Background: World-wide obesity has risen to alarming levels. We present experimental support for a new and very challenging hypothesis linking obesity, voracity, and growth hormone (GH) deficiency, to the consumption of elevated amounts of the amino-acid glutamate (GLU). Supraphysiological doses of GLU are toxic for neuronal cells.
Methods: Human data were obtained from 807,592 German conscripts born between 1974 and 1978, and from 1,432,368 women of the German birth statistics (deutsche Perinatalerhebung) 1995-1997. The effects of orally administered monosodium glutamate (MSG) were investigated in 30 pregnant Wistar rats and their offspring. Pregnant animals either received no extra MSG, or 2.5 g MSG, or 5 g MSG per day, up to the end of the weaning period. In all, 2.5 g, respectively 5 g, MSG accounted for some 10%, respectively 20%, of dry weight of the average daily food ration. After weaning, MSG feeding was continued in the offspring.
Findings: Morbid obesity associates with short stature. Average stature of conscripts progressively declines when body mass index increases above 38 kg/m2. Also morbidly obese young women are shorter than average though to a lesser extent than conscripts. Oral administration of MSG to pregnant rats affects birth weight of the offspring. Maternal feeding with 5 g MSG per day results in severe birth weight reduction (P<0.01). Weight increments remain subnormal when MSG feeding to the mothers is maintained during weaning (P < 0.01). GH serum levels are affected in animals that received MSG during prenatal life via maternal feeding. Animals that are kept on high MSG diet (5 g MSG per day) continue to show serum GH levels that are as low or even lower than those of MSG injected animals (P < 0.05), both at day 30 and at day 90 of life. Animals that were kept on medium MSG diet (2.5 g MSG per day) showed low serum GH levels at day 30 of life (P < 0.01), but seemed to partially recover before day 90. Almost identical results were observed in IGF-1 serum levels. Oral MSG resulted in dose dependent voracity. The animals fed 5 g MSG per day increased water uptake by threefold (P < 0.01), and food uptake by almost two-fold (P < 0.01). The influence of MSG is in general more marked in males than in females.
Interpretation: GLU is a widely used nutritional substance that potentially exhibits significant neuronal toxicity. Voracity, and impaired GH secretion are the two major characteristics of parenterally administered GLU-induced neuronal damage. GLU maintains its toxicity in animals even when administered orally. Males appear to be more sensitive than females. The present study for the first time demonstrates, that a widely used nutritional monosubstance--the flavouring agent MSG--at concentrations that only slightly surpass those found in everyday human food, exhibits significant potential for damaging the hypothalamic regulation of appetite, and thereby determines the propensity of world-wide obesity. We suggest to reconsider the recommended daily allowances of amino acids and nutritional protein, and to abstain from the popular protein-rich diets, and particularly from adding the flavouring agents MSG.