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Monosodium glutamate allergies: MSG Allergy: Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment

MSG Allergy: Symptoms, Testing, and Treatment


In the 1960s, the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) incorrectly gained a bad reputation because of fears that it could cause allergy-like symptoms and side effects. However, since the 1990s, researchers have largely debunked the existence of an MSG allergy.

While an MSG allergy is a myth, some claims still exist on the internet. There are also clinical studies that have assessed possible negative reactions from this ingredient, but they’re not representative of the small amounts humans typically consume in foods.

It is possible to experience allergies to the food MSG is in, as opposed to an allergy to the additive itself. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also recognizes MSG as safe for consumption.

Here’s what you need to know about MSG, the rise and fall of the MSG allergy myth, and what you can do if you’re experiencing possible symptoms of a food sensitivity or allergy.

MSG is a flavor enhancer made from L-glutamic acid, which is a naturally occurring amino acid that exists in many foods. It gives what’s known as an “umami taste,“ which roughly corresponds to a savory or salty flavor.

It occurs naturally in many foods and is commonly used as a flavor-enhancing food additive in Asian dishes. It may also be added to other types of foods.

Is it the same as salt?

Table salt is an ionic compound made up of a 1-to-1 ratio of sodium (Na) and chloride (Cl) ions, through which table salt derives its chemical formula NaCl (sodium chloride). The positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions are bound together in a solid structure by electrical attraction.

MSG also is another ionic compound that contains both positively charged sodium and negatively charged glutamate ions, but not in a 1-to-1 ratio.

The ratios are 12 percent sodium ions, 78 percent glutamate ions, and 10 percent water, which results in the chemical formula (C5H8NO4).

Because it contains sodium, MSG is able to provide a similar savory or salty flavor to many foods.

Despite concerns, decades of research have mostly failed to demonstrate a relationship between MSG and serious allergic reactions. People have reported reactions after eating foods with MSG, but human studies haven’t supported this anecdotal information.

Is MSG safe?

The FDA recognizes MSG as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS), which is the same category as salt and pepper.

A 2006 review of the previous 40 years of clinical literature then found no credible link between MSG and any specific symptoms or allergies. Instead, researchers who have debunked these sorts of claims encourage medical professionals to help patients look for other underlying causes of food-related symptoms.

In 2016, researchers found that any amount of MSG is genotoxic, meaning it’s damaging to cells and genetic material, as well as to human lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. However, the study found that these effects were in vitro, meaning the tests were done in a test tube. The results don’t support the theory that eating MSG is harmful in the same way.

In 2015, researchers found possible links between renal (kidney) damage and chronic MSG consumption in animals. However, similar to the previously mentioned study, there’s no evidence that the small amounts of MSG humans consume could lead to kidney damage.

Nevertheless, further research in humans may be warranted to completely rule out sensitivity to foods with MSG.

The FDA acknowledges reports of short-term, mild symptoms reported by individuals who consume MSG without food. These symptoms may include:

  • drowsiness
  • headache
  • skin flushing
  • numbness and tingling
  • heart palpitations

Still, while the existence of an allergy to MSG has largely been debunked, it’s still possible that you might have a sensitivity or allergy to the actual food containing MSG.

Food additive sensitivities are also possible.

Food sensitivity vs.

food allergy

It’s important to understand the differences between food sensitivities and allergies. Also referred to as food intolerance, food sensitivity occurs due to negative reactions in the digestive system.

While you might experience uncomfortable symptoms, a food sensitivity is unlikely to cause problems if you eat the food in small amounts. The symptoms may also occur within a few hours of eating the food, but will also go away on their own.

Signs of possible food sensitivity may include:

  • headache
  • itchy skin
  • skin rashes
  • abdominal pain
  • bloating
  • gas
  • diarrhea

Food allergies, on the other hand, are much more serious. These occur as a result of your immune system overreacting to certain foods and creating antibodies to attack them.

Unlike food sensitivity, some people might have life threatening reactions if they have severe food allergies. Symptoms develop quickly, sometimes even after just touching the food.

Symptoms of a food allergy may include:

  • red skin, hives, or eczema rashes
  • skin swelling
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • respiratory symptoms, such as wheezing or shortness of breath
  • swelling in the throat
  • anaphylaxis, a life threatening reaction that may lead to unconsciousness

If you experience any negative symptoms after consuming an MSG-containing food, it’s important to see a doctor for the next steps, including possible testing for food intolerance or allergies.

According to the FDA, consuming larger doses of MSG — 3 grams without food — has been linked to symptoms in humans.

However, not only are those portions unlikely to be found in restaurant or grocery food, it’s unlikely that anyone would consume MSG in non-food sources. The FDA says the typical MSG serving in food is 0.5 grams or less.

