Diet, Triggers

A Neurologist’s Insight on MSG & Headache

We’re lucky enough to have neurologist (and migraineur) Christina Peterson as a blog reader. She is a headache specialist and the founder of Migraine Survival and Headquarters Migraine Management.

Dr. Peterson is also an incredibly nice person who comments frequently on The Daily Headache posts. Her remarks are insightful, caring and often funny. I learn so much from her and love having her as part of our community.

A recent example is this her response to my post on MSG and headache:

OK–a couple of points.

From the article: “We now know that glutamate is present in almost every food stuff, and that the protein is so vital to our functioning that our own bodies produce 40 grams of it a day.”

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter. It has a chemical structure that is different from that of monosodium glutamate. They are not the same thing, although that may not be critical. Glutamate is rapidly absorbed from the GI tract, in whatever form–free glutamate in food, or MSG. Studies have not shown differences in plasma levels of glutamate in MSG users and non-MSG users.

Is there a difference in brain glutamate? We don’t have good ways to measure that. But at least half the receptors in the brain are glutamate receptors of one sort or another. In fact, one of the most promising migraine drugs in development right now is an AMPA/kainate drug–these are glutamate receptors. And some of the existing anti-epilepsy medications used for migraine prevention act on glutamate receptors.

This link is interesting:

Chinese Restaurant Syndrome remains controversial, but has also been attributed to fungi used in some of the dishes.

As to why there is not widespread migraine in Asia, well…the prevalence of migraine in Asians is much lower than it is in Caucasians–whether or not they live in Asia. This is well-documented in demographic studies of migraine.

As for the foods listed…there are other components to those foods that might be triggers other than glutamate. I’m not saying MSG is not a trigger, but glutamate itself? Not necessarily a bad thing.

I’ve also interviewed Dr. Peterson to learn about what her job is like, how her own headache disorder fits into her work and the most pressing issues in headache treatment. Our talk was terrific, but the post I wrote about it was not! I’ll try to revisit it soon so that you can benefit from her wisdom too.

3 thoughts on “A Neurologist’s Insight on MSG & Headache”

  1. Kerrie does such a great job of researching her topics–I always feel comfortable that she has covered things in a thorough and objective fashion. I just hope that well-written blogs like this help to raise awareness of headache so that it gets taken more seriously.



  2. It’s very encouraging to me to hear that a neurologist reads this blog! Thanks for putting a smile on my face today, Dr. Peterson!

    It’s encouraging for me too!


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