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Health Condition

MSG Sensitivity

About This Condition

MSG sensitivity is a set of symptoms that may occur in some people after they consume monosodium glutamate (MSG). The syndrome was first described in 1968 as a triad of symptoms: “numbness at the back of the neck radiating to both arms and the back, general weakness and palpitations.”1

MSG is used worldwide as a flavor enhancer. Although many restaurants now avoid the use of MSG, many still use significant amounts. The average person living in an industrialized country consumes about 0.3 to 1.0 gram of MSG per day. MSG is classified by the US Food and Drug Administration as “generally recognized as safe.” Indeed, many researchers have questioned the very existence of a true MSG-sensitivity reaction. Most clinical trials, including some double-blind trials, have failed to find any symptoms arising from consumption of MSG, even large amounts, when taken with food.2,3,4,5,6 However, clinical trials have found that MSG taken without food may cause symptoms, though rarely the classic “triad” described above.7,8,9 A large trial and a review of studies on MSG both suggested that large amounts of MSG given without food may elicit more symptoms than a placebo in people who believe they react adversely to MSG. However, persistent and serious effects from MSG consumption have not been consistently demonstrated.10,11,12

People sensitive to MSG may also react to aspartame (NutraSweet).13

Symptoms

The symptoms of MSG sensitivity have commonly been described as headache, flushing, tingling, weakness, and stomachache. After eating meals prepared with MSG, people with MSG sensitivity may have migraine headache, visual disturbance, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, tightness of the chest, skin rash, or sensitivity to light, noise, or smells.

Other Therapies

MSG sensitivity is not a universally accepted medical condition. Other than avoidance of foods containing MSG, there is no common treatment for this condition.

References

1. Kwok RHM. Chinese-restaurant syndrome. N Engl J Med 1968;278:796 [letter].

2. Prawirohardjono W, Dwiprahasto I, Astuti I, et al. The administration to Indonesians of monosodium L-glutamate in Indonesian foods: an assessment of adverse reactions in a randomized double-blind, crossover, placebo-controlled study. J Nutr 2000;130(4S Suppl):1074-6S.

3. Bazzano G, D'Elia JA, Olson RE. Monosodium glutamate: feeding of large amounts in man and gerbils. Science 1970;169:1208-9.

4. Morselli PL, Garattini S. Monosodium glutamate and the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Nature 1970;227:611-2.

5. Zanda G, Franciosi P, Tognoni G, et al. A double blind study on the effects of monosodium glutamate in man. Biomedicine 1973;19:202-4.

6. Tung TC, Tung KS. Serum free amino acid levels after oral glutamate intake in infants and human adults. Nutr Rep Int 1980;22:431-43.

7. Schaumburg HH, Byck R, Gerstl R, Mashman JH. Monosodium L-glutamate: its pharmacology and role in the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Science 1969;163:826-8.

8. Rosenblum I, Bradley JD, Coulston F. Single and double blind studies with oral monosodium glutamate in man. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol 1971;18:367-73.

9. Kenney RA, Tidball CS. Human susceptibility to oral monosodium L-glutamate. Am J Clin Nutr 1972;25:140-6.

10. Walker R, Lupien JR. The safety evaluation of monosodium glutamate. J Nutr 2000;130(4S Suppl):1049-52S [review].

11. Geha R, Beiser A, Ren C, et al. Multicenter multiphase double-blind placebo controlled study to evaluate alleged reactions to monosodium glutamate (MSG). J Allergy Clin Immunol 1998;101:S243 [abstract].

12. Geha RS, Beiser A, Ren C, et al. Review of alleged reaction to monosodium glutamate and outcome of a multicenter double-blind placebo-controlled study. J Nutr 2000;130(4S Suppl):1058-62S [review].

13. Stegink LD, Filer LJ Jr, Baker GL. Effect of aspartame and sucrose loading in glutamate-susceptible subjects. Am J Clin Nutr 1981;34:1899-905.

14. Wen CP, Gershoff SN. Effects of dietary vitamin B6 on the utilization of monosodium glutamate by rats. J Nutr 1972;102:835-40.

15. Folkers K, Shizukuishi S, Scudder SL, et al. Biochemical evidence for a deficiency of vitamin B6 in subjects reacting to monosodium-L-glutamate by the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Biochem Biophys Res Commun 1981;100:972-7.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.

Drugs used to treat MSG SENSITIVITY. Select drug name to view medication information and pricing