Anxiety is one of the most prevalent conditions is America today. There are many theories as to why this rise has occurred. Is it our stressful lifestyle, the increased exposure to food additives, pesticides, heavy metals? Probably a little bit of everything; and Glutamate, GABA and GAD are certainly at the core of the discussion.
Glutamate is one of our excitatory neurotransmitters. It helps stimulate cells which affect cognition, focus and memory. It is found to be one of the most prevalent neurotransmitters in the brain, but generally in very small concentration. If glutamate becomes in excess it becomes an excitotoxin affecting brain cells and nerves. In fact it is a leading contributor to a wide variety of chronic neurological disorders such as Parkinson’s, Restless Legs Syndrome, Autism, Fibromyalgia, ALS, Multiple Sclerosis and Tourette’s. An increase in Glutamate has also been shown to cause Anxiety disorders, Bipolar, OCD and bedwetting.
GABA on the other hand is our inhibitory neurotransmitter. The job of GABA is to slow and calm things down. When GABA levels are depleted this could lead to an excitatory state causing anxiety and panic disorders, attention deficit and at times could be a contributory factor for chronic pain syndromes.
When GABA production is disrupted it affects many of the bodily functions associated with the autonomic nervous system, such as insomnia, chronic fatigue, panic attacks and adrenal fatigue.
GABA and glutamate have an inverse relationship. When one is high the other is low. There must be a fine balance between the gas pedal and the braking system. In fact glutamate is the precursor to GABA. If glutamate becomes too high it should automatically be converted to GABA. However, sometimes are system of checks and balances becomes disrupted and herein lays the problem.
Since running the genetic tests on patients through 23andme I have seen high amount of polymorphic changes with the enzyme GAD, which is required for the conversion of glutamate to GABA. If the GAD enzyme has been compromised this will cause an increase in Glutamate and a decrease in GABA.
The entire methylation pathway is critical to the proper functioning and balancing of GABA and glutamate. Methylation affects so many systems in the body that can interfere with the body’s ability to remove toxins, heavy metals or fight infections and viruses.
The important question is what we can do to begin to reduce our glutamate levels and increase GABA.
First, we must avoid excitatory substances like NutraSweet and MSG. We have all known for a long time MSG is not beneficial to our health and in some caused immediate responses such as migraines. For the most part, we try to avoid MSG, but the food companies are a little deceptive and hide MSG using other names. When you read on a label that it has “natural flavor” generally that means it contains MSG.
To help increase GABA levels, Taurine has proven to increase the GAD enzyme which helps to improve GABA. Taurine is found in seafood and animal protein consequently is deficient in many individuals. If supplementing with Taurine, let me offer a word of caution, taurine is a sulfur based compound so if you are aware that you have CBS and SUOX gene mutations this will possibly affect your body’s ability to handle sulfur.
Vitamins such as B6 a cofactor in the conversion of glutamate to GABA are recommended. We prefer the one supplement at a time approach while making dietary changes.
Preferably a Paleo type diet, which emphasizes low carbohydrate intake is recommended. Also, if you know that you are extremely sensitive to glutamate it would be recommended to reduce foods such as peas, tomato juice, and parmesan or Roquefort cheese. Protein powders and amino acid formulas are also high in glutamate and are excitotoxic.
We also provide nutritional support for the neurotransmitter GABA. We have found it very effective with Anxiety, Chronic pain and Restless Legs Syndrome.
Besides the necessary dietary change it is important to restrict and or remove the environmental toxins found in our cosmetics, perfumes, colognes, household products such as dish soap, laundry soap and household cleaners.
We recommend eating organic to reduce your pesticide intake significantly. I read that eating organic reduces your pesticide intake 90%.
All too commonly people have turned to medication to treat their symptoms. Medications such as Ativan, Valium, Xanax and Klonopin all target the GABA receptors. The problem however, it they do not address the underlying problem and ultimately can affect the production of GABA resulting in less production.
Finally it is important to not only make dietary changes but we must also make lifestyle changes. These include getting enough sleep, managing stress, proper breathing (belly breathing), promote gut health, counseling and neurofeedback.
In our practice we have a very specific and comprehensive approach when helping our patients manage stress and anxiety. We recommend testing to include genetics, organic acids and heavy metal testing. This helps us identify if there is a GAD snp affecting the conversion of glutamate to GABA. These individuals will need nutritional support during their entire lifetime. These tests also help us identify detoxification, digestion, vitamin and energy markers to help with the healing process.
As part of our protocol, we also include neurofeedback to help the brain regulate the beta and alpha waves.
Finally as previously stated we recommend dietary and lifestyle changes in accordance with their lab results to personalize their nutrition for the most optimum resultS.