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What Are the Symptoms of MSG Allergy?

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Updated April 09, 2014

Question: What Are the Symptoms of MSG Allergy?
Answer: MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor-enhancer added to various foods, and also occurs naturally in seaweed. Adverse reactions to food additives like MSG are probably relatively common. However, since many reactions to food additives are not diagnosed are never reported by people, the exact rate of reactions is not known. Various studies estimate that the rate is probably less than 1% of adults, and up to 2% of children.

Reactions to MSG have been called the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” referring to that fact that MSG is commonly found in Asian-style foods. Most people who are affected will experience symptoms shortly after eating foods containing MSG. Typical symptoms include numbness on the back of the neck, shoulders and arms; people can have a sense of generalized weakness, and heart palpitations can occur. Other symptoms include facial pressure, headaches, nausea, chest pain and drowsiness.

Studies on MSG causing reactions in people have shown inconsistent results. Mild reactions have been proven when MSG was taken in large amounts without food, but no reactions were seen when MSG was given with food (which is the way it normally is eaten). Reactions to MSG are not truly allergic; reactions may be caused by toxicities to the nervous system or even by an irritant effect on the esophagus. While studies have not proven that MSG causes severe allergic reactions (such as anaphylaxis), a person with reactions to MSG should attempt to avoid this food additive and be prepared to treat a severe reaction should one occur.

Learn more about allergic reactions to food additives and preservatives.

Sources:

Wilson BG, Bahna SL. Adverse Reactions of Food Additives. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2005; 95:499-507.

Bush RK, Taylor SL, Hefle SL. Adverse Reactions to Food and Drug Additives. In: Adkinson NF, Yunginger JW, Busse WW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy Principles and Practice. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby Publishing; 2003:1645-1663.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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