allergy.

Risk Factors

  • Individuals with asthma are at a greater risk of developing insensitivity to MSG. Bronchospasm and worsening of the symptoms are observed in such individuals after the intake of foods containing MSG.
  • People with pre-existing food allergies are at a greater risk of developing MSG allergy.

Treatment of MSG Allergy:

  • If MSG is the cause of adverse effects mentioned above, it is best to avoid food preparations that contain MSG. Completely cut down your intake of restaurant meals and processed foods that have MSG in them.
  • If you unintentionally consume foods with MSG, drink plenty of water to relieve the symptoms. This will stimulate the kidneys to flush out MSG out of your body.
  • Plain water is the best way to remove MSG out of your body. Do not opt for sports drinks, vegetables juices or soups or soft drinks during this time. Such beverages contain sodium, which makes removal of MSG difficult.
  • In severe cases, anaphylactic patients require hospitalization. An epinephrine shot is given to such patients, which may open up breathing passages and relieve MSG symptoms. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)


  • Enquire about the meal or food preparation before placing a food order at the restaurant.
  • Do not consume food at Asian restaurants.
  • Avoid foods that contain a high amount of MSG naturally present in them. These foods include:
    • Meat
    • Poultry
    • Cheese
    • Fish
  • MSG is added to various processed foods. Check the food ingredient label to know if MSG is present in that specific food. MSG is listed on the food label to which it is added. But MSG has many other synonymous names, so check out for these names too on the food label:
    • Monosodium glutamate
    • Monohydrate
    • Monosodium salt
    • Monosodium glutamate monohydrate
    • Monosodium salt
  • MSG may also be listed as:
    • Dried meat
    • Pork extract
    • Chicken stock
    • Maltodextrin
    • Textured protein
    • Autolyzed yeast

List of Foods to Avoid

  • Packaged foods
  • Ready-to-eat meals
  • Stock concentrates and cubes
  • Sandwich spreads
  • Sauces such as oyster, fish and soy sauce
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Seasoning
  • Packaged snacks

You’re Not Allergic to MSG and 6 More Culinary Secrets

If you’re eating something from a chain restaurant or something that came packaged in a grocery store, chances are at one point or another a person called a research chef had a hand in developing it. But it’s not a food job you hear much about: While the products made by research chefs are ubiquitous, their work is arcane. Companies want to own their pot pie or lasagne formulas, they want consumers to visualize Wolfgang Puck personally creating their frozen chicken potstickers, and most of all, they don’t want some rival company making the exact same thing.

But CHOW found a research chef willing to spill some secrets of the trade. Chef Wendy, who works for a Canadian firm that develops private-label products for companies like Whole Foods, Safeway, General Mills, and McDonald’s, would prefer not to reveal her last name, but that was the last thing she was reticent about. CHOW spoke with her about how to crack the secret codes on food labels, what’s really in your carton of orange juice, and more.

Secret 1: People who say they’re allergic to MSG usually aren’t.

“What do all these have in common?” Chef Wendy asks. “Broccoli, mushrooms, tomatoes, inosinate, guanylate, and autolyzed yeast extract? Give up? They are all sources of monosodium glutamate. So don’t bother telling me you’re allergic to MSG if you eat pizza.” If you really are allergic to it, look for these ingredients, whether or not the label says “no added MSG.”

Secret 2: Most cartons of orange juice aren’t simply filled with juice.

“I could get killed for this one,” says Chef Wendy happily. “Orange juice is orange juice right? Not so much. They juice the orange and distill all the oils out of the peel.” The end result is the equivalent of a bunch of little bottles, which product developers can use, mad scientist style.

“I was in an OJ plant where they had over 300 formulas for not-from-concentrate orange juice,” says Chef Wendy. If the client, the company that actually puts out the orange juice, wanted a juice that was sweeter, or more yellow, or a deeper shade of orange, the plant Wendy worked for could mix things together until they got just the right formulation. It’s a lot different than just squeezing oranges. And the label will still just say “orange juice.”

Secret 3: Consumers often are scared of the wrong ingredients.

In the rush toward whole foods and away from chemical wonders, Chef Wendy says, consumers get paranoid about some ingredients that “are not dangerous and in fact are quite natural. One of my faves is carrageenan. Carrageenan is on a lot of labels, and I’m often asked, ‘What is that chemical?’ It’s not a chemical. It’s seaweed! It’s also one of the best thickening gums there is. It can hold over 10 times its weight in water. So that means your frozen sauce doesn’t end up leaving a watery ring around it on the plate.”

