We typically associate low GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, with a physical-type of tension- anxiety that also often affects sleep. However there is evidence that low GABA is also a factor in other conditions. One of these conditions is Tourette’s Syndrome, which is characterized by the presence of chronic tics which can be motor/movement and vocal. In today’s blog I share some research that suggests a deficit in GABAergic transmission may contribute to symptoms in Tourette’s and a case study where a teenage boy found relief from his tics when using the amino acid GABA as a supplement. GABA also improved his sleep. He also made some dietary changes – no gluten, no sugar and no caffeine – and supplemented with magnesium and melatonin. The amino acid tyrosine, used as a supplement, also improved his low mood and focus, both of which can be issues with Tourette’s.
Kim, a mom in this community, shared this wonderful feedback about her son in response to a Facebook post a few years ago:
Because of your book, I started using GABA for my 14-year-old son with moderate to severe Tourette’s Syndrome, and the results have been significant. Highly recommended for tics, and sleep for these individuals. Thank you.
I asked her how much GABA he used and how often and she shared this:
He used 750mg GABA nightly before bed, and if tics are really active then additional 300mg. Lots of water and a balanced diet with no caffeine…. life-saver.
Keep in mind that 750mg is considered a high dose. We typically start with 125mg GABA and increase based on each person’s unique needs. There is the temptation to think “I have tics and this is a very severe condition so I need a high dose to start.” You don’t want to be thinking like this. Some people may not need this much and others may need this high dose. We always use the trial method to figure out the ideal dose.
She also shared that when he added tyrosine, he saw benefits from that amino acid supplement too:
He recently added 300mg of l-tyrosine, and it promotes happiness and a sharper mind, due to brain fog. He says he really notices a difference. He has read your book as well.
How wonderful is this? GABA helped reduce his tics and improved his sleep, and tyrosine improved his mood and focus.
I love that he’s read my book – good for him and this mom! It’s never too early to have you and your child read this information. It’s empowering for them so they understand the changes they need to make and why these amino acids, dietary changes and elimination of caffeine make such a difference.
I recently checked in to see how he is doing now and asked what other nutritional approaches helped/help other than GABA, a balanced diet and no caffeine. She shared this:
He’s gluten free, magnesium for sure for the muscle tics, and melatonin for good sleep (Touretters need a routine sleep schedule).
He’s 18 now and is doing way better as he matures, but GABA no doubt has improved his life. We promote GABA and educate others as much as possible.
All this is so great to hear and I love that they now help to educate others about GABA too.
I appreciate that she gave me permission to share, hence this post. (The image above is a stock image and not her son.)
Tourette’s Syndrome and reduced GABA function
This paper, Reduced GABAergic inhibition and abnormal sensory symptoms in children with Tourette syndrome, describes the condition and the role of reduced GABA function:
Tourette Syndrome is characterized by the presence of chronic tics. Individuals with Tourette Syndrome often report difficulty with ignoring (habituating to) tactile sensations, and some patients perceive that this contributes to a “premonitory urge” to tic. While common, the physiological basis of impaired tactile processing in Tourette Syndrome, and indeed tics themselves, remain poorly understood.
It has been well established that GABAergic processing plays an important role in shaping the neurophysiological response to tactile stimulation. Furthermore, there are multiple lines of evidence suggesting that a deficit in GABAergic transmission may contribute to symptoms found in Tourette Syndrome.
In this study, the authors used testing (magnetic resonance spectroscopy) and tasks that were vibrotactile (the perception of vibration through touch) to investigate the role of GABA and atypical sensory processing in these 8-12-year old children with Tourette Syndrome.
They found the following:
- lower concentration of GABA in the sensorimotor cortex and “impaired performance on tactile detection and adaptation tasks, consistent with altered GABAergic function”
- the altered/reduced GABAergic function correlated with the severity of motor tics and sensory impairments, “linking the core feature of Tourette Syndrome directly to … brain neurochemistry.”
The authors conclude that this provides a foundation for novel interventions (i.e. medications) but unfortunately do not offer the use of the amino acid GABA as one of these solutions. This is very unfortunate but not unexpected. I plan to reach out to the authors and share this case study and blog.
This research supports why GABA works so well for Kim’s son and why he needed higher amounts of GABA when his tics were more active/severe. And now I’m curious to find out if her son has/had sensory issues and how they improve/improved with GABA. I’ll report back if I hear from her about this.
It’s no surprise that GABA helps his sleep too. There is much evidence supporting this – like the the sleep promoting effects of combined GABA and 5-HTP (or GABA alone or 5-HTP alone). I’ve also shared many GABA-sleep success stories on the blog. Here is one: Since starting GABA my child sleeps for the first time in years and really notices a difference in his carb cravings. (Use the search feature and “GABA sleep” to find additional blog posts)
Interestingly only 8% of the children in the study had generalized anxiety disorder. Given how common low GABA is in anxiety, and that low serotonin can also be a factor with tics, I would have expected anxiety to be higher.
Evidence supporting the other nutritional changes he made
There is evidence to support the other nutritional changes that Kim’s son made:
- There are reports that “an increase in tics has been related to the consumption of caffeine and refined sugar.” The authors acknowledge that there is no one diet for Tourette’s, so as always, it’s a matter of figuring out the ideal diet for each child (or adult) with tics. Oligoantigenic diets have been identified as significantly reducing tics. This involves removing foods that can potentially cause a food sensitivity leading to tics and/or behavioral impacts and/or insomnia.
- A gluten-free diet maintained for one year in patients with Tourette’s Syndrome was shown to markedly reduce tics and OCD in children and adults
- Magnesium is one of the most used supplements in children with Tourette’s Syndrome. When used with probiotics, omega-3 and multivitamins “Seventy-five per cent of supplement users in the Tourette syndrome group noted improvement, mainly in motor and vocal tics, sleep quality and anxiety reduction.”
- Melatonin is listed with a number of medications commonly prescribed for tic disorders where sleep issues are also a factor
Keep in mind that the above is not a protocol for relief from tics for everyone with Tourette’s Syndrome. It’s what worked for the unique biochemical needs of Kim’s son.
That said, this could be a framework to start with and build upon.
Tyrosine improves his mood and focus
Tyrosine helps with low catecholamines, improving the curl-up-in-bed low-energy kind of low mood and poor focus. (You can see all the symptoms here.) The typical dose is 500mg tyrosine a few times a day. Kim’s son found just 300mg to be beneficial.
Interestingly, 48% of the children in this study had attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with about half of those on stimulant medication. I wonder how many would have also benefited from tyrosine for improving their focus, as it did for Kim’s son.
You can read more about tyrosine for focus and mood, and motivation and energy here.
Resources if you are new to using GABA or tyrosine as a supplement
If you are new to using the the amino acid GABA or tyrosine as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see the low serotonin and other low neurotransmitter symptoms) and a brief overview here: Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
If you suspect low levels of GABA or catecholamines 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.
And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with. As I mentioned above, it’s empowering for your teen and also relatively easy reading too.
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 tyrosine products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
Have you seen results with GABA or any of the above approaches? Or has another approach helped you or your child?
If you’re a practitioner have you seen GABA and any of the above to help? What else has helped your clients/patients?
If you suffer from Tourette’s Syndrome, do you also experience ADHD, insomnia, low mood and/or anxiety?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.