Chronic Pain and MSG Connection Possible, say researchers

We have seen from previous scientific studies that a link exists between MSG and fibromyalgia, as well as a link between MSG and migraine headaches.  Now a new pilot study indicates there may also be a connection between MSG and chronic pain in general.  As millions of people suffer from chronic pain, understanding possible remedies like avoiding food additives in the diet is important; we look forward to a large-scale clinical study on this topic.


Preliminary research from a small pilot study carried out in Meru, in eastern Kenya, shows a link between chronic pain and consumption of glutamate, a common flavor enhancer found in Western and non-Western diets worldwide. Results demonstrated that when study participants cut monosodium glutamate from their diets, their symptoms improved. The findings are published in the journal Nutrition.


As researchers study glutamate, they’re gaining insights into how the chemical works in the human brain and body. In the brain, glutamate is a common neurotransmitter. It also can act as an excitotoxin, over-stimulating and damaging or killing nerve cells. Some research has found that increased consumption of glutamate may enhance chronic pain symptoms, so there is biological cause for scientists to examine the chemical in relation to pain.

Where Glutamate is found:

Glutamate is also a naturally occurring chemical in some foods, like soy sauce and parmesan cheese, but is more commonly found as a food additive. In the U.S., glutamate is added to many food products and found under many names including ‘monosodium glutamate,’ ‘hydrolyzed protein,’ ‘protein isolate,’ ‘protein extract’ and ‘autolyzed yeast extract,’ just to name a few.

The study:

In the Kenya study, the goal was to test whether a dietary intervention could perform as well as or better than over-the-counter medication [Acetaminophen] in relieving pain. With a sample size of 30 participants, the researchers tested the effects of removing MSG, increasing water intake, or a combination of both, relative to acetaminophen (the main treatment option available in Meru).

Study participants experienced chronic pain for at least three months or more and in at least three quadrants of the body. Similar to what is seen with widespread chronic pain patients in the U.S., most also suffered from other neurological symptoms, including headaches or migraines, chronic fatigue, cognitive dysfunction, and sleep issues…When the research team initially surveyed residents in the area, an estimated 60 percent reported chronic pain, twice the amount typically observed.

The results:

The group that removed MSG from its diet and consumed more water reported significant improvements in their symptoms…The ‘water and alternative [non-glutamate] spices’ and ‘Acetaminophen’ groups both experienced significant reductions in pain after 2 weeks, with the greatest percentage of subjects improving in the ‘water and alternative [non-glutamate] spices’ group.



Journal Reference:  Kathleen F. Holton, Peter K. Ndege, Daniel J. Clauw. Dietary correlates of chronic widespread pain in meru, Kenya. Nutrition, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.nut.2018.01.016