The best way to treat a food intolerance or allergy is to avoid the food that’s causing your symptoms. However, you may need blood or skin tests to confirm any food allergies or sensitivities before making any significant dietary changes. Your doctor may also recommend a food diary or elimination diet.

More serious symptoms, such as anaphylaxis, require emergency treatment in the form of a shot of epinephrine (adrenaline). Hospitalization may also be required.

When to seek emergency help

Anaphylaxis is a life threatening allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 or go to your local emergency room.

Symptoms include:

  • shortness of breath
  • swelling of the lips or throat
  • heart palpitations
  • chest pain
  • unconsciousness

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The best treatment for a food allergy is to avoid eating that food.

What foods contain MSG?

It may be hard to avoid foods with MSG. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), MSG occurs naturally in many foods. It’s particularly found in high doses in food that is high in protein, such as:

  • meat
  • poultry
  • cheese
  • fish

It also exists in certain vegetables, such as:

  • tomatoes
  • mushrooms
  • broccoli

With regard to foods that contain MSG as an additive, labeling is required when the compound is added as an ingredient. In those cases, it’s listed as “monosodium glutamate.“

Substances to avoid that may contain added MSG include:

  • frozen foods
  • spice mixes
  • canned or dry soups or stocks, which food labels may refer to as “dried beef,” “chicken stock,” “pork extract,” or “hydrolyzed wheat protein“
  • sauces and salad dressings
  • meat-based foods like sausage

While there was once a belief that MSG could cause allergic reactions in some people, the overall existence of an MSG allergy has been largely declared a myth.

MSG itself naturally occurs in some foods, such as meats, and is added to other types of processed foods to help preserve flavor. While it’s possible to have either a food sensitivity to MSG or any MSG-containing foods, there’s no scientific evidence to prove that the food additive causes allergies in humans.

If you experience unusual symptoms after eating particular food items, see your doctor for possible testing. Any suspected sensitivities to MSG or MSG-containing foods may be resolved by avoiding these items altogether.

Does MSG Allergy Really Exist?

Flushing, sweating, chest pain, and weakness are all potential reactions to monosodium glutamate, or MSG, a flavor enhancer and popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines. Other symptoms include headache, facial pressure, drowsiness, and numbness and tingling in the face, back, and arms.

But while some people assume the symptoms they’re feeling are the result of an allergy, an MSG reaction is really more of a sensitivity than a true allergy. According to Andy Nish, MD, a board-certified pediatrician and allergy-immunologist practicing in Gainesville, Ga., the difference between an allergy and a sensitivity is the involvement of a protein called IgE, an antibody that works in the allergy department of your immune system.

True allergies, like pollen or pet allergies, are IgE-mediated. A sensitivity to MSG is not. It can seem like an allergy because symptoms arise after exposure to the offending ingredient. But without IgE involvement the reaction can’t be called a true allergy.

MSG Allergy Versus Sensitivity: Why Does It Matter?

Distinguishing between an allergy and a sensitivity is important because the treatment for each is different. The science behind allergies is fairly well-understood. There a number of treatments for symptoms, including medications and injections.

The science behind food sensitivity to MSG isn’t as established. Glutamate, the main ingredient in MSG, is a neurotransmitter — a chemical that carries messages in the nervous system. Scientists have been searching for a link between glutamate in the nervous system and the symptoms of MSG sensitivity. But a connection has not yet been made. So for now, Nish says, avoiding MSG if it bothers you is the best thing to do.

While MSG is best known for its use in restaurants, it can also be found in frozen meals, packaged snack foods, canned foods and soups, and even seasoning mixes. Check the ingredients lists on food labels. As a general rule of thumb, if you eat something that gives you a reaction you’ve had before you should eliminate that food from your diet.

The Bottom Line on MSG

Research hasn’t shown MSG to trigger allergy symptoms in large studies, but according to Nish, that doesn’t mean a sensitivity to the ingredient doesn’t exist. “No double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies have shown it to cause problems in a large number of people, [but] I’m sure it can cause this in certain people,” he says.

So if you think you’re sensitive to MSG, figure out which foods trigger your symptoms and avoid them.

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Prohibit not to use: is monosodium glutamate a flavor enhancer so dangerous?

Popular rumor has turned monosodium glutamate into a formidable horror story, and supporters of healthy eating have branded it with eternal shame. This additive is called the strongest food drug and the causes of conceivable and unimaginable diseases are found in it. But what do we really know about monosodium glutamate? Which of these is speculation and which is true? Let’s understand this confusing story.

Immaculate child of nature

First of all, let’s define the concepts. Monosodium glutamate is the salt of glutamic acid, one of the key amino acids found in all protein forms on the planet. It enters our body with food day after day. Moreover, if the body lacks glutamic acid, it begins to reproduce it on its own, according to jvlife.ru.

