I get many questions about using both tryptophan and GABA supplements together for easing anxiety and today I’m sharing some of these questions and my answers. This will also give you the opportunity to ask questions you may have related to using both these amino acids together. You’ll also read about some reasons for the confusion about when to use GABA vs tryptophan, some success stories and some research.
Let’s start with this question since it’s one that I get asked many many times:
Should one use GABA and tryptophan together for helping with anxiety symptoms?
I have many clients who need and use both but it’s because they have low GABA and also have low serotonin, both driving different types of anxiety symptoms. It’s important to recognize that each amino acid supplement addresses a very different set of symptoms.
With low GABA levels they will have physical anxiety, tension, stiff and tense muscles and often self-medicate with alcohol in order to relax. Sleep may also be a problem with lying awake feeling tense. Because they also have low serotonin they will have the worry-in-the head type of anxiety, ruminations, and obsessions. They may also have panic attacks, negativity, anger, irritability, PMS, TMJ, lack of confidence and insomnia. (Here is a list of all the low serotonin and low GABA symptoms).
You should only use GABA and tryptophan together if you have both low GABA and low serotonin symptoms. This will address these particular root causes.
My anxiety has improved significantly with GABA, should I also try tryptophan/5-HTP?
This is another common question I get about using tryptophan and GABA supplements together (paraphrased from one of the blog comments so I could share my feedback here):
I’m using GABA and my anxiety has improved significantly, however, the anxiety I feel in my body immediately upon waking is still bothersome. What would you recommend for the anxiety in my body on waking (that improves when I get out of bed, start moving around and as the day progresses)?
Could I try 5-HTP/tryptophan in addition to GABA?
We always want to capitalize on what is already working. GABA has improved her anxiety significantly, so I’d want to have her figure out how much it’s improved (for example from say 10/10 with 10 being worse to 5/10 with the GABA). Then we’d bump up the GABA to see if additional gains are seen. This could mean a higher dose at night and could also mean a small dose in the morning on waking. And then figure out the improvement and adjust up again if needed.
There is no reason why she shouldn’t try either tryptophan or 5-HTP too but only if she also has other low serotonin symptoms other than morning anxiety. And also, only once she has established the ideal dose for the GABA. She mentions “the anxiety in my body” so I suspect it’s the low GABA physical-tension type of anxiety. We often see low GABA and low serotonin go hand in hand so it’s very likely she’ll also benefit from serotonin support too.
Some reasons for the confusion about when to use GABA vs tryptophan
One reason for this confusion is that there are many combination products on the market that contain both GABA and tryptophan (and other nutrients). The company is trying to make a one-size-fits-all product in the hope it will help many folks. The problem is that it’s not individualized to your unique needs – which may be low GABA or low serotonin or both. Even if it is low GABA and low serotonin that you suffer from, a combination product may not work if, for example, you need a very small amount of GABA and need a much higher dose of tryptophan.
Another reason is that many well-meaning practitioners do not help their client/patients make the distinction between low serotonin and low GABA symptoms. This happens because they often don’t understand this either.
Another reason is that many folks jump in and start using these amino acids without really understanding how and why they work, how to use them and what to look out for. It’s why I highly recommend that everyone planning to use them reads my book first, The Antianxiety Food Solution.
GABA and tryptophan have helped immensely with ruminating thoughts and PTSD – can I stay on them indefinitely?
KJ posted these great results and her question on the blog:
Hi Trudy, I love your blogs and I’ve read your book, The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution – excellent! I have been taking GABA and tryptophan for about 6 months and they have helped me immensely with ruminating thoughts and PTSD. Sometimes I try to go off GABA and Tryptophan for a day or two, but the ruminating thoughts come back, so my question is, can I stay on GABA and Tryptophan indefinitely? I am 59, have no health problems and take no prescription medications.
It’s super to hear GABA and tryptophan have helped with her ruminating thoughts and symptoms of PTSD. I shared that there is no research on long-term use and we should always keep looking for the reasons serotonin and GABA are low and try to address these. Since she has my book I assume she has also implemented all the diet recommendations (no gluten, no caffeine, no sugar, eating for blood sugar control etc), addressed her gut health (candida, parasites, digestive enzymes etc) and looked at low zinc and low vitamin B6 too. There are many other factors to consider – I list 60+ nutritional and biochemical causes of anxiety here.
Jessica says GABA and tryptophan have been life-changing
Here is some feedback from Jessica about how GABA and tryptophan has been life-changing for her – and in only a matter of weeks:
I started taking Gaba and tryptophan about 3 weeks ago after reading about the benefits on this page. It’s been life changing!
I take 1000mg tryptophan at night and 100mg GABA in the morning. Ruminations and obsessive thoughts are almost non-existent now. I have less tension in the jaw and neck. I feel like I’m able to deal with everyday stressors that were overwhelming me prior to starting these supplements.
She started with the tryptophan and added the GABA after about a week.
Jessica clearly had both low serotonin and low GABA symptoms. The ruminations, obsessive thoughts and overwhelm were likely related to low serotonin. The jaw and neck tension are classic low GABA but serotonin support also helps with TMJ too.
Paula would not be able to sleep without GABA and tryptophan
Paula shared this feedback on the blog post where I write about GABA, Heartmath and EFT easing Micki’s mold-induced anxiety and panic attacks:
This was an interesting article because I use both GABA and Tryptophan and would not be able to sleep if I did not use them. I have also had chronic mold exposure. It never occurred to me that the reason I have to take these things in order to sleep is due to the mold in my system.
Toxic mold can impact neurotransmitter production and GABA and tryptophan can provide some relief while the mold is being addressed.
Some research where tryptophan and GABA have been used with success
Here is some research where tryptophan and GABA (and similar amino acids) have been used with success:
This study shares the case of a 13-year-old boy with an essential tremor that caused severe functional impairment. He responded to a Mediterranean diet and supplementation with GABA and tryptophan and was able to resume his plans to pursue a musical career as a guitar player.
The combination of theanine (an amino acid which also supports GABA levels) and 5-HTP (another precursor to serotonin) led to “significant decreases in parent reports of the children’s behaviour problems.”
Resources if you are new to using GABA and tryptophan as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acid tyrosine as a supplement, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
As I mentioned above, if you suspect low levels of any of the neurotransmitters and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids so you are knowledgeable.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the GABA and tryptophan products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
As with all individual amino acids we use GABA and tryptophan for quick relief of symptoms. And we also always focus on the foundations like diet, the gut, adrenals and stress levels.
Do you have questions about using GABA and tryptophan together?
Have you used the combination of GABA and tryptophan with success? How did they help you and what was your timing and dosing?
Feel free to post your other related questions here too.
[The above statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.]