Secret 4: Labels have secret codes that you can crack.

Who made that microwave burrito you’re eating? As we’ve pointed out before, it’s not Trader Joe’s. But you can find out who did, if you are savvy enough. “It’s all in code,” says Chef Wendy. If the product has meat, poultry, or eggs in it, by law it must have an establishment number or name somewhere on the label. It may read something like “Meat Products of Houston, Inc.” boldly on the back, or it could be a tiny number hidden somewhere on an inner flap. Whichever it is, you can look it up at the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service website and find the producer’s name and other information. “If there’s no meat it’s a little harder, but it can still be done. There are addresses and various numeric codes that will give it away.”

Secret 5: Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are difficult to work with, and that’s a good thing.

“Traders is a very exacting company,” says Chef Wendy. “They have a famous list of ingredients you cannot use. It’s about four pages single spaced. Some of the ingredients are quite difficult to keep out, but they have their standards and they are very high and they mean it. That’s a good thing. Whole Foods has a similar list and it’s on their website.”

You’d think that such an exacting list would be a pain, but Chef Wendy says, “I like that the standard is high and it’s kept high. Whether they want a high-end item or a bargain-priced item, the rules are the same.”

Secret 6: Sometimes research chefs are grossed out by what they make.

“I don’t, as a rule, take jobs that compromise my belief systems. No chemical feasts allowed,” says Chef Wendy. This leads her to concentrate on developing frozen foods—because the freezer is such an effective food preserver, these items don’t need a lot of the stabilizers and preservatives that canned and bottled products require. Nonetheless, “I do have to make lower-end products, and when I do, I work very hard to make them taste far better than they have a right to be!” It’s not so much, she says, that the food companies “ask for crap. It’s more they ask for the moon and can we please make it for next to nothing. There are less and less of these products being made because the consumer doesn’t want them as much, but the market exists.”

Secret 7: A really great frozen meal could actually exist, but you’re too cheap to pay for it.

Chef Wendy says it’s absolutely possible to make a frozen meal that will knock you out of your chair with greatness. “But that entrée needs to cost $7 to $10. People are willing to spend that much in a restaurant for something mediocre but not for something fabulous from the grocery store.”

Hence frozen meals cost about $2 or $3. “There is rarely even a full ounce (less than 28 grams) of protein in most single-serve entrées. The $3-and-up ones are more expensive because they put 2 ounces in theirs.”

How does she know that, exactly? “When a chef refuses to tell you the recipe, it’s not because it’s a secret. It’s really because they probably don’t remember what they put in it. And that’s the difference between a culinary chef and a research chef. Research chefs weigh everything to at least two decimal points.”

Image source: Flickr member iboy_daniel under Creative Commons


Case Report

A 23-year-old male was brought to the General Hospital at Mahad, with complaints of difficulty in speaking, inability to swallow saliva, and continuous spitting. He strongly rejected taking sips of water and was afraid of water like a hydrophobic patient. He gave no history of snake bite or ptosis. The posterior pharynx could not be visualized, even after repeated attempts with depression of the tongue with a spatula. The uvula and surrounding structures, including the soft palate, were edematous. The uvula was touching the base of the tongue .

On arrival, swelling of the uvula and surrounding tissues, almost closing the entry to the pharynx, touching the base of floor of the mouth.

He was weighing 80 kg, conscious cooperative and well oriented. His blood pressure was 120/80 mmHg; pulse was 88 beats/min and regular. His extremities were warm, the electrocardiograph was within normal limits, and SpO2 was 98% on ambient air. The patient said that he ate only Chinese triple fried rice for dinner the previous night 10 hours earlier. Within an hour of eating, he had giddiness, sweating, and itching all over the body which subsided without any medication. Two hours earlier he had woken up due to difficulty in swallowing and speaking out a few words. He communicated with his family with hand gestures regarding his inability to speak and swallow. There was no history of allergy or bronchial asthma.

The patient was admitted and given intravenous crystalline solution of 40mg methyl prednisolone and was monitored continuously for oxygen saturation.

There was no improvement over half an hour, so 0.30 mg of adrenaline was administered as a deep intramuscular injection over the lateral side of the thigh. The swelling of the uvula and surroundings gradually regressed. The patient no longer had drooling of saliva and was able to speak a few words. His throat looked angry around the uvula and surrounding.

