MSG Allergy

MSG or monosodium glutamate is an agent used to enhance the flavor of the food. It is a salt form of glutamic acid and is widely used as a food additive. Over the past years, studies have found that MSG induces a number of undesirable reactions or allergy-like symptoms in the body. Research-based studies have found that people have reported adverse reactions after consuming food with MSG, but an allergy to MSG has not yet been proved. It is further believed that MSG is a toxic substance that destructs the brain cells and causes diseases related to the brain.

Causes of MSG Allergy

It is not yet understood well how MSG causes allergic reactions. Some evidence has found that individuals who have asthma are more prone to MSG allergies.

More studies are required to understand, as to how MSG affects the body and causes the onset of symptoms.

MSG Allergy Symptoms & Signs

Symptoms of MSG allergy occur up to 48 hours after its ingestion, but some individuals may experience its adverse effects immediately after consumption of foods with MSG. Symptoms may vary from person to person, for example, some individuals may experience mild symptoms, whereas, for others, severe reactions may occur. MSG may also exacerbate or worsen the underlying health condition. Intake of foods with MSG may evoke a constellation of symptoms, which are described as the ‘Chinese Food Syndrome’ (CFS).

Below mentioned are the symptoms experienced by individuals who are sensitive to MSG:

  • Bloating
  • Flatulence of gas formation
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Mild Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Numbness in the back of the neck
  • Diarrhea or loose stools
  • Heart palpitations or rapid heartbeat
  • Depression, anxiety, and mood swings
  • Facial pressure or tightness or swelling
  • Nausea
  • Runny nose or congestion
  • Sweating
  • Heartburn or acidity
  • Upper body weakness

Severe symptoms of MSG allergy include:

  • Angina or severe chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing or suffocation
  • Swelling in the throat
  • Bronchospasm (in patients with asthma)
  • Anaphylaxis

Diagnosis and Tests of MSG Allergy

There are no skin tests or established tests to diagnose MSG allergy. However, self-observation of the symptoms is the best way to understand the root cause.

Self-Observation of Symptoms

For example- If a person experiences undesirable effects every time after he/she consumes foods with MSG, then there are chances of being sensitive or allergic to MSG. Observe your symptoms carefully and immediately visit your doctor. Explain your doctor about the adverse effects in detail. Inform him if you have experienced similar symptoms before.

Oral Food Challenge Test

Oral food challenge test is an accurate test to measure any food allergy. During this test, your allergist feeds you with the suspect food. If the symptoms are present, your allergist will guide you and explain you about how to avoid foods containing MSG. If symptoms are absent, your allergist will rule out the MSG allergy.

Risk Factors

  • Individuals with asthma are at a greater risk of developing insensitivity to MSG. Bronchospasm and worsening of the symptoms are observed in such individuals after the intake of foods containing MSG.
  • People with pre-existing food allergies are at a greater risk of developing MSG allergy.

Treatment of MSG Allergy:

  • If MSG is the cause of adverse effects mentioned above, it is best to avoid food preparations that contain MSG. Completely cut down your intake of restaurant meals and processed foods that have MSG in them.
  • If you unintentionally consume foods with MSG, drink plenty of water to relieve the symptoms. This will stimulate the kidneys to flush out MSG out of your body.
  • Plain water is the best way to remove MSG out of your body. Do not opt for sports drinks, vegetables juices or soups or soft drinks during this time. Such beverages contain sodium, which makes removal of MSG difficult.
  • In severe cases, anaphylactic patients require hospitalization. An epinephrine shot is given to such patients, which may open up breathing passages and relieve MSG symptoms. (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Caution

  • Enquire about the meal or food preparation before placing a food order at the restaurant.
  • Do not consume food at Asian restaurants.
  • Avoid foods that contain a high amount of MSG naturally present in them. These foods include:
    • Meat
    • Poultry
    • Cheese
    • Fish
  • MSG is added to various processed foods. Check the food ingredient label to know if MSG is present in that specific food. MSG is listed on the food label to which it is added. But MSG has many other synonymous names, so check out for these names too on the food label:
    • Monosodium glutamate
    • Monohydrate
    • Monosodium salt
    • Monosodium glutamate monohydrate
    • Monosodium salt
  • MSG may also be listed as:
    • Dried meat
    • Pork extract
    • Chicken stock
    • Maltodextrin
    • Textured protein
    • Autolyzed yeast

List of Foods to Avoid

  • Packaged foods
  • Ready-to-eat meals
  • Stock concentrates and cubes
  • Sandwich spreads
  • Sauces such as oyster, fish and soy sauce
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Seasoning
  • Packaged snacks
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