Those who don’t suffer from migraines don’t understand how the blinding pain and associated symptoms (nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and sound, etc.) can be debilitating. Migraines often result in the inability to work, or even move from a quiet, dark room for the duration of the migraine episode. If you are one of the more than 28 million Americans plagued by migraines, pain relief may be as simple as a change in your diet.
Neurologists specializing in migraine treatment have noted a correlation between monosodium glutamate (MSG) and migraines. Patients of such noted neurologists were able to decrease their number of migraines to a minimal amount after being placed on a MSG-free diet.
What is MSG?
MSG is an additive added to food to enhance flavor. Glutamate is an amino acid (which is a building block of all proteins), and can be found naturally in some foods such as tomatoes, grapes, mushrooms, parmesan cheese, and spinach. These foods rich in glutamate naturally have enhanced flavor, which is why you often find them in many meals and recipes. MSG is the synthetically manufactured version of natural glutamate. MSG is then used as an additive to increase the flavor in a variety of foods including soups, sauces, meats, Asian cooking, and snack foods.
How does MSG work?
Naturally occurring amino acids interact with brain cell activity. When MSG is added to food, it changes the normal brain chemistry to make the food taste better. Your tongue has several receptors which help identify tastes such as sweet, sour, etc. Free glumatic acid registers with your taste buds to signal the presence of protein. MSG, therefore, tricks your tongue into thinking the food in your mouth is both a protein AND nutritious. Unfortunately, it also changes your tongue’s ability to recognize nutrition in future foods as well (your tongue will register nutrition in food that may not have nutritious value). This also allows portions of real, nutritious food to be replaced with MSG and significantly bring down the cost for food manufacturers. As a result of ingesting MSG the pancreas is stimulated to increase insulin production. The insulin flood causes a drop in blood sugar, and you’re hungry only an hour after you’ve eaten. This is a definite plus for food manufacturers and restaurants.
How does MSG affect migraines?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) indicates there is a portion of population that may be sensitive to MSG. The Journal of American Medical Association identifies MSG as a trigger for migraines. There is scientific evidence that MSG can cause a migraine attack, while other evidence goes further to suggest MSG actually affects the way serotonin functions normally in the brain. Serotonin is an important part of understanding migraines, because serotonin is a “brain chemical” that calms overreacting brain cell activity. MSG excites the brain cells. If MSG affects serotonin’s ability to pacify overreacting brain cell activity, while simultaneously exciting brain cells further it is easy to understand how quickly a migraine would develop.
What can I do?
Unlike other migraine treatments in which you are given a drug and simply have to wait to see if the drug provides migraine relief, you can do something about your migraines right now! Just by reading this article you are one giant step closer to getting your migraines under control. You have the power! MSG is a common migraine trigger for many, many people suffering from migraines. Now that you know about MSG you have the power to remove the trigger from your diet. You can begin avoiding foods with MSG in them, and begin MSG-free living and pain free!
This can be a little intimidating at first, because MSG hides under many different names in products: hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), hydrolyzed plant protein (HPT), “natural flavoring”, BHA, BHT, maltodextran, modified food starch, whey protein, glutamate or glutamic acid, carrageenan, and caseinate are examples. There are large amounts of MSG in soy products, so you’ll want to avoid all soy products (including soy sauce and products containing soy lecthin). These can be large changes in diet, but for those suffering from the agony of migraines it is often a small exchange to make for pain free living.
It is so important to be an informed consumer. Reading labels on your next shopping trip may be a bit intimidating, but can also be very empowering. You will be amazed at the vast number of products containing MSG, and the large amounts of MSG you’ve been consuming without even realizing it! Your local health food store or coop can make shopping a new pleasure, as these markets offer a variety of products without MSG. Keep a “headache journal,” or daily log in which you record what you eat, how you feel (any headaches, migraines, etc.), and what medications you take. Notice patterns and positive changes in your migraines the longer MSG is absent from your diet.
The headache journal is a very resourceful tool for both you and your doctor. Make sure and take your journal with you to all your doctor appointments. If you know other migraine sufferers, please share this information and article with them! It is unfortunate how few migraineurs are aware of the MSG-migraine connection. No one deserves the debilitating pain of migraines, and for many simply eliminating MSG from their diet is the difference between a lifetime of migraines and pain free living.