MSG Sensitivity Symptoms

chemical sensitivity detoxification eczema salicylate sensitivity the eczema diet treatment

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MSG is a natural building block of proteins and when it’s not attached to protein it enhances the flavour of foods. However, consumption of MSG can cause a vast range of side-effects including eczema symptoms. The first medical reports on the adverse effects of MSG referred to it as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.

According to the American Nutrition Association, at least 25% of the U.S. population have adverse reactions to free glutamic acid, a source of MSG present in many packaged foods. Most people don’t know they’re sensitive to flavour enhancers and children are commonly affected. 

Research by Loblay and Swain from the RPA Hospital allergy unit (Sydney, Australia) found that more than 90% of people with eczema are sensitive to food chemicals and 35% have a worsening of eczema symptoms when they eat foods containing the additive MSG. However, all eczema sufferers can benefit from avoiding MSG for a while and here's why:  

Why is MSG bad for the skin?

Frequent consumption of MSG reduces stores of glutathione, an important antioxidant enzyme needed for liver detoxification of chemicals. Glutathione also keeps your skin looking young. When glutathione is reduced, Phase II liver detoxification reduces and this increases sensitivity to chemicals which can trigger eczema and other symptoms. Your skin can also appear drier and wrinkles can appear or increase in people with aged skin. According to the American Nutrition Association, here are the common signs and symptoms to look for:

TABLE 1: MSG Sensitivity Symptoms





Hives or rash

Red, blotchy rash around mouth

Mouth lesions

Temporary tightness or partial paralysis

Numbness or tingling of the skin


Burning sensations

Extreme dryness of the mouth

Facial pressure

Premature ageing of skin



Moodiness, irritability, Depression

Dizziness, light-headedness, loss of balance

Disorientation, mental confusion

Anxiety, panic attacks

Hyperactivity, ADHD, ADD

Behavioural problems in children

Lethargy, sleepiness, insomnia

Sleep disturbances, restlessness

Migraine headache

Seizures, Sciatica, Slurred speech



Arrhythmias, Angina

Extreme rise or drop in blood pressure

Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)



Flu-like achiness

Joint pain





Nausea, vomiting

Stomach cramps

Irritable bowel





Shortness of breath

Chest pain, tightness

Runny nose,




Swelling of prostate

Nocturia (excessive need to urinate at night)


Blurred vision,

Difficulty focusing

MSG and other flavour enhancers are often added to packaged soups, savoury biscuits and chicken salted foods. In the 1990s a new range of flavour enhancers including ribonucleotide and other MSG boosters were introduced, and adverse reactions increased in frequency due to higher intakes. A list of problematic flavour enhancers can be found on TABLE 3, below.

“How do I know if I am sensitive to MSG?”

After eating MSG-rich foods, if you or your child have a worsening of eczema or other symptoms (detailed in Table 1) then you may have MSG sensitivity. However it can be hard to tell as reactions can take 24-48 hours to appear. If you are unsure and want to determine if you are sensitive to it, avoid all MSG-rich products for about 4 weeks then reintroduce MSG food into your diet and see if there is an adverse reaction. If you would like a program to follow, The Eczema Diet can help you with MSG-free recipes and shopping lists.


TABLE 2: Products to Avoid

Sources of natural MSG

Sources of artificial flavour enhancers (all types)

fresh tomato

tomato ketchup, tomato paste

tomato-based pasta sauces

tomato juice, vegetable juices

fish paste, flavoured tuna

soy sauce and tamari

soy paste

all sauces

yeast extracts



spinach and silver beet

green peas (fresh)

grapes, raisins, sultanas



baked beans

miso, tempeh, kombu extract


parmesan and rocquefort cheese

hydrolysed vegetable protein

protein powders (glutamic acid)

alcoholic beverages: port, wine, rum, sherry, brandy and liqueur

soy sauce, BBQ sauce (all sauces)

flavoured chips/crisps and crackers

cheese-flavoured snacks and crisps

spicy flavoured snacks and crisps

rice crackers (even some plain varieties)

meat pastes

deli meats: i.e. devon, salami, sausages

some hams, deli sliced turkey/chicken

meat pies, party pies, chicken nuggets

seasoned or marinated meats

barbequed chicken

flavoured noodles

chicken-salted chips, chicken salt

ranch dressings

stock cubes

canned and packaged soups,

baked beans (ingredient “flavours”)


Vegemite, Marmite, Promite, Vegespread

many fast foods

traditional Chinese cooking

Seasonings: Ve-tsin, Accent, Gourmet Powder, Zest, Ajinomoto and Chinese 

(Source: American Nutrition Association)


Did you know?

Processed foods, such as rice crackers and some health food items that have a tick of approval for low sugar, salt and fat would be tasteless unless they have added flavour enhancer. Flavour enhancers help to sell products that would otherwise taste stale or bland. That’s why it’s important to check the label when buying packaged foods. Some companies claim “no added MSG” but they have similar forms of MSG which are listed in Table 3.


Keywords to look for when shopping for packaged foods:
Avoid: glutamate, monosodium glutamate, monopotassium glutamate, glutamic acid, calcium caseinate, gelatin, textured protein, hydrolyzed protein, HVP, yeast extract, yeast food, autolyzed yeast, yeast nutrient, HPP yeast extract, flavour enhancer.
These OFTEN contain MSG or create MSG during processing:Avoid: “flavours”, “flavouring”, natural flavour, natural pork flavouring, bouillon, natural beef flavoring, stock, natural chicken flavoring, broth, malt flavoring, barley malt, malt extract, “seasonings”, carrageenan, soy sauce, soy sauce extract, soy protein, soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate (protein powder), pectin, maltodextrin, whey protein, whey protein isolate, whey protein concentrate, anything protein fortified, protease, protease enzymes, enzymes, anything ultra-pasteurized, anything fermented. Also avoid ribonucleotide and numbers 620 to 635.


