Does MSG Allergy Really Exist?

Buying packaged foods…. Then be mindful about MSG’s…...

Finding yourself wondering... What is that source making your food so delicious with a savory taste? Look no further the taste is often achieved by the addition of monosodium glutamate.

Most of us might have seen MSG, labeled in the ingredient list on the back of packaged foods. Mono Sodium Glutamate (MSG) is an ingredient used in some processed foods that can cause allergic symptoms in a few people.

This unique savory flavor in foods is called umami, or the fifth taste which is now widely accepted. In fact, glutamic acid is not the one with umami flavoring, MSGs in food activate these glutamate receptors to enhance the taste buds, and these transmit signals to apparent regions of the brain, causing the typical taste.

What is MSG?

MSG is a flavor amplifier added to packaged or canned foods. It is made from L-glutamic acid, a naturally occurring amino acid that is found in many foods. It is commonly used as an amplifier to enhance the flavors in many dishes. It naturally occurs in some fruits, vegetables, and in dairy products.

According to The U.S. Food and Drug Administration MSG is safe when added to foods in a limited dosage, but in a few people, it showed some allergic symptoms after consumption.

It is widely accepted and used by many Asian countries since its discovery but has been received with uncertainty in most western countries. It is a common additive in restaurant foods to enhance the taste.

Even in agriculture, it is used in crop yield, by combining it with other ingredients and sold as a plant primer, pesticide, or as fertilizer whose role is to increase the crop yield.

Is MSG an Allergy or A Sensitivity?

This is the mysterious question frequently asked on sites. However, many researchers and doctors argue MSG is not a true allergy. Generally, in the human body allergies response is expressed through the production of IgE antibodies, these antibodies trigger the allergic reaction in the immune system, but MSG allergies are not triggered by the immune system, since it is not considered as a true allergy and might be considered as sensitivity.

Might be that an individual can be sensitive rather than allergic, much like a lemon sensitivity. The science behind the sensitivity to MSG is not much rooted, still, some researchers are going for finding a link between glutamate in the nervous system and the symptoms of MSG sensitivity.

These sensitivities are often called as MSG Sensitivity Syndrome or Chinese Restaurant Syndrome.

The Symptoms of MSG sensitivity probably affect the digestive system and the skin as well.

A Twin to Salt?

Common salt or table salt is a mix up of positively charged sodium ions and negatively charged chloride ions in a 1:1 ratio and are bound together in a solid structure by electrical attraction. Chemically known as sodium chloride (NaCl).

MSG is the twin for table salt as it is also an ionic compound including both positively charged sodium and negatively charged glutamate ions but in a ratio of 12:78:10 ratios, the remaining 10% is water, chemically written as (C5H8NO4–). Since it contains sodium MSG is similar in taste to salt.


MSG as a popular food enhancer and commonly used ingredient in many Asian cooking, however, has a few drawbacks. Consuming MSGs in foods causes certain potential reactions or sensitivity for a few people.

Some people suspect, MSG cause allergy symptoms but an MSG reaction is a sensitivity than a true allergy.

As discussed, earlier the involvement of a protein called IgE antibody that triggers the allergy-causing compounds in the department of your immune system can’t trigger these MSG allergies. So, it is not an allergy. Some common symptoms of MSG include −

  • Feeling humiliated.

  • Excess sweat.

  • Headaches.

  • Pain in the upper chest.

  • Weakness.

These are the most caused reactions to MSG. There are other symptoms reported by individuals on consuming MSG alone without food, which are as follows −

  • Drowsiness.

  • Headache.

  • Skin flushing.

  • Numbness and tingling.

  • Heart palpitations.

Food Allergy and Food Sensitivity

It is essential to understand that food allergies and food sensitivities are different. Food sensitivity is a negative reaction in the digestive system due to food intolerance.

The uncomfortable experience after having certain foods, symptoms a food sensitivity. These symptoms may start to occur within a few hours of having food but will not prolong for a longer period. Signs of food sensitivity include −

  • Skin allergy.

  • Rashes in some areas.

  • Abdominal pain.

  • Gas with bloating.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Headache.

  • Vomitings.

Food Allergies

They are more severe than sensitivities. When your immune system overreacts to certain foods creating antibodies to attack, causing food allergies. At times, some people even might have life-risk reactions and these symptoms develop more rapidly.

Symptoms may include −

  • Eczema rashes.

  • Swelling of the skin.

  • Severe diarrhea.

  • Skin rashes with hives.

  • Wheezing.

  • Asthma.

  • Throat infection.

  • A dangerous reaction that may lead to unconsciousness is anaphsympylaxis.

It is important to visit a doctor if you experience any of these negative symptoms after consuming an MSG-containing food, for possible testing for food allergies.

What Foods Contain MSG?

It is a tough task to avoid foods with MSG as it naturally occurs in many foods particularly found in high doses in certain foods that are a rich source of proteins such as −

  • Fish.

  • Eggs.

  • Meat.

  • Cheese.

It also exists in some vegetables like −

  • Broccoli.

  • Mushrooms.

  • Tomatoes.

  • Capsicum.

With attention to packaged foods containing MSG as an additive, labelling is must when this compound is added as an ingredient. And should be listed as monosodium glutamate for a clear understanding. There are a few items to avoid that contain added MSG like −

  • Deep frozen foods.

  • Canned stocks like chicken stock and meat-based foods.

  • Spice mixes.

  • Dry soups and pork extract.

  • Hydrolysed wheat protein.

  • Sauces and sausages.

  • Salad dressings.

  • Processed foods.

What Are the Intact Levels?

According to the Food and Drug Administration, larger doses of MSG without food can cause symptoms in humans. Consuming more than 3 grams may affect your health.

However, MSGs found in restaurants or grocery foods may harm if exceeds. FDA recommends the typical MSG level in serving food should be 0 to 0.5 grams.


Avoiding foods causing food intolerance or allergy is the first towards treatment. Take proper skin and blood tests to confirm any sensitivities or allergies to foods before making any compelling dietary changes.

Serious symptoms may require emergency treatment like hospitalization or in the form of a shot of epinephrine. Also, your doctor may recommend a special food dietary with non-MSG foods.

Severe Symptoms can include −

  • Heart palpitations.

  • Chest pain.

  • Unconsciousness.

  • Breathlessness.

The Base Line

Mono Sodium Glutamate is a naturally occurring substance in some foods, since it is not labelled as a true allergen, it may cause allergy-like symptoms but that is purely due to sensitivity.

We can treat these symptoms provided with more knowledge about food sensitivities and food allergies.

Previously it was a belief that MSG could cause allergies in some people. While it is a myth. Some clinical studies have negotiated potential negative reactions from MSG, but they cause sensitivity in some people but not allergic reactions. So, the studies declare the overall existence of an MSG allergy is a myth.

Regardless of concerns, no research has shown MSG to trigger allergy symptoms and it failed to demonstrate the relationship between MSG and the immune system.

So, if you experience any unusual symptoms after consuming foods with MSGs. Consult any healthcare professional for possible testing aids to diagnose any suspected sensitivities to MSG.

Updated on: 24-Feb-2023


Kickstart Your Career

Get certified by completing the course

Get Started