Low levels of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter can lead to anxiety, fears and panic attacks. With low GABA, the anxiety is a physical kind of anxiety with muscle tension or muscle spasms. Today you’ll read how low GABA may be one possible root cause of globus pharyngeus, which you may have experienced as a rather scary golf-ball-like lump or constriction in the throat.
Let me describe globus pharyngeus and then I’ll share my story with globus pharyngeus, why low GABA may be a factor (and supplemental sublingual GABA to the rescue) and other possible root causes that should be considered.
This 2015 paper, Globus pharyngeus: an update for general practice, defines it as follows:
Globus pharyngeus or globus sensation is the painless sensation of a lump in the throat and may be described as a foreign body sensation, a tightening or choking feeling.
Globus means globe or sphere and it can actually feel like you have a golf-ball sized object in your throat.
You may have experienced it without even knowing the medical name. Only a few of my clients and those in my community have ever heard the term. I also only learned about the name many years after my episode.
What is very surprising is that, according to the above paper, up to 45% of the population have experienced it.
My story with globus pharyngeus
I’m one of the 45% and for me it was a terrifying experience. As you may know, I experienced anxiety, PMS, fears and panic attacks in my late 30s and early 40s (it’s why I do this work).
Fortunately I only had one episode. It truly felt like I had a golf-ball in my throat and was horrifying. I knew I needed to swallow so I could get rid of this obstruction but at the same time I was terrified to swallow in case it got stuck and choked and killed me.
I remember going to the mirror to try and see this golf-ball sized object in my throat. I was so surprised that I couldn’t see anything.
Looking back, I suspect the addition of GABA Calm to my protocol prevented further episodes. I was also using progesterone cream at the time and this promotes GABA production too.
I’ve had many clients report that looking back they also realized their episodes stopped once they addressed their low GABA levels.
I was also under a great deal of stress at the time: work stress (long hours and my adrenals were a mess) and physical stress (due to amalgam removal, gluten issues, perimenopausal changes and much more).
Globus pharyngeus and GABA
The fact that the throat or pharynx “is a muscular tube that runs from the back of your nose down into your neck” is one reason for considering a muscle spasm and low GABA as a root cause.
The amino acid GABA, when used sublingually, eases muscle spasms within 15 seconds to 2 minutes. Some examples where we see this:
- Physical tension with anxiety
- Rectal spasms or proctalgia fugax
- Throat spasms caused by vagus nerve issues
If you’re in the midst of an episode it’s impossible to open a capsule of GABA into your mouth. Until a client knows how much they can tolerate we start with 100-125 mg and increased based on the trial. Taking the powder and dabbing it with a wet finger and putting the finger to the inside cheek a few times is the best way for quick relief.
A product that is GABA-only in a capsule such as Enzymatic Therapy GABA or ProThera 500mg GABA are my choices for in-the moment relief (more on these in my supplement store here).
Source Naturals GABA Calm is my most popular GABA product and is my choice for everyday use.
Of course, I recommend this approach to doing nothing. The authors state: “simple reassurance may be all that is required” or “Advise patients to resist the urge to dry swallow.” We can do better.
Once your GABA levels are sufficient, it’s less likely to happen unless you’re under a great deal of stress and/or there are psychological factors at play:
There is increased reporting of stressful life events prior to development of symptoms and research suggests that as many as 96% of patients with globus sensation report an exacerbation of symptoms during times of emotional intensity.
During times of added stress, folks may experience other “physical symptoms such as palpitations, poor sleep, and feelings of panic.”
Other root causes and possible solutions
The above paper does also list other root causes and solutions that would need to be investigated if GABA doesn’t help or possibly in conjunction with GABA support: tonsil issues, hiatus hernia, reflux in 23 -68% of individuals (I would look for the root cause rather than using a proton pump inhibitor/PPI), sinusitis, post-nasal drip, goitre, an actual foreign body, high consumption of alcohol/caffeine/tobacco and cancer (which they state is rare).
Interestingly, speech and language therapy has been shown to improve globus pharyngeus in two studies, possibly due to the reassurance experienced.
The paper concludes as follows:
Finally the link between anxiety and globus sensation must be considered. Evidence supports the use of cognitive behavioural therapy, but very little evidence exists for the use of anxiolytics or antidepressants.
I’ll add to this: the link between low GABA and globus sensation must also be considered, especially if you experience the physical type of low GABA anxiety. GABA to the rescue!
Based on the research, low serotonin, vagus nerve function, thyroid health and h/pylori may also be factors. I suspect food sensitivities play a role. And pyroluria too, because of the additional loss of zinc and vitamin B6 which is needed for GABA production. I’ll leave all this for a follow-up blog.
Have you experienced a globus sensation episode? And what did it feel like?
Did you get a diagnosis or is the term new to you?
Has GABA helped … in the moment or if you look back on your use of GABA for anxiety?
Did you discover other root causes and solutions? Please do share.
Please share if you have pyroluria and your episodes were triggered by a very stressful event
And feel free to post your questions.
If you’re a practitioner I’d love to hear your feedback too.