1. Food
I had dinner recently at a favorite Korean restaurant, and about two hours later I was a mess: head pounding, ears ringing, heart racing so fast I could see it thumping through my shirt. Also, I had a murderous thirst and had sunk into what I can only describe as a deep malaise (which, considering these other symptoms, really isn't much of a surprise).
MSG - Monosodium glutamate crystals
Monosodium glutamate.
Photo © Sage Ross

This wasn't my imagination and it wasn't a coincidence. A quick Google search confirmed my suspicions: I was in the grips of a wicked case of MSG Sensitivity Syndrome.

I'm not usually one who suffers from syndromes (nor, for that matter, one who even believes in most syndromes), and I'm not a fussy eater. Still, I could scarcely have been more incapacitated if a 50-pound sack of MSG had dropped on me from the sky. Also, I'd eaten at this restaurant several times before and never experienced anything like this. That being the case, I assume that whoever prepared my food that night had dumped in a little bit too much of the stuff. Lucky me.

But what is MSG, anyway? What purpose does it serve in cooking and how does it do what it does? To answer those questions (and others), I put together this article that explains everything you need to know about MSG.


April 6, 2009 at 12:46 am
(1) Chef John says:

“…head pounding, ears ringing, heart racing so fast I could see it thumping through my shirt.”

It’s not MSG – you’re in love! ;-)

April 6, 2009 at 1:18 am
(2) culinaryarts says:

Well, I was definitely in love with my zazang noodles, but now it feels like it’s become an abusive relationship. :(

April 6, 2009 at 8:37 am
(3) Helen Yuet Ling Pang says:

Hello! I get these symptoms almost after every dim sum meal, and occasionally after dinner in Chinese restaurants. They last for a good few hours as well. I’ve not had them as a result of Korean food though. Not nice!

April 8, 2009 at 11:44 am
(4) culinaryarts says:

You’re right, Helen, it’s not nice at all. I’m also amazed at how many people want to try to convince me that the symptoms I experienced weren’t real.

April 15, 2009 at 4:56 am
(5) Kurgan says:

I feel your pain. As far as I am aware, I only have had one bad reaction to MSG a few years ago. I had to hop on Google to even figure it out. I had eaten a sesame Asian pasta meal made by Kraft. I knew I had a food allergy but I didn’t know to what (figured it out in 2007) and I had safely eaten this pasta within the last year. So I eat the pasta and start to have my ‘normal’ reaction. I go to take an oatmeal bath just because being in the water helps alleviate the itching. Not long after I start my bath I had strange symptoms I never experienced with previous reactions: I felt extremely anxious and I felt like my body was burning. Then severe cramping developed. After a while, the burning and cramping went away and I was extremely cold. I’ve walked bare foot with no jacket on in the snow and never felt this cold. Later that evening I still was cold but not quite as bad. It took a whole day to get warmed back up. I’m thankful that I’ve only had to experience that once though I had a much lesser version of it a few days ago that probably had nothing to do with MSG.

July 8, 2009 at 8:57 am
(6) Karen says:

Never use to be sensitive, but I’m conviced I now am. Went to the food mall the other day, and got some Asian chicken. The most horrible thing happened even before I finished the meal. Diarrhea to the max. Couldn’t even make it to the restrooms in time!!!
Then, last night I ate some Chow Mein noodles in one of those quick-fix boxes. This time the diarrhea waited till the next morning, but was unmistakably there.
It has to be the MSG!

July 8, 2009 at 6:18 pm
(7) culinaryarts says:

Karen: That sounds dreadful. Although it does sound like it might also be a case of food poisoning ó especially the incident at the food court. Either way, I hope you’re feeling better!

July 21, 2009 at 12:45 pm
(8) nedclark says:

I have recently `adopted’ my father’s hyper-sensitivity to MSG…with all the symptoms Danilo listed. So I was infuriated when The Food Network “Food Detectives” recently broadcast a (IMHO) hatchet-job on the issue, disguised as ‘investigative reporting’ (and surprise, surprise…the Umami Counsel [Japanese for MSG] was their main sponsor).

Their false `test’ was to feed 50% of a lunch-group Chinese feed with MSG, then ask for `immediate’ reactions; everyone I know with MSG sensitivity doesn’t experience symptoms until 2- to 4 hours later.

It can be hidden in processed foods under dozens of pseudonyms: http://www.truthinlabeling.org/hiddensources.html

July 21, 2009 at 1:07 pm
(9) culinaryarts says:

Ned: I didn’t see that show, but you’re absolutely right to be skeptical of a “test” sponsored by an MSG trade association.

