Glutamates are found in many foods, they serve as flavor enhancers and can lead to glutamate intolerance in some people . In the vernacular, this phenomenon is often referred to as the Chinese restaurant syndrome. Glutamates are generally classified as non-hazardous to health, but consumption can have unpleasant consequences for people with intolerance. However, foods with glutamates are usually not particularly nutritious and rich in vitamins, so avoiding them can make sense even if you have no known intolerance.
What is Glutamate Intolerance?
According to Digopaul, glutamate intolerance is defined as a collection of symptoms that occur immediately after eating food that contains the additive glutamate.
An intolerance to the flavor enhancer can occur suddenly, men and women are equally affected. Glutamate is hidden in many foods, especially in ready-made products, packet soups or canteen food. According to the legislator, additives such as flavor enhancers must be listed in the list of ingredients of a product, glutamates are hidden behind the designations E 620 – 625.
It is often assumed that the words “free from flavor enhancers” would rule out the use of glutamate, but this is a mistake. Glutamates can still be present in ingredients such as yeast extracts and the like. If you want to be on the safe side, you can only use natural products. In the case of glutamate intolerance, this is necessary anyway.
The cause of glutamate intolerance has not yet been finally clarified. Some people can consume the flavor enhancer in large quantities without ever developing an intolerance, while other people develop intolerance over the course of their lives.
Children can also already suffer from glutamate intolerance, it often happens that food intolerances manifest themselves in childhood. The risk of suffering from a food allergy is increased if there are known cases of such intolerance in the family.
In general, people with a weakened immune system are more often affected by glutamate intolerance than people with a strong immune system. Some people are generally more prone to allergies and intolerances than others, with known allergies the likelihood of developing glutamate intolerance in the course of life is increased.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Symptoms of glutamate intolerance often appear after a visit to a Chinese restaurant. They manifest themselves about 20 minutes after eating with sudden tingling and numbness in the oral cavity, dry mouth, itching in the mouth, reddening of the cheeks, headache, stiff neck, tachycardia, cardiac arrhythmia, body aches and nausea. Since Chinese dishes contain large amounts of glutamate as a flavor enhancer, an intolerance to this substance is assumed.
However, this fact has not yet been definitively proven. It could also be an intolerance to other ingredients in these foods. The symptoms only appear for a short time and subside quickly. The people affected report that they only suffer from these symptoms after eating the food with added glutamate.
The symptoms are usually unpleasant but otherwise harmless. In rare cases, however, complications are also observed. These can manifest themselves in severe breathing difficulties, severe cardiac arrhythmias or even impaired consciousness. Deaths have not yet been reported. However, in the case of particularly severe cardiac arrhythmias, there is also the potential for heart failure.
Overall, however, the prognosis is very favourable. In some patients, the symptoms may also be due to a so-called nocebo effect. This effect is the assumption of those affected that a certain substance has a negative health effect.
The glutamate intolerance only leads to complications or symptoms if the patient consumes glutamate. If the glutamate is omitted, in most cases no further symptoms or complications occur. The intolerance usually manifests itself in severe nausea and headaches.
It comes to a dry mouth and a tingling in the entire mouth. The patient feels ill and suffers from body aches. Heart palpitations and sweating can also occur. The symptoms severely restrict the patient’s everyday life and reduce the quality of life. The person affected is severely restricted in their diet due to the disease.
In the worst case, breathing difficulties can also occur, which can also cause the patient to lose consciousness. Treatment usually cannot be carried out. The patient must do without glutamate throughout his life and must not take it.
It cannot be predicted whether glutamate intolerance will go away on its own later in life. If the person concerned does without the ingredient, no further complications arise.
When should you go to the doctor?
A doctor’s visit is necessary as soon as irregularities occur immediately after eating. If there are any abnormalities or health problems after consuming ready-made products or visiting a restaurant, there is cause for concern. Depending on the extent of the symptoms, a doctor should be consulted immediately. If the intensity is low, it is advisable to consult a doctor the following day. Itching of the throat, reddening of the skin or swelling are uncommon.
A doctor should be consulted so that glutamate intolerance can be determined via a blood test. If the mouth is very dry despite eating, this is a warning from the body that should be followed up.
If you experience numbness or sensory disturbances in your mouth that cannot be attributed to burns, you should consult a doctor. If you have a headache, neck discomfort, or a feeling of stiffness in your shoulders or neck, see a doctor.
Severe nausea, dizziness or a general feeling of illness should be clarified by a doctor. If your heart starts racing during or shortly after meals without consuming caffeine, we recommend consulting a doctor. Any body aches or slowed motor skills should be examined by a doctor. Sweating and shortness of breath are also considered reasons for a doctor’s visit.
