In our quest to relieve anxiety and stress and elevate our health, balancing GABA and glutamate is a key component of the self-care plan. I overcame disabling anxiety attacks and drug and alcohol addiction more than 34 years ago, as well as compulsive overeating, all of which are strongly associated with Gaba/glutamate issues, so I know this to be a profound truth. And my knowledge, experience, and passion for this topic are both personal and professional.
Working on this issue has been instrumental in my own life and my clients for maintaining sobriety, keeping anxiety at bay, managing stress, alleviating food cravings, improving sleep, aiding in gut issues, and living a peaceful life.
The first step in learning how to increase GABA and balance glutamate is to understand that they have a complex and interconnected relationship. Both are very important neurotransmitters that have a profound impact on many different aspects of our physical, mental, and spiritual health with the former being inhibitory and the latter being excitatory. Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate brain cells, while inhibitory ones reduce stimulation. Like all neurotransmitters, too much or too little of either one leads to problems.
When all is working as it should, they keep each other in balance. However, there are many factors that can easily disrupt this delicate balance and result in too much glutamate and not enough GABA, which can wreak havoc on your mental and physical health.
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What is Glutamate?
Glutamate is one of your primary excitatory neurotransmitters. It has many important roles like stimulating your brain cells so you can talk, think, process information, learn new information, pay attention, and store information in short and long-term memory. As a matter of fact, studies suggest that the more glutamate receptors you have the more intelligent you are. High levels of glutamate receptors are correlated with superior abilities in learning and memory. Unfortunately, they also correlated with an increased risk of stroke and seizures.
Although glutamate is one of the most abundant neurotransmitters found in the brain, it exists in very small concentrations. If the concentration level rises, then neurons become too excited and don’t fire in a normal manner. Glutamate becomes an excitotoxin when it is in excess; meaning it overstimulates brain cells and nerves and results in neurological inflammation and cell death.
An excess of glutamate can be a primary contributing factor to a wide variety of neurological disorders like autism, ALS, Parkinson’s schizophrenia, migraines, restless leg syndrome, Tourette’s, pandas, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, Huntington’s chorea, and seizures. As well as atrial fibrillation, insomnia, bedwetting, hyperactivity, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and STIMS (repetitive self-stimulatory behaviors like rocking, pacing, body spinning, hand-flapping, lining up or spinning toys, echolalia, repeating rote phrases or other repetitive body movements or movement of objects that are commonly seen in autistic children), stiff person syndrome, and an increased risk of stroke.
Too much glutamate can also increase eosinophils (a particular type of white blood cell) which result in inflammation, impair blood vessels that lead to migraines and blood pressure irregularities, and impair other areas of the brain like the hypothalamus, hippocampal neurons, and Purkinje neurons which affect speech and language.
Mercury in the body becomes more toxic in the presence of high levels of glutamate. Excess glutamate also makes cancer cells proliferate and increases tumor growth and survival.
Elevated levels of glutamate trigger the brain to release higher levels of its natural opioids (endorphins/enkephalins) in order to protect the brain from damage, which can result in feelings of spaciness and eventually contribute to the depletion of your natural opioids, and it also depletes glutathione levels, which is vital for detoxification, controlling inflammation, and gut health. Additionally, glutathione also assists in protecting neurons from damage, so when it is depleted it is not available to do this job and thus contributes to more cell death. Our natural opioids are critical for moderating physical and emotional pain, happiness, feeling empowered, and much more, if they become low in supply then more problems ensue.
High levels of glutamate may increase the survival of unfriendly microbes in the gut and contribute to problems like excess acid and heartburn.
Too much glutamate can lead to too much acetylcholine, and too much acetylcholine has a stimulating effect as well and puts one into a perpetual state of sympathetic stress with high levels of anxiety, fear, insomnia, restlessness, nervousness, etc.
What is GABA?
GABA, which is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is your primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its primary role is to calm the brain, slow things down, and relax you. One of the ways that it assists in this process is by increasing alpha wave production. It is also vital in speech and language. GABA puts the pause or space between words when you speak. The brain uses it to support sensory integration. Without adequate GABA production, our conversations would consist of lots of run-on sentences, slurred speech, loss of speech, and we would have trouble with comprehending language.
Your gastrointestinal tract is packed with GABA receptors and it is critical for the contraction of the bowel. Insufficient levels can result in abdominal pain, constipation, and impaired transit. It also supports healthy levels of IgA, (antibodies that protect your gut and other mucous linings from harmful invaders) which means it contributes to immune health.
Insufficient levels of GABA result in nervousness, anxiety and panic disorders, tension, muscle spasms, aggressive behavior, decreased eye contact and anti-social behavior, attention deficit, problems with eye-focusing (like that seen in autistic children when both eyes are focused inward towards the nose or waver back and forth in a horizontal or vertical movement), chronic pain syndromes, and much more. It may also contribute to GERD as it is needed to help regulate the lower part of the esophagus.
Low levels of GABA play a vital role in alcoholism, drug addiction, and cravings for sugar and carbs, as these substances will temporarily and artificially increase GABA, so one is unconsciously drawn to them. However, these substances also deplete neurotransmitters like GABA, serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins, so they will perpetuate the problem.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is found in almost every area of the brain, but the hypothalamus contains a very high level of GABA receptors, so it is vital for its many functions like regulating sleep, body temperature, appetite, thirst, sexual arousal and desire, and action of the pituitary, HPA axis, and the autonomic nervous system. The primary role of the hypothalamus is to maintain homeostasis throughout the body, and without enough GABA production, this will not happen. GABA also binds to sub-receptors and activates secondary messengers that affect dopamine.
Like all neurotransmitters, GABA and glutamate play a vital role in regulating the autonomic nervous system (stress response system), maintaining the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Too many excitatory neurotransmitters and we are in sympathetic nervous system mode and not enough inhibitory and we are unable to return to the parasympathetic mode. Thus, depletion of GABA can be a major contributing factor to sympathetic nervous system dominance and the many associated conditions like adrenal fatigue, insomnia, chemical sensitivities, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, etc. Maintaining sufficient levels is crucial in the recovery of these conditions.
To make matters worse, it is believed that dopamine-producing neurons are controlled by glutamate and GABA. Therefore, imbalances with Gaba and glutamate are going to have a profound impact on dopamine levels, and dopamine is critical for regulating things like our ability to feel pleasure, joy, happiness, motivation, and many cognitive functions. This issue is too complex to go into depth at this time.
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GABA and Glutamate Balance
When GABA is low, glutamate is high and vice versa. So in order to increase GABA, it’s not merely a matter of bringing it up, you must also focus on reducing the excess glutamate. The goal is to achieve balance. between the two. You might think of glutamate as the accelerator and GABA as the brakes. Both are equally important.
Glutamate (also referred to as glutamic acid) is actually the precursor to gamma-aminobutyric acid, and any excess is supposed to be converted automatically into GABA. This is the way the system maintains balance; anytime glutamate levels start to build up too high, then it is converted to GABA to calm things down. However, sometimes the body cannot regulate glutamate properly for a variety of reasons which we will now discuss, then glutamate can build up to excessively high levels.
An enzyme called glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) is needed for glutamate to make the conversion to GABA, but there are several factors that may interfere with this enzyme and impede the conversion process, which means a build-up of glutamate and a decrease in the formation of GABA. Response time may be delayed or the capacity to convert may be impaired. It is believed that problems with the GAD enzyme may be the primary underlying issue that results in too much glutamate.
For example, the rubella virus, which is found in the MMR vaccination can decrease the activity of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD)by as much as fifty percent. Thus, this may explain one of the reasons children begin to exhibit some of the symptoms of autism immediately after vaccination because as we mentioned earlier GABA is critical in speech and brain function.
Other chronic viral infections interfere with the GAD enzyme and some microbes like streptococcus flourish in a glutamate-rich environment, thus many children with pandas and autism carry an ongoing infection with strep.
Methylation also plays a role in the GABA and glutamate balance in a variety of ways. For one, if there is impairment in the methylation pathway, then folate doesn’t get utilized and it can break down into glutamate. Additionally, if you are not methylating properly you may not be able to suppress microbes like viruses or make enough T cells to fight them off, which means they will linger around to interfere with the GAD enzyme.
Methylation may be impaired due to nutritional deficiencies, toxins, genetic mutations, Candida overgrowth, or SIBO. Methylation is also heavily influenced by the Krebs cycle and vice versa, so a problem in this cycle can also impede methylation, and consequently GABA production. The Krebs cycle can also be impaired by Candida overgrowth, as well as bacterial overgrowth.
Additionally, the synthesis of GABA itself is also dependent on the Krebs cycle, so it is vital in more ways than one that this system be working properly to have sufficient levels. The Krebs cycle can become impaired in a variety of ways like a deficiency in B vitamins or the presence of heavy metals, and toxins from bacteria or Candida.
The GAD enzyme is generated by the pancreas, so problems with the pancreas may impair the production of the enzyme.
People with type 1 diabetes produce antibodies against the GAD enzyme, which may impair its response time or ability to convert.
Lead interferes with GAD activity. Lead also inhibits another enzyme involved in the heme synthesis pathway which results in an accumulation of an intermediate that competes with GABA.
Some substances like allylglycine (a derivative of glycine) are potent inhibitors of GAD.
B6 is also needed as a cofactor with GAD to convert glutamate into GABA, so if B6 levels are not sufficient, the conversion won’t happen either. Much of the population is deficient in B6. However, supplementing with B6 will also increase CBS gene production, so if there is an issue here, one should proceed with caution.
There are two isoforms of GAD (GAD67 and GAD 65) and they are encoded by two different genes known as (GAD1 and GAD2). Genetic defects in GAD1 or a decrease in the activity of GAD1 due to other reasons lead to a decrease in glutamate and a decrease in GABA. GAD1 SNP variation rs3828275 is associated with panic disorders, traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic seizures, and depression, while a genetic variation in SNP rs12185692 is associated with neuroticism, anxiety disorders, and major depression.
The progesterone metabolite, allopregnanolone, binds to Gaba-A receptors, therefore insufficient levels of progesterone can lead to less Gaba function. On the other hand supplementing with progesterone or prenenalone could result in high levels of Gaba that get converted into glutamate in the Gaba shunt.
Additionally, glutamate receptors also pull in other excitatory substances into the cell besides glutamate, including all of the following:
- Aspartate (can also be converted into glutamate)
- Aspartic acid
- Glutamic acid
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Cysteine (But not N-acetylcysteine. However, N-acetylcysteine does contain sulfur and too much sulfur can be counterproductive as well, so should be used mindfully.)
Therefore, each of these can bind with glutamate receptors, which also results in excessive stimulation and contributes to the imbalance in GABA and glutamate and the wide array of symptoms that are generated. The more glutamate receptors you have the more excitatory substances that will be pulled in.
Citrate or citric acid has the potential to be neurotoxic in the very sensitive because most citrate is derived from corn, which can result in trace amounts of glutamate or aspartate during processing. The majority of vitamin C supplements are derived from corn and should be avoided for the same reason, look for a brand derived from another source. Additionally, pretty much all corn is genetically modified, which means it is loaded with glyphosate, which would also elevate glutamate, so another reason to avoid corn-based supplements.
To complicate things further, glutamate has the ability to bind with six other receptors in the brain, like the NMDA receptor, which assists in delivering calcium to the cell and plays a vital role in memory function and synaptic plasticity. Calcium is used by glutamate as the agent that actually inflicts the harm on the cell. So, if there is an excess of calcium in the body for any reason, it too will disrupt the GABA and glutamate balance.
