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  • Writer's pictureFred Cohen

MSG and Headache

This week, I published a review article on the relationship of MSG (monosodium glutamate) and headaches. MSG has been suspected as a potential trigger for migraines and headaches, but its precise role in causing these conditions remains unclear. Food triggers, such as gluten, diary, caffeine, nitrates are common among migraines. MSG has also been commonly claimed to trigger headaches, but the research and data appear to be skewed.  


Research on MSG's effects has included animal studies that suggest neuronal damage and altered biochemistry, but results are mixed. Human studies have produced varying outcomes, with some reporting increased headache incidence with MSG consumption, particularly in high doses, while others have found no significant difference. The average dose in these trials were between 1-5 grams of MSG, while the average intake of MSG in the United States is around 0.3-0.6 grams. The debate surrounding MSG and headaches persists, with the average daily intake in the US being relatively low, and the need for further research is evident.


For individuals concerned about MSG as a headache trigger, an elimination diet can help determine its impact on their symptoms. It's important to note that MSG is present in various foods and additives beyond Asian cuisine. MSG is commonly used in other kinds of cuisines and foods. The history of MSG includes its association with Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS), initially described in 1968. However, MSG is commonly used in various cuisines and processed foods, not solely in Chinese dishes. Interestingly enough, Dr. Ho Man Kwok, the physician who coined the term CRS and who is of Cantonese descent, would later stress that CRS was in regards specifically to American Chinese food. He later on expressed that he never observed these symptoms prior to coming to the USA and regrets giving it the name CRS.


The continued use of the term CRS perpetuates a myth that associates certain ethnic cuisines with discomforting symptoms, which can be harmful, especially in the context of increased hate crimes against Asian communities. In conclusion, while evidence on MSG's role in causing headaches is mixed, further research is needed to better understand this relationship, and individuals concerned about its impact should consider an elimination diet. More information can be read in my article, Unraveling the MSG-Headache Controversy: an Updated Literature Review.1

 

References:

  1. Ahdoot, E., Cohen, F. Unraveling the MSG-Headache Controversy: an Updated Literature Review. Curr Pain Headache Rep (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11916-023-01198-z

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