Calm Yourself: Balancing Excess Glutamate and GABA Deficiencies with Supplements & Herbs (part 2)Jun 30, 2020
by Henry Emmons, MD
[adapted from The Chemistry of Calm]
Assuming you've read Part 1 of this series, then you're ready to explore the key neurotransmitters involved in the brain’s fear circuit and also the nutritional supports that can support better brain chemistry balance.
In this Part of the series, we'll explore how to balance GABA deficiencies and excess glutamate.
Balance Glutamate and GABA to Support a Calm Mood
Your body is truly elegant in its design, and this is especially apparent with brain function. One common element of this design is a binary system in which one chemical activates a process while its partner turns it off again. That is true of the first two brain chemicals we'll discuss: Glutamate and GABA. These chemicals alone account for over 80 percent of brain activity. Glutamate accelerates brain activity—it is “excitatory.” Its buddy GABA puts the brakes on brain activity—it is “inhibitory.” Together, they keep the brain humming along—not too fast, not too slow—at just the right pace when their effects are roughly equal to one another.
How do you know if Glutamate and GABA are imbalanced?
Remember that all of these chemicals are necessary and even beneficial when they're in balance and working properly. However, if you feel anxious, then it's likely your balance of these two chemicals has been thrown off and your brain’s activity level is turned up too high, at least in some areas of your brain.
It's possible to have too much glutamate for your own good. If it becomes truly excessive, then the over-activation that results can become outright dangerous to the cells. Excess glutamate can morph from simply excitatory to “excitotoxic” and this may result in premature death of the cell.1 This process may be related to later development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease.2 This is not a good state for your brain to be in for very long.
If GABA levels fall too low, then there is not enough inhibition to keep glutamate in check. Like a car without brake fluid, you may have lost the ability to slow things down. To remedy this imbalance, you can either find ways to reduce the effects of glutamate, enhance the activity of GABA, or both. Many of the measures we’ll discuss support both.
The balancing supplements for glutamate and GABA include the amino acids taurine, GABA, and l-theanine; the anti-oxidants NAC and green tea; vitamins B6 and D; the minerals magnesium and zinc; omega-3 fatty acids; and several herbal therapies.* These supplements will be described in detail in the later parts of this series.
*Note: Some of the supplements discussed in this series can cause side effects, but many people tolerate them much better than prescription medications. They are generally considered safe, however, they should not be started without your doctor’s knowledge and supervision. If you are taking medication already, be sure to talk with your doctor before adding any of these items. If you are considering going off medication, remember never to stop your medication suddenly—always consult with your doctor about how to safely taper off any psychiatric medication.
GABA supplements for anxiousness
GABA has been shown in human studies to help create a relaxed alpha-brain wave pattern, even more effectively than l-theanine (though we still like l-theanine for many reasons). It can also boost immune function in individuals subject to stress.18 Read more.
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