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Summary

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a salt form of a non-essential amino acid commonly used as a food additive for its unique flavour enhancing qualities. Since the first description of the ‘Monosodium glutamate symptom complex’, originally described in 1968 as the ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’, a number of anecdotal reports and small clinical studies of variable quality have attributed a variety of symptoms to the dietary ingestion of MSG. Descriptions of MSG-induced asthma, urticaria, angio-oedema, and rhinitis have prompted some to suggest that MSG should be an aetiologic consideration in patients presenting with these conditions. This review prevents a critical review of the available literature related to the possible role of MSG in the so-called ‘Chinese restaurant syndrome’ and in eliciting asthmatic bronchospasm, urticaria, angio-oedema, and rhinitis. Despite concerns raised by early reports, decades of research have failed to demonstrate a clear and consistent relationship between MSG ingestion and the development of these conditions.