Monosodium glutamate in its pure form was obtained in 1908 by Professor Kikunae Ikeda of the University of Tokyo. He “extracted” it from the remains of algae broth in a crystalline form. The scientist prudently patented the food supplement he discovered with his own hands. Very soon, the production of monosodium glutamate was put on stream and it was popularized in many countries.

Sergey Belkov, chemical engineer and flavorist

“In the 1960s, a special type of bacteria was developed for the industrial synthesis of monosodium glutamate, which is still used today. The bacteria are fed a mixture of sugar by-products saturated with ammonia. In response, they release the same glutamate. Then in production it is converted into crystals. So by and large, monosodium glutamate is of natural origin.”

The invention of the fifth taste

It has long been believed that the human tongue can recognize only four basic tastes: salty, sweet, bitter and sour. And only in 2002, scientists discovered a new, fifth, taste – umami. In our country, it is most often called meat.

Empirically, special L-glutamate receptors were found in the tongue, “tuned” specifically for the perception of glutamate, or that same umami. Actually, this is where its main function comes from – to make the taste of food more saturated and pleasant. “It is noteworthy that monosodium glutamate itself has absolutely no taste or even smell,” says Yana Tsygankova, a therapist. “The characteristic flavor comes out only when it interacts with other flavors and aromas.”

No matter how strange it may sound, but the benefits of monosodium glutamate are undeniable. Intestinal cells absorb it and convert it into energy, which is used for various purposes, including maintaining normal metabolic processes. Another important point – monosodium glutamate helps to conduct up to 60% of all nerve impulses in the body.

Glutamate and a little nervous

Is monosodium glutamate harmful to our health? Fundamental studies unambiguously confirming a positive answer have not yet been received. But there are several controversial statements, which we will consider sequentially.

Thus, the notion that monosodium glutamate causes irreversible brain damage is persistently promoted. This is fundamentally not true. Even assuming that such an effect is possible, a serious excess of this substance would be required. However, the body itself gets rid of excess glutamate, if any.

Sergey Belkov, chemical engineer and flavorist

“Moreover, monosodium glutamate is distributed through the circulatory system. To enter the brain, it must overcome the blood-brain barrier, which blocks unwanted elements. Monosodium glutamate is not able to “break through” such protection.”

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Behind this seemingly comical name is a rather painful condition of the body. It is characterized by headache and dizziness, a feeling of tightness in the solar plexus, nausea and vomiting, and a sharp reddening of the skin. For a long time, this same Chinese restaurant syndrome was associated with the harmful effects of monosodium glutamate on the body.

Scientists conducted a series of experiments and came to the conclusion that the symptoms described above are non-specific. That is, they can occur with a variety of pathologies and entirely depend on the individual characteristics of the organism. A direct relationship between monosodium glutamate abuse and Chinese restaurant syndrome has not been proven.

Weight by leaps and bounds

“Rapid weight gain is what the monosodium glutamate flavor enhancer is dangerous for. ” Adherents of proper nutrition are convinced of this. But scientists are not so categorical in their conclusions. They conducted a series of studies involving more than 1,500 men and women. Some of them showed that overweight is actually due to the use of monosodium glutamate. Other experiments did not reveal such a pattern.

Strong opponents of monosodium glutamate are convinced that it causes uncontrolled addiction, forcing us to consume more unhealthy food. This leads to obesity and all the related problems.

D ennady Shatrov, Head of the Laboratory for Hygienic Research of Food Supplements, Research Institute of Nutrition, Russian Academy of Medical Sciences

“The narcotic effect of monosodium glutamate is just a myth. It does not cause a state of euphoria, and addiction can develop any product, such as chocolate or spicy food. All these are individual habits of people.

Black cat in a dark room

“If you constantly use monosodium glutamate, you can go blind. ” To prove or disprove this thesis, scientists conducted experiments on rats. For 10 days they were injected with a loading dose of monosodium glutamate at the rate of 3.2 g per 1 kg of body weight. In juveniles, severe damage to the retina was noted. In adult rodents, the changes were not so pronounced. And in another group of experimental subjects who received 0.25 g of monosodium glutamate, no abnormalities were found at all.

It can be concluded that supposed blindness occurs only with an excessive excess of monosodium glutamate in the body. By the way, for a person, the upper norm is 10 g per 1 kg of weight. A simple calculation shows that few people can handle such an amount in one approach. In addition, as we found out, the body itself protects itself from an overdose. But in fairness it should be noted that similar experiments on humans have not been conducted.

Breathe deeply

“People suffering from any form of allergies and bronchial asthma should not use monosodium glutamate categorically – this is fraught with exacerbation of diseases” – this statement is a myth that was convincingly debunked in the course of the following experiment.

One focus group with the above conditions was fed “clean” foods but warned that they contained monosodium glutamate. The result is acute allergic reactions and asthma attacks in more than half of the participants.

