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-Obesogens versus Willpower-

Can Chemicals that we Consume be Preventing us from Losing those Excess Pounds?

#MSG as an obesogen

This blog post will be a bit different than those I’ve previously written for “Why This, Not That.” Rather than contrast the two mentioned subjects to determine which might be a better choice, this post will cover why obesogens may play a large role in preventing us from shedding excess pounds over a lack of willpower.

With the New Year upon us, many will be thinking about losing some weight or improving overall health in 2019.

Shedding excess pounds can prove challenging, and the struggle is seldom as easy as having the willpower to eat fewer calories and exercise more each day. Why is this?

The Standard American Diet (SAD) has changed significantly over the past several decades, as the processed-food industry and industrial agriculture have altered the way American’s eat today.

Americans eat out at restaurants more frequently now and turn to convenience foods when preparing meals at home, which lend to a daily diet of highly processed food items that are now associated with obesity and many chronic illnesses.

Let’s take a look at what current research says about obesogens and willpower.


An obesogen is a chemical substance that comes from outside the body and alters fat balance and storage within the body. An obesogen can change an individual’s metabolic set point, disrupt energy balance, alter the regulation of appetite and satiety, and encourage fat accumulation and obesity.

We have many such chemical substances in the American food supply. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) lists more than 3900 substances that can be added to our food today.

Examples of obesogens found in our food include monosodium glutamate (MSG), high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), the soy phytoestrogen genistein, and chemical pesticides found in our food and water such as atrazine and DDE (dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene, a DDT breakdown product).

Let’s see how two common food additives, MSG and HFCS, act as obesogens:

MSG as an obesogen: A 2015 article published in Systematic Reviews in Pharmacy showed how MSG as a chemical agent was able to induce obesity in rat/mice studies. The rodents were injected with MSG for five consecutive days and monitored for the next six months. Those injected with the MSG were found to have a number of pathological changes related to a lack of control in the hypothalamo-pituitary axis in the brain. Those rodents injected with MSG were found to be obese, have a delay in puberty, and elevated serum levels of corticosteroids, among other changes. The MSG was found to destroy the part of the hypothalamus in the brain that regulates hunger, or the feeling of being full, and another part of the hypothalamus that produces factors for hormones.

HFCS as an obesogen: A 2013 article published in Nature Reviews. Endocrinology examined evidence that linked intakes of high fructose with altered metabolism and early obesity. This perspective looked at high fructose exposure during critical periods of fetal, neonate and infant development and found high fructose exposure acting as an obesogen as it affected neuroendocrine function, appetite control, feeding behavior, fat distribution, and other systems that favored obesity.

In addition to promoting fat accumulation that can lead to obesity, some of these obesogens have been linked to conditions such as insulin resistance, the driving factor of type II diabetes.

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), there are more than 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States, some of which are known to be toxic to humans and many interfere with hormone function. These endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to various diseases, and some have been shown to be obesogens.

The NIEHS lists several obesogens such as bisphenol A, pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and phthalates.

Many studies have shown certain classes of pharmaceutical drugs, such as thiazolidinedione anti-diabetic drugs, tricyclic antidepressants, and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors to be obesogenic.


Willpower can be defined as the ability to control oneself and determine one’s actions.

A 2017 article published in the journal Obesity, states that controlling, or self-regulating our appetite involves a complex interaction between multiple domains such as cognitive, neural, social, and goal-directed behaviors and decision-making.

A quick study of appetite regulation shows that with several domains involved, it is a complex idea involving many elements.

The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that maintains internal balance within the body and is the link between our nervous and endocrine systems. One of the key body processes that the hypothalamus stimulates/inhibits is that of appetite and body weight.

We have seen with the two obesogens, HFCS and MSG that these chemicals have been found to affect and even destroy parts of the brain, such as the hypothalamus, that control our ability to exert willpower and self-regulate our appetite.


This quick review of the literature shows that when we consume certain chemicals (obesogens) in our diet, we may alter and even damage the body, setting the stage for weight gain and an inability to shed excess pounds as these obesogens then override our willpower.
As obesogens have the power to manipulate biological functions of the body, making dietary adjustments and removing food additives, such as the obesogens, from our diet can help move us toward achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.

Isaiah 1:19-20 “If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."


Holtcamp W. (2012). Obesogens: an environmental link to obesity. Environmental health perspectives, 120(2), a62-8.

Janesick, A., & Blumberg, B. (2012). Obesogens, stem cells and the developmental programming of obesity. International journal of andrology, 35(3), 437-48.

Parasuraman, S., & Wen, L. E. (2015). Animal model for obesity-an overview. Systematic Reviews in Pharmacy, 6(1), 9-12. doi:

Goran, M. I., Dumke, K., Bouret, S. G., Kayser, B., Walker, R. W., & Blumberg, B. (2013). The obesogenic effect of high fructose exposure during early development. Nature Reviews.Endocrinology, 9(8), 494-500. doi:

Stoeckel, L. E., Birch, L. L., Heatherton, T., Mann, T., Hunter, C., Czajkowski, S., . . . Savage, C. R. (2017). Psychological and neural contributions to appetite self-regulation. Obesity, 25, S17-S25. doi:

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