Glutamate and calcium together cause ongoing firing of the neurons, which triggers the release of inflammatory mediators, which leads to more influx of calcium. It becomes a vicious cycle that results in neural inflammation and cell death. Glutamate has been described as the gun, while calcium should be seen as the bullet, says Dr. Mark Neveu, a former president of the National Foundation of Alternative Medicine. It’s important to note that activation of the NMDA receptor also involves glycine, D-serine, or D-alanine, which means either one of these could allow for more influx of calcium as well.
Magnesium can help regulate calcium levels and so can zinc. However, higher doses of zinc (more than 40mg per day) can also activate the release of glutamate through non-NMDA glutamate receptors, so one must exercise caution with zinc. However, if calcium is excessively high, other herbs or nutrients may be used to bring it down, like lithium orotate, Boswellia, or wormwood. Lithium, as well as iodine and boron, can also assist in lowering glutamate. Calcium intake in food may need to be reduced or limited if calcium is too high. Magnesium is also able to bind to and activate GABA receptors.
If one exhibits low levels of calcium, Dr. Amy Yasko recommends using nettle or chamomile to increase calcium levels, rather than supplementation of calcium itself, if we are dealing with someone who has an imbalance in GABA and glutamate. Vitamin K2 and D would be important as well in combination with the calcium to help with absorption. If supplemental calcium is used it should be accompanied by magnesium, which will help control the excitotoxic activity.
Glycine can be inhibitory or excitatory, and in people who tend to lean towards excess glutamate it typically becomes excitatory, so it may need to be avoided.
Glutathione contains glutamate, so supplementing too heavily may contribute to excess glutamate.
Vitamin D increases calcium levels, and as we established, elevated calcium levels can increase glutamate, so caution may be necessary with vitamin D supplementation.
The amino acid taurine increases the GAD enzyme and consequently GABA levels. Additionally, taurine doubles as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and can bind directly to GABA receptors, so it can help provide balance naturally in that manner as well. Higher levels of any inhibitory neurotransmitter help lower high levels of any excitatory neurotransmitter. Taurine is found in high levels in the brain and cardiac tissue, indicating its importance in these areas. Taurine is found most abundantly in seafood and animal protein, so it is often deficient in one’s diet.
If taurine is deficient, then the GAD enzyme may be low as well, therefore, supplementing with taurine can be used to manage the GABA and glutamate balance and protect from neuron death. However, there are a couple of genetic polymorphisms (particularly CBS and SUOX gene mutations) that can result in negative effects from taurine supplementation, because these mutations result in excess levels of sulfur in the body and taurine is sulfur based. If one has these gene mutations, they may also need to avoid other supplements that are high in sulfur and limit sulfur-based foods. These mutations can also impair ammonia detoxification as well. B6 and SAMe increase the activity of these gene mutations, so supplementation with these substances may compound the problem too. Because of the GABA shunt, which can convert GABA back into glutamine, which is then converted into glutamate, taurine supplementation may increase glutamate in some people.
Additionally, Candida produces a toxin called beta-alanine that competes with taurine for reabsorption in the kidney and causes taurine to be wasted in the kidneys and excreted through the urine, and beta-alanine is absorbed instead. Therefore, taurine levels may be insufficient, which can contribute to less GABA activity. Not only that, taurine can combine with magnesium to form magnesium taurate and the two of them may be eliminated together, which can lead to magnesium deficiency. Insufficient levels of magnesium are going to result in excessive levels of calcium, which as we established earlier, will increase glutamate firing.
Serotonin, another vital inhibitory neurotransmitter is also needed in order for GABA to work properly. If one is deficient in serotonin, then even if you have sufficient levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, it may not be able to perform its inhibiting effects adequately. Increasing GABA may require bringing up the serotonin levels.
A diet that does not contain enough of the nutrients needed to make inhibitory neurotransmitters like animal protein and fat plays a vital role in an imbalance between glutamate and GABA. Furthermore, the proper transmission of any neurotransmitters can’t happen without adequate levels of fat and most people are not consuming enough fat in their diet. Additionally, many foods and substances like sugar, whole grains, legumes, any high starch food, caffeine, chocolate, artificial sweeteners and flavorings, food additives, and dyes can deplete GABA levels or disrupt transmission, so they should be removed from the diet. Grains (including whole grains) can bring about an excitotoxic effect by causing excessive glutamate formation in some people.
A ketogenic diet has been found to favor GABA production and be exceptionally beneficial in the treatment of many conditions associated with excess glutamate like seizures and epilepsy. A ketogenic diet increases the GAD enzyme and neurons can use ketones produced from fat burning as a precursor to GABA. Additionally, glutamate can be turned into GABA or aspartate. Aspartate is also an excitotoxin in excess, with similar effects as elevated glutamate. A ketogenic diet encourages glutamate to become GABA, rather than aspartate. However, many people who are high in glutamate are also high in histamine. Fat is a histamine releaser, so if the individual is also high-histamine, they will not do well on a true keto diet that results in ketosis. Therefore, I have found that following a low-carb Paleo diet (under 50 grams of carbs per day, high in animal protein, and moderate in fat) is the ideal diet for maintaining the balance between GABA and glutamate. This results in allowing us to run primarily on ketones and fat and a little glucose and reap those benefits, without putting us into true ketosis. However, each person can experiment with the fat, animal protein, and carb ratio to see what works best for them. You may want to note, that some fish like mackerel have high levels of naturally occurring GABA. But seafood is high-histamine, so should be avoided if one is also high-histamine.
Glutamate and insulin have an intimate relationship. On one hand, high glutamate will trigger the release of insulin, which means insulin will then lower glucose levels; but glucose is needed to help regulate glutamate levels at the synapses, so if it goes to low, then glutamate is going to increase. This means hypoglycemia or low blood sugar will result in both triggering high levels of glutamate and impairing your ability to reduce the build-up.
Therefore, not eating foods that spike insulin and keeping blood sugar levels stable is a vital element of keeping GABA and glutamate in balance. At the same time, keeping your glutamate balanced would be a vital aspect of keeping your insulin levels healthy, which would be important if you are trying to lose weight, have insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, compulsive overeating, obesity, and the many other insulin-related conditions. Again, demonstrating how a low-carb Paleo diet would be the most beneficial diet for this issue.
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Some people have a genetic mutation (VDR/Fok gene) that impairs their ability to regulate their blood sugar levels sufficiently, Dr. Amy Yasko, says there are a variety of pancreatic supplements that may be needed to support this issue.
Environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, air pollution, heavy metals, and chemicals found in your common everyday household cleaning products, cosmetics, perfumes and colognes, air fresheners, personal care products, dish soap, laundry soap, and fabric softeners, all deplete and disrupt normal production and function of all neurotransmitters. Therefore, another critical component for maintaining sufficient levels of GABA is to reduce your exposure to these toxins by living a non-toxic and environmentally friendly lifestyle and eating organic.
Within the category of toxins, pesticides have the most profound impact on the brain. They are neurotoxins that can disrupt acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, endorphins, oxytocin, histamine, glutamate, norepinephrine, and GABA. Many pesticides primary mechanism of action is inhibition of GABA, meaning the pesticide achieves its goal or its effect on the target by inhibiting GABA. It is designed specifically for this action.
The toxins created by Candida can stimulate surges of glutamate production. Hundreds of other toxins can produce this same surge in glutamate activity, including mold toxins, bacterial toxins, Lyme, and organic solvents. Dr. Rick Sponaugle, a brain expert, states that even the toxins released by bacteria in your mouth that cause gingivitis and periodontal disease can increase glutamate activity and lead to a wide array of symptoms like anxiety. I can attest to this personally, I have experienced high anxiety from gingivitis. If I do not get my teeth cleaned regularly the bacteria in my mouth will cause anxiety as well as severe fatigue and problems sleeping. So it’s important to note, that many of the symptoms of Candida or bacterial overgrowth can be caused by an excess of glutamate.
Of particular interest is the impact of mycotoxins (mold and fungi toxins) on glutamate. One study found that it may increase the release of glutamate by 213 percent and aspartate by 227 percent. So anyone living in a home with an unidentified source of mold damage or who has had previous exposure could have significant elevations in glutamate.
Many practitioners suggest supplementing with GABA directly to increase GABA and lower glutamate. However, I frequently work with people who get a stimulating effect from GABA supplementation and I get a stimulating effect myself, so be sure to monitor your response. GABA itself can be converted back into glutamine, which is then converted back into glutamate through a metabolic pathway called the GABA shunt. So GABA supplementation (including Pharma Gaba) can end up increasing glutamate in some people as well.
The GABA shunt is a closed-loop process that exists in order to produce and reserve GABA. It is a very complicated and complex process and my understanding of it is pretty limited and elementary.
What I do understand is this. In the Gaba shunt, GABA is converted into glutamic acid, which is converted to glutamate, which is then converted to Gaba again. The process is in place to produce more Gaba. But in people who have the issue with the conversion process, it doesn’t get converted to Gaba and ends up remaining as glutamate. The problem occurs because some people have problems with the conversion. Therefore, this is one of the reasons that taking a supplement of Gaba can be counterproductive. All that Gaba in the Gaba shunt can become glutamate and not be converted back to Gaba. This is true of any supplement that increases GABA (including PharmaGABA) when GABA is elevated then it can convert back to glutamate.
Gaba in glial cells (non-neuronal cells in the brain, spinal cord, and peripheral nervous system) is converted into glutamine, and glutamine is converted to more glutamate and reenters the Gaba shunt to be turned into more Gaba. But, again the conversion may not be happening properly.
The Krebs cycle is also involved in the Gaba shunt, so any impairment there can affect how the shunt is working.
According to Dr. Datis Kharazzian, a brain expert, if you have any effect from GABA supplementation, (positive or negative) that means you have a leaky brain. In his book, Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, he explains that in a healthy brain, the junctions in the blood-brain barrier only permit nanoparticles to pass through. GABA “exceeds the nanoparticle size and does not have a blood-brain barrier transport protein.” It should not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. If it does, then this suggests there is a leaky brain.
As a matter of fact, Dr. Kharrazian uses GABA supplementation as a screening tool to determine whether one has a leaky brain or not, calling it the GABA Challenge Test. He also states you shouldn’t take GABA supplementation, even if you have a positive effect, “because you risk shutting down your GABA receptor sites.” This is evidenced by the fact that many people experience withdrawal when they come off a GABA supplement. The fact that withdrawal is occurring tells us that the brain is downregulating responsiveness to GABA in response to the GABA supplementation. If you have no effect from GABA, this is a good sign, you most likely do not have a leaky brain. If a leaky brain is present, then many other harmful substances can be crossing the blood-brain barrier and cause additional problems.
N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is supposed to be a glutamate scavenger and may be suggested to increase GABA, however, it also increases glutathione, and excess glutathione can increase glutamate, so this may or may not provide relief.
You have most likely seen the substance called phenibut for increasing GABA. I am not in favor of using it because it is an artificial means of stimulating gamma-aminobutyric acid, and remember any artificial stimulation leads to depletion. Many people report that they get addicted to phenibut, thus demonstrating that it is indeed too stimulating which will perpetuate depletion. As I see it, phenibut is an addictive mind-altering drug.