On account of raised leukocyte count with neutrophilia, the patient was treated with oral Amoxycillin with clavulinate. At 16 h after the initiation of treatment, he started normal oral communication and was able to swallow liquid.

On the following day, there was a gradual reduction in the size of the uvula and surrounding inflammation. 2 days from admission, the uvula and surrounding structures including the palate returned to normal and he could swallow solids .

Complete recovery.

Chinese restaurant syndrome: A syndrome first described in 1968 in people who had eaten Chinese food on which MSG (monosodium glutamate) had been lavished. The syndrome only seems to occur in some people. Their symptoms may include headache, throbbing of the head, dizziness, lightheadedness, a feeling of facial pressure, tightness of the jaw, burning or tingling sensations over parts of the body, chest pain, and back pain. Large amounts of MSG may cause arterial dilatation (widening of arteries). Many Chinese do not believe in the existence of the Chinese restaurant syndrome. It may be a hypersensitive (allergic) reaction.

MSG is a sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid that enhances the flavor of certain foods. Originally isolated from seaweed, MSG is now made by fermenting corn, potatoes and rice. It does not enhance the four basic tastes (bitter, salty, sour, sweet) but it does enhance the complex flavors of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetables. MSG is an important ingredient in the cuisines of China and Japan and is used commercially worldwide in many types of foods. It is naturally present at high levels in tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. In China, MSG is known as wei jing, which means flavor essence. CONTINUE SCROLLING OR FOR RELATED SLIDESHOW


Could I Be Allergic? Discover Your Allergy Triggers See Slideshow

In May this year, the medical journal Clinical & Experimental Allergy published a review of more than a decade of scientific research into “the possible role of MSG in the so-called ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome'”.

Chinese restaurant syndrome is the popular slang for allergies or adverse reactions that some people claim they get after eating food containing the flavour-enhancer monsodium glutamate, or MSG, that is widely used in many processed foods and also added to many Asian dishes.

What is amazing about the publication of this research is not that it concludes MSG allergy is a myth, but that a scientific journal still needs to bother debunking such pseudoscience at all. As the New York Times put it in an article by Julia Moskin published last year, “‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ has been thoroughly debunked (virtually all studies since then confirm that monosodium glutamate in normal concentrations has no effect on the overwhelming majority of people)”.

This newspaper published an article in 2005 by Alex Renton that says “at no time has any official body, governmental or academic, ever found it necessary to warn humans against consuming MSG”.

Renton also writes about experimenting on a friend of his named Nic, who claimed to have adverse reactions to MSG: Renton feeds him a meal full of the MSG and closely related naturally occurring glutamates that are found in a huge range of foods including tomatoes, cheese, Marmite, seaweed and Worcester sauce. But Nic feels no pain or adverse reaction after his glutamate-stuffed meal.

That’s because he did not know he was eating MSG and other glutamates: like everyone else who complains of allergy or adverse reactions to MSG, Nic has psyched himself into believing that the benign substance makes him feel bad.

In China, where I live, you don’t hear many complaints about MSG allergy. They’re too busy gorging themselves on the stuff. Chinese people consume 1.6m to 1.8m tonnes of MSG crystals every year, according to China’s “MSG King” Li Xuechun, chairman of the Fufeng Group – a company that grew big enough to list on the Hong Kong stock exchange thanks to sales of MSG.

Most restaurants and home kitchens in China have a big bag of MSG crystals, known in Chinese as weijing, or “flavour essence”, and they toss it liberally into all kinds of savoury dishes. Even chefs who don’t use glutamate crystals use soy sauce in most recipes, and soy sauce tastes good precisely because it’s chock full of glutamates.

Your clothes, your kids’ toys and most of the stuff you own was probably produced in factories in southern China by migrant workers who power through their overtime shifts by eating instant noodles, of which MSG is a vital ingredient. Instant noodles form a big part of the diet of the country’s more than 20 million university students, and you certainly don’t hear any of them complaining about Chinese restaurant syndrome.

Nor do Italians complain about headaches after eating parmesan cheese (which tastes good because of the glutamates in it), Japanese don’t worry about eating too much seaweed or dried shrimp (ditto), and even in Britain you don’t often hear whining about adverse reactions to Marmite (ditto); you certainly don’t get warnings from your doctor about the dangers of human breast milk to babies (ditto).

