Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) should always be considered a prime suspect when on the lookout for a food-related migraine trigger. With many studies claiming that a majority of migraines are triggered by food or food additives, its almost a given that MSG should be on your lookout list.
What is Monosodium Glutamate? MSG is a neurotoxin, a toxic substance used to fool the brain into telling your tastes buds that the food youre eating tastes better than it really does. Known as a flavor enhancement agent, the end result is that the food industry can use substandard ingredients and then kick up the taste a notch by adding MSG.
Okay, so MSG is another way that big business sticks it to the man. But how that does affect migraines? Frankly, no study has yet been conducted that certifiably links MSG to migraine development. However, several studies have been done linking certain foods to migraines and many foods that have been linked in a number of those studies have something in common: MSG consistently shows up studies validating direct-acting vasoactive substances as causing diet-related migraine headaches. Further adding fuel to the fire is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome. Chinese Restaurant Syndrome is a collection of symptoms that people experience within thirty minutes after eating at Chinese restaurants. Among these symptoms is migraines. What has this do with MSG? Chinese food is notorious for containing high levels of MSG and, in fact, it is theorized that the MSG content is the reason for people feeling hungry so quickly after finishing their meal at a Chinese restaurant.
The problem with MSG and migraines is that MSG is often hidden and is sometimes labeled under other names. Food processing companies are allowed to use different names for MSG so that those who know to avoid it often face an uphill battle when attempting to control their intake by reading labels.
When you see these products on a food label, you can be sure that it always contains MSG:
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Extract
Hydrolyzed Protein: (plant, vegetable, any kind)
Sodium or Calcium Caseinate
Yeast Food, Yeast Nutrient
When you see the following on a food label, it means they often contain MSG or create MSG during the processing:
- Natural flavor, flavoring, flavors (The Food & Drug Administration of the United States has defined all MSG as naturally-occurring, but natural and safe do not necessarily always go hand in hand)
Bouillon or Stock
Broth (chicken, beef, any kind)
Malt Extract or Flavoring, Malted Barley
Soy sauce, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate.
Whey protein, whey protein concentrate, whey protein isolate.
anything Protein fortified
Obviously, the first step in controlling the effects of MSG on your migraines is to begin limiting your intake of MSG. Except that you cant make that the first step because your first step has to be educating yourself about what kinds of food products this hidden MSG shows up in. You know that Chinese food is loaded with MSG, but did you know that sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade are also loaded with MSG? How about certain candies and gum? Those last two are especially difficult to study because their labels are usually written so minutely that even if you know what the words mean its difficult to read them correctly.
Here are a few simple rules that can generally be followed, though to be sure its always best to read the label carefully and educate yourself thoroughly.
Fresh fruits and veggies, steaks and roasts are usually safe to eat provided youve carefully cleansed or prepared them. Breads items and baked items often consist of autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, or some other covert MSG. When it come to migraines, MSG and bakeries the old saying caveat emptor applies; the buy should definitely beware. Bakery items filled with fruit normally contain MSG. Canned tunafish and salmon, etc. almost always contain MSG in some form. Lunchmeats are usually unsafe since nearly all deli meat contains MSG. Bacon and ham are nearly always going to be spiced up. Most salad dressings have MSG, though the gourmet brands typically are safe. Almost all canned or frozen soups have MSG.
An MSG-free diet is possible, but difficult. It takes work, but if your migraines are triggered by is, its work well worth it.