Another popular choice to increase GABA is l-theanine. L-theanine is a glutamate analog. This means if you fall into the category of people who are having problems converting your glutamate to GABA, this could lead to excess glutamate rather than GABA. Additionally, l-theanine is derived from tea or mushrooms, it is an artificial means of supplementing glutamate, not natural. Furthermore, it could have traces of caffeine or fungi from its original source, which could be problematic as well. Therefore, l-theanine may work for some but have the opposite effect for others. Lithium orotate is used by some practitioners instead, and it may be a better choice.
Many manufacturers of nutritional supplements and health care practitioners have no knowledge or are not fully educated on the topic of glutamate. Therefore, it is very common for nutritional supplements, even some of the more respected brands, to contain excitotoxins. If you tend to lean towards excess glutamate, you must be very careful with your nutritional supplements.
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Drugs and Medications that Affect GABA
There are many drugs (e.g. benzodiazepines and nonbenzodiazepine sedatives) that target your GABA receptors like Ativan, Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Neurontin (Gabapentin), Depakote, and others. Some of these drugs, like benzos, look similar in chemical structure as gamma-aminobutyric acid so they can fit in your GABA receptors, which artificially stimulates them, but they do not actually increase production. Therefore they do not address the underlying problem of not producing enough because there must be some level of GABA present in order for these drugs to have an effect. Others like Gabapentin mimic GABA in some other way. Furthermore, anytime an exogenous (from outside the body) substance is used to artificially stimulate a neurotransmitter the brain responds by reducing production or responsiveness, which results in more depletion of the neurotransmitter, which in this case is GABA. Therefore, any drugs that target GABA receptors or mimic them, or manipulate GABA or glutamate in any way, will inhibit your ability to acquire and maintain balance and cause even bigger problems.
Benzodiazepine use can cause long-term and even permanent damage to GABA receptors. In all cases, it is difficult to reverse and often a life-long recovery process. The longer they are used and the higher the dose the more damage that is done and the harder it is to reverse. Many studies have shown that long-term users of benzodiazepines have significant brain damage including atrophy. However, with the proper changes in diet and lifestyle, the damage can be managed and a high level of comfort can be achieved. As I mentioned previously, I am a recovered alcoholic and benzo addict; I used them for nearly ten years and I have been clean and sober for more than 34 years and completely overcame my disabling anxiety attacks. The effects of nonbenzodiazepine sedatives like Ambien and others would be similar.
This is also true of herbs that are used to increase GABA levels such as Valerian Root, Kava Kava, holy basil, passionflower, chamomile, or any other herb used for this purpose. The brain responds to herbs that manipulate neurotransmitter levels in the same manner as a pharmaceutical – it will downregulate responsiveness or production of GABA, thus making the problem worse.
Alcoholic beverages are another drug that depletes GABA and elevates glutamate in a similar manner as benzos. The more alcohol that is consumed, the more Gaba is depleted and glutamate elevates. The recovering alcoholic or anyone abusing alcohol is dealing with an extreme level of glutamate. And the use of marijuana and cannabis would also hinder one’s ability to balance their Gaba and glutamate for the numerous impact it has on all neurotransmitters and the fact that a high dose of THC inhibits the production of Gaba.
There are various other pharmaceuticals that can harm Gaba receptors and contribute to the imbalance, such as products taken for hair loss that contain finasteride like Propecia and the antibiotic Cipro.
Finasteride prevents the formation of neurosteroids, which are needed to activate GABA(a) receptors, so it inhibits GABA activity. These inhibited neurosteroids (steroids formed in the brain) are also needed to modulate neuronal excitability. There is a serious condition called Post-Finasteride Syndrome that is likely the result of this impact on Gaba.
Cipro and other fluoroquinolone antibiotics are antagonists to GABA(a) receptors meaning they bind to GABA(a) receptors and block GABA from being able to bind to the receptors, resulting in stimulation to the central nervous system. Many people report a wide array of neurological and psychological symptoms even after discontinuing the use of Cipro that suggests possible long-term damage to Gaba receptors that is not easily reversed.
In the benzo-addicted individual, Cipro can also block benzos (benzodiazepines) from binding to the GABA(a) receptors and thrust the individual into sudden withdrawal.
Loud Noise, Tinnitus and Glutamate
Exposure to loud noise can have harmful effects on the endocrine system, cardiovascular system, brain, and nervous system, including a level of glutamate release that is excitotoxic. This overwhelms glutamate receptors and may cause irreversible damage to synapses. Loud noise may also damage hair cells in the cochlea leading to excess glutamate.
Either way, this can lead to tinnitus (or even hearing loss), but tinnitus may occur with glutamate toxicity even without the presence of loud noise. Ototoxic drugs (drugs that harm the hair cells in the cochlea) may also lead to excess glutamate and tinnitus. I would say that some herbs can have an ototoxic effect as well, as I have frequently experienced a flare in tinnitus from various herbal supplements.
Excitotoxins in the Diet
One of the biggest contributors to an imbalance in GABA and glutamate is the presence of excitotoxins in the diet. Many foods and nutritional supplements contain the excitotoxins (glutamate, glutamic acid, glutamine, aspartate/aspartic acid, and cysteine) or they contain substances that can prompt the body to produce them. These foods and substances should be avoided by anyone trying to balance their GABA and glutamate levels and anyone who tends to generally lean towards excess glutamate.
Dr. Amy Yasko explains that “excitotoxins in food overexcite neurons to the point where they become inflamed and begin firing so rapidly they become exhausted or die.” This results in a wide array of neurological symptoms that are found in autism, OCD, anxiety disorders, insomnia, hyperactivity, attention deficit, nervousness, aggressive behavior, restless leg syndromes, Tourette’s, migraines, seizures, and more. Excitotoxins increase other excitatory neurotransmitters as well like norepinephrine, which compounds these symptoms.
Dr. Amy Yasko, an expert in autism, tells parents with children who have autism that if they take only one step in her recovery program that the most important element is to eliminate excitotoxic foods that increase glutamate levels. This one step alone can provide dramatic improvements in STIMS. Thus, demonstrating the profound impact that excitotoxins have on brain function.
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Most Common Sources of Excitotoxins
Monosodium glutamate. Keep in mind that MSG is found in numerous places you may not be aware of like most processed food, fast food restaurants, and it may be a binder in medications, supplements, prescription drugs, over the counter drugs, IV fluids, vaccines, and as a growth enhancer sprayed on crops of food and produce called Auxigrow.
Glutamate and aspartate are naturally occurring in wheat gluten, hydrolyzed yeast, and milk casein (which means any dairy product that contains casein has the potential for problems, but particularly cheese, which is a concentrated form of casein).
Other common food sources that contain excitotoxins include, hydrolyzed protein, hydrolyzed oat flour, or anything hydrolyzed, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, disodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract or anything else autolyzed, gelatin, glutamic acid, carrageenan or vegetable gum, guar gum, bouillon, kombu extract, anything malted, maltodextrin, many seasonings and spices, soy extract, soy protein or soy protein concentrate, or soy protein isolate, and soy sauce, textured protein, whey protein, whey protein concentrate or isolate.
The words natural flavor or natural flavoring on a package typically means it contains MSG or some other excitotoxin because they are used to stimulate your taste buds and artificially intensify the flavor.
Other foods or substances that contain excitotoxins and can damage nerves include anything fermented, protein fortified, or ultra-pasteurized or vitamin-enriched, corn syrup, bodybuilder formulas or protein formulas, caramel flavoring or coloring, flowing agents, dry milk, L-cysteine, egg substitutes, cornstarch, corn chips, citric acid if it is processed from corn, certain brands of cold cuts, hot dogs and sausages (even the ones in health food stores), many canned foods, pectin, pickles, any processed food, meats in the mainstream grocery store are often injected with them, tofu or other fermented soy products, xanthan gum or other gums.
Any nutritional supplement that contains glutamine. Glutamine is often recommended to heal the gut and increase GABA, but it first increases glutamate, and if you aren’t converting your glutamate to GABA for any of the many reasons we listed above, then you end up with nothing but a bunch of excess glutamate. Anyone who has an issue with excess glutamate should typically avoid supplementation with glutamine. Glutamine and glutamate convert back and for into one another.
Furthermore, some bacteria in the gut convert glutamine into glutamate. If one has an excess of these types of bacteria, which could be the case in SIBO, then glutamine supplementation may contribute to excess glutamate. Additionally, some gut bacteria eat glutamine, so in people who have SIBO, glutamine can cause the proliferation of SIBO, and toxins from SIBO can lead to excess glutamate.
It can also be a matter of potency. For example, I can consume yogurt every once in a while with no glutamate problems, but if I consume whey protein then I have immediate excess glutamate. This is because the level of glutamate in whey protein is much more concentrated than it is in yogurt. Anything that has a concentrated level of glutamate is going to be more problematic than something that has less potency.
Bone broth, which is commonly recommended for healing the gut is very high in glutamate, especially chicken bones. For example, I get an instant migraine from taking a little sip of bone broth from the glutamate content. I can’t even cook chicken or beef with the bone, or the meat will absorb the glutamate and give me a migraine. I can sometimes eat beef or buffalo cooked with the bone, but it varies. I do best if the bone is removed. So you should experiment to see if your meat cooked with bone is contributing to your glutamate imbalance and be aware that bone broth will increase your glutamate levels. Just slow-cooking meat for a long time, particularly braising, can increase glutamate.
Some common foods that are particularly high in glutamate are parmesan cheese, Roquefort cheese, tomato juice, grape juice, and peas. Walnuts, mushrooms, broccoli, tomatoes, and oysters are moderately high as well. Chicken and potatoes to a much lesser degree. If you eliminate all the other high glutamate substances, then you may not have a need to reduce some of these health-enhancing foods like broccoli, walnuts, and chicken. However, if your glutamate levels are really elevated, then these foods may be problematic as well, at least until you get levels reduced to some degree.
Protein powders, amino acid formulas, and collagen are high in glutamate. Branch chained aminos (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) taken in high concentrations can be excitotoxic.
Other Contributing Factors to GABA and Glutamate Imbalance
There are other genetic polymorphisms that may inhibit your ability to synthesize GABA itself, besides those we discussed that involve the GAD1 gene.
Up-regulation of the CBS gene, which increases alpha-ketoglutarate production can lead to excess glutamate.
Conversion of glutamate to GABA by glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) is inhibited by copper, so make sure copper levels are not elevated.
Pyroluria is a genetic problem in hemoglobin synthesis that can result in deficiencies in B6 and zinc, both of which are critical for the production of GABA and the management of excess glutamate. Therefore, if you have pyroluria it can indirectly contribute to impairing GABA and glutamate balance.
Chronic stress is a major contributing factor to the depletion of GABA and other inhibitory neurotransmitters. High levels of inhibitory neurotransmitters like gamma-aminobutyric acid and serotonin are needed to modulate the stress response system. They help the mind and body return to the parasympathetic state when the stressful event is over. If the stressful event is never over, then they are called upon repeatedly and over time this will drain their levels. Therefore, managing chronic stress is a vital element to increase GABA and lower glutamate and maintain that balance.
Childhood abuse or trauma alters GABA receptors, resulting in less GABA function, and this is carried with the survivor into adulthood. Survivors of abuse also have lower levels of serotonin and dopamine. They are also left with an upregulated and hypersensitive stress-response system. This is also true of any type of trauma, acute stress, or life-threatening event as an adult as well such as rape, domestic violence, or a natural disaster.
On the other hand, high levels of glutamate may cause excitability in the amygdala, which incites anxiety, fear, and panic and sets off the stress response system.
