Is MSG Making Your Snoring Worse?

Sep 10, 2014, by Dr. Becky Coats

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a common food additive, found in many types of processed foods, though many people think of it as being in Chinese food. There are many natural sources of MSG, though it’s often used in concentrations much higher than that found in natural sources.

Since the 1960s, MSG has been blamed for many potential side effects, including TMJ jaw pain and headaches. In all cases the MSG connection is controversial. Among the controversial findings is that MSG may lead to sleep problems and increase snoring.

MSG and Sleep Problems

Sleep problems are one of the most commonly reported side effects of MSG. You can In community forums, people regularly report sleep problems associated with MSG. There have even been some semi-authoritative sites that report the side effect.

And, to be fair, there is some research that connects sleep problems and MSG, but the relationship is complicated.

Instead, research finds that consuming small amounts of glutamate don’t reduce sleep. Instead, they increase the proportion of REM sleep. With higher doses, it can make it hard to sleep, but a recent study confirmed only the REM sleep finding, and showed that total amounts of sleep and the proportion of slow-wave sleep were not affected.

MSG and Snoring

Although overall MSG wasn’t found to disturb sleep, a recent study showed it might be linked to increased snoring of normal-weight individuals, which could be very useful. For people who are overweight, snoring is easy to predict and recommend treatment, but for normal weight individuals snoring and sleep apnea can be harder to predict, leading to more of them going undiagnosed. If we could identify a link, we could know better when to recommend sleep apnea testing for normal weight individuals.

The Chinese study compared the MSG intake of more than 1200 individuals to the tendency to snore. Both aspects of the comparison were determined by questionnaires, with the dietary intake questionnaire given in 2002, and the sleep questionnaire given. They found that normal-weight individuals who ate a lot of MSG were twice as likely to snore, and three times as likely to have sleep-disordered breathing, a term that includes many related conditions, including sleep apnea.

There are a couple of caveats here. First, it’s good to be wary of any study that only defines sleep apnea frequency from a questionnaire. In order to diagnose sleep apnea, a sleep study is needed. And, of course, there is the problem that the sleep questionnaire and the diet questionnaire were given five years apart. Is it realistic to assume we can make conclusions about a person’s health based on what they ate five years ago?

Should You Avoid MSG?

If you suspect that MSG might be affecting your sleep, start keeping a sleep diary, and make sure you include what you ate. If you start to notice that MSG-laden foods are affecting your sleep, it might be time to cut them out. And, of course, if you note regular snoring and worry about sleep apnea, please call 817-442-3331 for an appointment with a sleep dentist at Grapevine Dental Care.