When the melamine debacle erupted last year and attracted the world’s attention to food safety issues globally, it seems rather unfair that another food safety issue should be attributed to the Chinese..
However, the Chinese Restaurant syndrome , which was first described in 1968 and referred to a collection of symptoms occuring after eating Chinese food is certainly not confined to this cuisine.
The symptoms – headache, throbbing of the head, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating, a feeling of facial pressure, tightness of the jaw, burning or tingling sensations over parts of the body, chest pain, and back pain – can sometimes be mistaken for a pending heart attack. The cause is attributed to a form of food allergy to monosodium glutamate (MSG aka Ajinomoto, Vetsin, and Accent) and occurs only to some individuals.
I wrote above that it was unfair to blame Chinese food because while many people believe that MSG is the cause of these symptoms, a statistical association has not been demonstrated despite numerous research studies. In fact, MSG is found in so many foods from so many cuisines that it raises one’s eyebrows : Maggi sauce, Marmite, Parmesan cheese, Knorr bouillon cubes, flavored potato chips, Kikkoman sauce, Worcestershire sauce, most barbeque sauces, to name a few!
So is MSG safe? The US Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) has classified it as safe as early as 1959. Most countries, including the European Union and the USA merely specify that there must be adequate labelling if MSG is added. In fact, most people recover from mild cases of Chinese restaurant syndrome without treatment and with no lasting problems. The only exception are those who develop severe allergy reactions, which can be life-threatening – watch out for
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
- Swelling of the throat
In such cases, nothing less than a fast trip to the Emergency Department is mandated!
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