MSG Allergy, MSG Symptoms and MSG Side Effects: Separating

MSG Allergy, MSG Symptoms and MSG Side Effects: Separating
Facts from Fiction
Is MSG bad for you? You may have heard someone claim
they are "allergic" to monosodium glutamate, or perhaps you
think you have MSG sensitivity, or if you’ve been wondering if
claims about MSG side effects are true. Here’s a review of
just some of the research that has been undertaken to
investigate whether an MSG allergy is something to be
worried about or is even real.
The first report of a reaction to MSG, back in 1968, was an anecdotal account by one
person after he ate at a Chinese restaurant - it was published as a letter to the editor in
the New England Journal of Medicine.1 The writer described his reaction as generalized
weakness, palpitations and numbness in the arms, but acknowledged that these
symptoms may have been due to any number of ingredients in the meal including
sodium, or alcohol from Chinese cooking wine, and not necessarily the MSG. However
the letter spawned the idea that vague reactions such as these might be attributed to
monosodium glutamate (MSG) and introduced the phrase Chinese Restaurant
In 1995, an independent scientific panel, the Federation of American Societies for
Experimental Biology (FASEB) published a comprehensive analysis of the safety of
MSG and included a list of MSG symptoms and alleged side effects that reports claimed
were associated with consuming foods with MSG2.
According to FDA, "FASEB’s report concluded that MSG is safe. The FASEB report
identified some short-term, transient, and generally mild symptoms, such as headache,
numbness, flushing, tingling, palpitations, and drowsiness that may occur in some
sensitive individuals who consume 3 grams or more of MSG without food. However, a
typical serving of a food with added MSG contains less than 0.5 grams of MSG.
Consuming more than 3 grams of MSG without food at one time is unlikely."3
The FDA, in its Q&A about monosodium glutamate, notes: "Over the years, FDA has
received reports of symptoms such as headache and nausea after eating foods
containing MSG. However, we were never able to confirm that the MSG caused the
reported effects."
Research on MSG, conducted for over decades, has found that most people who
believe they respond adversely to MSG do not have these reactions when evaluated in
carefully controlled tests. As Food Standards Australia New Zealand concludes in its
thorough review4 affirming MSG’s safety, "Although the prevalence of CRS (Chinese
Restaurant Syndrome) has been estimated to be about 1–2% of the general population
it is not clear what proportion of the reactions, if any, can be attributed to MSG. The vast
majority of reports of CRS are anecdotal, and are not linked to the actual glutamate
content of the food consumed. Furthermore, when individuals with a suspected
sensitivity to MSG are tested in double-blind challenges the majority do not react to MSG
under the conditions of the study (or react equally to placebo). Many individuals may
therefore incorrectly be ascribing various symptoms to MSG, when in fact some other
food component may be the cause. This highlights the need for individuals with
suspected MSG sensitivity to undergo appropriate clinical testing."
The Bottom Line: Seek a proper medical diagnosis if you believe you are reacting
to something you’ve eaten.
Allergens are well defined and packaged foods list common allergens on their labels.
Sensitivities are not uncommon and can be attributed to a wide variety of foods and
ingredients. In Chinese food, for example, ingredients such as peanuts, sesame seeds,
shell-fish or even egg can cause reactions for some people. This is why it’s important not
to self-diagnose. As with any product to which you suspect you are having an allergictype reaction consult a healthcare professional to get a proper medical diagnosis.
Read more: Special Ingredient That Makes Food Addictively Tasty – Won’t Actually Hurt
1. Kwok RHM. Chinese-restaurant syndrome [letter]. N Engl J Med 1968; 278:796.
2. Raiten DJ, Talbot JM, Fisher KD, eds. Analysis of adverse reactions to
monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Nutr 1995; 125: 2892S–2906S
3. FDA: "Questions and Answers on Monosodium glutamate (MSG)"
4. "Monosodium Glutamate, A Safety Assessment" (Technical Report Series No.
20), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ)
5. Further references can be found on Wikipedia here:
Studies investigating "sensitivity"
Scientific review dismisses link between glutamate and asthma, headaches and
Chinese Restaurant Syndrome
Discussion of four cases in which patients showed hypersensitivity reactions after the
consumption of Chinese or Indonesian meals
To review whether monosodium glutamate 'allergy' really exists?
To determine whether MSG ingestion induces asthma attacks in asthmatic subjects.
A study of potential sensory side effects caused by ingesting MSG.
A study of the effects of oral consumption of MSG in people with chronic asthma.
A test of the validity of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome among self-reported sufferers.
To develop an objective estimate of the prevalence of Chinese Restaurant
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