MSG: A Common Ingredient with Uncommon Migraine Implications?

MSG: A Common Ingredient with Uncommon Migraine Implications?


Migraines are a debilitating condition that affects a significant number of individuals, impacting their quality of life. Understanding the potential triggers for migraines plays a crucial role in managing and preventing these attacks.

What is MSG?

MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a commonly used food additive that enhances the flavor of dishes. It has a rich history in cooking and is found in various packaged and processed foods, as well as restaurant meals.

For example, MSG is commonly used in Asian cuisine to enhance the savory taste of dishes like stir-fries and soups. It is important to note that MSG is not inherently dangerous and has been deemed safe for consumption by regulatory bodies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Link between MSG and Migraines

Many migraine sufferers have identified dietary triggers that can initiate an attack. While the connection between MSG and migraines is not fully understood, there is anecdotal evidence suggesting a potential link. This has also been explored in several studies.

For instance, a study published in Headache: The Journal of Head and Face Pain found that individuals with migraines reported a higher prevalence of sensitivity to MSG compared to those without migraines. However, more research is needed to establish a definitive connection and determine the true prevalence of MSG-triggered migraines.

Mechanisms behind MSG-Induced Migraines

Glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, plays a key role in the development of migraines. MSG, being a source of glutamate, can potentially trigger migraines in individuals with glutamate sensitivity. Additionally, the neuroinflammatory response caused by MSG consumption can worsen migraine symptoms.

For example, when MSG is consumed, it activates glutamate receptors in the brain, leading to an excitatory response. This excessive stimulation can trigger a cascade of events, including increased neuronal activity and blood vessel dilation, which contribute to migraine attacks.

Tracking MSG Consumption during Migraines

Keeping track of symptoms and potential triggers during migraine attacks is crucial. This includes recording MSG intake and noting specific details such as the onset of symptoms after MSG consumption, the duration and severity of the attack, and any other accompanying symptoms. This information can provide valuable insights for future doctor visits, helping inquire about possible MSG sensitivity and discussing medication effectiveness.

For instance, if you notice that your migraines consistently occur within a few hours after consuming a meal containing MSG, it may be an indication of a possible sensitivity to this food additive. By diligently tracking your MSG consumption and its correlation with migraine attacks, you can work with your healthcare provider to develop an effective management plan.

The Role of Detailed Reporting in Migraine Management

A comprehensive and detailed symptom report helps facilitate effective communication between patients and healthcare providers. It aids in evaluating treatment approaches, making necessary adjustments, and better understanding the factors contributing to migraine attacks. However, patients may face challenges in providing comprehensive information during limited appointment times.

This is where tracking and documenting your symptoms in a report becomes essential. By presenting detailed information about your migraine attacks, such as the frequency, duration, severity, and potential triggers like MSG consumption, you can provide your healthcare provider with valuable insights into your condition. This can lead to more accurate diagnoses and tailored treatment plans.

When is Tracking MSG Consumption Necessary?

Tracking MSG consumption is not necessary for every migraine episode. However, for individuals suspecting MSG as a trigger, it can be beneficial in assessing personal MSG sensitivity, aiding in medication effectiveness evaluation, and finding patterns and potential triggers to better manage migraines.

For example, if you have tried various preventive medications and lifestyle changes to manage your migraines but have not seen significant improvement, tracking your MSG intake can help identify whether it has any impact on your condition. This knowledge can help you make informed decisions about your diet and treatment options.


Understanding the potential link between MSG and migraines is crucial in managing these attacks effectively. Compiling a symptom report that includes tracking MSG consumption during migraine episodes can provide valuable insights for both patients and healthcare providers, leading to better treatment outcomes and improved quality of life.

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Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Is MSG the sole cause of migraines?
  2. No, migraines are a complex neurological condition with various triggers. While MSG may trigger migraines in some individuals, it is not the sole cause of migraines.

  3. What are some common food sources of MSG?
  4. MSG is often found in processed and packaged foods such as soups, sauces, snacks, and fast food. It is important to read food labels carefully as MSG may be listed under other names, such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein or autolyzed yeast extract.

  5. Are there individuals who are more susceptible to MSG-induced migraines?
  6. While anyone can potentially experience migraines triggered by MSG, some individuals may be more sensitive to this food additive than others. The degree of sensitivity varies from person to person.

  7. How can I determine if MSG is triggering my migraines?
  8. Tracking your symptoms and food consumption in a migraine diary can help identify potential triggers, including MSG. By noting any patterns or correlations between MSG intake and migraine attacks, you can assess its impact on your condition.

  9. Should I completely avoid foods containing MSG?
  10. Avoiding foods containing MSG may be beneficial for individuals who have identified MSG as a trigger for their migraines. However, it is always best to consult with a healthcare provider before making any significant dietary changes.

  11. What are some alternative flavor enhancers to MSG?
  12. There are various natural flavor enhancers that can be used as alternatives to MSG, such as herbs, spices, citrus juices, and vinegars. Experimenting with these options can help add depth and richness to dishes without relying on MSG.

  13. Can MSG sensitivity be diagnosed through medical tests?
  14. Currently, there are no specific medical tests to diagnose MSG sensitivity. Diagnosis is typically based on the correlation between MSG consumption and migraine attacks as observed through self-tracking.

  15. Can other additives or food substances trigger migraines?
  16. Yes, there are various additives and food substances that have been reported as potential triggers for migraines in susceptible individuals. These can include artificial sweeteners, caffeine, alcohol, and certain food preservatives like nitrates.

  17. Is it possible to outgrow MSG sensitivity?
  18. While the sensitivity to MSG can vary among individuals, it is unclear whether someone can outgrow this sensitivity over time. It is recommended to consult with a healthcare provider to discuss any changes in sensitivity.

  19. Can eliminating MSG from my diet completely cure my migraines?
  20. Eliminating MSG from your diet may help manage migraines for individuals sensitive to this food additive. However, migraines are a complex condition with multiple triggers, and a holistic approach in consultation with a healthcare provider is often necessary for comprehensive management.

Jenny from Migraine Buddy

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