What you need to know about MSG and migraines

what you need to know

If you suffer from chronic migraines and not finding relief from standard therapies, give our office a call at (425) 686-4498 to set-up your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help.

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What is MSG’s link to migraines?

One theory offers genetics as a way to explain how MSG leads to migraines. As mentioned earlier, when MSG is metabolized by our bodies, it is broken down to glutamate. This excess glutamate triggers the TRESK gene, and stimulation of that gene may cause migraines (Rogawski, 2012; Kang, 2008). The other connection, also mentioned previously, is between glutamate and the excitation of nerves.

Migraines, seizures, and glutamate

Migraines and epilepsy share many similar clinical features, and an event called cortical-spreading depression may underline migraine auras and possibly trigger both the headache pain experienced in a migraine and an epileptic seizure. What precedes this cortical-spreading depression is hyperexcitability of cells, and glutamate is found to be a critical player in the process (Rogawski, 2012). Therefore, understanding what happens biochemically in the body paves the way for being able to identify the link between glutamate and migraine triggers.

What foods contain MSG?

If you suffer from headaches or migraines, start by avoiding possible known triggers. Processed food has more additives than just MSG. To reduce the chance of triggering a migraine, avoidance of the foods may be key. MSG is most noticeably used in Chinese food and processed packaged foods. Most fast food Asian restaurants will now indicate “No MSG” on their menus because of the number of people sensitive to it (Bowers, 2014). Above all, note that MSG can also be added to processed foods, so be diligent when reading labels.

Look for other names used for MSG. Often glutamic acid is the byproduct of making hydrolyzed or isolate proteins in foods.

If the label does not specifically say “MSG-free,” look for these additives as they may contain MSG:

  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Hydrolyzed protein
  • Caseinate
  • Yeast extract
  • Carrageenan
  • Maltodextrin
  • Anything with the words “enzyme-modified” or “isolates”

The following products may also contain additives with MSG:

  • Raman noodles
  • Whey protein or whey isolate
  • Soy sauce or soy protein isolate
  • Malted barley

Not everyone has a reaction to MSG when they eat processed foods or go out for Chinese dinner. In general, as part of a well-rounded whole foods diet, eating fewer processed foods is the safest and more health conscious way to go. By simply switching to a whole foods diet, you may notice that your headaches and migraines are less frequent.

If you suffer from chronic migraines and not finding relief from standard therapies, give our office a call at (425) 686-4498 to set-up your initial consultation to learn more about how we can help.

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc, is a naturopathic doctor and acupuncturist in Bothell, WA at her practice Starting Point Acupuncture. She specializes in chronic and complex cases and commonly treats neuropathy, fibromyalgia, migraines, autoimmune, and infertility cases. Dr. Ellie Heintze is also the author of the book, A Starting Point Guide to Going Gluten-Free  and Keep Calm and Zen Out available on Amazon.


Bowers, E. S., I. C. (2014, June 20). “Does MSG Cause Migraines?” Retrieved August 3, 2015, from Everyday Health: www.everydayhealth.com/headachemigraine/does-msg-cause-migraines.aspx

Gaby, A. (2011). Nutritional Medicine. Concord: Fritz Perlberg Publishing.

Grant, E. C. G. (1979). “Food allergies and migraines.” Lancet, 966-969.

Kang, D. (2008, March). “Lamotrigine inhibits TRESK regulated by G-protein coupled receptors agonist.” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, 367(3), 609-615.

Rogawski, M. A. (2012). “Migraine and epilepsy-shared mechanisms within the family of episodic disorders.” Jasper’s Basic Mechanisms of the Epilepsies.

Sand, J. (2005, Fall). “A short history of MSG: Good science, bad science, and taste cultures.” Investigations, pp. 38-49.

Shimada, A., e. a. (2013). “Headache and mechanical sensitization of human pericranial muscle after repeated intake of monosodium glutamate (MSG).” The Journal of Headache and Pain, 14(2).

Yang, W. H., D. M. (1997). “The monosodium glutamate symptom complex: Assessment in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized study.” Journal of Allergy Clinical Immunology, 99(6), 757.

Call or Schedule Now! (425) 686-4498

Call or Schedule Now!

(425) 686-4498

Dr. Ellie Heintze, ND, LAc

  • Master’s Degree in Acupuncture
    Bastyr University
  • Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine
    Bastyr University
  • Master’s Degree in Chemistry
    Northern Arizona University
Dr. Heintze Acupuncturist and Naturopathic Doctor

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