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MSG Sensitivity

MSG sensitivity (sometimes known as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”) 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 Although some Chinese (and other) restaurants now avoid the use of MSG, many still use significant amounts.

MSG is used worldwide as a flavor enhancer. 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 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

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What are the symptoms of MSG sensitivity?

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.

Dietary changes that may be helpful for msg sensitivity

Simply avoiding MSG will prevent MSG-sensitive reactions. MSG is found in some Chinese and Japanese food and is also contained in some flavor enhancers, such as Accent® and the Japanese seasoning AJI-NO-MOTO™. MSG may be difficult to avoid completely, as it also occurs in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein, gelatin, yeast extracts, calcium and sodium caseinate, vegetable broth, whey, smoke flavoring, malt extracts, and several other food ingredients—including “flavoring” and “natural flavoring”—without otherwise appearing on the label.

Nutritional supplements that may be helpful for msg sensitivity

Years ago, researchers discovered that animals who were deficient in vitamin B6 could not properly process MSG.14 Typical reactions to MSG have also been linked to vitamin B6 deficiency in people.15 In one study, eight out of nine such people stopped reacting to MSG when given 50 mg of vitamin B6 per day for at least 12 weeks.

The actual percentage of people with MSG sensitivity who are deficient in vitamin B6 and who respond to B6 supplementation is unknown. Nonetheless, many doctors suggest that people having MSG-sensitivity symptoms try supplementing with vitamin B6 for three months as a trial.

Are there any side effects or interactions with msg sensitivity?

Refer to the individual supplement for information about any side effects or interactions.