Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Chinese Takeout

“Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” is the term coined by medical experts to describe the reactions that many people have after consuming food containing the flavor enhancer and preservative, monosodium glutamate (MSG), which is commonly used in Chinese food and other Asian food.

Symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

People who are sensitive to MSG will experience any or all of the following symptoms when they consume it:

  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Flushing
  • Extreme thirst
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Numbness 

Those with asthma seem to be particularly susceptible to MSG. 

Possible cure for Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

There is some evidence that this syndrome may be due to a Vitamin B6 deficiency, since this B vitamin is required to metabolize MSG. Some healthcare providers have found that supplementing the diet with 50 mg of Vitamin B6 may eliminate the symptoms of MSG sensitivity.

Interesting Fact: Due to the problem of MSG sensitivity, many Chinese restaurants will designate foods as “MSG free” so that even those who can’t tolerate monosodium glutamate can enjoy this popular cuisine.

How much is too much?

One study suggests that as much as 30% of Americans experience reactions after consuming as little as 5 grams of MSG, while 90% experience symptoms after consuming 10 grams of MSG. 

MSG on Food Labels

The FDA requires that food companies list MSG on the food label, if it is an ingredient in their product. Although this is may be one way to find the MSG in your food, it also may appear as a component of other ingredients including the following:

  • Textured protein
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Autolyzed plant protein
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
  • Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
  • Soy protein extract
  • Natural flavors

Reminder: Even foods that have a "MSG-free" claim on the label may contain these other forms.

Some say it's poison

Helpful hint

One rule of thumb is that, if the packaged food comes with a “flavor packet” it probably contains MSG. Also, most frozen dinners and entrees contain monosodium glutamate in some form, usually as hydrolyzed protein or autolyzed yeast.

There are some health experts that take a very dim view of monosodium glutamate in our food supply. They consider it an “excitotoxin,” which affects brain health, and a “poison” that is not only addictive but can also be linked to the increased incidence of autism, diabetes, obesity and even ADHD.

Educate yourself

In order to pursue a healthy eating lifestyle, you need to learn all you can about the foods you eat. Take some time to read labels and stay away from too many processed foods. In this way you will not need to worry so much if you are sensitive to MSG.

Click here to go from Chinese Restaurant Syndrome page to Glossary page.

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