So, ever since college I've been living with the belief that I'm MSG-sensitive, due to a not-very-controlled-but-good-enough-at-the-time series of observations about migraines and tactile hallucinations, which seemed to coincide with eating MSG-rich foods and which stopped when I stopped eating them. A recent forum thread (which I alluded to in a previous blog entry) led me to finally question this assumption; several peer-reviewed controlled studies have been done on MSG sensitivity and nothing found any rhyme or reason or consistency to an MSG response.
There are a few possibilities which came up; I came to the conclusion when I was going through a pretty stressful time in my life and had terrible dietary habits, and it could have been the combination of MSG and salt, along with being in a perpetual state of dehydration, for example, and perhaps this led to a taste aversion to the flavor of MSG itself.
Since I figured out the sensitivity, I always responded to the flavor of MSG with a prophylactic migraine protocol — aspirin, caffeine, and water. I would also often still develop a migraine (but not the hallucinations) anyway, and that could very easily be a psychogenic response. (Pain is one of the hardest things to measure objectively or repeatably — even the mere suggestion that a change in pain response is being measured is enough to completely change the way the pain is responded to.)
So, I decided to try eating some MSG-flavored food. Not a controlled double-blind study or anything, just a simple test to see if I can eat MSG without ill effects. Of course, I won't be able to draw any useful conclusions from it, aside from whether I actually need to keep on avoiding MSG (regardless of what the real underlying cause is).
It took me a while to figure out which food to use as a test, though. I didn't want to buy something I wouldn't normally eat anyway (such as Doritos), and I didn't want to buy MSG as a raw ingredient since even if I'm not sensitive to it, I wouldn't be using it anyway. My basic criteria were: decent-quality food that came as a single serving which I would normally eat (regardless of MSG content) but which happened to contain MSG. I finally settled on clam chowder as such a thing, since every time I've wanted clam chowder, every store-bought brand has been rich in MSG.
So, of course, imagine my surprise that pretty much every brand of clam chowder is now MSG-free, which I would have never known if I was operating under the assumption I couldn't have MSG. (Which is a bit ironic since a big reason for this is so that I can relax about what I eat and actually enjoy things again, without needlessly constraining the people I'm eating with.) I still ended up buying a brand with MSG — but it actually took me a while to find one!
Anyway, I haven't eaten it yet - I'll probably try it tomorrow night.