Does monosodium glutamate really cause headache? : a systematic review of human studies

J Headache Pain. 2016:17:54. doi: 10.1186/s10194-016-0639-4. Epub 2016 May 17.


Although monosodium glutamate (MSG) is classified as a causative substance of headache in the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition (ICHD-III beta), there is no literature in which causal relationship between MSG and headache was comprehensively reviewed. We performed systematic review of human studies which include the incidence of headache after an oral administration of MSG. An analysis was made by separating the human studies with MSG administration with or without food, because of the significant difference of kinetics of glutamate between those conditions (Am J Clin Nutr 37:194-200, 1983; J Nutr 130:1002S-1004S, 2000) and there are some papers which report the difference of the manifestation of symptoms after MSG ingestion with or without food (Food Chem Toxicol 31:1019-1035, 1993; J Nutr 125:2891S-2906S, 1995). Of five papers including six studies with food, none showed a significant difference in the incidence of headache except for the female group in one study. Of five papers including seven studies without food, four studies showed a significant difference. Many of the studies involved administration of MSG in solution at high concentrations (>2 %). Since the distinctive MSG is readily identified at such concentrations, these studies were thought not to be properly blinded. Because of the absence of proper blinding, and the inconsistency of the findings, we conclude that further studies are required to evaluate whether or not a causal relationship exists between MSG ingestion and headache.

Keywords: Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS); Headache; Human study; International classification of headache disorders (ICHD); Monosodium glutamate (MSG); Systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Food Additives / administration & dosage
  • Food Additives / adverse effects*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / complications*
  • Food Hypersensitivity / physiopathology
  • Headache / chemically induced*
  • Headache / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Sodium Glutamate / administration & dosage
  • Sodium Glutamate / adverse effects*


  • Food Additives
  • Sodium Glutamate