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Aug 26, 2005 09:38 AM

sensitivity to msg

  • m

i'm hoping some hounds may be knowledgeable on this.

i've noticed that whenever i eat spicier nacho doritos (thankfully just a once a year craving), i get a low-grade headache that begins about 2 hours later and lasts for 12-24 hours.

i checked the ingredients, and noticed that monosodiumglutamate is fairly high on the list. i'm wondering if this could be the cause, as i know that some people are sensitive to it.

msg is not something that i've had a problem with before (to my knowledge). i generally do avoid it in packaged foods, but only as a secondary factor. if choosing between two condiments, for instance, if sodium levels are on par and one has msg, i will purchase the one without. but if the one with has a lower sodium content, then i'll buy it. i also have never had any issue with any asian cuisines, which i understand in commercial preparations often feature msg. i can't believe that with the number of times i've gorged myself at asian restaurants that i've managed to avoid msg every time.

various milk products were also listed on the label, but i regularly consume cow juice in all of it's various permutations without ill effect.

maltodextrin was the only other abundant thing listed that i was unfamiliar with. i googled it along with msg, but found little info on it. it looks to be a complex sugar, but i found no side effect type data. unfortunately, as i use very few prepackaged convenience foods of this type, i've never taken the time to really familiarize myself with the various ingredients.

i even considered that it might be a tmj type effect, but i have no problems eating either of the two brands of plain tortilla chips i use regularly (santitas and snyder's reduced fat, both of which, i should add, have much shorter, less artificial, more comprehensible ingredient lists). nor do i have issues with any dense, chewy foods (think bagels) that really give the jaw a workout.

my main question is, does anyone know if msg has a critical mass? i'm ashamed to admit, but when i eat these things, it's usually during a football game, and i am prone to munching my way through most of the bag. if i control my urges and just eat the serving size, i don't notice any problem.

any info/insight would be appreciated. i will continue to work my way through the google results, but thought i'd ask here as well.

for the time being i will avoid these chips. shouldn't be too hard as i've already satisified my annual craving.


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  1. Oooh, the MSG threads...

    There have been many in the past on these boards; I link to one below just as an example.

    Bottom line: it's hard to tell definitively across people. But you can find a lot of people willing to argue on either side of this this until they are blue in the face.


    3 Replies
    1. re: Karl S.

      just to clarify, i'm not looking to argue the merits of msg one way or the other. i'm just looking for some additional info, specifically whether it's a critical mass type thing. i just find my reaction interesting since it's very specific to one food (if i may loosely apply the term to doritos). i'm also curious as to whether i missed something other than the msg in the ingredients that might be the cause (it does have quite a few dyes/colorings in it which are not part of my normal diet).

      thanks for the link, one of the respondents there noted the exact same symptom, and it's association with quantity.

      my guess at this point is that it is related to amount, and that this is the one time that i get enough to push me past my tolerance.

      1. re: mark

        I eat almost purely organic food and have tried to stay away from refined, chemicals that are iffy, etc. Not long ago we went to a chinese restaurant that loaded their food with MSG - it was super salty, but I didn't realize at the time that that was a clue.

        By the end of the meal I had a horrible headache, my mouth felt gross, I felt bloated and just gross. I had no idea what was happening. My husband felt similar. I knew I never wanted to feel this way again. He did a google search and found that the saltiness of the food, and the headache and bloating were good pointers to MSG.

        I never thought I had to, but now I double-check before eating something. I never want to feel that way again!

        1. re: krissywats

          Not to re-open all that old stuff, but MSG isn't salty. If the food you ate was salty, it was because of salt. MSG provides umami, which is usually tasted as a sensation of full-flavoredness, or sometimes described as "broth-like". It is the fifth taste - and there has been definitive proof of Glutamate having it's own ion-channel reactions from taste receptor cells, so interpreting it as a fifth taste (with sweet, salty, bitter, and sour) is proving to be correct.

          That doesn't preclude any reaction you may have had to MSG. Too much of anything is bad - both in flavor and for your health. Perhaps it was to the overall Sodium levels from both the salt and the MSG.

    2. Yes, I think it depends on how much you must have eaten just enough to exceed your body's msg tolerance. I get the same reaction if I get too much msg...except the headache usually lasts 3 days.

      1. Not much to add to the previous MSG thread that Karl S helpfully linked. My mother is Japanese and she used a lot of MSG which we knew as 'aji no moto', the 'base of flavor'. The flavor is meant to imitate Kombu, a large flat seaweed used as base in stocks, sauces, etc. MSG did always make us thirsty, particularly after a bowl of Japanese curry, and headaches are often a symptom of dehydration. Perhaps this is the connection.

        1. have you eaten spicier nacho doritos again to reproduce the headache? then you can know it's because of the chips.

          1 Reply
          1. re: scientist

            i don't eat them often (once or twice per year), but i noticed what i thought was a connection a few years ago, and paid special attention the last 2 times. i definitely get a headache after eating these, and it does not occur with any other food.

          2. MSG is so many places - have you considered that it might be a salt thing, and/or a blood pressure thing?

            1 Reply
            1. re: Wayne Keyser

              my blood pressure is very low, and the headache occurs only in conjunction with this one food.

              could be salt related. i generally strive for a low-sodium diet (i add little or no salt when i prepare food & purchase products with low sodium content). that said, i love salt bagels and have no reaction when i eat them. i also see no effect when i eat sodium laden food, like nachos or stir-fry. maybe i'm getting a super-high dose of sodium when i eat these chips.

              out of curiousity, i went through the pantry & frig this weekend. many of the items in my kitchen have msg, but they are usually condiments and such that get used in fairly low amounts. i have no problem when eating any of them. as i noted in my original post, though, i'm prone to eating a lot of the chips when i do eat them. that's why i'm wondering if it's a critical mass type of thing.