The fact is that unless you’re eating bucket-loads of the stuff, MSG and its naturally occurring cousins are not going to do you any harm.

The persistence of the Chinese restaurant syndrome myth is a symptom of the hypochondria that has become fashionable in contemporary Anglo-American culture, and the failure of our educational systems to teach people the difference between quackery and hard science.

How to Flush Monosodium Glutamate From Your Body

Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a well-known food additive that may trigger headaches in some individuals. An intolerance to this ingredient involves your digestive system rather than your immune system, so MSG symptoms are generally not life-threatening.


To remove added MSG from your body, drink plenty of water to streamline your digestive process. In addition, stop consuming all foods that contain this flavor-enhancing food additive.

MSG’s Natural and Cultural Origins

Although MSG seems to be a recently synthesized food additive, it actually exists in its natural form within the human body, states the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA). MSG is derived from glutamic acid, a well-known amino acid that’s part of your body’s chemical makeup.

This compound occurs naturally in cheese and tomatoes. In addition, it is present in soy extracts, yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, protein isolate, hydrolyzed yeast and autolyzed yeast.

Throughout recorded history, various cultures have adopted diets that include glutamate-containing foods. For example, seaweed broth has always been a mainstay of Asian cuisine.

Back in 1908, a Japanese professor discovered that glutamate was the source of the broth’s distinctive taste. He soon developed a method of pulling the glutamate out of the broth and then initiated a patent to produce MSG. Within a year, commercial MSG production began, and it continues on a larger scale today.

Production and Labeling Regulations

Currently, manufacturers produce MSG by fermenting starch, sugar cane, sugar beets or molasses. Vinegar, yogurt and wine production facilities use a similar fermentation process.

Let’s assume you’d like to purchase a food product, but you first want to determine if it contains MSG. Per the FDA requirements, if a food contains added MSG, it must be listed as monosodium glutamate on the label’s ingredient panel.

If MSG occurs naturally in a food substance, that item must appear on the ingredient panel, but the label doesn’t have to mention the MSG connection. To complicate the issue, this food with naturally occurring MSG cannot say “No MSG” or “No added MSG” on the label. The manufacturer can’t skirt the entire issue by disguising MSG as “spices and flavoring.”

So, let’s assume you are ready to banish MSG from your diet. To remove this flavor additive from your body, stop consuming all foods that contain MSG. Besides tomatoes and cheeses, avoid Chinese food, soups, processed meats and canned vegetables.

However, because MSG occurs naturally in your body, you probably can’t eliminate it from your diet. In this case, minimizing your exposure is the best strategy.

Symptoms of MSG Intolerance

If you’ve heard the term food intolerance, you probably know that it refers to your body’s negative reaction to a specific food, flavoring or additive. When you consume such a substance and it subsequently makes its way through your digestive system, you can experience some uncomfortable symptoms, notes University of Maryland Dining Services.

Because food intolerance typically doesn’t involve your body’s immune system, you’re at low risk of a life-endangering reaction to that specific food or substance. Some people report troublesome symptoms after consuming products that contain monosodium glutamate.

This additive gives foods an appealing taste, and it is also used as a meat tenderizer. You’ll often find MSG in Chinese food, soups, canned vegetables and processed meats. Although the FDA states that monosodium glutamate is “generally recognized as safe,” the agency requires its inclusion on food labels, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Over several decades, the FDA has recorded numerous cases of negative reactions to MSG-containing foods. Collectively, these symptoms have become known as the “MSG Symptom Complex.”

MSG symptoms may include sweating, flushing, nausea or headache. Facial tightness or pressure, tingling or numbness and a feeling of weakness have also been reported. Heart palpitations are also possible MSG symptoms.

Read more: A List of Foods With MSG

Higher MSG Consumption Side Effects

Choosing varied foods in moderation is the key to maintaining a healthy diet. However, consuming excessive amounts of any food can lead to nutritional imbalances.

Excessive intakes of MSG-containing foods could result in serious side effects, according to a review published in the December 2017 edition of the International Journal of Food Properties. The review analyzed 25 years of clinical trials on the potential effects of MSG consumption.

Researchers pored over numerous scientific journals to gather the relevant empirical findings. The studies collectively concluded that MSG is an effective flavor enhancer that does make food more appealing. This attribute can be especially useful for people who have lost their appetite for various reasons.

