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Migraine Triggers: How Do I Locate Hidden MSG Migraine Triggers?

Con’t from Part I…

Recently food companies have begun to come to the realization that consumers are becoming more label savvy. To their credit Migraine patients are reading labels and understanding them!

With 37 million Migraineurs in the US reading labels and trying to stay away from MSG and glutamates, this poses a problem for companies who want to make a profit by adding the compound to their products. As a result some companies have hired specialists to “clean up” their product labels. They take pride in this and often will proclaim their “clean” labels to the public. Many will announce “NO ADDED MSG”. In reality the MSG has not been removed from these food products at all, just from the label. Here are a few of the ways Glutamate may be found on a food label:

These ALWAYS contain free Glutamate:

  • Ajinomoto
  • Amino Acids
  • Anything with the word ‘hydrolyzed’ including hydrolyzed protein
  • Anything “… protein”
  • Autolyzed Yeast
  • Calcium Glutamate
  • Calcium Caseinate
  • Gelatin
  • Glutamic Acid
  • Glutamate
  • Hydrolyzed corn gluten
  • Kombu extract
  • Magnesium Glutamate
  • Monoammonium Glutamate
  • Monopotassium Glutamate
  • MSG
  • Natrium Glutamate
  • Natural flavors (may contain up to 20% MSG)
  • Seaweed
  • Sodium Caseinate
  • Soy Protein
  • Soy Protein Concentrate
  • Soy Protein Isolate
  • Textured Protein
  • Umami
  • Whey Protein
  • Whey Protein Concentrate
  • Whey Protein Isolate
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Vari-Vox chicken pox vaccine
  • Vetsin
  • Yeast Extract
  • Yeast Food
  • Yeast Nutrient

Glutamic acid that is found in unprocessed or unadulterated protein is bound and therefore safe. Things that often contain free glutamate, or free glutamate is created in their processing procedures include:

  • Anything “enzyme modified”
  • Anything fermented
  • Anything “protein fortified”
  • Anything labeled “ultra pasteurized”
  • Aspartame
  • Barley malt
  • Carrageenan
  • Citric Acid
  • Citrate
  • Boullion
  • Broth (not from scratch under controlled circumstances)
  • Dough conditioners
  • Enzymes
  • Flavors
  • Flavoring
  • Guar Gum
  • Locust Bean Gum
  • Malt Extract
  • Malted Barley
  • Maltodextrin
  • Mushrooms
  • Pectin
  • Protease
  • Sea Salt
  • Seasonings
  • Soy sauce
  • Soy sauce extract
  • Soy protein
  • Stock (not from scratch under controlled circumstances)
  • Wheat protein
  • Xanthan Gum

Highly sensitive people may find that these ingredients contain enough free glutamic acid to cause reactions:

  • Anything enriched
  • Beet Juice
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Corn starch
  • Corn Syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Lipolyzed Butter Fat
  • Milk Powder
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Overripe tomatoes
  • Reduced fat or skim milk
  • Rice Syrup
  • Things labeled “low fat”
  • Things labeled “no fat”

Ammonia is metabolized in the body into free glutamates. Ammonia is being added to meat products and does not have to be labeled.

Some ingredients were designed to work synergistically with MSG, so if you see them mentioned, MSG is almost always present:

  • Disodium 5 —Guanalate
  • Disodium 5 —Inosinate
  • Disodium 5 —ribonucleotides

Many wise consumers make the decision to contact companies to specifically ask about the MSG content of their food items. This is a mistake. Food companies will only tell you about monosodium glutamate that has been added to their product, not free glutamic acids which act the same in your body as MSG when eaten. Additionally, since some free glutamic acids are produced during the making of the product, these will not be included in their answer to you. Instead, ask the company for a copy of their “free amino acid assay” for the true content of free glutamic acid.

Here is a link that lists many common foods and products that contain MSG — including fast food and other restaurants.

Because MSG and free glutamic acid is found readily in nature, it is considered “natural”. Being natural does not however mean safe, so beware! Even cyanide and lead are natural, but ingesting them can result in terrible damage or death.

Glutamic Acid opens calcium channels. Many Migraineurs take preventive medications called Calcium Channel Blockers to help keep attacks from happening. For those who are very sensitive to MSG and free glutamates, Calcium Channel Blockers are often effective as preventives.

Migraine patients who have sustained physical trauma to their brains, may have an altered brain blood barrier (BBB). The BBB helps to keep unwanted toxins etc away from the brain, but when an injury occurs, this BBB may be disrupted, allowing even more MSG to enter the brain and act as a trigger. The altered BBB may be one reason so many of our soldiers coming home are doing so with Migraine Disease as a legacy of their service to our country.

It’s sad to me that MSG and its active component Free Glutamic Acid are being routinely hidden in our day to day lives. If it is indeed “all natural” and has no side effects, then why do they feel the need to hide it from those purchasing their products? Hmmm…

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


  • Nancy Harris Bonk moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi elli,

    Thanks! I did want to mention the thing about MSG is not everyone is triggered by it. In fact, many people with migraine disease do not have any food triggers. This is part of the reason treating migraine disease can be so difficult; we all are so very different!!

    Be well,

  • elli
    2 years ago

    Hi Nancy Harris thanks for your response, yes it is precisely this article i was reading and the type of article which has helped me so much in identifying the cause
    I advice all of you to avoid ANY processed foods at all and cook it all from scratch, if you are like me, your migraines will go away immediately.
    also, your intestinal track should be cleaned up so take some colon cleanse to get it all out but no laxatives. that should start you on the way to health!
    i got some amazing recipes for you to share that help repair your brain cause msg will damage your brain

  • Diane
    5 years ago

    When I see a chronic migraine sufferer who can do all that Ellen does I get even more depressed. With my chronic migraines I can hardly lift my head.

