Migraine headache from MSG (Monosodium glutamate) | Migraine Tricks

Migraine headache from MSG (Monosodium glutamate)

Categories: Migraine Triggers.

Mar 11, 2019 // By:migrainer // 4 comments

You could provoke migraine headache in many ways, but mostly it depends on your organism and your regular health condition. Tyramine, PEA, Casein, nitrites and nitrates, gluten and intolerance, histamine, caffeine or caffeine withdrawal are some of the migraine triggers. Now we will write about migraine headache from MSG. I will also say something about MSG, what is it and what MSG refers to. What are symptoms of MSG-induced migraine, and about the concept “Chinese restaurant syndrome”.

What is MSG and which food contains it?

MSG stands for Monosodium glutamate. It is a flavor enhancer and it occurs by deriving from glutamic acid or amino acid glutamate. Also, MSG contains glutamic acid which is made by fermenting starches.
As we said above it is a flavor enhancer, and its usage is to improve the taste of food. Basically, it is a food additive which you can find in different types of food. Such as canned vegetables, soups, processed meats, frozen foods, snacks, and Chinese or Asian food in general. An interesting fact is that MSG doesn’t have specific taste by itself. So it isn’t salty, sweet, bitter or sour but still it provides a better taste.

msg proccesed meat

Is MSG good or bad?

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have categorized MSG as “generally safe for use”. But still, FDA requires from manufacturers to list it on labels when its added. But if MSG is in its hydrolyzed protein form (which contains 5-20% MSG), manufacturers don’t have to label it. It’s a little bit controversial topic, indeed. On one hand, it’s on a list as a generally safe for use, but it is GENERALLY safe for use.

As MSG is used for decades, the FDA received some of the anecdotal reports about reactions on food that includes MSG. Symptoms for this reaction are flushing, facial pressure or tightness, chest pain, weakness, sweating, nausea, rapid heartbeats, and headache. Symptoms are usually short term and mild. And the only way to treat this is to avoid food that contains MSG.
This problem only has people who are sensitive to food that contains MSG.

How migraine headache from MSG occurs?

Becouse migraine is a type of a vascular headache and MSG is a strong vasoconstrictor, result is migraine headache. Ingestion of food that contains MSG in large amounts could cause vasodilation and provoke a migraine. But this is valid only for people who are MSG sensitive. MSG sensitivity is also known as an MSG symptom complex. We listed above symptoms of MSG sensitivity, but when it comes to MSG-induced migraine some of the next symptoms could appear:

  • flushing
  • paresthesias
  • sweating
  • palpitations
  • facial swelling

Generally, symptoms appear within 15 to 60 minutes after ingesting a large amount of MSG on empty stomach.

To complete the connection between MSG and migraine headache in our favor we have one double-blind placebo-controlled study. Participants were MSG-sensitive people, they ingested 2,5 – 5,0 gm MSG doses or placebo. After MSG ingestion, headache and most of the listed symptoms occurred more frequently, unlike placebo ingestion. But one more interesting fact is that ingestion of 1.25mg doses of MSG were without effect. Therefore, the experiment confirmed a connection between MSG and migraine headache.

Also, ingestion of MSG caused nothing at patients with no history of MSG intolerance. So, there were no headaches, migraines or any other of listed symptoms at all.

With all above it is estimated that approximately 1.8% of the patients provoke a migraine headache after ingestion of a large amount of MSG.

Chinese restaurant syndrome or MSG symptom complex

If you are in a dilemma what is correct name of this intolerance, and which term is more appropriate Chinese restaurant syndrome or MSG symptom complex the answer is below.


At first, MSG sensitivity was known as Chinese restaurant syndrome. The first report of a connection between Chinese food and a group of symptoms such as flushing, paresthesias, sweating, palpitations, and facial swelling was by Kwok. After his report, this phenomenon was named Chinese restaurant syndrome.

In the meantime, more researches revolved that the concrete cause for migraine headaches and all symptoms named above is MSG which is added to Chinese food. As MSG is added in more other types of food, not just Chinese, a more appropriate term is MSG syndrome complex.


In brief, migraine headache from MSG could occur. But only if you have MSG intolerance and after ingestion of it in large amounts. Also the ingestion of MSG in small amounts are not harmful.

As MSG is a flavor enhancer and you can find it in more different types of food, not just Chinese, the more appropriate term for this phenomenon is MSG syndrome complex.

Either you are having Chinese food, or Asian food in general, canned soups or meats, frozen foods or snacks, you are ingesting doses of MSG and you could provoke a migraine headache. But according to some researches if you are balancing your diet and ingest MSG in small amounts you shouldn’t have bigger health issues. On the contrary, if you establish your MSG sensitivity, the only way to prevent and avoid health issues is to avoid food that contains MSG.

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