Although the FDA has stated that MSG is safe for limited use, the agency has listed several serious side effects that can result from higher consumption rates. Possible negative outcomes can affect the body’s cardiac, circulatory, neurological, muscular and gastrointestinal systems. People with MSG sensitivity are likely to react to all forms of the additive.

Read more: 20 Scary-Sounding Food Additives That Are Actually Harmless

Learn About MSG Headache Symptoms

When you’re affected by a headache, going about your daily routine can be a challenge. Whether that nagging pain is a dull ache or feels like a sharp dagger, it can sap your energy and make it difficult to focus on the tasks at hand.

You may experience three general types of headaches, notes Harvard Health. When your head and neck muscles grow uncomfortably taut, you’re probably having a tension headache. A migraine headache results when your brain’s sensitive nerve endings generate pain. Sinus pressure, or a localized infection, can result in painful sinus headaches.

Surprisingly, a tension headache often has a food-related origin. If you’re extremely hungry or have recently given up caffeine or a caffeine-containing food or medication, you may experience this type of headache. Specific foods, such as chocolate (which contains caffeine) and processed foods containing MSG, are often the culprits.

Migraine headaches are harder to diagnose as they can have many different sources. In fact, a migraine can result from several factors at once. Caffeine withdrawal is always a candidate, as are seemingly unrelated foods in the protein, fruit, vegetable, dairy and chocolate categories. Food additives, including MSG, also make the list of triggers that can lead to migraine headaches.

If you experience migraines as one type of MSG headache, you’ll typically notice several severe symptoms, states the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Before the headache begins, you might become aware of an “aura,” or a collection of symptoms that precede the headache’s arrival.

Next, one side of your head will begin to hurt, although the pain may later migrate to both sides. At any given time, the pain could be pounding, pulsating or throbbing.

You can also feel nauseated and you might notice changes in your vision. If you try to move, the pain often worsens, leading some people to lie down and remain motionless to alleviate the discomfort.

Can MSG Cause Allergic Reactions?

In stark contrast to food intolerance, food allergies involve your immune system. In this case, your body reacts to the food’s proteins or protein-related substances. Because monosodium glutamate affects your digestive system rather than your immune system, this food additive won’t trigger an immune system reaction.

Allergic reactions can occur when you least expect it, warns the University of Rhode Island. If you’re allergic to something, your symptoms can be more (or less) severe than those of someone else who eats the same food. And you can have an allergy to one type of fish, for example, but can eat another variety without any problems.

Although more than 160 foods have been identified as food allergy triggers, only eight foods cause 90 percent of these problems. In addition to milk and eggs, food allergy culprits can include soybeans, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. Fish and crustaceans — such as lobster, shrimp and crabs — are also major offenders.

Allergy symptoms can kick in just a few minutes after you consume the offending food. Sometimes, they might not appear for several hours. You may only experience mildly irritating symptoms — or you can be faced with a severe reaction, known as anaphylaxis, that can quickly become life-threatening. Your reaction can increase in severity throughout your lifetime, or you could outgrow the food allergy entirely.

Typical food allergy reactions include a skin rash or hives, along with itching. Your face, tongue and throat could swell. You might have trouble breathing and feel dizzy. Stomach cramps, diarrhea and vomiting are common too.

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening. Your lungs and airways can become constricted, leading to severe breathing difficulty. Your blood pressure can plummet. Your pulse can also become very irregular and rapid, and you could lose consciousness. If any of these symptoms occur, you should immediately seek emergency medical care.

MSG and the Digestive System

To better understand how MSG affects your body, consider that this additive is a type of amino acid, which is a universally recognized protein building block. Each plant and animal protein contains large amounts of glutamate, states the International Food Information Council Foundation.

Numerous foods also contain traces of “free” glutamate, or MSG, which helps enhance their flavor. In most cases, the food-sourced glutamate goes toward energy production in the intestinal cells. As a result, the substance doesn’t go any further than the intestinal lining.

The same cells use up the rest of the available glutamate, combining with more amino acids to make proteins and glutathione. The latter substance is an antioxidant that contributes to digestive health.

Because MSG is widely used as a food additive, it travels through your digestive system along with the food it’s in. If you’re intolerant to MSG, you may have a negative reaction to the chemical ingredients in this substance, states the Cleveland Clinic. Generally speaking, the reaction’s duration should mirror the time the food takes to make its journey through your body.

MSG Intolerance

There is debate and controversy over whether or not monosodium glutamate (MSG) is safe to eat. Some people report serious allergic symptoms when they ingest it.

