Obesity has run rampant across the globe to such a degree that even infant obesity is now turning into an epidemic. The problem has become so drastic that babies are now given anti-obesity drugs in the womb, medicated with weight loss pharmaceuticals before they are even born. Even more horrendous than climbing childhood obesity rates are adult obesity rates, which continue to skyrocket across not only the United States but the entire world population. What could be the cause of such a global health crisis? While there certainly is not a single factor to blame, one major player may be the integration of monosodium glutamate (MSG) into the average diet of both children and adults.
MSG is a deceptive “flavor enhancer” that has an extremely sweet taste and is widely used by the restaurant industry to make otherwise bad and unhealthy food taste delicious. Chemically, MSG is the sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid. Considering that it is derived from a natural source, shouldn’t it be of no danger to the body? After all, it is derived from an amino acid, which are considered the building blocks of life. The truth is that MSG, just like aspartame, is a toxic substance that has been found to damage the body in a number of ways — despite being “naturally” extracted from a non-essential amino acid. The problem is that when a singular amino acid is extracted from a complex food, and increases the concentration to unnatural proportions, glutamic acid can have devastating health effects. (See: Foods highest in glutamic acid)
In fact, MSG has been found to directly damage not only your neurological tissue, but has been found to lead to endocrine disruption throughout your body associated with metabolic syndrome. The reason for this lies within the relationship between MSG and the cells in your body. Dr. Russell Blaylock, a board-certified neurosurgeon, has described MSG as an excitotoxin. What this means is that MSG is so potent that it “excites” your cells to the point of death or damage, leading to varying degrees of brain damage. The result is the triggering of learning disabilities and neurological issues. Even the FDA has spoken out about the link between neurological diseases and MSG:
Studies have shown that the body uses glutamate, an amino acid, as a nerve impulse transmitter in the brain and that there are glutamate-responsive tissues in other parts of the body, as well.
Abnormal function of glutamate receptors has been linked with certain neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s chorea. Injections of glutamate in laboratory animals have resulted in damage to nerve cells in the brain.
According to the FDA, MSG Symptom Complex can involve symptoms such as:
- Burning sensation
- Facial pressure or tightness
- Chest pain or difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
The Obesity Connection
Aside from damaging major parts of your biology, MSG consumption may also be making you fatter. The University of North Carolina as well as a number of other organizations have found that those who use MSG are more likely to be overweight or obese than those who do not yet have the same amount of physical activity and calorie intake. Researchers from UNC teamed up with Chinese scientists to examine 750 Chinese men and women, aged between 40 and 59, in three rural villages in north and south China. With 82% of participants using MSG in their food, researchers created 3 different groups of eaters based on the amount of MSG they use. The results were quite shocking.
The group who used the most MSG were 3 times more likely to be overweight than non-users. Again, all of the groups had the SAME amount of physical activity and calorie intake!
Later in 2011, the study would continue on to find even more astounding information. Led by Ka He, a nutrition expert at the University of North Carolina, the researchers followed 10,000 adults in China for about 5.5 years on average. The intake in Asian countries is considerably higher than the United States so the results will be amplified in China verses the U.S., though that is beginning to change. Americans are consuming more and more MSG in processed food products such as chips and canned soups even when it is not labeled. Still, Americans’ typical daily intake of MSG is estimated to be only about 1/2 a gram, whereas estimates for Japan and Korea have much wider ranges, averaging as much as 10 grams per day.
Studying the intake of MSG in a wider range of participants and for a longer period of time, the results matched the previous study. Those who consumed the most MSG (a median of 5 grams a day) were about 30% more likely to become overweight by the end of the study than those who consumed the least amount of the flavoring (less than a half-gram a day), the researchers found. Participants still had the same physical activity and calorie intake. Furthermore, the risk rose to 33 percent when excluding those who were overweight at the beginning of the study.
The leader of the study, Ka He, summarized his thoughts on the findings:
Everybody eats it. This could spell trouble for many Americans, as aside from impacting your brain and nervous system, as I’ll discuss below, it may also be making you fat.
Regular consumption of MSG certainly will lead to a higher obesity risk, as it will lead to additional weight with each additional gram consumed per day. If the obesity risk is not enough, it also damages the cells in your body and may lead to neurological damage. There is simply no reason to choose MSG over a natural and safe alternative such as stevia.