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Migraine Triggers: MSG — Untangling this Hidden Migraine Trigger

Despite claims of safety and origins in nature, headache specialists have long known that MSG can be a significant trigger problem in Migraineurs. This means that exposure to MSG and free glutamates may set the stage for a Migraine attack. Most headache specialists will recommend an MSG free diet, yet many of them fail to educate patients on how to accomplish it.

MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate. It was discovered in 1907 when Professor Kikunae Ikeda found that there were five tastes that the tongue readily recognizes — sweet, sour, bitter, salty and… he called this fifth taste Umami.

Because it is considered a ‘natural’ substance, it does not have to appear on food labels. If it does appear on food labels, it frequently is hidden on those labels under one of its many pseudonymns or origins. Sometimes certain foods are processed in a special way that is intended to free the glutamate. When glutamate is freed during processing it is then able to cause problems for those sensitive to MSG. Products that have been processed with the purpose of freeing the glutamic acid (basically turning it into MSG) do not have to be labeled.


Glutamates and MSG are considered components of food, not ingredients. Only ingredients are required to be added to labels.

Glutamate and MSG are frequently found in more than just food. They can also frequently be found in soda, energy and sports drinks, sunscreen and bug sprays, cosmetics, medications, vaccinations, shampoo and conditioners, etc.

Glutamate is the business end of the MSG compound and the part that Migraineurs need to be most concerned about.

Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter and is known to be one of the most prevalent neurotransmitters in the body. This article will help you to understand neurotransmitters and their importance to Migraineurs.

MSG and glutamate are very cheap to add to products, therefore extremely popular.

MSG was approved in 1998 to be used as a “growth enhancing” or fertilizer spray on vegetables fruits and grains still growing in the field. These products are not required to be labeled and are approved for use on all agricultural products .

Glutamate reacts within the hypothalamus of the brain and makes you want to eat more. Most people do not know that MSG is the substance given to rats and mice in the laboratory to make them obese so researchers can complete studies on obese related diseases. MSG is often included in products as a salt substitute because of its savory flavor. It is often included in diet food because it alters the brain’s chemistry and gives the person eating it a sense of satisfaction.

Glutamate has been shown to impair or destroy certain brain receptors, and this damage is cumulative.

Next: Part II – How can I Find MSG in the Products I’m Buying?

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.

Comments

  • Neil Maharajh
    7 years ago

    MSG is so dangerous, and yet its use is unregulated! Who is the FDA really protecting?

  • David Epstein
    8 years ago

    Very interesting. Thanks.

  • Latrecey Andersen
    8 years ago

    omg! this is good to know.

  • Elizete Varela
    8 years ago

    Thank you Migraine.com for helping me understand about migraine headaches. I suffer from them for so many years. I’m trying to eat more healthy to control my migraines. If you have more information on them please contact me. Thank you very much.

  • Louise M. Houle
    8 years ago

    For curious Canadians… here’s what Health Canada has to say about MSG http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/addit/msg_qa-qr-eng.php.

  • Janet Geddis
    8 years ago

    Can’t wait til part 2! (If it’s already been posted & I missed it, please let me know.) This article is so incredibly helpful. Thanks, Ellen. Even restaurants that claim their food is “MSG-free” may still have food that I can’t tolerate due to the nonlabeled glutamates.

  • Janet Geddis
    8 years ago

    Thank you! Just in time for dinner, too. 🙂

  • Migraine.com
    8 years ago
  • Linda Dunn
    8 years ago

    My daughter get major major migraines. Can any of you tell me what you take or do for yours? We need HELP!

  • Lesley Shawcross
    8 years ago

    Clonidine as preventative and paramax and sumatriptan for pain

  • Melinda Boumans
    8 years ago

    Very interesting. MSG (in its many guises–natural flavoring, autolyzed yeast extract) is a definite no-no for me, but I’ve been on the fence about food naturally high in glutamate like mushrooms and sea vegetables. Have you come across any info on naturally-occurring, unenhanced glutamate?

  • Michelle Desai
    8 years ago

    I LOVE Chinese food… But MSG is one of my major triggers! 🙁 now, I normally request the Chinese restaurant not to add MSG in the dishes & that Seems to work, to an extent, to avoid a migraine.

  • Christina Allen Gallmann
    8 years ago

    Interesting! I gave up drinking soda(and many other things) unable to figure out why it’s a trigger for me. I always wondered if it was the artificial coloring… Looking forward to Part II!

  • Tracey Hanna
    8 years ago

    I have a cousin who cannot ingest anything w/red dye. His son is the same way. Think of an AD/HD kid on sugar!! I cannot take anything that has caramel coating (vitamins, supplements, etc.) or I will get a migraine. Same with artificial sweeteners – those migraines send me to the hospital!!

  • Parin Stormlaughter
    8 years ago

    The elephant in the FDA room is that the FDA-accepted testing was to determine whether or not MSG triggered allergic reactions, which it does not; therefore, the FDA determined that MSG was safe.

    It makes absolutely no difference that MSG is not an allergen when every time, without fail, it triggers neurological symptoms, now does it?

    Not many worse food additives that MSG! It’s the bane of my existence. It’s found naturally in red meat and mushrooms – which are triggers for me – and stupid fast food joints are putting it in orange juice and milk shakes even! Orange juice from McDonald’s, triggering a migraine, when what I buy from Wal-mart does not!

    Bottom line: NOTHING should pass our own personal “Generally Recognized as Safe For Me” test unless we’ve done the exclusion testing for our own personal selves and know for sure that one thing or another does or does not trigger us. Take seriously when many, many people report the same item as being a trigger and don’t immediately dismiss it if it’s one of your favorites, for instance. If you consume artificial sweeteners and your migraine disease is not under control, that means something.

    WE MUST CREATE OUR OWN TRIGGER LISTS. And why reinvent the wheel? Start by removing MSG and other very similar things such as ultra-pasteurized milk (ultra-pasteurization creates a substance in milk that’s very similar to MSG). Google and read all the secret routes into our bodies utilized by Big Whatever for MSG and similar substances.

    As Teri Robert was told when she was diagnosed with migraine, “Congratulations. You’re an intellectual.” When we use our intellectual smarts, we come out ahead.

    Pardon the pun! 😀

  • Parin Stormlaughter
    8 years ago

    Doctors believe most people trigger their own migraine attacks by exposing themselves to triggers. What doctor is going to give a patient opioid pain medicine to help them get over a hangover?

  • Terry Burd
    8 years ago

    Then again, most doctors don’t understand what migraine really is. It’s not a freakin headache although it can cause them. This drives me crazy. So if most doctors don’t know the facts about migraine and most of the population knows even less, we can’t expect the FDA to care or really give a damn. And while I will acknowledge they have been beneficial for many things, they’ve ignored and brushed under the rug bigger issues than this for whatever agenda or lack of interest they have. Ok, rant done.

  • Terry Burd
    8 years ago

    There is a difference between allergies and intolerances, and not all reactions will be about allergies. You’d think the FDA would factor that in. The proof against MSG is beyond overwhelming. Others recognize it. This wouldn’t be the 1st time the FDA drops the ball. They need to pull their heads out of their asses.

  • Anne Fink
    8 years ago

    I have come to find over the years that glutamate is a huge trigger for me! Thanks for posting this article!

  • Laura Watson
    8 years ago

    I had a Chinese meal on Friday. Big mistake!

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    8 years ago

    One of my favorite restaurants is a Mongolian stir fry. The food is heavenly, but the Migraine I get afterward is one of the worst ever. I drive past that place every week and salivate, but there is NOT A CHANCE I will try it again any time soon!

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