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Pho Attack

danna May 26, 2009 11:42 AM

I ate a nice bowl of Pho Tai about an hour ago. About the time I finished slurping it up, I felt this WEIRD sensation. Like my head was being compressed. From my collarbones, up my neck and into my temples, the strangest sensation. I was worried for a moment I would pass out, but it was not so much the lightheadedness of a vasovagal reaction, more like the increase in blood pressure and pounding head you get when you go anaerobic on a hot day. But that's not an exact description either.

I drove back to work, and was scared the whole time. I still feel the sensation, but it's slowly diminishing.

I eat Pho alot, but never in this particular restaurant before. I have never had any sort of MSG reaction, or any other food allergy or sensitivity (other than aspartame makes me vomit). I'm very healthy, with low/moderate blood pressure.

WHAT THE HECK???? Does this ring any bells with anyone? I love pho!!

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  1. k
    Kater RE: danna May 26, 2009 12:15 PM

    It really sounds like an msg reaction... I think that allergies and food reactions are frequently trumped up and taken too far but you may have experienced one. Remember that allergies can come on at any time. They can also happen once and then never again.

    On the other hand it may have nothing at all to do with the pho.

    Either way, do not stop eating pho!

    2 Replies
    1. re: Kater
      danna RE: Kater May 26, 2009 12:39 PM

      thanks. I am now about 2 hours post-pho and feel normal again.

      yeah, I don't want to give up pho either...maybe I'll have to treat it like wine next time...only partake when I have a designated driver!

      1. re: danna
        Paulustrious RE: danna May 26, 2009 01:39 PM

        To paraphrase the Scots...

        Danna fast yerself.

        (I am sure you can work it out.)

    2. danna RE: danna Mar 25, 2013 11:50 AM

      Well, it happened again. Almost 4 years later, and in a different restaurant. It's like all the muscles around my skull are being compressed. lips tingling just a bit.

      This happened again once in the intervening years, same restaurant as the first time. I stopped going there. I've had pho at other places many times since, no reaction.

      It's always pho...never any other food in asian restaurants. So is it MSG? Or could it be massive amounts of sodium? My bp last week was 104/70, so you'd think if it were sodium, it would kill people w/ high bp. Any ideas? Anybody?????

      3 Replies
      1. re: danna
        pinehurst RE: danna Mar 27, 2013 03:47 PM

        It does sound like MSG, between the tingling lips and the facial pressure.

        1. re: danna
          jgg13 RE: danna Jun 2, 2014 04:42 PM

          It is almost certainly *not* an MSG reaction as by and large they don't really exist

          There's likely some obscure ingredient that you have an allergy to.

          1. re: jgg13
            EatFoodGetMoney RE: jgg13 Jun 2, 2014 04:49 PM

            Nobody wants to hear that. They want something simple they can blame.

        2. t
          thimes RE: danna Mar 27, 2013 06:47 AM

          First, you should ask your doctor.

          But things to think about if it is a food reaction . . . .

          When you say you each Pho all the time - is this happening at the same restaurant? When you eat Pho at other restaurants are you fine?

          I would hate to have to cut out Pho - especially since most of the ingredients in Pho are in so many other dishes . . . .

          2 Replies
          1. re: thimes
            danna RE: thimes Mar 27, 2013 10:01 AM

            thanks. i don't understand why the posts are showing up out of order...but to try to clarify:

            This happened twice at the same restaurant several years ago. i stopped going there, have had Pho at various other restaurants w/out this occurance, until Monday, when I revived this thread. Monday's occurance was at an entirely different restuarant where I have had the Pho once previously.

            A quick google brings up the old "chinese restaurant syndrome" that people used to say was MSG, but has been supposedly "debunked". Maybe not....If it is MSG, and MSG is used like a seasoning....perhaps it's just a matter of an occasional heavy-hand with the MSG. ??? maybe? Anyway, i was hoping someone might have had a similar experience to share.

            1. re: danna
              jgg13 RE: danna Jun 2, 2014 04:47 PM

              I very occasionally have something like what you're describing, most of the time it happens at dim sum (although impossible to say more granularly than that).

              Obviously it's easy to point fingers at MSG but that's silly. I cook with MSG a lot in my home cooking, not to mention less controversial forms of glutamates (e.g. dried mushroom powder, fish sauce, worcester, etc), often layered heavily to build a strong umami presence. I can guarantee that if I had *any* sort of MSG sensitivity (which is a condition IMO is 99.9% incorrectly blamed) I'd know about it.

              My theory is that I have a mild allergy to something which tends to track with dim sum, or at least something which I tend to only eat as part of specific dim sum items.

          2. c
            Christnp RE: danna Mar 27, 2013 03:05 PM

            Some Pho restaurants use a powdered mix for the broth instead of making their own. Perhaps there is an ingredient in one of the powdered mixes that doesn't agree with you? Or an intermittent issue with the production/supplier of the mix?

            1. c
              crashinglightly RE: danna Jun 1, 2014 10:07 AM

              Just had a similar experience and was googling this to see if I'm crazy. I have eaten pho maybe twice before without incident. went to a place in Chinatown, Philly today...10 min into my pho it felt like my head was being squished and I might pass out. my heart was racing off the charts. it felt like the sensation I get when stung by a bee, I have a slight allergy. I chugged down a kirin and the heart race stopped but I still felt out of sorts and a bit sick to my stomach. I am prone to panic attacks so the heart race may have been an after symptom from the lightheadness and head in a vice feeling but idk. wondering if there is a certain spice or something only some places use that I may be hypersensitive to? I don't want to be scared of pho...