Diagnose your symptoms now!

  • understand what’s happening to your body
  • have a doctor review your case (optional)
  • identify any nutritional deficiencies

Whether this flavor enhancer does indeed cause adverse effects is still a hot topic of discussion. While some claim that it is a harmless natural food additive, others claim that it is just another one of many toxins, pollutants and carcinogens poured into our food.

Many dismiss “The MSG Syndrome” as a manifestation of allergy, claiming that any health hazards are limited to those unfortunate folks with an obvious reaction. Others claim that MSG is recognized as a neurotoxin and that we now know that it acts on the body like a drug.

Detractors of MSG claim that reactions to MSG are essentially dose-related drug reactions, and that everyone will react to it at some dose. Thus, whether we recognize it or not, an MSG-contaminated food supply is a health problem that impacts every one of us. They estimate that about 25-30% of the world’s population experience at least unpleasant symptoms from ingesting MSG.

Signs and Symptoms

Adverse reactions, known as MSG symptom complex, are said to include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

However, no definitive evidence of a link between MSG and these symptoms has been found. Researchers acknowledge, however, that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. Symptoms are usually mild and don’t require treatment.

Diagnosis and Tests

Identifying MSG sensitivity is extremely difficult.

Treatment and Prevention

The only way to prevent a reaction is to avoid foods containing MSG. MSG is commonly found in food products such as soups, processed meats, sauces, gravies, mixes and snack foods, as well as many others. It is very popular in Asian (especially Chinese) cuisine.

3 Easy Steps for Flushing MSG From Your Body

One of the additives hiding in your food could be monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG.

Eating as healthy as possible is one of the most difficult goals to achieve. It can be hard to know what goes into your food. One of the additives hiding in your food could be monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG. If you’re fond of ordering Chinese food delivery for dinner, you may often notice that the menus have a large symbol proclaiming that they don’t use MSG. How do you know you may have ingested it?

The Symptoms of MSG Exposure

When you have consumed MSG, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Flushing (turning red)
  • Swollen hands and feet

Fortunately, once you successfully remove the MSG from your system, these symptoms should pass. Relief will come so quickly because these conditions aren’t all that severe. But if after two days (roughly 48 hours) your symptoms haven’t improved, you should seek medical attention. These symptoms could be indicating some other condition that isn’t caused by MSG. But once MSG is in your body, how do you get rid of it again?

Step One

Drinking plenty of water every day is crucial to staying properly hydrated. The first way you can eliminate MSG from your system is to hydrate, How many ounces of water should you drink? That depends on your body weight; calculate what half of your body weight would be in fluid ounces. If you weigh 200 pounds, then you should drink 100 ounces of water in a day. The more water you drink, the more active your kidneys will be. Your kidneys can help flush the MSG out, as they can with many other toxins that get into your body.

Step Two

Until the symptoms of MSG exposure subside, stay away from sources of sodium. Sodium can affect your ability to absorb water, which means you’ll retain water. Water retention allows the MSG to resist being flushed out of your body. While attempting to purge the MSG from your body, you should steer clear of salt-filled snacks and processed meats, among other foods.

Step Three

Keep drinking water until the side effects of MSG exposure are gone. While you may be tempted to drink something more flavorful, many other drinks can contain sodium as well. Some examples include sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks, and even vegetable juices.

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Kathleen Holton is a professor in the School of Education, Teaching and Health and the Center for Behavioral Neuroscience at American University in Washington, D.C. Her research examines the negative effects of food additives on neurological symptoms, as well as the positive, protective effects of certain micronutrients on the brain. She is working on a book about how people can avoid consuming food additives and test themselves for sensitivity. She contributed this article to Live Science’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

A recent video from the American Chemical Society purporting to debunk myths about the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) led to a slew of news stories — but that coverage failed to recognize that a subset of the population should avoid MSG.

The video contains two misleading facts. The first suggests MSG is considered “Generally Recognized as Safe,” or GRAS. The GRAS label for additives gives the appearance of safety; yet the term GRAS was simply given to food additives that were in use when the Food Additives Amendment of 1958 was established. The label effectively “grandfathered in” the additives so they could bypass premarket approval by the FDA (i.e., safety testing). Secondly, the video states that free glutamate occurs naturally in some foods. This is true; however, it does not mean that MSG is safe for everyone. People who are sensitive to MSG must also avoid foods with high amounts of naturally occurring free glutamate, such as soy sauce and Parmesan cheese.

