You've just enjoyed a delicious Chinese meal and suddenly you don't feel quite right. Could you be getting sick-or are you having an allergic reaction to MSG? Short for a food additive called monosodium glutamate, MSG can cause a host of uncomfortable, allergy-like symptoms in those who are particularly sensitive to it.

How an MSG Allergy Works

While the systems of MSG allergies can mimic other more serious allergies, MSG reactions don't actually involve an immune system response and are therefore not considered a "true" allergy.  However, research presented by Johns Hopkins scientists in 2000 revealed that in some cases, although MSG may not cause an allergy itself, its presence can over-stimulate the immune system, which in turn affects your body's response to various triggers.

The Symptoms

More importantly, MSG allergies can make you feel pretty miserable. Review the following list of common symptoms to better understand the range of problems MSG allergies can cause.

  • Flushing
  • Warm feeling
  • Lightheadedness
  • Feelings of detachment
  • Pressure in the face
  • Chest pain
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea

The symptoms typically come on suddenly after eating foods that contain MSG. Often (although not always) the more you eat of the food, the worse the side effects will be. And as bad as they can make you feel, the good news is that they usually go away on their own and won't leave any long-term effects.

A Link to Asthma?

Some people also believe that asthmatics are particularly sensitive to MSG allergies and that ingesting it can provoke an attack. To better understand the connection, researchers conducted a study that was published in 1999 in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. As part of the research, a total of 100 asthmatic participants were monitored to determine whether MSG intake could trigger their respiratory distress.  Interestingly enough, there was no difference between those patients who ingested MSG and those who were given a placebo. Further, none of the participants showed signs of MSG- provoked asthma.  As a result, scientists question whether people with asthma are any more susceptible to a reaction than anyone else. 

Play it Safe

Regardless of the MSG-Asthma connection, if you suffer from MSG allergies, you will want to avoid this chemical at all costs. You don't have to swear off Chinese food, though, to steer clear of the effects. Many restaurants will prepare your order without MSG if you make the request.

In addition, if you suffer from food allergies in addition to MSG, it can be a good idea anyway to protect yourself by finding out what ingredients are used in any foods you order outside of the house. In addition, be prepared to handle a serious reaction by always carrying an epi-pen.  With a little effort, you can enjoy your favorite Chinese dishes without risk of getting sick.




American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology

Johns Hopkins Medicine

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology