Sue's Blog

Low glutamate diet - is it enough?


Gulf War Illness* is a multi-symptom disorder that affects about 30% of nearly 700,000 American veterans of the 1990–1991 Gulf War and equally the other side in the 1990-91 conflict.

Symptoms include:

  • extreme fatigue
  • widespread chronic pain
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • cognitive dysfunction - learning, memory, concentration, information processing

No matter what the cause, obviously the symptoms look like food intolerance to us. Sure enough, trials of the low glutamate diet – avoiding flavour enhancers such as MSG and aspartame and free glutamate foods such as tomato sauce, soy sauce – have found

“the diet … robustly reduced symptoms of fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome … Improves verbal working memory accuracy” (1,2)

It is interesting to see an elimination diet working for this illness where medications had failed but we suspect they may have seen even more improvements if using the diet we support (3), thus avoiding more problematic food chemicals especially salicylates. For neurological symptoms, for instance, see this from Loblay and Swain (4):

Food chemical Approx % reacting to challenge
nitrates, preservatives, salicylates 70-75%
colours, amines, MSG 60-65%
synthetic antioxidants (eg BHA) 55%
gluten, dairy foods 15-20%


What our readers say

Fibromyalgia - glutamates

“I have fibromyalgia and msg/glutamates cause horrific pain through my whole body … “ – Claire from story [1479]

Fibromyalgia – sals/amines/additives

“Once I went onto strict elimination, my health (fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue) improved quickly and dramatically... I'm 8-9 months down the track now and amines in particular give me fatigue symptoms and salicylates give me fibro-type pain. Sorbate preservatives also gave me pain throughout my body, but of a slightly different sort“ – Shireen from story [1449]

IBS - glutamates

“I am now super sensitive to anything with MSG 621 and its friends 627, 631 and 635 especially. I got caught with Aldi products … they say “no additives” etc and it has “NO MSG” in big letters on the packet but it was full of 627 and 631…The pain was so intense I thought I was dying !” - Enid from story [1375]

IBS - salicylates

“I was diagnosed with IBS … Since dietitians helped me find out I'm intolerant to salicylates my symptoms are gone completely” – Therese from story [1390]

Memory - MSG

“We recently figured out that my husband's sudden bout, at age 69, of grand mal seizures and memory loss are caused by MSG” – from story [1576]

Memory - salicylates

“…the multiple diagnoses began - arthritis, mental illness, fibromyalgia and so on…I was experiencing 10-15 symptoms daily and was hardly functioning …removing sal-full products and food from my life relieved all of my symptoms listed below (including memory loss)” - reader in the US military from story [557]

References and more info

1. Holton, K. F., Taren, D. L., Thomson, C. A., Bennett, R. M. & Jones, K. D. The effect of dietary glutamate on fibromyalgia and irritable bowel symptoms. Clin. Exp. Rheumatol. 30, 10–17 (2012).

2. Langan MT, Kirkland AE, Rice LC, Mucciarone VC, Baraniuk J, VanMeter A, Holton KF. Low glutamate diet improves working memory and contributes to altering BOLD response and functional connectivity within working memory networks in Gulf War Illness. Sci Rep. 2022 Oct 26;12(1):18004. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-21837-6. PMID: 36289291; PMCID: PMC9606252.

3. The diet we recommend: The Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Diagnostic Elimination diet

4. Robert H. Loblay, Anne R. Swain in 'Recent Advances in Clinical Nutrition' Volume 2, 1986. Libbey, London. Eds: M.L. Wahlqvist & A.S. Truswell pp. 169-177 PDF.

More reader reports about fibromyalgia

Our IBS factsheet

Our blog: 129 ways to add MSG and fool consumers

* aka Gulf War Syndrome, GWS and GWI. It appears to have been caused by the chemical nerve weapon sarin and affected both sides of the conflict about equally.