The low glutamate diet effectively improves pain and other symptoms of gulf war illness

Kathleen F. Holton, Anna E. Kirkland, Michael Baron, Shalini S. Ramachandra, Mackenzie T. Langan, Elizabeth T. Brandley, James N. Baraniuk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a multisymptom disorder including widespread chronic pain, fatigue and gastrointestinal problems. The objective of this study was to examine the low glutamate diet as a treatment for GWI. Forty veterans with GWI were recruited from across the US. Outcomes included symptom score, myalgic score, tender point count, dolorimetry and the Chalder Fatigue Scale. Subjects were randomized to the low glutamate diet or a wait-listed control group, with symptom score being compared after one month. Subjects then went onto a double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover challenge with monosodium glutamate (MSG)/placebo to test for return of symptoms. Symptom score was compared between diet intervention and wait-listed controls with an independent t-test and effect size was calculated with Cohen’s d. Change scores were analyzed with Wilcoxon Signed Rank tests. Crossover challenge results were analyzed with General Linear Models and cluster analysis. The diet intervention group reported significantly less symptoms (p = 0.0009) than wait-listed controls, with a very large effect size, d = 1.16. Significant improvements in average dolorimetry (p = 0.0006), symptom score, tender point number, myalgic score and the Chalder Fatigue Scale (all p < 0.0001) were observed after the 1-month diet. Challenge with MSG/placebo resulted in significant variability in individual response. These results suggest that the low glutamate diet can effectively reduce overall symptoms, pain and fatigue in GWI, but differential results upon challenge suggest that other aspects of the diet, or underlying differences within the population, may be driving these changes. Future research is needed to identify potential nutrient effects, biomarkers, and underlying metabolic differences between responders and non-responders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number2593
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Diet
  • Fatigue
  • GWI
  • Glutamate
  • Gulf War Illness
  • Pain
  • Symptoms
  • Treatment


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