Chinese Restaurant Syndrome – Symptoms and Treatment

A food additive, MSG (monosodium glutamate), which is a component of Chinese food can cause a group of symptoms namely; headache, flushed skin, and excessive sweating. This symptom complex is known as Chinese restaurant syndrome. Not everyone who consumes MSG experiences these problems, there is only a small fraction of people who have a sensitivity to this food additive. The headache in Chinese restaurant syndrome is throbbing in character along with a pressing and tightening facial pain and usually lasts from a few hours to a couple of days.

Symptoms of Chinese restaurant syndrome

Since it is a syndrome, a group of symptoms involving different systems of the body is experienced, some of which are:

  • A severe headache
  • Facial flushing and swelling
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate
  • Arrhythmias
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Muscle ache
  • A sensation of numbness and burning in the mouth and throat
  • Easy fatigability
  • Diarrhea

All of these symptoms are not necessarily present in everyone. However, a person with hypersensitivity might have three or more of the symptoms.

Causes of Chinese restaurant syndrome

  • Chinese food contains a food additive called monosodium glutamate, used for flavor enhancement. MSG is made from glutamic acid by fermentation of starch, molasses, or sugarcane. People who are sensitive to MSG, experience an allergic reaction upon consumption of any such food that contains this additive.
  • Monosodium glutamate is considered responsible for a number of symptoms in people who are hypersensitive. Several studies have been conducted which consider MSG symptom complex as just a hypersensitive reaction experienced by only those who are extremely sensitive to MSG.

Other ingredients to be avoided in the case of Chinese restaurant syndrome

Any food that contains:

  • Autolyzed yeast or yeast extract
  • Soy protein and extracts
  • Glutamic acid
  • Gelatin
  • Textured Vegetable proteins


The diagnosis is entirely dependent upon history taking of the symptoms. Your doctor might ask you questions about the consumption of any Chinese food within a 2 to 3 hour duration of onset of symptoms and the severity of the symptoms experienced with it. Another similar condition known as Hot Dog Headache is also due to MSG and should be differentiated from Chinese restaurant syndrome on the basis of history.

For severe symptoms such as arrhythmias and breathing difficulty, some examinations might be required to rule out any underlying health disorder.

Treatment of Chinese restaurant syndrome

The treatment entirely depends upon the severity and type of symptoms experienced by each individual. Most of the time no treatment is required. However, some of the drugs that can be taken are as follows:

  • Analgesic for pain relief.
  • Antihistamine as an anti-allergic.
  • A beta-blocker for high heart rate.

Home Remedies for Chinese restaurant syndrome

  • Drink a lot of water to flush out excess MSG out of your system.
  • Drink ginger or peppermint tea for symptoms related to the stomach.
  • Avoid any such food that contains MSG, If not specified on the container do not consume any food that has unspecified food additives in it.
  • Also, foods that have high glutamate content should be avoided.
  • Get a diet chart with foods that contain a lot of glutamates.
  • Until your symptoms subside, avoid any food that contains excessive sodium.

When to consult a doctor?

If you suffer from severe symptoms like increased heartbeat and breathing difficulty you should go to your doctor as soon as possible.


Can I still have foods that contain MSG?

If you experience mild symptoms, you can have food with a small amount of MSG in it. But if you suffer from severe symptoms you should take an MSG and glutamate free diet.

Is MSG safe?

The food development authority considers MSG as safe and the symptoms experienced by people with Chinese restaurant syndrome are because of them being hypersensitive to the additive.

What is the most commonly experienced symptom in Chinese restaurant syndrome?

The most commonly experienced symptoms in Chinese restaurant syndrome are headache, sweating, and allergic reaction.

Last medically reviewed on June 26, 2022.