  • Livvy
    5 years ago

    I don’t understand the poll, sorry. On my email it has boxes as if you are voting but the numbers on the poll don’t change. Or is it already closed and the check boxes on the email are just a gimmick/design thing? Because I’ve spent several minutes trying to vote. And btw my answer was yes. MSG and any form of it makes me extremely ill. I knew someone who ran a pub in Wales (I didn’t know him at all well, just extended family) but he marketed himself as a gourmet chef but when I asked was disconcerted when he slyly said yes he added MSG to keep customers coming back. Pretty disgusting if you ask me. And I’m afraid he saw it in my eyes and the way I didn’t eat my food really after that.

  • Melanie
    7 years ago

    Hi, I am a seventeen year old girl working on my Girl Scout Gold Award. I have suffered from migraines since I was five years old. My doctor put me on a restrictive diet slowly adding ingredients back in until we found that the trigger of my migraines was MSG. I have been on a MSG free diet ever since. I will still get migraines from stress, lights, weather and lack of sleep too but the quantity of migraines has dramatically decreased since my diet has changed. A part of my Gold Award is writing to companies requesting for removal of MSG from their products. I am also raising awareness about people with migraines and the correlation it has with MSG. I was glad I saw this blog because I want to get the word out about MSG. Many people do not realize how many foods MSG is in. Thanks for the blog!

  • beniceshaw
    7 years ago

    Here I thought I was avoiding all the gluten free foods and MSG containing foods!! Now I really am going to have trouble finding anything to eat that isn’t made by my own hands or my husband’s. I could get mad but what would be the point. As a diabetic and a celiac my diet is strict enough. Sometimes I wonder why I am not a thin person given all the restrictions on what I can eat. 😉

  • Ellen Schnakenberg author
    7 years ago

    The real perspective is to look at how little of our food we actually make ourselves anymore. You’re right though – in order to know what’s going in it, we need to actually buy the ingredients and make it. This used to be an everyday activity, which I propose we Migraineurs need to re-adopt. More difficult than opening a box – sure. Healthier – Ummhummm. Less likely to trigger a Migraine – You betcha!

  • Kris Sutton O'Shea
    8 years ago

    Would love to educate the restaurant industry about this. I think most restaurants sincerely think they are not serving MSG. If they were educated that MSG is in these ingredients, many would change their ways (obviously many wouldn’t care, also). Are there any campaigns being done to educate restaurants about hidden MSG? I would like to be a part of that.

  • Christina the Bookworm
    9 years ago

    Please help! I have been having trouble with processed food for years. I know MSG was one of the culprits, knew many of the names but did not how extensive the list was. I have recently had to switch to a gluten-free diet and am looking at all the home-made recipes. They all include xanthan gum and guar gum as necessary ingredients. Am I really going to have to choose between starving or my head hurting?

  • William Cooper
    6 years ago

    Use Flax seed meal. A little goes a long way. Has great binding properties in GF baking. I never tried chia but Ive heard it’s good as well. I have MSG migraines too. I’ve found that if I stick to homemade foods, no soy, no seasoned chips, processed meat etc. I can eliminate most headaches(not the barometric pressure ones) I do cheat, Parmesan cheese, chocolate and sometimes I pay for it.
    Hope you still read this thread.

  • Amy Hines Narron
    9 years ago

    So what *can* we eat? :-/

  • Melissa Pierre
    8 years ago

    Ellen, where can we find this section. I am REALLY looking foward to this. Thanks!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    9 years ago

    Amy, we are starting a special section soon on migraine friendly recipes for us. YAY!

  • Louise M. Houle
    9 years ago

    I have gone on “headache” diets before, eliminating potential triggering “-amines” like tyramine, histamine… and thought I was avoiding all possible migraine food triggers. But this list adds a whole other layer of possibilities. So even my enriched rice milk or the sea salt I put on food could be triggers? Yikes. Well, if I try a (stricter) migraine diet again, I’m definitely going to lose weight this time around 🙂

  • Louise M. Houle
    9 years ago

    Makes a lot of sense. Most of the headache diets on the Net though are long lists of what to avoid. If you see any good ones suggesting what to eat – anyone – please post. Be well…

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    9 years ago

    Louise, it is so hard to avoid all the potential triggers in our “modern” diet. I have actually talked to several people who have had good luck with a more paleolithic diet. Sometimes following a diet is easier than trying to eliminate the bad things – if that makes sense… (tell me what to eat, not what NOT to eat)

  • Lisa Laverdiere Barrieault
    9 years ago

    This would explain why when I switched to soy to see if I was lactose intolerant it made everything else worse 🙁

  • Cathleen MacPhee
    8 years ago

    That would be really helpful if I wasn’t allergic to almonds. 🙁
    Rice milk? Coconut milk perhaps? Anyone know if those ones are on the lists of things to avoid?

  • Laurie Ellen French
    9 years ago


  • Laurie Ellen French
    9 years ago is BAD BAD BAD BAD BAD Try almond milke

  • Angela Reisinger
    9 years ago

    very helpful… I have been to neurologists who have told me less.

  • Elzabeth Wheelock
    9 years ago

    Wow, this very useful information! It’s a shame thathese companies get away with what their doing!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    9 years ago

    Elizabeth, Be sure not to miss Part 1 where we talk about why they are allowed to do this

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