Amino Acids

, Volume 46, Issue 9, pp 2075–2087 | Cite as

Is there a relationship between dietary MSG obesity in animals or humans?

  • John T. Brosnan
  • Adam Drewnowski
  • Mark I. Friedman
Invited Review

Abstract

The sodium salt of glutamate (monosodium glutamate; MSG) imparts a savory/meaty taste to foods, and has been used as a flavoring agent for millennia. Past research on MSG/glutamate has evaluated its physiologic, metabolic and behavioral actions, and its safety. Ingested MSG has been found to be safe, and to produce no remarkable effects, except on taste. However, some recent epidemiologic and animal studies have associated MSG use with obesity and aberrations in fat metabolism. Reported effects are usually attributed to direct actions of ingested MSG in brain. As these observations conflict with past MSG research findings, a symposium was convened at the 13th International Congress on Amino Acids, Peptides and Proteins to discuss them. The principal conclusions were: (1) the proposed link between MSG intake and weight gain is likely explained by co-varying environmental factors (e.g., diet, physical activity) linked to the “nutrition transition” in developing Asian countries. (2) Controlled intervention studies adding MSG to the diet of animals and humans show no effect on body weight. (3) Hypotheses positing dietary MSG effects on body weight involve results from rodent MSG injection studies that link MSG to actions in brain not applicable to MSG ingestion studies. The fundamental reason is that glutamate is metabolically compartmentalized in the body, and generally does not passively cross biologic membranes. Hence, almost no ingested glutamate/MSG passes from gut into blood, and essentially none transits placenta from maternal to fetal circulation, or crosses the blood–brain barrier. Dietary MSG, therefore, does not gain access to brain. Overall, it appears that normal dietary MSG use is unlikely to influence energy intake, body weight or fat metabolism.

Keywords

Monosodium glutamate Glutamic acid Epidemiology Amino acid metabolism Obesity Fat metabolism 

Abbreviations

BAT

Brown adipose tissue

BMI

Body mass index

FDA

Food and Drug Administration

GLP1

Glucagon-like peptide 1

GRAS

Generally recognized as safe

GLU

Glutamate

HDL

High-density lipoprotein

MetS

Metabolic syndrome

MSG

Monosodium glutamate

OP

Obesity prone

SES

Socioeconomic status

TFA

Trans-fatty acid

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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John T. Brosnan
    • 1
  • Adam Drewnowski
    • 2
  • Mark I. Friedman
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of BiochemistryMemorial University of NewfoundlandSt. John’sCanada
  2. 2.Center for Public Health NutritionUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Monell Chemical Senses CenterPhiladelphiaUSA

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