This fact sheet addresses the myths about MSG side effects and safety by explaining the facts based on extensive scientific research.

Glutamate was first identified more than 100 years ago and monosodium glutamate (known as MSG, or umami seasoning) has been used for more than a century to enhance and balance the savory taste of food. Despite its widespread use and many benefits, consumer misunderstanding about MSG is quite common, with many myths about MSG being perpetuated on the Internet in recent years.

Myth: MSG causes allergic reactions.

Fact: Glutamate is among the most common amino acids (building blocks of protein in our food and bodies) in nature. It is a natural flavor enhancer, and is prevalent in foods like mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and tomatoes. The glutamate in MSG seasoning and the glutamate in many foods we enjoy as part of our normal diets, like vegetables, cheese, fish and meat, is exactly the same and is treated by the body in exactly the same way no matter what the source. For this reason is it unlikely that people are sensitive to MSG.

Carefully designed research shows MSG does not allergic reactions. For example, a multicenter placebo-controlled study did not find any side effects when monosodium glutamate was given with food. Further, the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology has stated that MSG is not an allergen.

Read more facts about whether monosodium glutamate is responsible for allergies: MSG Health Impacts and Sensitivity.

Myth: MSG causes effects in the brain.

Fact: Numerous studies show that MSG does not have negative effects on the central nervous system of the brain. Even in one study where plasma glutamate was raised 10 times above normal, which never occurs in real life, none of the glutamate entered the brain. This shows the effectiveness of the brain in being able to exclude glutamate from entering the brain.

Also, MSG is a self-limiting ingredient. Once an appropriate amount of MSG has been added to foods, using more contributes little, if any, additional flavor. In fact, adding too much MSG, as a seasoning, can result in less palatability of the food to which it is added.

Myth: MSG causes headaches or migraines.

Fact: MSG does not trigger headaches. Some foods have been linked to migraines, but neither glutamate nor MSG has been shown to be a direct cause, even after extensive research with huge oral doses of glutamate.

Myth: MSG causes “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.

Fact: Decades of research have shown no scientific evidence of sensitivity to MSG. Studies have also found that most people who believe that they respond adversely to MSG, with symptoms that range from mild and transitory to more severe, do not have these reactions when evaluated in carefully controlled tests.

In fact, careful, double-blind clinical research shows no side effects of MSG among people who claim MSG sensitivity. The research shows that people who claim to suffer from Chinese Restaurant Syndrome simply cannot isolate glutamate as the cause and often find that it is a well-known allergen such as peanuts, shellfish or certain herbs, which is causing the reaction.

For more information, read this article by renowned pediatric nutritionist Dr. Keith Ayoob: MSG and the Placebo Effect.

Myth: MSG causes obesity.

Fact: Scientific research has shown that glutamate can be administered in very large doses to humans on a long-term basis with no ill effects. The consumption of MSG in the normal diet, even at very high amounts, does not raise plasma glutamate concentrations. This is because intestinal cells and liver cells metabolize almost all of the dietary glutamate as it is absorbed (they use it to make energy); the dietary glutamate never makes it into the body’s general circulation.

In one study, published in the British Journal of Nutrition (April 2010), researchers from the Jiangsu Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention assessed dietary glutamate intakes in almost 1,300 Chinese people. The researchers observed that over 5 years of study, there was no link between MSG consumption and weight gain, even in people with relatively high intakes of MSG.

Read about research showing how monosodium glutamate (umami seasoning) can help to curb appetite: Umami Could Help Curb Appetite.

Myth: MSG is high in sodium.

Fact: Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is a pure form of glutamate, joined with sodium. MSG has lower sodium content on a teaspoon-to-teaspoon basis than table salt, and it is often used to help enhance flavor in reduced-sodium foods. Replacing table salt with MSG will reduce the sodium content of recipes, as MSG contains one third of the amount of sodium.

For more information about the science related to MSG health effects and sensitivity:
Scientific Review Dismisses Link between Glutamate and Asthma.

S.Jinap and P. Hajeb; Glutamate. Its applications in food and contribution to health.; Appetite (2010), doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.05.002. Study Conclusion: “Despite a widespread belief that glutamate can elicit asthma, migraine headache and Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS), there are no consistent clinical data to support this claim. In addition, findings from the literature indicate that there is no consistent evidence to suggest that individuals may be uniquely sensitive to glutamate.”

For more information about the science evaluating an association between MSG and weight gain or obesity:
Scientific Study Shows No Link between MSG and obesity.

Shi Z, Luscombe-Marsh ND, Wittert GA, Yuan B, Dai Y, Pan X, Taylor AW.; Monosodium glutamate is not associated with obesity or a greater prevalence of weight gain over 5 years: findings from the Jiangsu Nutrition Study of Chinese adults; Br J Nutr.2010 Apr 7:1-7. Study Conclusion: “These findings indicate that when other food items or dietary patterns are accounted for, no association exists between MSG intake and weight gain.”

Confirmation of MSG’s Safety by Scientists and Government Agencies

Monosodium glutamate is approved by governments world-wide, including those in the US, Europe, Japan and other Asian countries, North and South America, Africa and Australia and New Zealand.