How MSG works

MSG is a flavor enhancer that has been used in processed foods in the United States since after World War II. Though many associate MSG with Chinese food, people are more likely to encounter MSG in foods like soup, broth, chips, snacks, sauces, salad dressings and seasoning packets. The active part of MSG, which imparts its “umami” flavor, comes from the glutamate portion of the compound. Glutamate is an amino acid commonly found in the diet in bound form (connected to other amino acids to form a full protein, like meat) and free form (where glutamate is no longer bound to a protein). It is this free form of glutamate (like that found in MSG) which has the ability to act as a flavor enhancer in food by exciting the neurons in your tongue.

Glutamate can always be considered a “natural flavor” because it is produced by dissociating a naturally occurring protein into its individual amino acids. Additives containing free glutamate are created by simply disrupting any protein’s structure through hydrolyzation, which frees glutamate (and other amino acids), allowing glutamate to enhance the flavor of food by stimulating the neurons on your tongue.

Who needs to avoid MSG?

As researchers, we don’t yet know what percentage of the population is sensitive to MSG. But we do know enough to confirm that the amino acid glutamate, when in its free form (i.e., when it is not bound to a full protein like meat) causes negative reactions in certain people. An individual’s reaction to MSG is not limited to Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS), which is characterized by symptoms like headache, sweating, rapid heartbeat and tightness in the chest. These symptoms usually occur within minutes of eating the compound, often while the diner is still in the restaurant.

In my research on the effects of MSG in individuals with irritable bowel syndrome and the chronic pain condition fibromyalgia, I observed headache (including migraine), diarrhea, gastrointestinal pain and bloating, extreme fatigue, muscle pain and cognitive dysfunction — all of which improved when subjects were put on a diet low in free glutamate, and which returned with re-introduction of MSG. (This was a double-blind, placebo-controlled study). In contrast to CRS, symptoms in fibromyalgia patients tend to begin somewhat later, hours after ingestion, making it more difficult for these people to identify the food-related trigger.

Other researchers are studying the potential effects of MSG on conditions like migraine, temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD/TMJ), obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recently found an association between high consumption of MSG and the prevalence of overweight adults in China. Understandably, the glutamate industry is hotly contesting these and other findings related to MSG and obesity. Consumers should know that the glutamate industry funded the majority of studies “proving” the safety of MSG. Independent scientists have not always agreed with those findings.

Avoiding glutamate

In addition to MSG, free glutamate can also be found in other food additives, including any hydrolyzed protein, protein isolate, protein extract and autolyzed yeast extract, just to name a few. Food manufacturers can use these additives in a product, and still label the food as not containing MSG, since the chemical structure is different. That is, the structure does not contain the sodium part to form monosodium glutamate. However, the effect of the free glutamate is the same as that of MSG (both in its flavor-enhancing ability as well as its ability to cause symptoms in sensitive individuals).

If you’re a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

Glutamate is not only an amino acid in the diet, it is also an important neurotransmitter essential for the optimal functioning of our nervous systems. However, too much of this chemical can cause things in our bodies to go awry. It is well established that high amounts of glutamate can cause “excitotoxicity,” where neurons get over-excited to the point that they die.

For example, because of the consistent research on the excitotoxic effects of MSG on the brains of young animals in the 1960s, researchers testified before the U.S. Congress about the danger of using MSG in baby food. As a result, MSG was voluntarily removed from baby foods in 1969.

The million-dollar question is: Does everyone react to these additives? No, some people can consume relatively high amounts of free glutamate without any symptoms. However, research shows that a subset of the population is sensitive and can benefit from avoiding MSG (and other sources of free glutamate) in food.

If a person is suffering from unexplained symptoms like headache, bowel disturbance, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, or pain that lacks a structural explanation, they may want to try avoiding free glutamate in all its forms. The only way to test for sensitivity is by avoiding excess free glutamate for a period ranging from two weeks to a month. One can do this by eating whole, non-processed foods, using whole herbs and spices, making marinades and salad dressings from scratch, and avoiding foods which naturally have higher amounts of free glutamate, like soy sauce, fish sauces, Parmesan and other aged cheeses, and large amounts of tomato sauce.

The moral of the story is simple: Blanket statements like “MSG isn’t bad for you” are misguided — they give a false perception of safety to a compound that not everyone should be consuming.

Follow all of the Expert Voices issues and debates — and become part of the discussion — on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This version of the article was originally published on Live Science.

