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 illness often trigger a long and difficult round of migraine attacks.  Not wanting to be an alarmist, I went straight to the source. I found a list of all available flu vaccines at the CDC1 which confirmed that at least one brand, FluMist, does contain MSG.  If MSG is a trigger, you might want to talk to your doctor about using one of the other brands.

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.

Definite sources of MSG

AjinomotoAny “hydrolyzed protein”Anything with “enzymes”
Anything containing “protease”Anything “enzyme modified”Anything “fermented”
Anything “hydrolyzed”Anything “protein fortified”Anything “protein”
Autolyzed yeastCalcium caseinateCalcium glutamate
GelatinGlutamateGlutamic acid
Malt extractsMaltodextrinMagnesium glutamate
Monoammonium glutamateMonopotassium glutamateMonosodium glutamate
Natrium glutamatePotassium aspartatePotassium citrate
Potassium glutamateSmoke flavoringSodium caseinate
Soy proteinSoy protein concentrateSoy protein isolate
Soy sauceSoy sauce extractTextured protein
Torula yeastUmamiVetsin
Whey proteinWhey protein concentrateWhey protein isolate
Yeast extractYeast foodYeast nutrient


Use Caution:

Any “flavors” or “flavoring”Anything “ultra-pasteurized”Barley malt
Bouillon and brothBrewer’s yeastCarrageenan
Citric acid, CitrateMalt extractMalted barley
MaltodextrinNatural flavorOligodextrin


Suspicious foods and ingredients:

Annattoanything “enriched”anything “pasteurized”
anything “vitamin enriched”Balsamic vinegarBrown rice syrup
Corn starchCorn syrupDextrose
Lipolyzed butter fatMilk powderModified food starch
 “low fat” or “no fat”Reduced fat milkVinegar


Special Notes

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 Bendaryl 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



Artificial sweetener ingredients to watch for

Acesulfame potassiumAlitameAspartame
Aspartic acidCyclamateErythritol
SucraloseNeohesperidine dihydrochalcone

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