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Post dim-sum headache - Why? How can I avoid it in the future?

Yesterday, a fellow hound and I had dim sum at one of the well-known SF Bay Area places. We had an excellent meal at about 11 AM. Neither of us had had anything else to eat prior to this meal.

We ate a lot of food, and the food seemed to be of very high quality. We did probably eat more than we needed to, since we were quite stuffed when we left.

After dim sum, we did some shopping, and then had some frozen yogurt. Then we parted ways.....at about 3:00, I developed a headache, which persisted throughout the day. When I spoke to the fellow hound today, I found out that she too had a headache (a migraine, in fact) all afternoon and evening. She also told me that this has happened to her before - i.e. every time she eats at this particular restaurant, she ends up with a headache.

I did some research into topics like MSG, etc. and found some old chowhound posts....I am not posting this to re-hash old topics. What I am trying to do is piece together some of the factors that led to my headache....and then try to come up with some solutions that will allow me to continue eating dim sum here without having any headaches.

Here are some thoughts about what might have contributed to a headache. Perhaps it was a combination of things. Any thoughts on this?

A) MSG - We mostly ate pretty standard dim sum items. I wouldn't necessarily think they all would have MSG, but I don't know. I eat out a lot, at all kinds of restaurants, so I don't think I'm particularly sensitive to MSG. I probably eat it all the time, and I don't usually get headaches like this. So I don't think it's solely to blame.

B) Tyramines - Our meal would definitely have been high in tyramines, which may trigger headaches or migraines as well. This post talks about that topic: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5112...

C) High fat content of food

D) Over-eating

E) Lack of caffeine - both of us usually drink coffee (though I don't usually drink much). And we had chrysanthemum tea at dim sum.

So perhaps the simple answer to all of this is to just eat less at this restaurant, and have a cup of coffee before I go (or have jasmine tea). But I am curious to see if anyone has had similar experiences who might have some solutions. I certainly do not intend to give up dim sum.

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  1. Maybe it's as you suggest, it's actually a combination of all the factors you've listed. And more likely than not it was not one individual thing in isolation that caused your headache.

    1. Why don't you try to list out the dim sum that you had? May be a certain type of food caused your headache.

      My aunt has headache whenever she has soy-based product (tofu, soy milk, etc.). My mom is sensitive to MSG. So listing out the food that you had might help you to find out what food caused your headache (if any)

      1. Lack of caffeine is a common cause of headaches. I'm a two-cups-in-the-morning person and if I miss my morning fix I get a really wicked headache. In fact some "headache remedies" (I think Excederin) have caffeine as an ingredient since it will "fix" caffeine withdrawl headaches in a flash.

        1. The last (and only) time I had dim sum I got an awful migraine. I put it off as MSG sensitivity (before I get flamed, YES I cannot eat packaged soups, flavored snack chips, some aged cheeses and mushrooms, etc. - it's not in my head!)

          I've also gotten headaches from other MSG-free Asian foods with soy sauce, so I've deduced that I'm a little sensitive to tyramine as well.

          I'll guess your headache was a combo of things.

          1. i am dave mp's occasional partner in dim sum crime, and the other hound mentioned in his post.

            the weird thing is this appears to be a place-specific problem--we've only visited this dim sum restaurant twice, and both times i've developed stunningly horrible migraines afterward. caffeine is not the problem for me.

            both of us eat chinese food lots, and dim sum more than occasionally, and never get sick, so it seems like they're doing something at this restaurant that is unusual.

            i would say that the food at this restaurant seems very rich--and maybe they're adding more MSG than is typical?

            3 Replies
            1. re: pane

              It could be a combo of the high fat content (oil), sodium, and MSG that might be causing your headaches.

              Also, did you have chrysanthemum tea both times? Perhaps you have a sensitivity to that particular type of tea? Some say chrysanthemum tea has medicinal uses. So who knows.

              1. re: ipsedixit

                interesting thought, especially since chrysanthemum tea is often recommended to relieve headaches.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  It can be used to relieve headaches of a certain type. These headaches are usually accompanied by vertigo and stiff neck.

                  Chrysanthamum tea is a cooling drink, frequently drunk in the summertime to cool somebody down. In Oriental Medicine, eating/drinking a lot of cold things can engender a headache as the Stomach channel travels up to the head (hence the brain freeze I mention with eating ice cream down below). Cold blocks flow of energy, leading to pain.

            2. It could be a combo of anything you listed. In addition, the frozen yogurt could be a trigger as well. Ever heard of brain freeze?

              1. Testing has shown that consuming a hot liquid with a high concentration of MSG on an empty stomach can cause symptoms in a small number of people. Did you begin with soup?

                9 Replies
                1. re: almansa

                  ha! i love all these possibilities.
                  addressing each of our suspects:
                  chrysanthemum tea: i think we had it both times
                  frozen yogurt: debunked--a migraine is quite different than an ice freeze headache
                  soup: not ordered on either occasion

                  we had a bunch of types of dumplings, rice rolls with pork, dofu fa, and duck "burritos"

                  compared to the last time we visited, the only common dishes were the many types of dumplings

                  1. re: pane

                    Their extra 'richness' that you mentioned above probably came from an extra-free hand with the msg shaker.

                    1. re: pane

                      Mentioning the duck "burritos", I think I've figured out which dim sum palace you're talking about. I've mentioned that this spot uses more MSG than others, and that extra boost in flavor or richness is part of its popularity. Still, my recent visit detected less than in the past, but maybe it varies a bit. One other theory that I've heard that Dave might want to add to his list is the speed of eating. Some people at the dim sum table grab and wolf down their food much faster than they would eating a different style of Chinese meal and that might have some effect.

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        You know, if MSG really is the culprit, I wonder why there aren't more complaints when other cuisines (i.e., not dim sum) is involved.

                        I often find that Soon Du Boo has quite a bit of MSG (in addition to the miso), and rarely do people complain about adverse reactions from that dish.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I suspect the answer may be that, becuase people don't associate msg with cuisines other than chinese, they don't associate the headache or other reaction they get with what they ate, and therefore don't make the connection in order to complain about it.

                          1. re: susancinsf

                            The only other time I've had a similar reaction when it was non-asian cuisine was from food at this little falafel shop that opened near where I live. loved their falafel and had it for years at another location, loved it there too, but since they were close by we decided to branch out and try some other items. Every time I got their fattoush salad, which had heavily "seasoned" pita chips in it, I got that awful, pounding migraine like I used to get when I ate a lot of takeout chinese. I also got it when I ate their kabobs and yellow rice. But not the falafel. We experimented with not getting one, not getting the other, and basically when I ate anything from there but the falafel I got the migraine and stomach ache after eating. So we quit going because one falafel sandwich isn't enough for dinner for me, and eventually they closed up. I felt bad for them, but I couldn't eat there, it made me sick.

                            1. re: susancinsf

                              This made me think of something:

                              Dim sum is usually the first meal I eat in a day....I probably eat food with MSG for lunch and dinner a lot, but hardly ever for breakfast. I wonder if ingesting MSG (or other possible triggers) on an empty stomach or first-thing in the morning has anything to do with it.

                              1. re: Dave MP

                                N/a for me, I've only had meals like this for dinner.

                          2. re: Melanie Wong

                            Interesting thought regarding the speed of eating....I think we do eat pretty fast, and we ate a LOT. But I usually eat this much and this quickly at dim sum, and I don't get headaches every time I eat dim sum.

                            I have dim sum somewhat frequently, and I honestly can't remember if I had headaches the other two times I ate at this restaurant. This was my third time eating there, but I don't know if I had headaches the last two times.