Many people are bothered by chronic headaches. One problem with headaches is that they can have so many causes, it can be hard to track down what’s really responsible. One common culprit that people blame is MSG (monosodium glutamate), which many people associate with Chinese restaurant food. In fact, a sensitivity to MSG used to be called the Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS), recently changed to Chinese-American Restaurant Syndrome (CARS) or MSG Symptom Complex (MSC).
However, true MSG sensitivity is very rare, affecting less than 1% of people who report the symptoms. So, how can you tell if MSG is really causing your headaches? Here are a few ways to test.
Keep a Food Journal
One of the best ways to figure out if your headache is related to food is to actually track when you get headaches and how that relates to your food consumption. Detailed tracking of your eating habits will help you to see which foods are actually most likely to be linked to your headaches.
Make sure you’re tracking all your foods and all your headaches–not just the ones that you think might be related. The goal is to avoid confirmation bias. At this point, you’re not trying to make a case–you’re trying to discover the truth, and that depends on getting the most complete data possible.
Test with High-MSG Foods
One of the big problems with MSC has always been that people who report it aren’t really aware which foods are actually high in MSG. We associated it with Chinese food, but it’s actually very common in almost any processed food. American chicken restaurants Chick-Fil-A and KFC add a lot of MSG to their chicken. Doritos and other flavored chips are also very high in MSG. And while soy sauce is naturally high in MSG, so are roquefort and parmesan cheeses, as well as tomatoes.
So if you think that Chinese food is giving you a headache because of MSG, check whether you also get a headache after eating Italian food or Chick-Fil-A, it might not be the MSG. If you want a test you can easily do at home, eat a big bowl of Doritos on an empty stomach.
Consider Other Possible Explanations
MSG gets singled out as a headache cause because people don’t really understand how common it is as an ingredient. Most of us eat a lot of MSG daily and never experience any side effects. However, there are other potential headache causes to consider.
Dehydration is a common cause of headaches. Alcohol consumption can also cause headaches, either directly or because it can cause dehydration.
If you notice that your headaches often follow eating, and might be linked to the effort of chewing or opening your mouth wide, consider that TMJ could be causing your headaches. Temporomandibular joint disorders (also called TMD) can lead to an imbalance in jaw muscles that causes tension headaches or even migraines when the jaw is active. It can also cause headaches linked to excessive talking, exercise, and stress. It is sometimes responsible for morning headaches due to clenching or grinding, and it’s related to another cause of morning headaches, sleep apnea.
We can help you analyze your headaches and track down the true cause. To learn more, please call (248) 825-8277 today for an appointment with Detroit-area TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness in Troy, MI.