              3 Replies
              1. re: crashinglightly
                danna RE: crashinglightly Jun 12, 2014 06:24 PM

                I'm glad I noticed your post. Scary thing when it happens, huh? Glad you survived and if you figure out what it is, please post. I don't like being afraid of pho either!

                1. re: danna
                  The Dairy Queen RE: danna Jun 13, 2014 04:20 AM

                  Wow! I've never heard of this. How scary.

                  Have you ever asked a doctor?


                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                    Tripeler RE: The Dairy Queen Jun 13, 2014 07:03 AM

                    What could that event be called? Getting Pho'd Up? We must also remember that certain raw herbs including even ginger have strong effects that vary according to the person.

              2. Cheese Boy RE: danna Jun 14, 2014 11:20 AM

                Might be the MSG, salt, and sugar mix. Some places (not all) mix their MSG with additional salt, and sugar. You could have experienced that sugar *rush* or that sudden rise in BP (or even both). You'd have to ask the eatery if they "mix-a-lot".

                5 Replies
                1. re: Cheese Boy
                  jgg13 RE: Cheese Boy Jun 25, 2014 02:22 PM

                  Please point to a peer reviewed article in a legit journal that says that MSG causes any sort of reaction.

                  1. re: jgg13
                    Cheese Boy RE: jgg13 Jun 25, 2014 08:38 PM

                    I know what you're driving at jgg13, but researchers DO acknowledge that a small percentage of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. The "MSG symptom complex" (as its known) does exist.

                    1. re: Cheese Boy
                      jgg13 RE: Cheese Boy Jun 26, 2014 08:23 PM

                      "May" is key.

                      I don't doubt that some extremely small percentage of how population might have some sort of msg sensitivity. However, any person claiming this has upwards of a 100% chance of being full of bologna

                      1. re: jgg13
                        thimes RE: jgg13 Jun 26, 2014 08:28 PM

                        I love bologna.

                        1. re: thimes
                          LexiFirefly RE: thimes Jun 27, 2014 03:07 PM

                          And it's probably full of msg! :)

                2. lamb_da_calculus RE: danna Jun 25, 2014 10:18 PM

                  I had this happen way back around Christmas. Bowl of beef pho followed a few minutes later by compressing sensation around the eyes and racing heartbeat. I lay down in the dark and drank a couple of bottles of water and it was gone in a half hour, but it was bizarre when it happened.

                  I'm a lot more willing to blame salt than MSG. I salt my own cooking pretty lightly and eat out maybe once a month so pho is probably the saltiest thing I ate last year. I also don't eat much sugar outside of fruits and vegetables so that may have compounded it. Plus I've made dashi from kombu and bonito flakes plenty of times and I would think if I was allergic to MSG that would have done something too, but it's always been fine. I will point out that I salt dashi pretty lightly too, though.

                  Oddly enough I went on a pho-making binge back in March and made about 5 different versions and never had the experience again.

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: lamb_da_calculus
                    danna RE: lamb_da_calculus Jun 26, 2014 07:57 AM

                    wow. pretty weird that at least 3 people on this thread have had very similar, and quite ODD symptoms. Having your head feel compressed is fairly specific, unlike the typical vague stomach upset, headache, etc. You'd think someone would have figured it out by now.

                    I'm thinking the "unusual ingredient" + allergy/sensitivity theory may be the best one suggested here. Since it only happens (at least for me) with Pho, that seems to rule out salt and MSG as likely culprits, as they surely exist in other foods.

                    1. re: danna
                      PhilD RE: danna Jun 26, 2014 02:39 PM

                      Or three people have underlying medical conditions that have nothing to do with food and the symptoms were simply coincidental. This is simple statistics, three people out of the many who eat Pho will not be at all significant and can be simply by chance and for completely different reasons.

                      Put another way if a number of people have heart attacks in steak restaurants does that mean eating a steak initiates a heart attack?

                      1. re: PhilD
                        danna RE: PhilD Jun 26, 2014 02:53 PM

                        Well, let's ignore the other three , then.

                        I, personally, if I had a heart attack 3 times, each time immediately after finishing a steak, I would suspect steak did initiate my heart attack.

                        And as for the pho, I am a competitve endurance athlete with no underlying medical conditions. I DO tend to be have occasional sensitivities/allergies to stuff...examples are aspartame, psuedoephidrine, sunflower pollen, etc. Thus my feeling that there is some substance in the occasional bowl of pho that sets me off.

                        (i hope that didn't sound defensive, i really am interested in your furthur thoughts on the matter)

                        1. re: danna
                          PhilD RE: danna Jun 26, 2014 08:27 PM

                          I was referencing the three different people not your three episodes. Chances are they are all caused by different things.

                          It could be any number of reasons, if it's just Pho and just from certain places it's probably food related rather than a medical condition. But sensible to try and be certain - even the fittest of people drop dead as a result of an underlying hidden medical condition.

                          I am able to eat apple crumble. But once a chef through in some left over walnuts to make the crust more interesting - I am highly allergic to nuts so it was interesting. So hopefully random Pho issues are just an odd ingredient tossed in by a chef once in a while. If it was a common ingredient like MSG then it would be more frequent.

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