What is Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?

A nice evening in a Chinese restaurant was planned. He ended differently than expected – with pressure on his temples, a feeling of tightness in his chest, and a headache. These and other symptoms can occur with what is known as Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (or “hot dog headache”). An intolerance to  glutamate  is suspected. Soy sauce is one of the possible causes. 

Typical symptoms of Chinese restaurant syndrome

Symptoms of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome can include:

  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • palpitations
  • nausea
  • body aches
  • reddened skin areas and heat sensations
  • facial muscle rigidity
  • itching  in the throat

The incubation time can be 10 to 30 minutes. In the worst case, the symptoms can last for a few hours.

Flavor enhancer glutamate

Glutamate, the salt of glutamic acid, is a seasoning (food additive) that is used particularly frequently in Asian restaurants, but also in ready meals and fast food outlets. This flavor enhancer (e.g. monosodium glutamate) can trigger a food intolerance or allergy in sensitive people.

Glutamate occurs naturally in many foods. The “free” glutamate is produced industrially as a tasteless salt from substances containing sugar. It only unfolds a (wrong) “aroma” in connection with certain dishes, or under certain circumstances it also masks the natural taste of a food.

Incidentally, the existence of glutamate intolerance has not yet been scientifically proven. Studies have not been able to establish a connection between the symptoms that occur and glutamate. Therefore, another cause is suspected as the trigger of the symptoms.


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