Vitamin K is very important for GABA and glutamate balance as well, as it is needed for healthy calcium metabolism where it reacts with glutamate and calcium to deliver calcium to the bones and teeth, and it prevents the accumulation of excess calcium which would contribute to cell death. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin; however, unlike other fat-soluble vitamins, it is not stored in the body and must be consumed on a daily basis. Vitamin K1 is found in leafy greens. Typically, vitamin K2 is produced when the friendly flora in our gut process leafy greens, but if dysbiosis is present or you’re not eating leafy greens, then vitamin K may be insufficient. But vitamin K2 is also found in a variety of food sources like dairy and animal protein. Grass-fed butter is a good source of Vitamin K2.
The pancreas uses Vitamin K abundantly for sugar regulation. In addition to the brain, the pancreas is also very vulnerable to the accumulation of excessive glutamate or other excitotoxins, which will further impair the regulation of sugar. As we discussed previously, too much or too little insulin or glucose can both contribute to excess glutamate, therefore, keeping glutamate and GABA in balance is critical for the health of the pancreas and all its functions and the health of the pancreas is vital for maintaining the balance.
Some people may have a genetic predisposition to have more glutamate receptors than others, and the more glutamate receptors you have, the more you will take in. In this case, you will likely be someone who always tends to lean toward excess glutamate activity and will need to engage in life-long ongoing monitoring and maintenance to prevent overstimulation, cell death, and neurological symptoms. However, if there is excess glutamate in the system due to genetic mutations, methylation problems, etc., then more glutamate receptors will be generated as well.
As is true for all neurotransmitters, ensuring that you get adequate sleep is vital for normal function because sleep deprivation causes neurons to lose sensitivity to neurotransmitters, thus impairing communication.
It’s also important to take note that it is not possible to eliminate every single source of glutamate or other excitotoxins, nor do you want to. Remember that glutamate is vital for proper brain function in small concentrations; the goal is to prevent excess. Preventing overstimulation, cell death, and neurological symptoms may sometimes be a matter of moderating accumulation. The more foods or substances that one consumes that are excitotoxic the more it builds up. You may get away with a little consumption, but if consumption is high then it pushes you over the edge of the cliff, and symptoms present.
One of the greatest aspects of GABA is that it also opposes norepinephrine, your other primary excitatory neurotransmitter which is also important for stimulation, but it sets off the stress response system. Like glutamate, norepinephrine is also toxic to the brain when it is in excess. Excess norepinephrine can produce many of the same kinds of symptoms that excess glutamate produces and it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between the two. Fortunately, when you focus on increasing your gamma-aminobutyric acid then you help reduce excess norepinephrine in addition to excess glutamate.
So, to summarize the steps that should be taken to increase GABA and lower glutamate, it is vital to be eating the right diet, avoiding excitotoxins, managing stress, avoiding environmental toxins, addressing nutritional deficiencies and/or genetic polymorphisms, getting adequate sleep, supporting a healthy gut, assessing for microbial overgrowth, and identify any other nails in the shoe that may exist. We must consistently eat and live in a manner that encourages balance on an ongoing and lifelong basis.
It’s very important that you don’t just start supplementing with everything you’ve read will be helpful, as this usually backfires and you get the exact opposite effect. The sicker you are the slower you need to go with supplementation. Only take one thing at a time and monitor your response before trying something else. Some people must start with very minute doses. In most cases, less is more when it comes to supplementation. In many cases, staying away from supplementation is one of the best things one can do for balancing GABA and glutamate. The best results are going to be achieved with proper changes in diet and lifestyle strategies and techniques.
Working with neurotransmitters is a complex and difficult process that is best done with a practitioner who has expertise in this area. However, finding someone who has enough expertise to cover all the bases we have presented on this page is very difficult as well, so you serve yourself better by being very well informed before beginning the journey. Please note that although I know a great deal, I do not know everything either. I’m always in the learning process and this page is updated periodically as new knowledge comes to light.
Need Help Balancing Your GABA and Glutamate?
I can help. Contact me today for a comprehensive phone consultation and self-care plan. I will provide you with evidence-based detailed diet guidelines, lifestyle techniques, and strategies specifically for increasing Gaba and lowering glutamate that you can implement right away and begin to transform your life immediately.
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167 thoughts on “How to Increase GABA and Balance Glutamate”
Good article, very thorough.
I definitely have glutmatae problems. I first noticed a big difference by cutting out sources of glutamate such as yeast extract from processed foods. Then I tried eating chicken broth and discovered that gave me a horrible reaction.
I’ve tried lots of different protein powders because I have difficulty digesting meat, but all to no avail. They cause a pronounced glutmate effect.
What to do? It seems such a depressing situation when you can barely eat any foods and react to everything. I also have histamine issues. Seems like supplements are the only way forward with these issues. I already follow an autoimmune diet which is mostly just meat and vegetables.
I would take a look at the following article on problems with eating meat and see if any of these apply to you or could be helpful and just keep moving forward. Supplements can be helpful, but they can not replace your meals. The focus needs to be on increasing your ability to eat meat.
Additionally, I would also try and change your mindset. Allowing yourself to interpret the situation as depressing is counterproductive. Try and view it as learning experience, a journey of self-discovery, and a gift. Everything we learn about ourselves, our bodies and how we interact with food is a gift, because it enables to make changes that can improve the quality of our lives. Take a look at the following page as well.
I recently just came off of a benzodiazepine after two years of use for anxiety and trauma. I only recently discovered the terrible effects of the benzos on the GABA receptors and am now trying everything in my power to correct this issue since I have stopped taking it. As expected, I’m having a pretty difficult time with muscle soreness/fatigue/ear ringing/head pressure/anxiety/rumination/etc. Is there anything that you can suggest for a starting point in building the GABA receptors back up, or is this something that will only come in time? Thank you!
I was prescribed klonopin for insomnia and OCD, the latter of which I believe was induced by tamoxifen and low myo-inositol. Now I am trying–with a good doctor’s help–taper from valium. I thought bone broth (homemade) would be great for me. Do you have any recommendations about what I should eat to maximize healing and minimize side-effects while I taper? Thank you!
As mentioned above, the diet I support is the Paleo diet. You can learn more on the following page.
With a CBS mutation of +- should one avoid B6 supplement?
I am not an expert on CBS mutations. However, my understanding is that B6 will speed up CBS activity. Dr. Amy Yasko recommends addressing the CBS mutation before supplementing with B6. You can read what she has to say on the subject on the following page.
I have suffered many of paradoxical reactions to calming supplements that you mention here. I am also victim the to the idea of popping supplements based on extremely thin and uninformed, one size fits all recommendations. After thousands and thousands of dollars and amateur research hours I am confident that this one of the most thorough and well written articles I have read. Thank you so much for taking the time to share this.
Thank you and you’re welcome.
I read in this article that you are not in favor of artificial means such as L – theanine or phenibut, bc it discourages natural gaba production; however, earlier in the article you said that supplementing with gaba itself may be helpful. I was wondering if you could explain the reason behind this. Does using straight gaba have less of an effect on natural gaba production and/or receptor down regulation? Also, doesn’t using 5htp have the similar negative consequence of discouraging natural serotonin production and/or down regulating serotonin receptors? Thanks in advance for your time!
Does Zoloft affect Gaba or glutamate levels?
Zoloft targets serotonin, which means it depletes serotonin. As stated above, serotonin is needed in order for GABA to work properly. If one is deficient in serotonin, then even if you have sufficient levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, it may not be able to perform its inhibiting effects adequately. Dopamine also needs serotonin to work properly, so low serotonin can also cause problems with dopamine.
Additionally, even though a medication targets one specific neurotransmitter, it really is not possible to affect one neurotransmitter without having some impact on the others.
You can read about how Zoloft depletes serotonin on the following page:
brilliant article. thank you!
Does lithium really reduce glutamate levels?
“EAdditionally l-theanine is going to increase glutamate.” This puzzles me because literally everything else I have read suggests theanine LOWERS glutamate levels, not increases them?
And as for taurine, if it works by binding to GABA receptors as you say in the article, isn’t it going to eventually downregulate them the same way benzos do? If not, why not?
Yes, it is confusing. Let me explain.
l-theanine is an analog of glutamine. Glutamine is first converted into glutamate. Therefore l-theanine is going to be glutamate before it becomes GABA. Glutamate is the precursor to GABA. As discussed in great detail above, if one is not able to convert their glutamate to GABA adequately for the many reasons presented, then one ends up with excess glutamate. If they are able to convert their glutamate to GABA, then this wouldn’t be an issue. Thus, why l-theanine may be beneficial for some people and not others. It depends on whether they are able to get from glutamate to GABA.
In regard to taurine, it’s not the same as a drug. Taurine is a nutrient the brain needs to function properly. Drugs are not needed by the brain. Drugs achieve their goal with artificial means. The brain responds to “artificial” stimulation or “over” stimulation by downregulating production and/or responsiveness of the respective neurotransmitter. Generally speaking, giving the brain nutrients it needs is not artificial or overstimulating.
However, some people have a negative response to Taurine as well. Taurine makes me anxious, depressed, stressed, and unable to sleep – the exact opposite effect it should have. I can’t take anything, natural or not, that attempts to manipulate my neurotransmitters. They all backfire and have the opposite effect. I work with many people who have this experience. So, natural methods will not always be accepted by the brain either and may result in unexpected side-effects.
Would you consider Gaba reuptake inhibitors to be safe alternatives to GABA agonists?
Awesome article! This kind of information is very hard to find anywhere…very cutting-edge. I was wondering more about the role that magnesium plays…particularly considering that 80% of the population is magnesium deficienct. I know it is critical in regulating the excitotoxin calcium in the cell, but I was wondering if it has any roles in protecting the cells from glutamate, aspartate, and all other excitotoxins. Does it play a role in GABA production? It certainly has helped my body and mind calm down.
Thank you and you’re welcome. Magnesium is vital for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including energy production, regulating blood sugar, neurotransmitter production and function, bone strength, methylation, and cardiovascular health, to name just a few. So, it can help you feel better for a variety of reasons. Additionally, it can bind to and activate GABA receptors, which I forgot to mention above, so I have added that. Magnesium can also lower cortisol levels, which would cause relaxation as well if levels are elevated. Since it helps improve methylation, this would have a relaxing effect too, as it will reduce the excitatory neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Additionally, methylation is involved in numerous other pathways and reactions that could be improved including GABA balance.
Fascinating article. I will read it several times to properly digest all the intricate connections. It is inspiring to have this information. Thank you.
I am a great fan of your blog, and would like to work with you on neurotransmitter problems. It seems like I have all the other issues that you have spoken about, e.g., Candida, mercury, stress, gut problems, etc. What neurotransmitter test do you use, and how would I work with you? Jane Meyer
I use neurotransmitter screening questionnaires or a variety of lab tests. However, symptoms alone can tell the story a lot of times. You can work with me be purchasing a consultation on the following page, or sending me an email.
Great article I will try eating less broth. I’ve been on very special diets for many years. Since GABA works for me, I was concerned about my blood brain barrier integrity when I listened to the Digestion Sessions interview that you referenced and you may already know, but Dr. K & Sean discuss it more in Volume 3 the Depression sessions “How to Find the Root Cause of Your Depression: A Clinical Perspective” Also, are you familiar with using guaifenesin for fibromyalgia per Dr. St. Amand’s protocol? This is a good link connecting oxalate with fibromyalgia.
