What changed in 1957 that triggered the obesity crisis?

Did you ever wonder why consumers didn’t have problems with monosodium glutamate before 1968?   That’s one of the favorite stories told in the ongoing MSG-is-safe-for-you propaganda, and it happens to be true.  True, because of a 1957 invention that enabled production of so much MSG so quickly that it became easily and cheaply available. What had once been a harmless amino acid available and used in limited quantity became poisonous when available and used in great quantity.

Until Dr. Kwok wrote his well-known 1968 letter titled “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome,” physicians passed off reactions to MSG as allergic reactions, and the brain damage caused by MSG wasn’t obvious.

Prior to 1957, the amount of free glutamate in the average diet had been unremarkable.  But that 1957 change (in which Ajinomoto switched from extraction of glutamate from a protein source, a slow and costly method, to a method of bacterial fermentation), allowed them to churn out virtually unlimited amounts of MSG. And Ajinomoto began to market its product aggressively.  Shortly thereafter, food manufacturers found that profits could be increased by utilizing flavor-enhancing additives that contained free glutamate. Over the next two decades, the marketplace became flooded with manufactured/processed free-glutamate in ingredients such as hydrolyzed proteins, yeast extracts, maltodextrin, soy protein isolate, and MSG. And an ever-increasing variety of free glutamate-containing products became readily available to consumers who were being actively solicited.

Prior to 1957, the date of Ajinomoto’s launch of mass-production, there had been no reports of MSG-induced adverse reactions; no studies demonstrating MSG-induced brain damage; no obesity epidemic; no infertility crisis; and the incidence of glutamate-induced abnormalities such as multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, and autism had not yet begun to skyrocket.

In 1968, eleven years after Ajinomoto began mass producing MSG, the first report of MSG-induced adverse reactions was made public. And soon MSG-induced obesity and infertility would be recognized in young adults who had suffered glutamate-induced brain damage before birth or as newborns.

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