Can Dietary Changes Reducing Glutamate Result in Lower Chronic Pain Levels?

By Carolyn Burtt

Research currently underway in Kenya is attempting to tie the chronic pain levels in humans to the consumption of glutamate, primarily via MSG addition to food. Because of glutamate’s role as a neurotransmitter, it is often marketed as being a healthy, natural food additive, and is consequently used in the majority of Kenyan diets on a daily frequency. In high concentrations, however, it can overstimulate and ultimately kill nerve cells.

The principal method of pain relief for individuals in Kenya and other developing countries is acetaminophen, which is an over-the-counter drug and tends to be cheap, but the reduction of chronic pain without supplementary drugs would be monumental in terms of limiting drug overuse. Furthermore, a dietary intervention involving the replacement of ingredients containing MSG with spices and other seasonings causes little disruption in the daily lives of patients, and has shown preliminary success in minimizing chronic pain. Control groups and groups with a decrease in MSG usage and increase in water ingestion exhibited reductions in chronic pain symptoms, but an epidemiological examination will be required in the future in order to confirm these results and their basis. Comparisons between results of the study done in Kenya and others performed internationally also must be considered, given different stressors and neurological symptoms existing cross-culturally.

American University. "Pilot study in Kenya shows link between chronic pain and glutamate consumption: Researchers test theory that diet change can alleviate pain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 February 2018. <>.