Hi Cynthia, does spirulina or ashwagandha help in increasing GABA levels
I am confused where you say that some people might benefit from supplementing directly with GABA which is what Amy Yasko recommends as a first step… because you also say that any effect, positive or negative, from GABA supplement means there is a leaky gut b/c GABA molecules cannot break the blood-brain barrier. So, does this mean that supplementing with GABA will only be beneficial if you have a leaky gut?
Does guar gum increase glutamate? If so, do you have a citation for that?
Yes, Andrew, according to Dr. Amy Yasko, (glutamate expert) guar gum can increase glutamate levels.
You can read about it on the following page
Fantastic article – thank you so much!
Which source of magnesium would you suggest? Would magnesium-glycinate be problematic in regards to glutamate?
My name is Vrezh Ayrapetyan and I am a licensed Clinical Psychologist. I work with many people that have Anxiety Disorders. Your article was extremely helpful. No where I have read it explained so thoroughly, I mean the interconnectness of neurotrasmitters. I want to say Thank You for such a great article. I really appreciate Your article. Very-very important and informative.
Best, Vrezh A.
Your welcome and thank you. Glad to be of help.
An excellent article. However, the vitamin K derived from leafy greens is K1 and has no effect on calcium metabolism, whereas the the vitamin K that works synergistically with vitamin D3 and vitamin A for correct calcium metabolism is K2, the MK-4 form of which is obtained from eating dairy, such as brie and camembert cheeses, eggs and other animal products, while the MK-7 form comes from fermented products such as natto, sauerkraut, etc. As fermented foods are excitotoxins and as it’s difficult to obtain sufficient K2 from dairy products due to soil depletion and poor animal feeding practices, supplementation is almost always necessary to obtain sufficient levels of K2.
This was a very interesting read! I have some questions. My naturopath says I have low GABA levels. She has prescribed me taurine, magnesium, and just about everything else you mentioned. So far, i haven’t noticed any long term effects, and I’ve been seeing her since April.
Now she is thinking I may have Lyme Disease. However, I am skeptical, as I don’t have any of the physical signs of Lyme. But I remember you said that Lyme may increase glutamate levels.
Might I simply have naturally high glutamate? She didn’t address the glutamate aspect with me in great detail.
Thanks and have a great holiday season,
Compliments to Cynthia Perkins on this comprenhsive article.
I’m going to dig into GAD further then.
Also recent article/study finds that Toxoplasma basically eats (my words) GABA. Search for toxoplasma gaba signaling.
It is in (or the antibodies are found in) at least 1/3 of the world’s population according to one source.
Everybody repeats the false meme that Toxoplasma can’t harm you unless pregnant or sick. The healthy lab mice who had their brains rewired by it to like the smell of cats all disagreed with that notion when interviewed inside the cat’s stomachs. It affects human behavior, making mates dissatisfied with each other for example, picked up from undercooked meat.
This has been such a terrific article Cynthia – many thanks for the no BS approach and deeply informing delivery.
May I ask, how long should one expect to re-store a balanced level of both GABA and glutamate? Does this healing time increase when one has gone through a prolonged period of imbalance, or when the imbalance is quite large?
Every time I re-read your superb paper, Cynthia, I glean more and more invaluable info from it.
What is the mechanism whereby iodine helps support a positive GABA-glutamate balance?
Thanks very much.
I apologize for the late reply. I had put this aside to come back to at another time, and it got lost in the shuffle.
I’m also sorry that I don’t have an explanation for how iodine helps. I took that info from Amy Yasko’s book. It appears that it helps with the calcium/magnesium balance, but that’s all I know. You could try reaching out to Amy for a more thorough explanation.
Thank you. I’m glad you found the article informative. I’m always in the learning process with this complex issue.
Amazing article. So informative. Can’t wait to forward to everyone I know… This is me!!!
Excellent article. The most helpful I’ve found on reducing glutamate. Thanks!!
This article is so informative, thank you so much. I started having insomnia 5 months ago, out of nowhere. Other health issues followed. I ran my 23andme DNA report, and found I have issues with the GAD enzyme, which could be contributing to my sleeplessness. I eat strict paleo, all organic, no sugar. But I have a serious leaky gut due to stress, my Secretory IGA is almost non-existent. Nonetheless, I have been diligently avoiding glutamine. But I have been eating bone broth DAILY, which I had no idea would be a problem. I will be re-reading this article many times. Can you offer any safe non-glutamine suggestions to heal up a leaky gut?
You’re welcome Rebecca. Well healing the gut is a long term project. First a diet that doesn’t promote inflammation is important (low-carb Paleo) Depending on severity, other healthy foods that can cause inflammation like nightshades may need moderated. Microbes that may be present (candida, sibo, etc) need reduced. Supplements are very tricky when dealing with high glutamate, but colostrum and lactoferrin are very beneficial. However, they are derived from cow’s so could possible increase in glutamate in some people, but maybe not. It’s something one could try and see how they do.
Thank-you so much for all your brilliance. I have had years of problems and spent years searching for answers and I really appreciate all the info you have put together it all helps. I will read through the rest of your website. Only half way through your article and I can tell already how thorough and double thinking it is, i had to comment. Everyone says things are clear cut and this goes into explaining why they aren’t. Big hugs 🙂
Thank you for this article. How ever it seems from this what you say, that fixing this is quite difficult. I have high glutamate and have been on the low carb paleo but that worked ok for a little bit but all the protein from grass fed meats just ended up rasing the glutamate even more and my sleep is completely ruined. So if vegetables and fruits are the lowest glutamate foods then why isnt a vegetarian diet recommnded? im already gluten free and can tolerate eggs very well but the high protein and low carb of the paleo has its benefits but its ruined my sleep. Do you have any suggestions on how to fix this incredibly frustrating problem?
That’s correct. In many cases, fixing this problem is very complex. It is often a life-long issue that must be managed on-going.
A vegetarian diet should never be recommended for anything. It is the worse thing you can do for yourself. The human body can function just fine without carbohydrates, because they are an non-essential nutrient. Your body can make all the glucose it needs from protein and fat. Carbohydrates can be sacrificed without harm. You will be better off without them. The same is not true for animal protein and fat. We cannot function properly without them.
Among other things, without adequate animal protein and fat, the brain cannot produce or transmit neurotransmitters properly.
A high carb diet, (even if it is lots of vegetables and fruit) will deplete GABA further in the long rung, because it causes overstimulation of GABA receptors which leads to down regulation in responsiveness or production. Furthermore, a high carb diet is stress on the body, which will demand a greater need for GABA. Also, as explained above, when you eat a high carb diet, there is a rise in glucose and then a drop in glucose after insulin is released. When blood sugar drops, then glutamate is increased.
Additionally, a ketogenic diet has been shown to favor GABA production. Lower glucose levels are associated with lower neuronal excitability. You can read about that on the following page.
It’s not as simple as going low-carb. When going low-carb, then the diet must also be high in fat and be sure to consume adequate animal protein in each meal (4 to 8 ounces). There must be sufficient calories and fat.
Also, it’s important to have sufficient salt and water intake. When we eat low-carb, we eliminate salt and water more effectively, so there is a higher need for both of these. A good book to read on this subject is The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living by Volek and Phinney.
Eliminating the substances and foods (other than animal protein) that are high in glutamate should be the focus. Then addressing the many other issues mentioned in this article that can increase glutamate like B6 levels, Candida overgrowth, SIBO, mold, environmental toxins, genetics, etc.
Wow! This article pretty much sums up my life. , I had a neurotransmitter test done that showed I was lower in gaba(though not deficient), and higher in glutamine(though not elevated). My epinephrine was completely zero. How accurate are neurotransmitter tests in your opinion? Would this explain why I feel in fight or flight all the time? I also tested positive for pyloruia, GAD +/+, and my liver can’t tolerate keto. Thank you! 😉
Neurotransmitter testing is not very accurate, because levels can change rapidly in response to stress, chemistry and diet-related (especially pH) changes. When urine testing was compared to cerebrospinal fluid, which is well known to be the most accurate method for measuring neurotransmitters, results did not correspond. Here’s a good article that explains this in more detail.
However, if one feels like they are in fight or flight all the time, then chance is very high that you are high in glutamate and low in GABA. Norep will be high and histamine may be as well. Pyroluria would contribute and so would the GAD++.
May want to take a look at the following page on fight or flight
Cynthia, re. your statement [above] — “…Also, it’s important to have sufficient salt and water intake. When we eat low-carb, we eliminate salt and water more effectively, so there is a higher need for both of these…” — how much is enough salt?
I’ve been following a ketogenic diet for months and been consuming ten or more glasses of fluid per day — depending on my workout routine — but given how salt has been relegated to the doghouse in recent years, such that current Federal guidelines strictly advise 2300 mg sodium per day for folks 50 or below, and a mere 1500 mg sodium for folks over 50, I’ve been in a complete quandary re. a salt intake level which is right for me.
In other words, should I simply allow my body to be my guide, especially since salt is said to be critical to adrenal function?
Also, however, in relation to your statement [above] is my having been dealing with bothersome, non-cardiac fluid retention as the day progresses since December. No, I’ve not yet experimented with a diuretic, e.g., dandelion leaf — as a means of alleviating it, having been hoping I’d discover a simpler, more physiologic approach to doing so.
So looking forward to your weighing in,
Sums up what I’ve discovered treating multiple sclerosis, medication free, by eating organic, GMO free, and basically Palio diet- relapse free, for 7 years, twice in the 22 years, I’ve been diagnosed.
It is normal to have high anxiety after eating peas protein ?
Great Article! 2 Questions. One is I am a 27 yr old male with 4 yrs of debilitating Chronic Fatigue, at one point or another I’ve come across everything in this article but refreshers and to see it all in one place is a invaluable refresher. First when I will take cortef, Dhea/ Preg, hypothalamus and pituitary extract, Armour, Nero replete/Cyst-replete, L-dopa. I fell absolutely 90% normal for 4-5 day then crash very hard I know this article applies to me, xanax which I quit 8 months ago would always give me so much more energy like it helped cruve the fight or flight symp switch that is always on. Do you see any reason for these things working for a short time then quitting? Are the just doping the system? also What seems to be the gold standard for treating SIBO outside of antibiotics? or are they recommended?
I appreciate the article. I’m glad someone is recognizing this issue. But my goodness, what planet do we have to move to to accomplish all the things we need to do to fix this?
“avoiding excitotoxins, managing stress, avoiding environmental toxins, addressing nutritional deficiencies and/or genetic polymorphisms, getting adequate sleep,”
Except for the part about nutritional deficiencies, it seems impossible to do all that, especially the part about environmental toxins and stress. When you are at work or someplace and the pest control guy comes around and sprays that junk everywhere = toxic exposure and stress! Driving down the road near my house, I see at least one person spraying round-up = toxic exposure and stress. Toxins are everywhere, and it is impossible to avoid them = stress. How do you do all this and work too? I can barely manage to take my supplements, and I only work part time.
Yes, indeed it is quite a quandary. Unfortunately there are not easy answers. The world we live in destroys health. One must do the best they can to live and work in the safest environment possible. Personally, I live in a rural desert area and work from home to avoid these things and engage in numerous stress management techniques on a daily basis and follow a keto Paleo diet.
Thank you so much for this comprehensive article. Brilliant info!
There are various paleo diets with some allowing a lot of foods high in glutamates. Is there a particular book/cookbook that you recommend to make it easy to eat well for the correct balance of GABA and Glutamate?
