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A study from Denmark and Canada examined the effect of monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food flavor enhancer, on headache and pain sensation in muscles of the head when healthy people ate or drank it. The participants reported a higher incidence of headache and tenderness in muscles around the head when drinking the MSG solution compared with when they drank an ordinary salt solution. Systolic blood pressure was also higher when the individuals consumed high amounts of MSG. “These findings add new information to the concept of MSG headache and craniofacial pain sensitivity.”
MSG has often been reported to be associated with headaches in people. Other problems associated with MSG include tightness of certain muscles, increased heartbeat rate, asthma and gastrointestinal symptoms. Also, glutamate levels may be high in patients with joint pain problems. Research in the past has shown that injecting glutamate into muscles that help in chewing causes a lot of pain in that area. However, the effect of MSG when given to the whole body has not been examined so far. For this study, the researchers intended to explore the influence of ingesting MSG on headaches and other problems when taken by healthy participants.
* The study was conducted on 14 young healthy men aged around 24 years.
* In three different sessions they drank a high concentration of MSG, a low concentration of MSG, or a similarly tasting salt solution without knowing what they were taking.
* Over a two-hour period, they were asked if they felt a headache or if the muscles around their head felt pain upon touching.
* The researchers also measured blood pressure and heart rates.
* Four people reported headaches when they consumed MSG in different concentrations; while no one reported a headache when ingesting the common salt.
* After taking the MSG solutions, some participants felt pain upon touching a certain area around their head known as the temporalis muscle.
* The researchers also reported higher systolic blood pressure in men when they drank higher amounts of MSG than when they drank lower quantities or drank the salt water solution.
The study was conducted on a small number of men under experimental conditions. This experiment needs to be replicated with a greater sample of people and should include women as well, so that the results may be applicable to the general population. Moreover, a similar study should be conducted in natural settings where occurrence of a headache after eating MSG in food can be compared with a headache appearing after consuming food without MSG.
MSG was found to be associated with headaches in some young participants in the study. It also led to an increased feeling of pain in some muscles around the head and face. When used in high quantities, MSG led to increased systolic blood pressure. This research once again points towards harmful side effects of MSG, a food additive commonly used to enhance flavor in many canned, frozen and prepared foods like sauces, broths, soups and snack foods. More research in this area, and awareness about that research, can help us make better informed food choices for healthy living. This information can be especially helpful for people who already have chronic headaches or high blood pressure.
For More Information:
Effect of Systemic Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) on Headache and Pericranial Muscle Sensitivity
Publication Journal: Cephalalgia, January 2010
By L. Baad-Hansen; B. E. Cairns; University of Aarhus, Denmark, and the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada