Monosodium glutamate (MSG) does cause controversy, but there is no conclusive evidence linking the consumption of MSG to a cause of cancer or to an increased risk of cancer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers it safe to add MSG to food.

MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamic acid. Glutamic acid occurs naturally in the human body and in a number of foods, including cheese, soy extracts and tomatoes.

In fact, MSG was discovered as a food flavor enhancer based on its natural occurrence in seaweed. Kikunae Ikeda, a Japanese professor, extracted glutamate from popular seaweed broth, determining that it was the key factor in its savory taste. In 1908, he filed a patent to produce MSG.

Commercial production of MSG no longer starts with seaweed, it is made with a starch fermentation process similar to that for producing vinegar, wine, and yogurt.

A comprehensive 2016 review of studies, failed to conclude that the MSG present in food causes headache, suggesting that further studies are required to determine if there is a causal relationship between ingesting MSG and headaches.

If you suspect that MSG is a trigger for your headaches, your best course of action is probably to avoid it. Look for monosodium glutamate on the labels of food before you eat it.

Other symptoms

Although researchers have found no definitive associations to link MSG to the symptoms described, there are anecdotal reports of MSG causing:

As with headaches, if you feel that you are sensitive to MSG and that it triggers any or all of the symptoms listed, consider trying to avoid MSG all together.

Read the packaging. The FDA requires that food products with added MSG, list monosodium glutamate in the list of ingredients.

For ingredients with naturally occurring MSG, such as soy extract or yeast extract, there is no requirement for MSG to be listed. Products with ingredients with naturally occurring MSG cannot, however, include claims such as “no added MSG” or “no MSG” on their packaging.

Also, MSG cannot be hidden anonymously as “spices and flavoring.”

To date, there is no conclusive evidence that links MSG consumption to cancer, either as a cause of cancer or as increasing the risk of cancer.

You might, however, suspect that you have a sensitivity to MSG and that consumption triggers headaches or other symptoms. If so, avoidance is most likely a good course of action. Read food packaging. The FDA has strong rules about revealing added MSG.