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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Know what is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

Many people love Chinese food and its mouth-watering taste. Of course, it is tasty and fulfilling to the consumer, but like many other foods, it generally contains several taste enhancers, sweeteners, colorings, additives, anti-oxidants etc.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG), commonly known as ajinomoto, is one such food additive. MSG is used in oriental foods, manufactured meat, poultry and other products to enhance flavors. It complements the flavor of the cuisine. However, there is a possibility of an allergic reaction to the consumption of MSG. This reaction could be a symptom complex of what is often referred to as the "Chinese Restaurant Syndrome". It may cause severe reactions such as breathlessness, asthma, heart arrhythmia, brain lesions, neurotoxicity or release of certain hormones from the pituitary gland.
Several studies and research activities are on-going to know the details of how MSG causes these allergic reactions, and how to manage them.
1.  The self-limited or mild adverse reactions of oral ingestion of MSG are termed as "MSG symptom complex". This reaction includes the following symptoms:
  • Burning sensation in the neck, forearms and chest
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Palpitation
  • Numbness in the neck radiating to arms and back
  • Chest pain
  • Tingling sensation and warmth in the areas of face, back, neck, arms and temple
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Bronchospasm or difficulty in breathing (observed only in asthmatics)
In some individuals, it has been noted that direct consumption of anything more than 3 grams of MSG causes a reaction. To date, asthma is the only documented predisposing medical condition that is associated with adverse effects from ingestion of MSG.
2.  The serious or life-threatening reactions to oral ingestion of MSG include:
  • Anaphylaxis
  • Seizures
  • Dysrhythmia
  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Fainting spells with marked fall in blood pressure
  • Constricted throat
What is the recommended dosage of MSG? The self-limited reactions occur between the MSG levels of 0.5gms and 2.5gms. The serious or life-threatening complications occur at levels higher than 2.5gms.
What is the time limit for these reactions to occur? The typical reported interval is 15 to 60 minutes but in some asthmatics, it can take approximately 6 to 12 hours for the symptoms to manifest themselves.
How does MSG cause these adverse reactions? It interacts at the level of either the central or peripheral glutamate receptors and increases the excitatory and the stimulatory mechanisms that cause these reactions.
Identifying sensitivity to MSG is extremely difficult. The only way to determine this is to feed the person MSG and observe him or her for as long as 48 hours after its consumption. Similarly, diagnosing MSG sensitivity is also extremely difficult. This is because none of the symptoms of MSG toxicity is caused exclusively by MSG. In most cases, it is caused due to a combination of MSG and other food additives. In addition, these reactions are dose related.
MSG is often hidden in food. Difficulty in diagnosing it is compounded by the illegal advertizing of "NO MSG", "NO MSG added", or "No Added MSG" on labels when products contain MSG.
Hence, it is advisable that the consumer is aware of MSG, and in a situation like this, to rush to the nearest medical healthcare facility.


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