Treatment & Therapy
It often takes several months to years before a glutamate intolerance is diagnosed. The symptoms are non-specific and are often not associated with food at all. If glutamate intolerance develops, those affected complain about a quarter of an hour after ingesting glutamate about general discomfort, stomach problems, headaches and sometimes skin rashes.
Not all symptoms appear in everyone affected, especially at the beginning of an intolerance, only isolated signs of intolerance can appear. The first step in diagnosis is to observe the person affected. If there is already a suspicion of glutamate intolerance, an allergy test can provide more precise information. Also suitable for diagnostic purposes is the elimination diet, in which foods containing glutamate are deliberately avoided in order to achieve a possible improvement in symptoms.
The so-called provocation therapy is sometimes used under medical supervision. Those affected are specifically administered glutamates in order to test the body’s reaction to it. Such an attempt should never be carried out alone, but only under medical supervision.
Provocation therapy is only suitable if no threatening symptoms have been shown in the person concerned. Since severe glutamate intolerance can also lead to breathing difficulties and even allergic shock, the doctor must clearly weigh up the cost-benefit ratio.
Outlook & Forecast
A glutamate intolerance is a food intolerance and therefore cannot be cured. The only way to avoid symptoms is to eliminate glutamate from food and drink altogether. Although glutamate is classified as harmless to health, foods in supermarkets and restaurant menus now have to be labeled if they contain it in foods and dishes.
Particular attention should be paid to ready-made foods and Asian dishes, because there can hardly be any glutamate in natural and unprocessed, raw and fresh foods. Glutamate must also be taken into account in the restaurant, even if it is not an Asian restaurant.
In the case of glutamate intolerance, there is currently no known desensitization, as is known for other intolerances and allergies. There are also – unlike, for example, lactose intolerance – no medication that can be taken before glutamate is taken to reduce the symptoms.
In most cases, glutamate intolerance is merely uncomfortable for the affected patient, but tends not to lead to serious or life-threatening complications. If glutamate is accidentally consumed anyway, consumption should be discontinued as soon as it is noticed. Beyond that, even if the symptoms are uncomfortable and distressing, all that helps is to wait for them to subside and remain as calm as possible.
A glutamate intolerance can hardly be prevented, since it can arise suddenly and a cause cannot always be determined. Basically, it has been proven that a healthy vitamin B level can contribute to better tolerability of glutamates. Even if glutamates are not harmful to health, it is advisable to avoid them as much as possible.
Flavor enhancers are found in many foods, but there are also numerous products without the additives E 620 – 625. If possible, it is advisable to avoid all those products with a particularly high glutamate content. This includes ready meals as well as chips or food from the canteen. More and more products are now being developed for people with glutamate intolerance.
The most important follow-up measure in the case of glutamate intolerance lies with the patient himself. He should avoid anything that might contain glutamate. The problem is that this flavor enhancer is found in many processed foods. It is therefore important to ensure that as little industrially produced food as possible is on the menu during aftercare. Preparing everything that is eaten from fresh ingredients is the safest aftercare.
The salt of glutamic acid is not criticized for nothing. Whether the Chinese restaurant syndrome exists or is just scaremongering is not important in the case of glutamate intolerance. It is important that the affected person has been shown not to tolerate this flavor enhancer. The content of monosodium glutamate or E 621 does not have to be declared in vain. A defective blood-brain barrier could actually increase the risk potential.
The tricky point, however, is that glutamate is also an endogenous substance. This occurs in the metabolism. Glutamate acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. In addition, natural glutamate occurs naturally in various foods and breast milk – and occasionally in high concentrations. It is therefore difficult to guarantee total abstinence after being diagnosed with “glutamate intolerance”.
However, extensive avoidance is important in follow-up care. Knowledge of the natural glutamate content of food helps. This can be researched on the Internet.
You can do that yourself
No drug has yet been developed to treat glutamate intolerance. However, it helps those affected to know that this intolerance does not, as the name suggests, relate to glutamate or the esters and salts of glutamic acid, but only to free glutamate, which as a targeted flavor enhancer is not bound to proteins.
In this respect, it helps the person concerned to avoid food in which the flavor enhancer is used. According to the German food law, the flavor enhancer must be labelled, this not only applies to sale in grocery stores, but also in canteens and restaurants. If you have the feeling that you are allergic to food with glutamate flavor enhancers, you should clarify your suspicions with the doctor, who can diagnose the disease with an allergy test and provide further advice.
Although the symptoms of those affected after the consumption of free MSG are not usually life-threatening, they can be dangerous in asthmatics. In the event of an allergic shock in asthmatics, a doctor should be consulted immediately. If the shock is particularly severe, then you should not shy away from calling an emergency doctor.
In general, it helps the organism of those affected to eat healthily and z. B. to cook fresh every day. A high vitamin B level in particular contributes to making one’s own organism more resistant to free glutamate in general.