Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

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This synopsis is provided without warranty as a free public service. The More Information link below article leads to the MedicineNet website.

First publicly described in 1968, some people who eat Chinese food with MSG (monosodium glutamate) experienced any number of severe reactions. Despite numerous anecdotal reports, CRS has not yet been scientifically proven.

MSG is a sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid that enhances the flavor of certain foods. It was first prepared in 1908 by Japanese biochemist Kikunae Ikeda, who was trying to isolate and duplicate the savory taste of kombu, an edible seaweed used as a base for many Japanese soups. MSG is now made by fermenting corn, potatoes and rice. The first published report of a reaction to MSG did not appear until monosodium glutamate was being made by bacterial fermentation, and the use of MSG in the United States had begun to escalate.

In the early 1970s, manufacturers of baby food voluntarily removed the MSG from their products, but replaced the monosodium glutamate with MSG-containing ingredients such as autolyzed yeast and hydrolyzed vegetable protein. In the late 1970s, manufacturers voluntarily removed all obvious MSG-containing ingredients from baby food, but not from infant formula. By the year 2009, MSG could be found in and/or on fresh fruits, nuts, grains, and vegetables. There was no food crop that we know of that had not been approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for treatment with MSG. —

Symptoms may include headache, throbbing of the head, dizziness, lightheadedness, a feeling of facial pressure, tightness of the jaw, burning or tingling sensations over parts of the body, chest pain, and back pain. Large amounts (+3g) of MSG may cause arterial dilatation (widening of arteries). Many Chinese do not believe in the existence of the Chinese restaurant syndrome. It may be a hypersensitive (allergic) reaction.

MSG and Umami: Variously described as "savory," "meaty" or "earthy," umami has come to be recognized as the fifth taste (in addition to sweet, salty, sour, and bitter). Glutamates such as MSG taste like umami — or more accurately (just as sugar is sweet and lemons are sour), glutamates are umami. In addition to its own distinctive taste, umami also has the property of enhancing other flavors by imparting a depth and fullness to them — in particular the salty and sour ones. —the spruce

Various Food Label Names for MSG

* Calcium Glutamate (E 623)
* Glutamate (E 620)
* Glutamic Acid (E 620)
* Magnesium Glutamate (E 625)
* Monoammonium Glutamate (E 624)
* Monopotassium Glutamate (E 622)
* Monosodium Glutamate (E 621)
* Natrium Glutamate

As one of the most abundant naturally occurring non-essential amino acids, MSG is present at high levels in tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. MSG is an important ingredient in the cuisines of China and Japan and is used commercially worldwide in many types of foods. In China, MSG is known as wei jing, which means flavor essence.

MSG is present in many of the items on the menu at fast-food restaurants, particularly the chicken items. Glutamic acid and glutamates enhance many other flavours, thereby reducing the amounts of salt added in a product. Hence, "reduced sodium" products will likely have more MSG. It is also added to many commercially packaged food products including:

* Bouillon cubes
* Brewer's yeast
* Canned soups
* Cold cuts and hot dogs, including soy-based (vegetarian) varieties
* Flavored (especially cheese-flavored) chips and crackers
* Gravy mixes or pre-made gravies
* Instant noodles
* Nutritional yeast
* Salad dressings
* Seasoned salt
* Soup and dip mix

Names of ingredients that always contain processed free glutamic acid:

* Ajinomoto
* Anything hydrolyzed
* Autolyzed Yeast
* Betsin
* Calcium Caseinate
* Gelatin
* Sodium Caseinate
* Soy Protein Isolate
* Textured Protein
* Vetsin
* Whey Protein Isolate
* Yeast Food
* Yeast Nutrient

Read: You’re Not Consuming The Foods You Think

It appears that foods and seasonings used by vegans are included in the MSG list. This is a controversial topic. To date, no MSG-containing product has been regulated by any agency of the US government. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given MSG its generally recognized as safe (GRAS) designation. Acquiescing to consumer demand, many restaurants carefully specify: "No MSG added. This does not indicate the absence of naturally occurring glutamic acid (MSG). Manufacturers use variations of the name. Practical advise is to stop consuming MSG products if you experience any of the symptoms listed and see a doctor for answers to personal questions.

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