China Restaurant Syndrome, Hot Dog Headache
Whether glutamate intolerance carries its name rightly is very controversial among medical professionals. Anyway, most doctors and food experts consider the studies on the so-called China-Restaurant Syndrome or the hot-dog headache as not very meaningful. The name China Restaurant Syndrome originated in the late 1960s in the United States. There, a doctor had noticed that he repeatedly suffered from sensations of eating, headaches and muscle tension after eating in China restaurants. The theory was quickly born that the glutamates frequently used as flavor enhancers in Asian cuisine were the cause.
In fact, there are some indications that glutamate should not be the cause of China Restaurant Syndrome. Read more under Causes.
It is characteristic of glutamate intolerance that the following symptoms occur within a few minutes after eating a meal:
- dry mouth
- a headache
- body aches
- hot flashes
- Facial muscle rigidity
These symptoms do not all have to occur together and vary depending on the individual. Most of the complaints pass within a short time, sometimes even after hours.
The cause of China-Restaurant-Syndrome is quite controversial in medicine. There are a number of case reports describing the symptoms of glutamate-spiced meals. But critics argue that none of the case reports show a causal relationship between the symptoms and the glutamate content of the food. Equally well, the symptoms could emanate from other components of the meal.
Another argument against the thesis of glutamate intolerance is that our bodies produce glutamate day after day. Glutamates are salts of glutamic acid. This acid in turn is naturally present in all animal foods. With the food we take daily about 10 grams of natural glutamic acid or natural glutamate. So why should the body react only after meals in China restaurants with glutamate intolerance.
For the thesis of glutamate intolerance supporters state that the symptoms are accompanied by arousal of the autonomic nervous system. In fact, glutamate in the body fulfills the role of an activating messenger (neurotransmitter) in the nervous system.
The health authorities of Europe and the US have classified synthetic glutamates as harmless food additives. There is no daily maximum dose set. In Germany, the most-sold flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate is only banned in baby food. Preserved meat and fish and ready meals may contain 1 percent sodium glutamate, and ready-made soups may contain twice as much. The highest is the proportion of sodium glutamate in seasonings. They may contain up to 50 percent of the flavor enhancer.
The diagnosis of glutamate intolerance is based solely on the observations of the person concerned. There is no test or other verification methods given the unexplained cause.
A therapy of glutamate intolerance is not known. Since the symptoms usually go on within a few hours, treatment does not seem necessary.
If there is a glutamate intolerance, it is probably hereditary and you would not be sure to prevent it. However, the complaints can be avoided by abstaining from glutamate-spiced foods. Glutamates as flavor enhancers are not only found in Asian cuisine (and especially in soy sauces), but also in many industrially produced foods and fast food products.
Glutamates in foods can be recognized by the names E 620 to E 625. Preparations which contain none of the E-glutamates may advertise with the term "without flavor enhancers". This is misleading. The dry yeast extracts commonly used in these products also have a flavor enhancing effect - possibly due to the high concentration of natural glutamate.