September 3, 2009 at 11:59 am
(10) Sadie Piatchi says:

I developed MSG syndrome after spending time in Japan studing martial arts. Horrible headach, swelling, etc. Once I got back here it really flared up. I’d wake up after class and after eating Denny’s chicken strips dipped in Blue Cheese dressing with my heart pounding and with what DRs called anxiety. I never go to the DR. Had never taken a precription drug. After a bad attack that included chest pain and numbness in my face and a trip to the emergency room (age 34) I was given, you guessed it anti-anxiety meds. No one would listen to me when I said I wasn’t an anxious person, really actually truly happy but for this heart thing. It took a 4 day stay in a cardiac unit in Las Vegas after eating a very tasty meal at Macaroni Grill and having my heart slip into supraventricular tachicardia (heart rate hit 250 fortunately while I was once again in an emergency room) to snap me out of my exceptance of a DR’s opinion. My nutrionist friend is the one who said maybe your heart is perfect like all the tests say and you are just having a food reaction. 10 years and as little MSG as I dare expose myself to I have no problems. No meds either. It makes you wonder if the current trend towards anxiety issues in America isn’t just bad food.

May 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm
(11) Ann says:

Had a similar experience after eating sushi with my daughter a few days ago. Was truly happy…until that started and scared me. Sat outside the local ER trying to decide whether to go in…truly miserable. Had some “nerve” medicine from a previous episode that happened after eating Mexican food. I know it must be msg. related.

September 3, 2009 at 2:07 pm
(12) culinaryarts says:

Sadie: You said, “It makes you wonder if the current trend towards anxiety issues in America isnít just bad food.” And given the amount of MSG in the typical American diet, I would not be a bit surprised.

October 28, 2009 at 5:22 pm
(13) LinLori says:

It’s good to know I’m not alone. For years I have been suffering from migraines due to a sensitivity to the MSG in Doritos. I thought it was simply Doritos, but recently I’ve been discovering not so much. In addition to the migraines, I also suffer from dizzy spells and many other symptoms associated with Meniere’s Disease. I’m waiting on official confirmation for the MD diagnosis, but in the meantime, I’ve been Googling to find out what I can do that may be helpful. MSG sensitivity is a symptom of Meniere’s (or the other way around? I can’t remember). I began cutting down on the amount of MSG I’m exposed to (and wow, it’s hidden everywhere, isn’t it?) and surprise, surprise, some of my more severe symptoms? Greatly decreased if not gone all together. I know it will take time before my body detoxes out all the other garbage I’ve been eating, but I have to agree when the above commenter said that maybe a lot of America’s health problems are the result of a bad diet.

November 20, 2009 at 9:05 pm
(14) Alex says:

MSG is just flat out bad. I was struggling with my doc for months trying to figure out why my body was slowly becoming debilitated. She sent me to a Rheumatologist suspecting that I was developing Rheumatoid arthritis (I was 32). He said that my symptoms were very close but all the blood work was negative and my joints were quite healthy. Fed up I took to the internet as my condition slowly declined (the worse I got, the worse I ate because convenience foods are easy to prepare), I nearly lost all use of my arms due to pain. My husband was cutting my meat for me and I was eating with a large spoon. Once I fell upon a book on food allergies and it had a section on MSG – I cried. Two weeks later – after eliminating MSG and wheat – I could both speak and think clearly and was nearly pain free. I could walk and hold my husbands hand, feed myself with a fork all without pain. My cholesterol even when down in the normal range and my triglycerides dropped by 140 points in 6 months. MSG is just plain toxic.

January 17, 2010 at 3:08 pm
(15) Gail Spach says:

Interesting to read the other comments. I have had symptoms such as dizzy spells, stiff and sore neck muscles, feelings of malaise/anxiety, extreme thirst and wakefulness at night (to drink gallons of water due to extreme thirst) over many years. After I cut out MSG all the symptoms disappeared, except when I have a less careful day of eating. It’s hard to be careful but so worth it. I wish that more people knew about the hazards of MSG and its free-glutamate allies, because I bet a lot of people are suffering unnecessarily.

February 3, 2010 at 4:58 pm
(16) Tom says:

You should not eat anything that is process or any thing from cans, range dressing, potatoe chips, campbell chicken noodle soup. Nearly everything has MSG in it.

February 14, 2010 at 1:05 am
(17) Gary Hunt says:

Here I am, again awake because of MSG. A little less careful day.

Basically, if you didn’t make it yourself assume the worse.