Thank you so much for this very informative article. It has been very helpful for me. It looks like my kids are genetically predisposed toward insufficient GAD activity. And this also explains why I felt so great taking L glutamine at first, but not now. Now I am dealing w/ histamine intolerance. Beyond a thank you, I wanted to suggested you read The Calcium Paradox. In that book the author distinguishes K1 from K2 and K2’s importance in instructing calcium to deposit in the hard tissue (bones and teeth) instead of soft tissue. We derive K2 from grassfed fat and butter, egg yolks and natto. Thank you.
I have been told to take oregano oil and caprylic acid for Candida. I also have high glutamate. Will the oregano oil or caprylic acid cause my glutamate to be higher? I feel like they do, especially the caprylic acid.
I’m not aware of a glutamate connection with those two substances, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. However, oregano oil can increase serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Excess norepinephrine is a neurotoxin as well, and the symptoms are very similar to excess glutamate.
The other issue that could occur is that when you have die off from taking the antifungal that the elevation in toxins that occurs, could trigger a glutamate surge.
Thank youuuu so much for this article; for articulating what I have been attempting to understand for some time.
I have struggled with this my entire life (I’m 30), however for six months last year I managed to improve the balance – I felt completely calm and peaceful and still and could sleep and sleep. Yet in spite of sticking to a very strict SCD diet and resting a lot, verrrry slowly it returned and now a year later it is back to full-on wired-and-buzzing feeling.
I have been driving myself crazy trying to figure out what stopped it in the first place, it was such heaven to have those feelings gone. However I think it might have been actually that I was too sick to even make enough of the neurotransmitter – I had had an awful year (infections, ridiculous amounts of stress and a very bad breakup) before I completely crashed, and that’s when the feeling went away. Do you think this is a possible explanation? Or can you offer some other pointers of where to look?
For now I am going to reassess all supplements and increase rest. I’m already doing all the others (paleo, rest, medtiation, yoga, eliminate toxins, detox, etc etc…)
Hi Cynthia, this was an amazingly well researched, thorough, and yet easy to read article. Thank you so much for sharing! I did have a question on whey protein isolate. I understand that it contains glutamic acid/glutamate excitotoxins. However, would you make an exception to whey protein isolate that is undenatured, cold processed and micro/cross filtered? I understand that it would still contain glutamic acid. However, I read somewhere that
Whey protein isolate that has gone through something like cross-flow microfiltration contains virtually no denatured proteins, and thus virtually no free glutamate. Would you recommend in this case even if there is a glutamate imbalance in a person?
I couldn’t say. My experience says that what people claim is true often isn’t. I would be reluctant. But some people might be okay, if it is a minimal amount and others wouldn’t. It would depend on the severity of glutamate excess.
Thank you and you’re welcome.
WOW. One of the best, most comprehensive articles I have read on this topic. Everything stated is done with a great blend of personal experience and scientific research. You stayed away from blanket statements understanding that EVERYONE is different.
Thanks for this, it will certainly help many people.
Kickass article. Ties together so many loose items in my head. Neurotransmitter imbalances I know I have, COMT++ mutation. Gut issues and episodes of headahces flu type symptons w excitoxoins. So hard to test NT and Gut. Always a circus at play.
thanks again for aritcle!
Any clues to constipation and gut motility? I’ve had the gammut of disgusting tests done at Mayo Clinic and no help. Constipation (i’m thinking) could be Neurotransmitter imbalances related, Something off in properties of gut like gaba, PH, fluid compouns Na. I was low on lithium and getting that up has helped motlity but still have major colon issues, its like it will just go dead sometimes and not move thigns along with peristalis. other times it will work okay. my constipation is trying to kill me.
You should look into Candida and SIBO on the following pages. High likelihood of SIBO with methane producers.
In conjunction w/Stanford’s NeuroGI Clinical Director, UCSF’s NeuroGI Clinical Director and a Stanford-educated GI Doctor, I am working toward eliminating the abdominal “seizures” I am experiencing. They wholeheartedly agree with your analysis of balancing the GABA/Glutamate levels/neurotransmitters. It was from my research and finding this article that we are at the point of moving in the right direction after 8 months of not understanding why I couldn’t eat anything but the foods you note as having low glutamate. I am also working with a Nutritionist w/multiple Masters Degrees from Canyon Ranch. I have hope for the 1st time in 8 months! Many thanks for your hard work and contribution to my soon-to-be restored health!
Thank you for this article. It is helpful to me since my son (age 24) was diagnosed with MS 6 months ago and I am trying to learn about what could be happening to him and how to help. I have a question about the comment near the end, “Other foods or substances that contain excitotoxins and can damage nerves include anything fermented….” I thought that fermented foods are part of a healthy diet and are included in many paleo/keto meal plans. Can you clarify this?
Fermented foods can be healthy for people who do not have excess glutamate or high histamine. However, if the person is high histamine or high glutamate, then these foods can be counterproductive, because fermented foods are very high in glutamate and histamine. They can also be counterproductive for someone with SIBO. Therefore, fermented foods are not always healthy. It depends on what condition one is dealing with.
This is a great article! I am dealing with protracted benzo withdrawal which has exacerbated my genetic gaba deficiencies, and have been forced to take a hard look at my gene mutations and therefore, my eating habits/lifestyle, to try to be able to find relief from such horrific symptoms. This article is my new bible, so complete with explanations and recommendations. It has given me hope. Thank you!!
I think your brilliant. Would love to work with you one day to get well
Thank you Bel. My services can be found on the following page.
As someone who occasionally resorts to protein powders (I know this isn’t ideal)–do you happen to know of hemp protein’s influence on glutamate levels? I was previously turning to pea protein most of the time, but just read your above comment that it can indeed raise glutamate levels, so I will now be trying my best to cut it out and I know whey is not an option for the same reasons. Thanks so much!
I found your article informative and way over my head. I understand more than I did, but I will need to learn a lot more before I can absorb it. My 31 year old daughter has recently received a diagnosis with Reumatic Fever, which she has had since 4 years of age and Sydenham’s Chorea, which she had since she was 12 years of age or younger. She went from a gifted happy child to having every problem that you mentioned in your article. She even received a diagnosis at age 12 for Bipolar, at age 21 for Autism Spectrum Disorder, and in the last 5 years her IQ and cognitive processing has continued to decline to a level that required continued care. We went from TN to DC, where she saw Dr. Elizabeth Latimer, who gave my daughter the dignosis and treatment, after a lifetime of WRONG dignosis. Casey received treatment of IVIG/steroids and began recovering. Her anxiety, communication, cognition, and her chorea began improving the first day of treatment. She still has a long way to go – physically, mentally, and due to the misdiagnosis, hospitalizations, and mistreatment of RX – psychologically, and emotionally. However, she has hope and our family is praying. For a full recovery and a good future for her. Thank you for the information that you provided, which seems to provide the next missing piece. Thank you! If you can suggest any doctor to help with addressing the balancing of GABA, it would be appreciated.
Ms. Perkins, thank you so much for this excellent article. I have been looking all over the web and not finding much useful information on reducing glutamate. I am thankful that I stumbled across this page. As I go through the article more thoroughly, I might be back with a few questions. But, again, a BIG thank you!
As all have said, superb website, with the best advice about.
Quick question from me; what are the ramifications of taking a GABA supplement and feeling the simulating effects, associated with leaky gut?
I get it, and apart from being a little unpleasant, does it actually do any physical harm?
Wow. I have studied for years and have a BA degree and have not read anything like this about gaba. My sons is off and now how to fix it? He takes anxiety meds. What a mess
Thanks for the information. I am not sure if the ND’s I know or the DO I know is aware of all this.
It seems nearly impossible to get GABA balanced.
It seems there is no in a nutshell this is what one does answer.
Would a sulfurphane supplement (such as BroccoGen) have a negative impact?
Could you recommend someone in the Atlanta area (or southeast even) who helps test and balance neurotransmitters? And, what kind of services do you offer? My adult son has had seizures for 15 years. Thank you!
No, I’m sorry I don’t know anyone in the Atlanta area. I could assist you with you a phone consultation. My services are found on the following page.
DO NOT USE PHENIBUT. It’s addictive and will cause intensely severe withdrawals. They last a LONG TIME and will make things 100 times worse for you.
I just wanted to thank you for such a great article. I lost 2/3s of my pancreas in 2004, developed Reactive Hypoglycemia in 2011 and then vestibular migraines with horrid neurological symptoms in 2017. NOT a single specialist I’ve seen has made any link between my missing pancreas, the GAD enzyme and my migraines, even though I have no history of migraine and none of my family has migraines. And it is known that excess glutamate and unchecked calcium can cause migraines. So I am pretty sure it has got to be linked to my pancreas. All I have been offered is useless meds with horrendous side effects or which just don’t work at all. I am now focusing on ways to support my pancreas and GAD and balance out the excess glutamate through vitamins, amino acids, adaptogens and possible herbal supplements. Thank you so much for providing a wonderful resource to add to the information I have already collected. It is great to read a science-based article on a holistic website. Sadly many things I’ve read are simply waffle or just offer the usual symptom relief without ever trying to look at the underlying causes and addressing them. 10 star article that I shall be printing out and also sharing with fellow migraine-sufferers.
Thank you, Beth. You’re welcome. Glad it was helpful.
If GABA supplements make me feel quite sleepy, does it mean I have a leaky gut and blood brain barrier. IN such a case, will GABA supplements help? Also in such a case, will tryptophan which is a precursor to serotonin help? Pl answer. Thanks.
Hello Cynthia Perkins,
I’ve just read this article twice and would like to say thank you for taking the time and effort to share this information.
I currently have been trying to figure out why I have major fatigue (for no reason at all when i eat healthy and do not drink or smoke and I ONLY drink Water) and also brain fog for years that comes and goes. The brain fog can sometimes feel like my brain is tired and fatigued and I cant think and I feel demotivated to do anything, but sometimes I can have more of a disorientated feeling.. its hard to explain to someone exactly what I feel and im not sure if the person on the receiving end is understanding the way im describing. Sometimes I wake up feeling hungover without drinking. Most days I struggle to get out of bed. All I want to do is sleep. But then I sleep to much and I feel worse. Id like to note that I have been to psychologist, I am not depressed and I try to do mindfulness meditation when I can. So I don’t think that would be contributing to difficulty getting out of bed..
Few other Symptoms like; bad breath has started to occur for about a year now. Dentist says my dental hygiene is fine.
I’ve narrowed things down a bit.
i have been tested and diagnosed with MTFHR C677T Heterozygous Gene Mutation. i was taking (as prescribed by the doctor) Dr Veras Active B Complex Tablets. but i don’t think i felt much difference after taking these for over a month.
i have also been on the FODMAP diet which helped with my intestinal gas and abdominal pain. (Though did not help my fatigue and brain fog).
Ive also had a sleep test carried out, I have minor sleep apnoea episodes if I lay on my back. Ive used a pillow behind my back under my shirt to help with this and to keep me sleeping on my side. I also keep to a strict sleep routine.
I’m currently working with a dietician and doctor carrying out the RPAH elimination Diet (Salicylates, Amines and Glutamate) while also eliminating Gluten and Dairy. I’ve lost about 6 Kgs since being on this diet. But I feel I have definitely seen some improvements. I’ve also been keeping a Diary of food eaten and energy level and head fog severity. im up to about 100 days. There was a week or 2 during this strict diet when I felt amazing. Waking up easily. Wanting to get out of bed. Little to no head fog during the day. Good energy levels. Getting home in the afternoons not feeling exhausted in the brain or low energy levels. And going to bed not feeling as super tired as usual.
