Dietary ‘excitotoxins’ linked with fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome

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A lot of conventional medicine is about symptom suppression. For example, with someone with ‘cramping’ in the gut we may give a drug to reduce the cramping. A better (I think) though more alternative approach would be to attempt to find out what’s causing the cramping and sort that out. As an aside, cramping in the gut and ‘irritable bowel syndrome’ is very often caused by food sensitivity in my experience, and wheat and perhaps other grains are common culprits.

Another example of how conventional approaches can be a bit wide of the mark concerns pain. Our first line approach here in medicine is to advise painkillers. Again, another approach would be to attempt to identify the cause of the pain and manage that.

I was interested to read a study published last month which sought to analyse the potential relationship between certain dietary elements and the conditions irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and fibromyalgia (characterised by pain and tenderness in the muscles) [1].

In this study, 37 people with both fibromyalgia and IBS excluded what are known as ‘exitotoxins’ – dietary elements which have the capacity to stimulate and even kill nerve cells. The two best-known exctotoxins in the diet are glutamate (derived usually from monosodium glutamate) and aspartic acid (a component of the artificial sweetener asparatame). The exclusion diet last for four weeks. During the diet, 31 study participants (84 per cent) reported that their symptoms had improved by more than 30 per cent.

This could be the placebo response at play. So, then the researchers tested those who improved by exposing them to MSG or a placebo on separate occasions for three days at a time. The MSG, compared to placebo, resulted in a return of their symptoms which was statistically significant. In particular, worsening of the total symptoms score, fibromyalgia severity and quality of life in regards to IBS symptoms were seen.

Individuals with symptoms of ‘no known origin’ might want to consider cleaning up their diets to see if this helps. Taking out processed foods (a source of MSG) and artificial sweeteners would be a good place to start, I reckon.


1. Holton KF, et al. The effect of dietary glutamate on fibromyalgia and irritable bowel symptoms. Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2012 Jul 4. [Epub ahead of print]

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