Headache After Chinese Food? MSG May Be To Blame

Headache After Chinese Food? MSG May Be To Blame
Headache After Chinese Food? MSG May Be To Blame

No meal of Chinese food would be complete without egg rolls, crab rangoon, General Tso’s chicken, beef and broccoli, the ubiquitous fortune cookie… and of course that vaguely ill feeling that follows. Maybe you just ate to much, or you could be suffering from Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Headache, rapid heart rate, flushing – what is it about Chinese food that causes these unpleasant feelings? A recent small study examined whether these symptoms could be attributed to monosodium glutamate (MSG), a flavor enhancer commonly used in Chinese food.

14 study participants consumed a high-MSG drink, a low-MSG drink and a placebo at different times and subsequent symptoms were recorded. After consuming the high-MSG drink participants reported feeling significantly more tired, had more stomach aches and facial/head pain compared to when they drank the low-MSG drink or placebo. The high-MSG drink was also associated with higher blood pressure.

Although this study is small, and the body of research on the subject is inconclusive, it points to the risks of consuming MSG for people with high blood pressure, chronic headaches, or those who are particularly sensitive to MSG. Besides Chinese food, MSG can be found in packaged foods like salad dressing, stock or broth, sauces, and seasonings so be sure to check ingredient labels. And if you just can’t resist that Chinese take out, ask for “no MSG” and choose simple steamed items – you can add your own seasoning at home.


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3 Comments

  • The 14 person survey is neither scientific nor statistically significant. It should be dismissed as media junk news or science seeking to evoke fear and promotion of old wives tales.

    In 3/5/2008 the NYT wrote:

    N 1968 a Chinese-American physician wrote a rather lighthearted letter to The New England Journal of Medicine. He had experienced numbness, palpitations and weakness after eating in Chinese restaurants in the United States, and wondered whether the monosodium glutamate used by cooks here (and then rarely used by cooks in China) might be to blame.

    The consequences for the restaurant business, the food industry and American consumers were immediate and enormous. MSG, a common flavor enhancer and preservative used since the 1950s, was tagged as a toxin, removed from commercial baby food and generally driven underground by a new movement toward natural, whole foods.“It was a nightmare for my family,” said Jennifer Hsu, a graphic designer whose parents owned several Chinese restaurants in New York City in the 1970s. “Not because we used that much MSG — although of course we used some — but because it meant that Americans came into the restaurant with these suspicious, hostile feelings.”

    Even now, after “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), the ingredient has a stigma that will not go away.

    Please get the facts before your print your one-sided, biased and incorrect stories.

  • I for one can attest with 100% certainty that it gives me migraine headaches that can can be crippling at times and I am NOT allergic to ANY other foods at all so ……

    “Please get the facts before your print your one-sided, biased and incorrect stories” !!!!! 🙂

  • I for one can attest with 100% certainty that it gives me migraine headaches that can can be crippling at times and I am NOT allergic to ANY other foods at all so ……

    “Please get the facts before your print your one-sided, biased and incorrect stories” !!!!! 🙂

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