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. BrosnanEmail author
  • Adam Drewnowski
  • Mark I. Friedman
Invited Review


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.


Monosodium glutamate Glutamic acid Epidemiology Amino acid metabolism Obesity Fat metabolism 



Brown adipose tissue


Body mass index


Food and Drug Administration


Glucagon-like peptide 1


Generally recognized as safe




High-density lipoprotein


Metabolic syndrome


Monosodium glutamate


Obesity prone


Socioeconomic status


Trans-fatty acid


Conflict of interest

Presented in the symposium “monosodium glutamate: effects on appetite, food intake/selection and body weight” at the 13th International Congress on amino acids, peptides and proteins (ICAPP) held October 5–7, 2013, in Galveston TX. The symposium was sponsored by the International Glutamate Technical Committee. The authors received a modest honorarium for their participation in the symposium and the development of this manuscript, as well as travel funding to attend the symposium.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Wien 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • John T. Brosnan
    • 1
    Email author
  • 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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