So I know I can feel good again and I feel like im kind of on the right track.
This is just a small list of things ive tried… If you can guarantee you could fix me. How much money would want?? I’m willing to pay a lot to fix my problem. I’m sick of paying money to people which get nowhere.
I hope you get this brief understanding.
Please help me. 🙁
I’m sorry you’re going through so much. However I cannot make any guarantees. I would be happy to try and help, but can’t guarantee anything. These are complex issues. My fees and options can be found on the following page
Very informative article. Thank you for your research!
after several anti-seizure diets that I kept before without any effect, I’ve found your site. I had read about most of the items already, however it was never such in-depth explanation! Thank you for all that regardless of my personal case.
And second BIG THANKYOU is for my double-victory that you helped me with: (1) much lower frequency of seizures thanks to avoiding glutamate in food, and (2) with taurine I have no seizure even after I eat sth with higher glutamate level ! (I didn’t pay too much attention to taurine when I had read about it and after several promising diets failed I didn’t even try it. After reading your article I’d given it a try and … bingo!)
I hope this will work for others as well, good luck!
You’re welcome. Glad it was helpful.
This is a fantastic article. I was reading this and everything made sense for my 6 years old non verbal autistic son who lost all his speech after receiving the MMR jab. This I believe has to do with decrease in the activity of GAD suddenly by the introduction of these live viruses into his body which brought on the symptoms of autism immediately after vaccination, as you mentioned earlier GABA is critical in speech and brain function and he is deficient in GABA and Glutamic acid. He has genetic mutuations in his GAD genes causing problems with converting Glutamate to GABA. He suffers from poor methylation, krebs cycle not synced, is deficient in some antioxidants, minerals and b-vitamins like B3. However, he does sleep well. He key one is his speech and ability to understand language which we believe the GAD genetic mutation and deficiency in Glutamic acid and GABA are responsible for. The fact he sleeps really well is that a good sign The real question here is if you say not to supplement with GABA to increase GABA and balance out Glutamate what will you suggest as my MAPS/Autism doctor says to supplement GABA. Also is there a clean GABA brand you can recommend?
You’re welcome. Well many doctors do not understand GABA and glutamate thoroughly. I suggest you educate your doctor by pointing them to Dr. Datis Kharazzian’s “Why Isn’t My Brain Working” and read it yourself. And work on all the other issues discussed on this page that contribute to the issue.
Thank you for this article. It now makes it very clear why adding Gabba Calm to the suppliiments my son takes is like a miracle.
Thank you for a very thorough article. I’m disappointed to see protein powders out :(. I love Protein supps as dislike meat and find it hard to meet my needs without a protein shake. Would organic rice Protein be high in glutamate? I don’t understand why meat is ok but not protein powder, excuse my ignorance but isn’t it all just Protein?
Thank you for an excellent reasearched article.
My mother has a GI feeding tube, I use whey protein and gelatin as a source of protein. your article made me think I should stop/decrease these proteins. the question: what other protein source can I use instead?
Is there any protein powder I can use that does not increase glutamate? Thanks!
No Margaret, there isn’t. Sorry.
Really liked this article. I have tried GABA supplements and sometimes it worked and other times it did the opposite. Now, I stay away from them. I do consume A LOT of collagen and bone broth (I have ONLY ever read positive things about them and that it PROMOTES sleep). Now, based on your article (and a few others I found) state that it can be bad. I believe I may suffer from excess glutamate/GABA imbalance. Racing mind, very hard to relax in bed. I do meditate and deep breathing which helps but still thinking TOO MUCH. Now, I am going to take out all sources of bone broth/collagen for awhile and do a test.
Regarding Vitamin K… I currently don’t take a vitamin K2 supplement… do you advise to supplement with K2? There are combo supplements with D+K2 but I also take cod liver oil (that contains vitamin D)… so I am thinking, possibly adding a singular K2 supplement. My multivitamin only contains a very small amount. But is supplementing with K2 something that I should look into? THANKS!
Hi, I need help for my 7 yr old, who has a lot of issues, This article is very specific to his issues. Do you do phone consults? We have been in the world of bio-medical intervention for him for the past 5 years, and he’s better, but still has issues that need to be addressed.
Yes, I do phone consultations. Information can be found on the following page.
Why is L-cysteine not good for this? I read that NAC scavenges glutamate. Is this not true?
Laura, the article states that L-cysteine is problematic, but not NAC. Read Amy Yasko’s book, Autism: Pathways to Recovery.
I’m a mess.Im 58 and work 7 days a week. Have all symptoms of low Gaba. Every time I eat my heart palpitates and my chest gets heavy and hard to breathe. I went vegan for 2 months and my arthritis and inflammation went down but I got anemic. So now I’m going to paleo. I take Vitas d3 but am now switching to your d3 k A e liquid. I just started taking CBD oil a few days ago and I have been having migraines again for the last two months. I need one person who knows what they’re doing to assess my labs and help me.
Gina, for starters you’ll want to avoid the CBD oil, as that will make things worse in the long run. I offer consultation by phone. You can find my options and fees on the following page.
Wonderful article I came across. Thank you. I respond to gaba supplements but worry about long term use. What do you think about magnolia bark as a gaba promoter? Do you have any idea of how it takes of taking gaba supplements before the Gaba shunting happens where you stop producing gaba?
Joyce, there is no way to say how long it would take for gaba production to be affected. Could vary from person to person. Might happen immediately for one person, but take much longer for another, and anything in between. In regard to magnolia bark, no, I would not be in favor of using this. As discussed in the article, all herbs that manipulate neurotransmitters affect the brain in the same manner as a pharmaceutical. Meaning that over time, the brain will respond by downregulating production or responsiveness to gaba, thus making the problem worse, by bringing gaba levels even lower.
Hi Cynthia, So how do actually increase Gaba naturally? There is so much good reading on this page so I’m sure I missed it somewhere in the middle.
Thank you, Zulf
Can you expand on what Dr. Kharazzian means by supplemental GABA “shutting down the GABA receptors”?
If you have problems converting Glutamate to GABA, then you are short on GABA and need more of it in order to activate the GABA receptors and calm down your neurons. How would supplying the GABA you need shut down the receptors?
Would a diet like intermittent fasting also encourage more GABA production? A ketogenic diet is very restrictive and most people do not end up complying with it. An intermittent fasting approach that has the fast going 12 to 16 hours is something more people can practice, particularly if they can eat carbs during the eating window. But has anyone studied what effect intermittent fasting has on GABA?
No, intermittent fasting would not encourage more GABA production, it would result in less. IF is a highly stressful event and it lowers blood sugar, both of which lead to more glutamate as discussed above. I have written about intermittent fasting and how it would impact this situation in more detail on the following page: ‘
If one is suffering enough, then they will do whatever is required to feel better. If they aren’t willing to make the changes, then apparently they aren’t suffering enough. A ketogenic diet is not restrictive. Once the body gets through the transition process, then it is easy and satiating.
I suggest you read the book and the information above again. However, in a nutshell, it goes like this. Supplementing with GABA can have the same effect as taking a benzodiazepine. The brain can respond by downregulating production and/or responsiveness to GABA. Additionally, as explained above, GABA should not be able to pass the blood-brain barrier. If it does, then you have a leaky brain.
I have to tell you, the four pages of information that I have just read constitutes what I should expect an internal medical doctor would know after 8 years of medical school. Unfortunately they don’t know these details, which is why I can’t find a doctor who has been able to effectively treat or help my wife. Thank you Cynthia, this website should be used as an executive summary for what ails the majority of Americans today…
Thank you, Kurt. I’m glad to be helpful and it’s always great to hear that I’m appreciated.
Hi Cynthia – thank you so much for this article. I have read it over and over. I believe that I suffer from excess glutamate and the inability to convert the glutamate to GABA as I have had issues with staying asleep for at least 12 years. However I believe that I have suffered from excess glutamate since I have been a young adult. Anytime I supplemented or used protein powders, or supplements with L-glutamine, I developed extremely painful restful leg syndrome, which got significantly worst in my early 40’s. It’s very unfortunate as I would love to use collagen and reap its benefits. I now know to avoid supplements with L glutamine and MSG! However, I am still trying to figure out how to balance my GABA so that I can sleep. I should also say that I am gluten intolerant so I may have a GAD deficiency according to your article (not sure how to correct that), and I have been following a Keto diet for 1.5 years, but still can’t stay asleep. I am 52 and menopausal. I thought my inability to stay asleep was hormonal but I sense it is related to the lack of GAD and GABA but cannot find anyone who can help.
I offer consultation by phone and would be happy to work with you on this issue. I would need to do a full intake process so I could determine what underlying factors exist in your life and diet that are contributing to your imbalance. My fees and options can be found on the following page.
This is a fantastic article. I’m a naturopath too and there was a lot in it that I hadn’t been taught. Thank you for a wonderful resource.
You’re welcome, Jenny. Thank you. Glad it is helpful.
What about the people affected by benzos once coming off the glutamate is high and gabba is low, ever time some of the gabba is up-regulated. yes. I know this, but while on the medication the glutamate is higher than it should be because of the inflated levels of gabba due to the benzo, take away the drug you ar eleft with a high amount of glutamate or at least not a normal levels. The big question from people suffering from this is what to do? Is there any answers? Does Glutamate receptors down regulate after being off the medication that caused this? No one seems to address this. go to a doctor and they say this does not exist because they know nothing about this and go to anyone else and they say talk to a doctor I ‘m not allowed to address this. Lots of people are stuck in this situation.
Great article- very informative. Could you please share your source that shows conclusive evidence that benzodiazepines cause “permanent damage” to GABA receptors. Benzo withdrawal is very traumatic and may be protracted- lasting several months to years, but even Dr. Ashton, the authority on benzo tapering and withdrawal, could not verify if the damage is permanent. I’d be interested to see if you’ve found evidence otherwise, as a benzo survivor and a clinician myself.
Again, thanks for sharing this information, I will direct clients here to help them mitigate effects of benzo damage.
Thank you. I am a recovered benzo addict as well. My references are at the bottom of the blog post. However, here are the three that pertain specifically to brain damage being caused by benzos to make it easy for you to access them.
Does zinc gluconate convert to glutamates?
Thank you for sharing all of this! I’m curious which form of magnesium is suitable for someone with excess glutamate? I can’t seem to find an answer for this.
I believe I too suffer from excess glutamate. My heart rate, arrhythmias and anxiety got so bad this fall dealing with a high stress aging parents issue my GP put me on beta blockers after doing many blood labs , including a full thyroid workup, and an ecg, all of which were very normal. The beta blockers have helped a great deal, was off them for a few weeks but need them again. What’s your take on beta blockers and how they may be detrimental to glutamate disorders and overall long term effects of them? I’m a self educator and have found no information about long term detriment, not that I want to stay on these any longer than I have to. I am sending this article to my naturopath to see how much of this he’s familiar with but may be contacting you for your assistance as well. Thanx.
Hi article is a little confusing you advocate Paleo but opose sweet fruits do you think best you be Paleo base diet with min fruits say maybe once a day and carbs only from vegetables nuts and seeds or you are allowed to eat fruits as long as you don’t do over 70-80 gm of carbs par day ?
