Diet Diary: The Chinese food syndrome — sensitivity to MSG

MSG or ajinomoto is a flavour enhancer.

Written by Ishi Khosla | Published:May 23, 2015 12:00 am

health, express health, rxpress, MSG, ajinomoto, chinese food, Monosodium Glutamate, FDA, US Food and Drug Administration Headache, tightness in the chest, stiffness or generalised weakness of limbs, light headedness, facial flushing, profuse sweating, heartburn, gastric discomfort and burning sensation (face, upper back, neck or arms), heart palpitations, anxiety, excessive urination, thirst, stomach ache, vomiting, attacks mimicking epileptic seizures in children, asthma, depression; if you have experienced any of these symptoms after eating Chinese food, then the chances are you are sensitive to Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG).

These symptoms are generally transitory but it has been shown that women are more likely to experience “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” than men. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), commonly known as ajinomoto, is the most widely used food additive that is valued for its flavour enhancing properties. It is a sodium salt of glutamate, an amino acid (building block of proteins) that occurs naturally in cheese, fish, meat, peas, tomatoes, mushrooms and milk. The body uses glutamic acid as a fine-tuner of brain function as well as a protein building block.

MSG, a flavor enhancer in Chinese, Japanese and other Asian cuisines, is now extensively used in meat, poultry, seafood and vegetables in restaurant cooking.

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Research has shown that MSG intolerance may not be as common as previously thought with symptoms being subjective and transitory with no documented long-term effects. As a precautionary measure, however, one must read labels or check with chefs or restaurant staff.

Concerns regarding safety have always surrounded MSG, in spite of its great popularity among chefs and the food industry. Numerous international scientific evaluations undertaken over many years, involving hundreds of studies have placed MSG on the GRAS (generally regarded as safe) list of food additives approved by the US FDA. Because of individual sensitivity issues, food labels are required to indicate the presence of MSG. The phrase “contains glutamate” appears on labels of foods containing MSG. While MSG may be considered safe for children, it may be prudent to limit MSG intake during pregnancy.

MSG is not an allergen, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The US Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence to suggest any long-term, serious health consequences from consuming it.

In healthy MSG-intolerant people, the sensitivity symptoms tend to occur within an hour of eating, with severity being dose dependent. Caffeine and vitamin B6 are known to counter the effects of MSG.

Do’s and don’ts
* Carefully read labels of processed foods to determine the presence of glutamate.
* Supplement with at least 50 mg of B1, B2 and B6 daily if they consume significant amounts of processed foods, as vitamin B6 also helps alleviate the symptoms of MSG sensitivity.
* Order food without MSG, when eating out.
* Check with a qualified professional, if the problem persists.
* Individuals who develop tightness of the chest must seek medical advice so that serious problems are not overlooked.

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