What Is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? Symptoms, Prevention, And When It's An Emergency

Lifestyle & Health

January 19, 2018 15:03 By Fabiosa

Have you ever experienced headaches, flushing, and sweating after eating at a Chinese restaurant? This phenomenon is called “Chinese restaurant syndrome”, which is thought to be caused by monosodium glutamate (MSG) that is often added to Chinese food to make its taste more intense. Some people may experience a more severe reaction, which is similar to anaphylaxis.

There have been no conclusive studies to prove that it’s MSG that causes symptoms some people get after eating Chinese food. The additive is on the FDA’s Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) list; it is the same list that includes sugar and salt. Monosodium glutamate is still in use, and the FDA requires products that contain MSG to be labeled as such.

Some people may be sensitive or hypersensitive to monosodium glutamate. If that’s the case for you, it’s best to avoid foods that contain the additive.

Symptoms of Chinese restaurant syndrome

Typical symptoms attributed to ingesting MSG that some people experience include the following:

  • headache;
  • increased perspiration;
  • flushing;
  • numbness, tingling, or burning sensation in the mouth and throat;
  • nausea;
  • weakness.

In some cases, symptoms may be more severe and require immediate medical attention. These symptoms include the following:

  • chest pain;
  • fast or abnormal heartbeat;
  • trouble breathing;
  • swelling of the face;
  • swelling of the throat.

These symptoms should be taken seriously and treated immediately. If you have such symptoms, you’ll likely be given antihistamines.

How to avoid a possible reaction to MSG in the future

If you have experienced a reaction to foods that contain MSG, it’s best for you to refrain from such products. If you enjoy Asian food, go to restaurants that specifically identify their food as MSG-free. In addition to that, study the labels of the foods you buy to make sure they don’t contain MSG. According to WebMD, monosodium glutamate can also be listed as autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), potassium glutamate, sodium caseinate, broth, natural flavorings, or simply flavorings.

If your symptoms are mild, you may still be able to enjoy small amounts of food with MSG. If you have experienced severe symptoms, you should avoid MSG altogether.

Source: HealthLine, WebMD, Medline Plus, Mayo Clinic

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This article is purely for informational purposes. Do not self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for harm that may result from using the information stated in the article.