MSG Allergy/Sensitivity

Table of Contents

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer. It’s added to many canned foods, Chinese foods, and processed meats. It also occurs naturally in some vegetables, fruits, and cheeses. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has deemed MSG safe when added to foods, but some people have reported showing allergy symptoms after consuming it.

Many doctors argue that an individual can be allergic to MSG because the “allergic response” is not IgE-mediated. IgE is an antibody that triggers an allergic reaction in the immune system. Since symptoms related to MSG do not involve the immune system, it cannot be called a true allergy.

Most doctors have ruled it a sensitivity instead of an allergy, much like a gluten sensitivity. The sensitivity has often been called ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ and ‘MSG Sensitivity Syndrome.’ Symptoms of an MSG sensitivity usually deal with the digestive system but can affect the skin as well.

MSG Sensitivity Symptoms

  • Bloating
  • Gas
  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Abdominal Pain
  • Tingling Skin

When consumed in large doses, MSG can cause severe digestive problems. However, the amount added to foods is usually not enough to cause any serious adverse reactions; but there have been reports of MSG causing asthma symptoms.

Diagnosing A MSG Sensitivity

The only accurate way to diagnose this sensitivity is through a food challenge. If you believe you have a sensitivity to MSG, it’s important to keep track of your symptoms. It’s helpful to keep a food journal and document everything you eat throughout the day. This will help the doctor determine what’s causing your symptoms.

During the food challenge, you will be given a small amount of food that contains MSG. Your allergist will monitor your reaction for positive results.

MSG Sensitivity Treatment

The best treatment for any sensitivity is avoidance; however, avoiding MSG is difficult as it naturally occurs in some foods and it is added to many others. It’s helpful to know exactly which foods contain MSG when dining out and cooking at home. Here is a list of foods to avoid to manage your MSG-sensitivity symptoms:

Potato Chips Cold Cuts Gravies
Some Dressings Potatoes Peas
Tomatoes Broths & canned soups Mushrooms
Grapes Parmesan & other cheeses Chinese Food

This is just a short list of foods that contain MSG. You should still read labels of all the products you consume. Most packaging will label ‘contains msg’ or ‘msg added.’

If you accidentally eat foods containing MSG, some over-the-counter medications can treat your digestive and skin symptoms. Check with your doctor to see which product will work best for you. An allergist can also prescribe an inhaler for breathing problems related to this sensitivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does MSG cause long-term health problems?

While there has been speculation of MSG causing health problems, there is no evidence to show that this is the case. The FDA has deemed MSG safe to consume.

Is MSG always labeled on the packaging?

If MSG is added to foods, then it is required for it to be labeled. For food that naturally contains MSG, it does not have to be labeled.

Does MSG contain gluten?

No, MSG does not contain gluten.

Does MSG contain less sodium than salt?

Yes, MSG contains less sodium than salt.


While MSG is not labeled as a true allergy, it can cause allergy-like symptoms. NY Allergy & Sinus Centers is here to help. We can treat these symptoms and provide more education about food allergies and sensitivities. Call (212) 686-448 to book an appointment with a board-certified allergist today!