“What can I do about MSG sensitivity?”

Firstly, use a diet diary and record your symptoms. Eczema sufferers and those with MSG sensitivity can benefit by avoiding all MSG products for a period of 12 weeks, or more. This helps to restore glutathione enzyme levels and boost liver health, and your body can become more resilient to MSG-containing foods. Then you can slowly reintroduce natural sources into your diet (you may need to keep avoiding artificial MSG in packaged foods). Eczema sufferers usually need to avoid a range of chemicals and allergy foods, not just MSG, in order to prevent eczema but avoiding MSG is a good start.

Clinical studies show MSG-induced liver damage can be reversed with vitamin E and vitamin B6. Changing your diet to one that is low in food chemicals and rich in nutritious, liver restorative foods and nutrients can reduce multiple chemical sensitivity symptoms. Stage 2 of The Eczema Diet shows you how to slowly increase your intake of natural MSG and other chemical-containing foods and stay eczema-free.

Fischer, K., 2014, 'MSG Sensitivity Symptoms' edited extract from The Eczema Diet, Second edition, Exisle Publishing.  Photographer Rachael Scobie. 




MSG Facts

In 1908 a Japanese scientist discovered an active ingredient in seaweed could be used to greatly enhance the flavour of foods. Since then, the sodium salt monosodium glutamate (MSG, 621), isolated from glutamic acid in kombu, was used to flavour foods in Japan. The world-wide use of processed free glutamic acid soon exploded.

MSG is one of the most widely used food chemical additives in the world. Back in the 1960s, 262,000 tons of MSG was manufactured but today more than 800,000 tons are produced.

What is MSG?

MSG is a natural building block of proteins and when it’s not attached to protein it enhances the flavour of foods. However, consumption of MSG can cause a vast range of side-effects including eczema symptoms. The first medical reports on the adverse effects of MSG referred to it as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.

MSG is a flavour enhancer that is natural (for example, it is naturally present in tomato) and it’s also artificial with a nature-identical versions added to foods such as savoury biscuits, canned soups, meat marinades and seasonings.

How MSG affects the brain

According to the American Nutrition Association, manufactured free glutamic acid and other forms of MSG, including hydrolyzed vegetable proteins, are added to processed foods to mask ‘off’ flavours. MSG basically makes the blandest and cheapest foods taste good. How does it work? Glutamic acid is a neurotransmitter that excites neurons in our brain (not just in our tongues). This electrical charging of neurons is what makes MSG-laden foods taste wonderful. The next time you eat MSG-rich foods, notice how you feel a few seconds afterwards. Unfortunately, our brains have many receptors for glutamic acid and some areas, such as the hypothalamus, do not have an impermeable blood-brain barrier, so free glutamic acid from food sources can enter the brain and sometimes damage the brain and kill neurons, according to the American Nutrition Association.

Low doses of MSG can be problematic

American researchers tested how people react to MSG on an empty stomach (which is commonly when we eat). The subjects, who were mostly medical students and doctors, were fed soups with increasing doses of MSG and half of them reacted to low doses between 1.5 and 4 grams, and most of the remaining people reacted to doses between 5 and 12 grams, which are the amounts found in some packaged snack foods and takeaway meals. One 25 gram serve of protein powder contains about 4 gram of glutamic acid, which is a type of MSG.

Eczema, MSG and chemical sensitivity: the facts
  • More than 90% of people with eczema have chemical sensitivities and 35% of people with eczema have adverse reactions to MSG (research by Loblay and Swain, RPA Hospital in Sydney). 
  • In animal studies, MSG ingestion caused liver inflammation and significantly increased the size of the liver, promoting liver damage.
  • According to a Japanese study published in the Journal of Dermatology, consuming soy sauce*, fermented soybeans*, chocolate^, cheese^, coffee^ and yoghurt^ causes a worsening of eczema symptoms. After the avoidance of these foods for three months 100% of the participating eczema sufferers had reduced eczema symptoms. (*Products containing MSG, ^Products containing other problematic food chemicals)
  • 36 healthy people were fed increasing doses of MSG and everyone suffered various adverse symptoms including burning sensations, irregular heartbeat and headaches. Some of the participants had adverse reactions to as little as 3 grams of MSG while others could tolerate up to 21 grams before they experienced unpleasant side-effects.

Fischer, K., 2014, ‘MSG Facts', from



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References: Fischer, K., 2014, The Eczema Diet, Second Edition, Chapter 2;  Uenishi, T., Sugiura, H. and Uehara, M., 2003, ‘Role of foods in irregular aggravation of atopic dermatitis’, Journal of Dermatology;  Onyema, O.O., et al., 2006, ‘Effect of vitamin E on monosodium glutamate induced hepatotoxicity and oxidative stress in rats’, Indian Journal of Biochemistry and Biophysics;   Nakanishi, Y., et al, 2008, ‘Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia’, Journal of Autoimmunity;   Schaumburg, et. al., 1969, ‘Monosodium l-Glutamate: its pharmacology and role in Chinese restaurant syndrome’, Science;   Food Intolerance Network, ‘621 MSG, MSG boosters, flavour enhancers and natural glutamates’;   Stevenson DD, 2000, ‘Monosodium glutamate and asthma’, Journal of Nutrition;   American Nutrition Association, ‘Free Glutamic Acid, Sources and Dangers’,


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