Hidden Sources of Dietary Triggers

We recently received a comment from one of our Facebook visitors informing us that this year’s influenza vaccine contains MSG. This is a pretty serious concern for migraineurs. On the one hand, no one wants the flu. It can be especially difficult for migraineurs because viral and bacterial illnesses often trigger a long and difficult round of migraine attacks. 

Is MSG in the flu shot?

Not wanting to be an alarmist, I went straight to the source. I found a list of all available flu vaccines at the CDC which confirmed that at least one brand, FluMist, does contain MSG.1 If MSG is a trigger, you might want to talk to your doctor about using one of the other brands.

Migraine triggers in medications

This is not the first time I have heard about medication containing potential migraine triggers. Even migraine medications sometimes contain triggers. For example, Zomig ZMT contains the artificial sweetener, mannitol3. For this reason, it is especially important to know your triggers and read all labels. Sometimes it’s not so easy though.  MSG can be listed by other names or it can be one of many ingredients within a labeled ingredient. If MSG is a trigger and you’re serious about trying to avoid it, you need to know all the ways that MSG can hide in foods2.

Sources of MSG

  • Ajinomoto
  • Any “hydrolyzed protein”
  • Anything with “enzymes”
  • Anything containing “protease”
  • Anything “enzyme modified”
  • Anything “fermented”
  • Anything “hydrolyzed”
  • Anything “protein fortified”
  • Anything “protein”
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Calcium glutamate
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Malt extracts
  • Maltodextrin
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Monoammonium glutamate
  • Monopotassium glutamate
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Potassium aspartate
  • Potassium citrate
  • Potassium glutamate
  • Smoke flavoring
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Soy protein
  • Soy protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Textured protein
  • Torula yeast
  • Umami
  • Vetsin
  • Whey protein
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Whey protein isolate
  • Yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Yeast nutrient

Proceed with caution

  • Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
  • Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
  • Barley malt
  • Bouillon and broth
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Carrageenan
  • Citric acid, Citrate
  • Malt extract
  • Malted barley
  • Maltodextrin
  • Natural flavor
  • Oligodextrin
  • Pectin
  • Seasonings
  • Stock

Suspicious foods and ingredients:

  • Annatto
  • Anything “enriched”
  • Anything “pasteurized”
  • Anything “vitamin enriched”
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Lipolyzed butter fat
  • Milk powder
  • Modified food starch
  • “Low fat” or “no fat”
  • Reduced-fat milk
  • Vinegar

Take into consideration

Citrate, aspartate, and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements. Binders and fillers in supplements and medications may contain MSG, too. If you are highly sensitive to MSG, you may also react to these ingredients. Also, disodium guanylate and disodium inosinate work with MSG. If they are disclosed, assume that some form of MSG is also in the food even if not labeled.

Counteracting MSG

If you suspect you have been exposed to MSG by accident, there are some things you can do to counteract its effects. Supplemental vitamin B6 can help reduce your reactivity to MSG. Both Benadryl and hydroxyzine can reduce the symptoms of an MSG reaction. Vitamin B6 and Benadryl are available over-the-counter. Hydroxyzine requires a doctor’s prescription. Please discuss these with your doctor before making any changes to your treatment regimen.

Sugar substitutes

If you are sensitive to MSG, you may also have problems with sugar-substitutes. This can be very difficult for those who must also watch their sugar intake. In that case, you are better off avoiding anything that isn’t naturally sweet.

Sugar-substitute brands

  • Equal
  • NutraSweet
  • Sweet-N-Low
  • Splenda

Artificial sweetener ingredients to watch for

  • Acesulfame potassium
  • Alitame
  • Aspartame
  • Aspartic acid
  • Cyclamate
  • Erythritol
  • Isomalt
  • Lactitol
  • L-cysteine
  • Maltitol
  • Mannitol
  • Xylitol
  • Neotame
  • Saccharin
  • Sorbitol
  • Sucralose
  • Neohesperidine dihydrochalcone

By providing your email address, you are agreeing to our privacy policy.

More on this topic

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Join the conversation

or create an account to comment.

Community Poll

Do you prefer reading stories from others with migraine or informational content on our site?