Wish I’d come across your website months ago. Last Dec I started taking an L glutamine supplement to “heal my gut” and believe I sent myself into a state of excitotoxicity. I only took the supplement for about two weeks 1-2g/day. Started having heart palpitations but didn’t equate the two as I was looking for gut symptoms and they didn’t start right away, nowhere online is that listed as side effect unless you dig deep. I stopped the supplement because I just didn’t feel good, but still wound up in the ER a week later with tachycardia. Was in and out of the ER over wkend trying to get into a cardiologist because that’s what they said I needed. Finally did some research and came across your article. Tried to explain to the doctors what was happening they just brushed me off with anxiety said I needed cardio testing. Neurologists (plural) also said “anxiety”. PCP “anxiety” “counseling”. Told them I’m smart enough to know the difference between between physical and mental symptoms. Now I have tremors and I am on to topiramate for internal tremors and my heart doesn’t feel the same even though cardiologist said structurally it is fine. Also brain fog, memory issues. MRI showed mild cerebral atrophy. How do I come out of this if it’s even possible? It’s been six weeks because none of the doctors would believe me. I told them all it was glutamate or MSG toxicity, I even went to poison control. I told all drs from the get go what supplements and vitamins (incl multi B) i was taking. I have been self treating living off sweet potato and greens, some salmon; banana, blueberry, avocado, taking curcumin, Vit D, teas. Tried some other things that did not work (nac had reaction) Having other neurological symptoms too. I sent my PCP your article as well as one from nutritionist Kasia Kines and he just shrugs his shoulders says follow up with neurologist, neurologist just prescribes pills. Any suggestions are much appreciated.
As discussed in the article above in order to balance Gaba and glutamate, one must address all the factors that contribute to the problem. If you would like to discuss your situation in more detail, I offer consultation by phone. Information can be found on the following page:
Amazing article. Avoiding glutamates in my diet in addition to histamines and carbs/sugar has made a huge difference in my ‘stress’ and ‘craving’ symptoms. It’s like the noise in my mind has gone quiet. I can think and reason clearly without all the distractions of stress and cavings. The moment I cheat on my diet or sleep I quickly revert back to the described symptoms. Which proves permanent change is worth it.
Thank you for all your hard work.
Hello Emily. You’re welcome. Your results are a prime example of the powerful benefits that can be achieved when one addresses these issues and makes the necessary changes in diet.
I advocate a (low-carb) Paleo diet. Preferably under 50 grams of carbs per day. That means fruit will not be part of the diet, except as an occasional treat now and then. Yes, fruit is acceptable on the Paleo diet for the average person, but we are not dealing with the average person in this situation. We are dealing with someone who has high glutamate. The Paleo diet must be individualized for each person depending on the conditions they are dealing with. For someone dealing with glutamate it has been shown that low-carb (preferably under 50 grams per day) is most beneficial, as it supports more GABA production. You can read more about individualizing the diet on the following page: https://www.holistichelp.net/blog/designing-your-individualized-paleo-plan/
You’re welcome Jess. It depends on the person. So experimenting with the different forms will be necessary to see which one works best. For example, some people do good on magnesium taurate, but others get worse. Some people do well on magnesium threonate, and others don’t. However, we want to avoid citrate and aspartate.
I’m currently following the gaps diet for my 5 year old son. He’s had autism since his vaccine at 2 years old. If glutamine is feeding the bacteria then what else could i use to repair the gut lining and to kill clostradia and candida safely. Would you recommend a feacal transplant or another method.
In my opinion, the GAPS diet is highly counterproductive for the individual with high glutamate as well as numerous other conditions. There is too much to say about your situation in a brief comment and I would need more background to make the right recommendations. I offer consultation by phone. My fees and options can be found on the following page.
This is an excellent article.
Thank you so much for writing it.
Would you have any experience of how b-lactam antibiotics would influence GABA/glutamate. Many PANDAs kids respond instantly to B-lactam antibiotics and there is evidence that these antibiotics operate on the GLT1 transporter.
This makes me think that many PANDAS kids actually have a serious glutamate problem. But joining the dots up is tricky!
thank you, Sarah
Hi Cynthia! First of all, I am genuinely grateful of you for writing this article. I have been experimenting a lot of supplements, spent loads of money, all with no success. I could really not understand why I always have an opposite reaction as expected. I remember how much I palpitated and being unable to sleep for almost 2 days after taking Glycine. L-Theanine also gives me the same hyperactivity if I take it. It is only until I’ve read this entry that I am convinced to have a problem in conversion of glutamate to GABA. Thankfully, I also read this article before buying a GABA supplement for my next personal supplement experiment. I am about to order P-5-P, Magnesium Taurate and Taurine instead to experiment what works best for this god-knows-how-long chronic insomnia. What do you think? And yeah, I’ve tried Benzos and I was almost addicted to it, good thing my partner helped in putting a stop to it before it got worse.
Also, this is not to brag but I used to drink alcohol and I was never ‘shutdown’ed by being so drunk. Most of the time, I am the last drunk one standing and I always remember what has happened until the next day. I really like and crave the chill feeling of alcohol though. People tell me I have a high tolerance to it. My father was a severe alcoholic so I may have probably got it from him? If alcohol is a GABA antagonist, I wonder why I have this kind of tolerance and not being turned off in alignment to my theory of being GABA deficient. Can I say that I am severely deficient with GABA that the GABA in alcohol isn’t enough to work on me as expected? Just wanna fit the patterns out from my personal experiences.
Lastly, I’m not sure if I got the explanation of detoxification of alcohol through Theanine clear enough. Is it because there have been lots of GABA intake that supplementing glutamate via Theanine will balance it out in the body?
Once again, thank you for sharing this in depth article explanation. It is a very big eye opener to me. I hope this could be reached out to other people too.
Have a nice day!
I’m glad you found the article helpful. These questions are too complex to go into deeply, but I will give a nutshell response.
Each person is unique and so there is no way to say whether the supplements like taurine, magnesium, and P5P will help your insomnia or not. Can be helpful for some people and make it worse for others. And depends what other things one may have going on, (like microbial overgrowth or high histamine).
If one needs a high dose of alcohol or a drug to get an effect, that means neurotransmitter levels or responsiveness is lowered.
In regard to l-theanine, it’s just like everything else, may be helpful for some and make things worse for others. But, I’m not in favor of using for the reasons listed above, in people who aren’t drug or alcohol addicted. I prefer to avoid it all together for everyone. However, if one is detoxing from drugs or alcohol and they get a positive effect, then I will not oppose for that period of time.
If you would like to talk about these issues in more detail, I offer consultation by phone. My fees and services can be found on the following page.
Also, you may want to take a look at my other site, which is specific to addiction.
You’re welcome. I’m glad it is helpful for you.
Yes, many PANDAS kids do have issues with Gaba/glutamate. However, my understanding of the effect of b-lactuam antibiotics is that they have the potential to block Gaba(a) receptors, so they wouldn’t be helping balance Gaba.
One possible reason that PANDAS children do better on an antibiotic is due to the fact that the children may have microbial overgrowth in the small intestine or elsewhere in the body. Untreated microbial overgrowth can cause severe disruption to the brain, with PANDAS like symptoms being one possible consequence. You can read about the impact of bacteria on the brain on the following page. PANDAS is discussed briefly.
I have been researching the negative health effects of increased glutamate activity. I am glad to read this material. I have suspected for many years that food contents, especially glutamate, are implicated in my major health problem – muscular pain as in excess lactic acid production (to the point of being able to stand for only several minutes at one time), complicated by a sleep disorder, periodic limb movement disorder. I have also been bothered by tics for most of my life. I am especially interested in comments of glutamate effect on muscular symptoms and possible genetic factors. Thanks.
I have been research the effects of glutamates and I appreciate this information. I have suspected for several years that glutamates have had deleterious effects on me. In particular, I am thinking of the effects that lead to a diagnosis such as fibromyalgia – fatigue and the muscular symptoms similar to lactic acid overload. These have been complicated by the effects of a sleep disorder, also possibly an effect of the glutamates. I am particularly interested in genetic factors that lead to such a syndrome. Thank you.
What would make the GAPS DIET problematic for people with high glutamate ?
The GAPS diet is rich in foods that are high in glutamate (e.g. fermented, cultured, bone broth). And not low enough in carbs. Other foods need to be accessed like FODMAPS as well, as many people who are high glutamate have bacterial overgrowth in the gut which requires the restriction of FODMAPS. And, many people who are high in glutamate may also be high histamine, so the high histamine foods need to be accessed.
Suffering in benzo taper… have been on benzos since early 2018 currently taking Librium, I have tried almost everything to ease this process. I have been on cbd for a month but I am currently tappering out CBD and will be off that by the end of the month , there just isn’t enough info on what it does exactly to gaba receptors for me to feel comfortable with it. NAc does seem to help me, but it’s an odd feeling , it’s almost a stimulating calm. I think I am going to quit that as well, just to be safe.
Glycine , Gaba, and L theanine seem to do nothing at all. So i don’t take those anymore.
Really high doses of inisotol seem to help a little, but 8 grams twice a day just doesn’t seem like a good idea, so I’m not doing that anynore either.
I think I’m just going to have to suffer and ride this out and trust my body and brain to rebalance themselves. I still habe 46 weeks left on my taper and i know it may be some time after the taper I still have symptoms. Sadly the only thing that helped what gabapentin, but I quickly became dependant on that, and had to taper that out in 2019. Thats a nightmare drug and I recommend no one take it… talk about withdrawal symptoms….though I was going to die.
I learned Part or gabapentins action is blocking calcium channels, so your body responds by making more ways to absorb calcium. As well as potential to decrease the bodies natural gaba prpduction, it also depletes damn near everything… it’s a horrible drug.
The hardest part is the sleep deprivation and the waking up with my heart pounding and tinnitus roaring.
I’ve been eating a lot of organic fruit, mainly blueberries, raspberries, pineapple, and bananas also brown rice, and beans. After reading your comments about limiting sugar I am going to try and change up my diet. It’s difficult to try certain diets because I am a vegetarian.
The other thing I’ve noticed about using supplements is even if I cut off all liquids at 6pm , I have a full bladder like every 2 hours which results in waking up to use the bathroom 3 times a night , which is horrible when I am only getting 5 hours anyway.
Taking Vitamin k twice a day just to help with any potential calcium issues.
Since you have been through this yourself, perhaps you could share with me your experience with benzos.
Do you offer phone consultations? If so could you write me back at the email address i provided, if not any info you are willing to share in a reply would be greatly appreciated.
Other than end life hospice care, and emergency room issues benzos should not be allowed to be prescribed for any reason… I never knew the level.of suffering a human can take. Now that I’m more than half way through my taper, I know I can do it, I know the time will pass… but the days where minutes seem like hours and the anxiety and pain and overall feelings of my entire body malfunctioning are always a real challenge… I’d love to have just a 20% improvement at this point
I sent you a private message, but yes, I offer consultations by phone. My fees and options can be found on the following page.
The removal of glutamates from my diet, including enough sleep has been life changing. My outbursts and stress levels are no longer to the extreme. Staying calm has been more manageable.
Because of this research I can now follow the effect glutamate foods has on my body. A temporary outlet to relax, that later leads to a huge spike in my stress levels. It was interesting to discover that I was drawn to high glutamate foods, I found them to be as addictive as carbs and sugar.
I would like to mention that cooking meat below 149°C in addition to not slow cooking, has caused a huge reduction in my glutamates levels aka symptoms.
Thank you for your tireless dedication to bring this knowledge to those who need it.
Curious if buzzing in head, excessive thirst, chest pain and extreme insomnia are all symptoms of glutamate excititoxicty?
Hi Robin, that set of symptoms can be associated with excess glutamate, but they could also be the result of excess norepinephrine and dysautonomia, which you can read about on the following page.