The second group with similar diagnoses were given products with monosodium glutamate. At the same time, they were assured that there were no additives in the food. No seizures were noted during the experiment. The scientists’ verdict is final and not subject to appeal: monosodium glutamate cannot aggravate either bronchial asthma or allergies.

It turns out that monosodium glutamate is not as dangerous as they talk about it? Many physicians, scientists, and independent experts rightly share this view. Common sense and the results of numerous practical studies give every reason for this. Whether or not to trust this information is up to you, of course.


The US Department of Health and Human Services recognizes monosodium glutamate as a “generally safe supplement. ” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Joint Expert Council on Food Additives states that monosodium glutamate is safe for humans. However, the World Health Organization has not included monosodium glutamate in the official list of completely safe food additives.

Why is monosodium glutamate dangerous?

Answers to the main questions about the scary and terrible flavor enhancer that is not really an enhancer at all.

Perhaps, it is difficult to find a nutritional supplement more terrible for a modern person than monosodium glutamate. So many myths are associated with this substance, and if you put them together, you will have to admit: humanity invented the atomic bomb in vain, there are weapons much more powerful.

Any discussion about street food in Thailand sooner or later turns to the topic of glutamate (aka MSG, aka E621), and as a rule, the verdict of healthy food supporters is uncompromising: “You can’t eat it.”

Phuket News diligently studied the sources (perhaps this article from Popular Mechanics was the most valuable) and found out what this enemy of humanity number one is.

What is MSG?

According to Wikipedia, the discoverer of glutamic acid is the Japanese Kikune Ikeda. At the beginning of the 20th century, he decided to find out what substance is responsible for the characteristic taste of kombu seaweed, and as a result, he isolated pure glutamic acid from them. The chemist realized that excellent commercial prospects awaited the discovery and patented his method for obtaining the substance, and at 19In 09, umami seasoning under the Ajinomoto brand appeared on the market, which can now be found on the shelf of any Thai store. This is monosodium glutamate.

Why is it put in food?

As you know, a person is able to distinguish five basic tastes – sour, sweet, salty, bitter and umami. In the course of evolution, we have developed special receptors that respond to each of these tastes, and this happened for a reason.

The ability to identify sour taste allowed our ancient ancestors to distinguish sour foods from fresh ones. The ability to distinguish sweet – to find the richest in sugar (and therefore energy) fruits. The skill of recognizing bitter taste allowed him to avoid poisons. Well, the taste of umami is an indicator that indicates a large amount of proteins. The fact is that the diversity of proteins in nature is too great for evolution to create a single receptor for them, but each protein has a glutamine amino acid. Therefore, nature has made glutamate a marker.

Dishes with umami seem tasty to us, because in the process of eating them, the body receives a signal: “There is a lot of protein here.”

But I don’t like the taste of glutamate!

Even those of us who are afraid of glutamate love to taste it in our food, and for centuries culinary experts have devised ways to increase its content. Before hitting the counter, any good steak is aged for some time so that some of the proteins are fermented and the content of glutamic acid in the meat increases. The same chemical process takes place in the preparation of any good cheese.

In the case of plants (for example, tomatoes), an increased content of glutamate is a product of centuries of selection. Our ancestors did it instinctively, not thinking about the chemistry of the process, but focusing on the concepts of “tasty” and “not tasty”.

E621 not a natural product!

Strange as it may sound, monosodium glutamate is a completely natural product. It is obtained from carbohydrates through fermentation, and therefore, from any point of view, it is completely natural. In any case, it is no less natural than, for example, sauerkraut.

The differences between naturally occurring glutamate and industrially produced glutamate are also imaginary. And here we must remember a simple rule of chemistry – the origin of a substance does not affect its properties in any way.

Is MSG toxic?

It is often heard that glutamate is a neurotransmitter, which means it can be a neurotoxin. However, the good news is that it hardly enters the bloodstream and more than 90% of it is metabolized directly in the intestines. Although even if its concentration in the blood suddenly increases, access to the brain will be blocked by the blood-brain barrier.

Can a person be allergic to glutamate? The answer is also negative. To be an allergen, a substance must be foreign to the body, and glutamic acid is an invariable component of our own proteins. A person is not allergic to their own erythrocytes, is it?

In general, glutamate is less toxic than ordinary table salt, and a quote from Popular Mechanics would be appropriate here: “The single lethal dose (at which 50% of experimental mice die) for glutamate is table salt – 3 g / kg. At the same time, the salt content, say, in boiled sausages, is about 1.8%, and glutamate is added no more than 0.3%. E621 is legally recognized worldwide as the safest nutritional supplement, for which the level of acceptable daily intake has not even been established. This means that under no circumstances can a person eat such an amount that will have any harmful effect on health.