MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) Allergy

Everything You Need to Know About MSG

MSG is commonly used in Chinese food..

I frequently encounter patients in my clinic who wonder if they have an MSG allergy. Most of these people describe a situation in which they were eating at an Asian restaurant, after which they experienced a sensation of feeling flushed along with mild shortness of breath and chest tightness. Usually, the symptoms are mild and resolve within a short period of time and without treatment. And yet, these reactions are so distressing as to cause the person to avoid Asian restaurants for fear of MSG allergy.

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer added to various foods, but can also be present in foods naturally. Reactions to MSG have been previous called the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” although they are now referred to as the “MSG Symptom Complex.” Symptoms are often mild and can include numbness and tingling on the arms and neck, palpitations, and drowsiness. Other symptoms may include headaches, nausea, chest pain and worsening asthma symptoms.

Most of the scientific studies on MSG are inconclusive as to whether or not the MSG Symptom Complex actually exists. These studies compared the effects of a placebo to MSG in double-blind placebo-controlled oral challenges, and found only small increases in symptoms when very large amounts of MSG were taken (doses not typically contained in a usual meal). These symptoms seemed to disappear when the MSG was given along with food.

Studies are also inconclusive as to whether MSG can result in worsening eczema, urticaria, asthma, and non-allergic rhinitis, although there are various reports of people experiencing these symptoms after ingestion of MSG.

These people claimed that their symptoms improved after avoiding MSG in their diets. So, if you think you might be experiencing reactions to MSG, check with your doctor to see if there is another explanation for your symptoms.

Read more about allergies to food additives and preservatives and how to follow a preservative-free diet.


Bush RK, Taylor SL. Adverse Reactions to Food and Drug Additives. In: Adkinson NF, Yunginger JW, Busse WW, et al, eds. Middleton’s Allergy Principles and Practice. 7th edition. Philadelphia: Mosby Publishing; 2008:1169-1188.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

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