Adverse Effects Associated with Monosodium Glutamate Consumption: A Brief Review



monosodium glutamate, adverse effects, monosodium glutamate symptom complex, Chinese restaurant syndrome


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a widely used flavour enhancer, first patented as a food additive in 1908. Although the compound has been recognized as safe for human consumption by regulatory bodies, there exist reports and a belief that consuming MSG can elicit a variety of symptoms, originally collectively referred to as “Chinese restaurant syndrome” due to MSG’s association with its frequent use in American-Chinese cuisine. In this work, the known biologic effects of glutamate, the active compound in MSG, are first briefly discussed, followed by a summary of existing literature on adverse effects of human consumption of MSG. Overall, based on the current state of evidence, it is argued in this work that although the constellation of symptoms now referred to as MSG symptom complex have not reliably been reproduced in controlled study environments and are thus often dismissed, some evidence exists that points to possible effects of MSG on human physiology, and gaps in the literature persist that warrant further study, such as better controlled studies involving MSG consumption with food.


Ambos, M., Leavitt, N. R., Marmorek, L. and Wolschina, S. B., 1968. Sin cib-syn: accent on glutamate. New England Journal of Medicine, 279(2), p.105.

Anon., 1968. Chinese restaurant syndrome. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 99(24), pp.1206-1207.

Baad-Hansen, L., Cairns, B., Ernberg, M. and Svensson, P., 2010. Effect of systemic monosodium glutamate (MSG) on headache and pericranial muscle sensitivity. Cephalalgia, 30(1), pp.68-76.

Cebi, N., Dogan, C. E., Olgun, E. O. and Sagdic, O., 2018. A survey of free glutamic acid in foods using a robust LC-MS/MS method. Food Chemistry, 248, pp.8-13.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1980. Evaluation of the health aspects of certain glutamates as food ingredients. Bethesda, MD: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 1995. Analysis of adverse effects to monosodium glutamate (MSG). Bethesda, MD: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.

Food Standards Australia New Zealand, 2003. Monosodium glutamate: a safety assessment. Canberra: Food Standards Australia New Zealand.

Geha, R. S., Beiser, A., Ren, C., Patterson, R., Greenberger, P. A., Grammer, L. C., Ditto, A. M., Harris, K. E., Shaughnessy, M. A., Yarnold, P. R., Corren, J. and Saxon, A., 2000. Multicenter, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multiple-challenge evaluation of reported reactions to monosodium glutamate. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. 106(5), pp.973-980.

He, K., Du, S., Xun, P., Sharma, S., Wang, H., Zhai, F. and Popkin, B., 2011. Consumption of monosodium glutamate in relation to incidence of overweight in Chinese adults: China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS). American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 93(6), pp.1328-1336.

Henry-Unaeze, H. N., 2017. Update on food safety of monosodium L-glutamate (MSG). Pathophysiology, 24, pp.243-249.

Kwok, R. H. M., 1968. Chinese-restaurant syndrome. New England Journal of Medicine, 278(14), p.796.

Rhodes, J., Titherley, A. C., Norman, J. A., Wood, R. and Lord, D. W., 1991. A survey of the monosodium glutamate content of foods and an estimation of the dietary intake of monosodium glutamate. Food Additives and Contaminants, 8(5), pp.663-672.

Sano, C., 2009. History of glutamate production. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), pp.728S-732S.

Schaumburg, H. H. and Byck, R., 1968. Sin cib-syn: accent on glutamate. New England Journal of Medicine, 279(2), p.105.

Shimada, A., Cairns, B. E., Vad, N., Ulriksen, K., Pedersen, A. M., Svensson, P. and Baad-Hansen, L., 2013. Headache and mechanical sensitization of human pericranial muscles after repeated intake of monosodium glutamate (MSG). Journal of Headache Pain, 14(1), p.2.

Shimada, A., Baad-Hansen, L., Castrillon, E., Ghafouri, B., Stensson, N., Gerdle, B., Ernberg, M, Cairns, B. and Svensson, P., 2015. Nutrition, 31(2), pp.315-323.

Shimada, A., Castrillon, E., Baad-Hansen, L., Ghafouri, B., Gerdle, B., Wåhlén, K, Ernberg, M., Cairns, B. E. and Svensson, P., 2016. European Journal of Pain, 20(9), pp.1502-1512.

World Health Organization, 1980. Evaluation of certain food additives and contaminants. Geneva: World Health Organization.

Yang, W. H., Drouin, M. A., Herbert, M., Mao, Y. and Karsh, J., 1997. The monosodium glutamate symptom complex: assessment in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, 99(6), pp.757-762.

Zhou, Y., Yang, M. and Dong, B., 2012. Monosodium glutamate avoidance for chronic asthma in adults and children. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, [e-journal].