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Monosodium glutamate or MSG, a flavor enhancer most often used in Chinese menus, may not only cause post-meal headaches but also larger waists and heavier weight, says a new study conducted by a group of researchers from the National Institute for Nutrition and Food Safety, Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing, China and published in the June 2011 issue of  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

They have found that people who consume MSG loaded foods are most likely to be overweight or simply obese because of the appetite-stimulating effect of MSG causing them to eat more calories in the process.

Ka He, the team leader of the study and a nutrition expert affiliated at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill says that the increase in weight with MSG use is only modest.

MSG  may be the most popular food taste enhancer in the planet and it is mostly used in Asian cuisines. Americans on the other hand get their daily dose of MSG from canned and instant soups and junk foods.  In most cases a typical American consumes approximately 0.5 g of MSG per day. Comparatively, Japanese and Koreans take in approximately 1.5 to 10 grams of MSG per day.

MSG is safe, says most health experts. However, some people may experience some adverse reaction with MSG use such as nausea and headaches.

Previous studies showed conflicting results in the effect of MSG on weight gain. Some scientists believe that the use of MSG may increase a persons food intake because of the flavor while others hypothesize that MSG may be interfering with the signaling system in the satiety center.

In this particular study published by the The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Ka He and his colleagues followed up more than 10,000 Chinese adults for an average period of 5 years and 6 months. They tried measuring their subjects’ daily intake of MSG by doing some direct measures and by asking their subjects about their estimated intake.

The researchers found that men and women who tend to eat more MSG are 30 percent more likely to have increased weight problems at the end of the study compared to those who ate less MSG.

Yes, it’s true. Overweight and obesity are not as common in the continent of China as they are in the United States, and this may prove that MSG may not be the main culprit for the ever rising trend of weight gain among American adults. However, most Chinese are physically active and this may be the one off-setting the effect of increased food intake caused by MSG in their diets.

The true association between MSG and increase caloric intake and weight gain is still unclear. However, as mentioned by Ka He, its usage in the menu and its effect to weight gain may have something to do with leptin, a hormone known to regulate the appetite and the metabolism. Patients who use more MSG tend to have more leptin in their systems. Ka He explains that increased consumption of MSG can trigger leptin resistance resulting in the body’s defective processing of energy from food consumed. This may be the reason why most people who take in more MSG tend to gain more weight regardless of the amount of calories they regularly consume.


The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; Consumption of monosodium glutamate in relation to incidence of overweight in Chinese adults: China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS); He, K. et al.; June 2011


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