Is MSG A Trigger For Headaches?

Does Monosodium glutamate (MSG) cause headaches? It’s a simple enough question but there seems to be no clear-cut answer. Research studies have been inconclusive. Many say that consuming MSG is not worse than eating a high salt diet. Others campaign vigorously against its use.

As far as headache sufferers are concerned, the answer seems to be – if it affects you, avoid it. People seem to have varying tolerance levels for MSG. Some can eat it quite happily, others appear to react to a very tiny amount. Many migraine sufferers believe that MSG will trigger a migraine for them. Even non-sufferers have been known to develop a headache after eating food containing MSG.

If it’s known to cause headaches – why is it put into food?

It’s all down to money. MSG is a flavor enhancer. The food industry can use cheaper, lower quality ingredients and by adding MSG, the taste is improved. MSG is a cheap additive and so it adds up to more money for the food provider.

MSG makes so much money for them, that MSG manufacturers have got together to finance ‘medical research’ to prove the MSG is safe. Those who are against the use of MSG say that these research studies are biased as the board who advises the FDA includes many people who work in the food industry.

What sort of food has MSG in it?

Some foods are clearly labeled as containing MSG. Others are not. Anything that has the following in it always contains MSG:

  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Sodium or calcium caseinate
  • Yeast extract or autolyszed yeast
  • Yeast nutrient
  • Textured protein
  • Glutamic acid

In addition, if you see these words on the packaging, the food often contains MSG:

  • Flavoring
  • Flavors
  • Natural flavors
  • Stock / bouillon
  • Broth (any kind)
  • Carrageenan
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Malted barley
  • Malt extract
  • Malt flavoring
  • Maltodextrin
  • Anything ‘protein fortified’

It’s quite a list, isn’t it? But is doesn’t stop there. Other potential sources of ‘hidden’ MSG are sports drinks, chewing gum, bubble gum, colas and candy. It’s becoming clear that if your headaches do seem to be triggered by MSG, you need to be vigilant when buying packaged or processed food.

How can MSG affect me? If you are susceptible to it, MSG can cause bring on a Migraine attack and cause other severe headaches. It can also affect all of these bodily systems:

  • Cardiac: drop in blood pressure, rapid pulse, angina, arrhythmias
  • Circulatory System: fluid retention
  • Neurological: light headedness, mood swings, depression, ADD
  • Digestive System: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramps, bloating
  • Respiratory: shortness of breath, chest pain, runny nose, sneezing
  • Skin: rash, numbness, hot flashes, dry mouth
  • Urological: prostate swelling, nocturia (having to go to the bathroom in the night)
  • Visual: blurred vision or difficulty focusing

How can I find out whether it’s MSG that’s affecting me, or something else?

If you think you have a problem with MSG, you may wish to try an ‘exclusion’ diet. Go for 3 weeks with no (or little) MSG. At the end of the 3 weeks, eat something that you know has MSG and see if your symptoms come back.

I can read labels – but what about eating out?

Most airline food contains MSG, unless you choose a vegetarian option. But be careful, even salad dressing can contain it. The fast-food restaurants use of MSG is as follows:

  • Kentucky Fried Chicken: Everything contains MSG
  • Taco Bell: They claim that there is no MSG in any of their food. However, some people have reported symptoms after eating there.
  • Burger King: The Garden Salad and French Fries are clear. Everything else contains MSG.
  • McDonalds: Garden Salad with lite Italian Dressing is fine. Iced tea is fine. Apple pie is fine. Everything else contains MSG. McDonalds does have a complete list of their ingredients in their restaurants. MSG is usually found under the ‘hidden names’ in the list above.

Remember MSG is not a problem for everyone, as far as headaches are concerned. But, it is good to be armed with knowledge, if you have determined you need to avoid it.