Chinese restaurant syndrome (CRS) occurs in some people after they eat foods containing the food additive monosodium glutamate (MSG) – a common ingredient in Chinese food.
What is going on in the body?
MSG is a commonly used flavor enhancer. It is found in a variety of foods, including Chinese dishes. In 1968, a researcher identified a set of symptoms that occurred in certain people after they ate foods containing MSG. Thus, the term Chinese restaurant syndrome was coined.
Although similar to an allergic reaction, CRS is more of an intolerance to or side effect of MSG. The mechanism of the reaction is not known. True life-threatening symptoms are extremely rare. Less than 15% of Americans are sensitive to MSG.
What are the signs and symptoms of the disease?
Symptoms of CRS can include:
• burning sensation on the back of the neck, chest, shoulders, abdomen, thighs, and forearms
• pressure, tightness, or numbness in the face
• chest pain
• nausea and vomiting
What are the causes and risks of the disease?
CRS is caused by eating foods containing high amounts of MSG. A person who eats foods containing MSG on an empty stomach increases the amount absorbed into the bloodstream. This results in an increased risk of CRS. The intensity and the duration of symptoms are directly related to the amount of MSG ingested.
What can be done to prevent the disease?
People with CRS should avoid foods containing high amounts of MSG. Symptoms of CRS can sometimes be avoided by eating food prior to eating MSG.
How is the disease diagnosed?
With symptoms so similar to an allergic reaction, the first experience often results in a trip to the emergency room. CRS is diagnosed when typical symptoms occur within 30 to 60 minutes of eating foods with high concentrations of MSG. The symptoms usually go away without treatment in about 2 to 3 hours.