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Adrienne Dellwo

Neurotransmitter Glutamate Tied to Fibromyalgia Pain

By March 18, 2008

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Another neurotransmitter is joining the ranks of those that are not quite right in people with fibromyalgia (FMS) - but while serotonin and norepinephrine levels are too low, glutamate is too high.

In a recently published study, researchers at the University of Michigan Health Systems have discovered that pain goes down when they reduce levels of glutamate in an area of the brain. Led by well-known FMS researcher Daniel Clauw, MD, they say this information could be useful for finding new medications and monitoring their effectiveness.

When glutamate moves through your brain, it makes cells more active. After researchers discovered people with fibromyalgia had a lot of extra activity in the area of the brain called the insula, they theorized that glutamate could be involved.

To test the theory, they used a brain-imaging test called proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (H-MRS) before and after acupuncture or "sham" acupuncture, because acupuncture is proven effective at inactivating areas of the brain.

After four weeks of treatment, both pain and glutamate levels in the insula were lower, suggesting glutamate plays a part in FMS and could be used as a biological indication of how severe it is. This was a small study, so the research team is calling for more research to verify the role of glutamate.

Think how it would change things to have a biological test showing how severe your FMS is! Do you think it would help people get disability? Would it help you convince your friends and family that you're really sick? Will this discovery lead to new drugs? Does this make you think more seriously about acupuncture? Share your opinion here or in About.com's Fibromyalgia & Chronic Fatigue Syndrome forum.

March 19, 2008 at 6:48 pm
(1) Deborah says:

This makes me almost cry. A real test to show that fibro is real! Maybe I can stop being labeled (a) A hypochondriac or (b) a drug seeker. Truly great news!

March 22, 2008 at 5:14 pm
(2) VaBreeze says:

Oh I think it would definitely make a difference to those who suffer. It will validate those who have been shunned by the disability boards as well as aid in helping family and friends understand the levels of pain. This shows much promise. I am considering accupuncture for fibro and RSD.

April 14, 2009 at 3:52 pm
(3) Heather says:

I didn’t know Provigil acted on glutamate. This article makes it sound like it would increase glutamate:


That’s not a good thing – I see it prescribed for FMS/CFS patients. Are they trading more energy/better focus for an increase in glutamate (incr. in pain?) I see it also works on norephinephrine which I think reduces pain.

Just makes me wonder if I’m reading these things right.

April 14, 2009 at 4:09 pm
(4) chronicfatigue says:


The article is a little confusing on glutamate. It says “Modafinil also indirectly alters the action of glutamate, the main neurotransmitter used by neurons in the brain to send signals down the line.” Usually, when medical types say something “alters the action” of a neurotransmitter, I’ve found it to mean, essentially – “it does something, we don’t exactly know what.”

To make it more convoluded, different neurotransmitters have different jobs in different areas of the brain. More glutamate in the insula (as in the study above) stirs up pain receptors, but in other areas it might help stir up positive activity.

Because we don’t know exactly how most of these drugs work, however, you’re absolutely right in being concerned. Anyone with FMS taking a drug that alters glutamate should watch for increased pain along with improved cognitive function.

January 8, 2010 at 3:46 pm
(5) Nancy says:

The end of the article poses the question that a test for fibromyalgia (glutamate levels) could perhaps help people get on disability. Hopefully it would be used to guide treatment to make our lives more productive and make getting on disability less necessary!

August 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm
(6) Jen says:

My hubby had me try immunocal, which raises glutathione (and presumably glutamate as well). I’m not big on supplements, but felt I lost whining privileges if I didnt. I have fibro and also MS-like symptoms.. muscle weakness, tremors, cognitive impairment, etc. I took it for one week each in September, November and December last year. I’ve only used my cane one day since mid-March.. I was using it daily. I can’t say for sure it’s immunocal.. maybe it’s normal variation.. Doubt that though. I’ve had progressive (but intermittant) problems for almost 20 years. This is the longest I’ve felt so well in over 5 years. I just saw the article today on migraines and glutamate and also one on restless leg and glutamate. i have problems with both. So, I’m going back on Immunocal for a while and will see what happens. Cheers.

October 6, 2010 at 12:02 am
(7) Dean Goedde says:

I researched glutamate toxicity for another reason: Huntington’s disease. Glutamate can act as a neurotoxin. I will briefly write my summary, and I think it can help people a LOT (I think it might be root cause for FMS):

We’re adapted to eat natural non-processed food. Not modern food. Glutamate makes food taste yummy, so it is added or present in almost everything at fast food restaurants, asian food, in soy sauce, expensive dry-aged beef, Worscestershire sauce, MSG (of course), even “Muscle Milk”. Nicotine is addictive for the same reason: it causes release of glutamate in the brain.

Glutamate excites neurons, even to the point of cellular stress and damage and even death. With natural food only, there is NOT a constant assault of excess dietary glutamate being able to diffuse into the brain and nerves throughout the body, only traces of glutamate. Normally, glutamate can’t just cross the blood-brain barrier either, but trauma can injure the barrier, making the system leaky and let too much glutamate in. Even without trauma the brain has adjacent regions that let glutamate leak in. It’s not just brain neurons, but the ones in skin and muscles throughout the body.

Natural endocannabinoids (cannabis-like compounds) are an old evolutionary adaptation for neuroprotection. If a neuron is too excited from glutamate, endocannabinoids step in and halt the toxic effects. Our bodies use essentially fatty acids (Omega-3,6,9) to make endocannabinoids. Fish and Flax oil are OK, but not as complete or safe as legal hemp oil (Whole Foods or similar). Hemp oil is legal because there’s no THC or other cannabinoids in it.

1) avoid dietary glutamate at all costs
2) ingest adequate fish/flax/hemp oil


April 15, 2011 at 12:24 pm
(8) Julie says:

I was just looking for info on genetic link with migraines and also with Fibromyalgia. It seems this is a common bond – too much Glutamate.


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