A few other not so common MSG sources… valentines day chocolates little pet shop.. -> hydrolyzed soy protein, premade chocolate milk, store bought cake, and baby formula (disodium isonate, guanylate). Skin cream, like foot lotions.

Anything frozen is usally bad. Just buy plain frozen items with no sauces and seasonings and you should do fine.

I don’t eat anything made by Campbells. They’ll just hide it somewhere else

Presidents Choice products while not perfect, tend to be better in general (of course always read the ingredients)

ClubHouse la grille montreal steak spice. I have been very happy with this product for many years.. It is very hard to find good spice mixes that don’t trigger MSG reactions.

Keep telling your friends. The food companies are starting to get the message but very slowly, unfortunately some of them are just hiding it better. Boycott their products

February 24, 2010 at 1:10 am
(18) Mike says:

I also have a sensativity to MSG which I self diagnosed. I was having Japanese food. I then felt hot, flush, and beating heart. I then got anxiety due to the symptoms which caused light headedness and feeling faint.

Next night I had vietnamese noodles. Sure enough an hour later mild palpitations and trouble sleeping. Flushed out skin tone.

Then next night had some left overs. Same thing.

I got my thyroid tested to see if it was too active (can cause similar symptoms) and it is fine.

Well, I guess I know what caused my symptoms. It’s only supposed to do this if you have a lot or eat too much too fast. I guess I’m not HYPER sensative to it.

It’s a good thing though.. instead of making hamburger helper, you can make your own natural version. Learn to cook better. Instead of making a fake soup broth, try a real one. Instead of buying processed pastry or bread, make your own in the bread machine or your own cookies and sweets.

I too myself ate myself into the ER it seems.

October 4, 2010 at 2:43 pm
(19) Ann says:


You are not alone, MSG allergy is real. I have worked for years to avoid it in all forms. Not an easy job at best. But, after several trips and a week stay in the hospital because of getting MSG in food I only eat fresh food.

I did have several books with information which I loaned to someone and never got back. One was by Debby Anglesey- and the other by a Dr. Schwartz.
Possibly you could find them on Amazon.


January 4, 2012 at 8:45 pm
(20) Jennifer says:

I grew up with terrible migraines, and spent much of my senior year trying to convince teachers that I wasn’t bulimic. When I went back to work after my oldest son was born, we supplemented with formula, and he started having migraines! How do I know? Because I’d turn the lights down when I had one, and he’d be happy playing in the dark, but with the lights on, he was fussy, had glazed over eyes, and often would vomit in the light. Lights off–just fine.
It took us years to find the cause. When we did, and changed our entire family diet, I too was cured!
Of course, if we miss an ingredient, or someone thinks they know what they’re looking for, but doesn’t, we sometimes end up “sick” with neuro-toxic msg anyway.

November 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm
(21) Kristie Sori says:

I have recently become severely allergic to MSG took about 4 months to figure out what was wrong. I just ate two bites of one of those peanut butter crackers that comes in the six pack and had a reaction. I read the label and saw soy lecithin but decided to try it anyway. I’m super duper allergic to it and very scared. I just wanted to say thankyou for this article. Kristie Sori

January 11, 2013 at 9:27 am
(22) Tammy says:

Several years ago I started having migraines that turned into seizures. Never have figured why. Then recently I did a low Carb diet and the migraines started going away, the pain in my joints lessened. Last night we ordered pizza of which I haven’t had for a long time….you guessed it. Migraine! Diarrhea! Sleepless night! Think I found my source…msg! I’d been telling my husband that when we ordered take out pizza I always got migraines, now he believes me.

October 16, 2013 at 2:08 am
(23) rachel says:

So what can a perdon do to ease these horrific symptoms….cause j am going on week 2 of barely getting rest

January 12, 2014 at 5:08 pm
(24) Holly says:

A few years back I ended up in emergency thought I was having a heart attack, shortness of breath racing heart numbness in face. All tests turned out fine. I never linked it to food until having a bad reaction in Jamaica last year in a tai restaurant. I had a n extreme adrenaline rush then my heart started racing almost passed out, very scared, then I’m cold to the core for hours.It happened many times on that trip, food was really my salty, I started to question food allergy. Allergy tests showed nothing but dr sAid sound like msg or sulphites and they cannot test for this. He said it sounds like I had an anaphalactic reaction, so he gave me an epi pen. I had a reaction with one bite @ earls restaurant eating halibut ,so it was’t a great amount. Can’t eat anything without stressing…..get this msg out of our food.

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