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Can MSG Make You Fat?

Remember MSG -- that ubiquitous flavor-enhancer that gives Kung Pao chicken its punch? Well, new research suggests that it may be playing a role in the obesity epidemic. And not just because Americans are ordering too much Chinese take-out.

Although some people have bad reactions to MSG--monosodium glutamate--it's generally considered safe. But the additive shows up in a lot foods beyond what's in those little white cartons from your local order-out joint. And some animal studies have suggested that MSG may promote weight gain.

So an international team of researchers decided to try to gather some evidence from people. They studied 750 middle-aged peasants in three rural villages in China, where most people prepare their own food at home, making it possible to tease out any possible effects of MSG. It's the first study to examine MSG and weight in humans.

When the researchers compared those who used the most MSG to those whose who used none they found the heavy MSG users were nearly three times as likely as the non-users to be overweight. That's after the researchers took into account differences in physical activity and total caloric intake.

Ka He, an assistant professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the University of North Carolina School of Public Health, led the research published in this month's issue of the journal Obesity. He says it remains unclear how MSG might promote weight gain. But animal studies suggest that MSG might affect the hormones leptin and adipsin, which help regulate weight. Even though the new study involved only Chinese, He says there's no reason to think MSG would affect other ethnicities any differently.

He cautions that more research is needed to establish whether there really is a cause-and-effect relationship between MSG and weight, but notes that the amount of MSG being used around the world has been increasing.

By Rob Stein  |  August 21, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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Thanks for posting this comment and citing the article from which it came. Diabetes Type II and weight are also positively correlated, even tho, among Asians, weight and Diabetes Type II are not (significant numbers of Asians who are normal weight get Diabetes Type II). Are there any studies, or did the authors look at correlations between Diabetes Type II, weight, and MSG use? Thanks.

Posted by: Leedom Lefferts | August 21, 2008 8:49 AM | Report abuse

There is no good reason to add MSG -- or any free glutamate -- to food. If it can't be made to taste delicious without this "flavor enhancer," it probably oughtn't get eaten. Sure, a little here and there that occurs naturally in soy sauce can't hurt too much... but otherwise, just yech.

Posted by: random-adam | August 21, 2008 8:51 AM | Report abuse

I think eating lots of donuts and big greasy burgers have more to do with being fat than whether or not it has MSG in it.

Posted by: Fred | August 21, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Lets see, Asians eat more MSG then any other people, and Asians are the thinnest people in the world by far.
But some nerd thinks that MSG is the problem?? As Bob Dole would say, "what a doofus."
Fred at 11:19, I think you have more brains then these researchers do.

Posted by: DW | August 21, 2008 12:24 PM | Report abuse

MSG is a neurotoxin. When it connects with a neuron it stimulates it until it dies. The hypothalamus is a brain structure that is on the lower part of the brain outside the blood brain barrier so when MSG is in the blood stream it attacks that part of the brain that regulates metabolism. Then no matter how much you eat, as in the Chinese study, you get fat because your basic metabolism is altered. Another reason you get fat eating MSG is that it makes your body produce extra insulin and you can ask anyone with diabetes what happens when they get too much insulin in their system. They get ravenously hungry. So if you eat something with MSG in it your insulin will be too high after 30-45 minutes and again from 105 to 120 minutes causing you to eat more. So MSG is not a food additive but a behavior modification drug. It is hidden under 75 different names in every canned and boxed food in the store.

Posted by: Lynn | August 27, 2008 8:40 AM | Report abuse

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