MSG Sensitivity (Intolerance): Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) can be found as a flavor-booster in many packaged foods and restaurant dishes where it enhances the taste of food by stimulating nerves on the tongue and in the brain. It is especially popular in Asian cooking but is also commonly used in processed meats, canned vegetables and clear soups.

Monosodium glutamate is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a white, crystalline salt-like substance. The body uses the carboxylate anion of glutamic acid known as glutamate to help transmit messages within the brain. Glutamate is present in all foods that contain protein.

MSG is made from fermenting sugar beets, sugar cane, corn, molasses or tapioca and is considered a safe additive by the FDA when “consumed at customary levels”. The FDA stated that no evidence exists to suggest that MSG causes the brain damage that could trigger Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or any other chronic disease. However, some people are sensitive to MSG and some critics believe that MSG is an excitotoxin, which contributes to a number of long-term conditions affecting the brain.

The FDA further stated that people who chronically suffer from adverse reactions to MSG are “MSG sensitive” or “MSG intolerant”, a condition called MSG symptom complex (sometimes also referred to as Chinese restaurant syndrome).

Research shows that people who suffer from allergies or severe asthma may be susceptible to MSG sensitivity. Some studies have also found that patients with asthma may have more severe asthma attacks after ingesting MSG.

MSG intolerance is not considered an allergy, because it does not involve a reaction by the immune system. As with all food sensitivities, the best way to treat MSG sensitivity (or intolerance) is to avoid MSG.

Causes of MSG Sensitivity

It is not exactly understood why monosodium glutamate causes symptoms in some people. MSG is a glutamate, a type of amino acid naturally occurring in various foods. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter in the brain, involved in cognitive functions such as memory and learning.

At the core of the scientific debate is whether the body processes monosodium glutamate the same way as it does natural glutamate. Some experts believe that both are digested the same way and, therefore, MSG poses no health risk. However, critics of MSG argue that it can be harmful, though there is no sound scientific evidence that the body treats MSG differently from natural glutamate.

But, some individuals do have a sensitivity to monosodium glutamate which may arise after eating MSG over a period of time. People who have asthma or allergies may be more prone to an adverse reaction to MSG.

Symptoms of MSG Sensitivity

Some individuals react immediately after ingesting food that contains monosodium glutamate while others may experience symptoms up to 48 hours later. Reactions vary from patient to patient, while more than one symptom can be experienced at the same time. We do not know yet whether adverse reactions to MSG exacerbate underlying health problems, or if cumulative effects are created after consuming it over a period of years.

While symptoms may appear similar, MSG sensitivity is not a true food allergy as there is no immune system response. MSG sensitive people report experiencing both, short-term and long-term health effects. Some individuals have mild and temporary symptoms such as sweating or flushing, and long-term symptoms ranging from fatigue on one hand to hyperactivity on the other. Hence, symptoms of MSG sensitivity may include any of the following:

  • Angina
  • Bloating
  • Breathing difficulty (asthmatics)
  • Burning or numbness in the back of the neck
  • Burning or numbness inside or around the mouth
  • Chest pain
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Fatigue
  • Flushing
  • Headache
  • Heart palpations
  • Heartburn
  • Hives
  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Joint pain
  • Migraine
  • Nausea
  • Neurological disorders
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rash
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Tingling, warmth and weakness in the face, temples, neck, arms and upper back
  • Weakness

The most serious, but rare, symptom not listed above is anaphylaxis, which involves two or more body systems, and requires immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing MSG Sensitivity

At the moment, there are no established methods of diagnosing monosodium glutamate sensitivity.

Treatment of MSG Sensitivity

If monosodium glutamate is suspected to be the cause of any symptoms mentioned above, it is best to avoid MSG in processed foods and restaurant meals and seek a doctor’s care.

Since avoidance is the only treatment, patients should inquire about the ingredients in restaurant dishes and better avoid Asian restaurants. They should also read food labels carefully to avoid consuming products that contain MSG.

As required by the FDA, monosodium glutamate is listed on the label of any food to which it is added. However, there are also other chemically distinct glutamate additives that may in some sensitive individuals induce similar symptoms. They include:

  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Maltodextrin
  • Modified food starch
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Textured protein

Patients should keep in mind that MSG can be also found in dietary supplements, medications, cosmetics and personal care products and they should, therefore, seek advice from their doctor regarding these products.

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