If you have histamine issues or MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome) and the low GABA type of physical anxiety (with muscle tension, insomnia and stress eating), you may well want to consider which type of GABA product you use. It may be wise to avoid or use caution with the type of GABA that is produced via fermentation and could actually make your symptoms worse and cause a histamine reaction.
PharmaGABA and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) are the two forms of commercially available GABA products. PharmaGABA is produced via industrial fermentation of the amino acid glutamic acid (glutamate) using Lactobacillus hilgardii. This is the same beneficial bacteria that is used to ferment foods like kimchi, the well-known Korean vegetable fermented product.
However, GABA is not fermented and is a manufactured product. It’s the form I typically have clients start with simply because it’s been around longer than pharmaGABA and I’ve had such excellent results with it.
I’ve also had reliable feedback from folks who have used both, that GABA works best for them. That said, some folks do find that pharmaGABA works better for their needs and I recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all.
How probable is it that someone could have a histamine reaction to pharmaGABA?
It was only recently that I became aware of the possibility that someone could have a histamine reaction to pharmaGABA. Someone asked the question in my GABA Quickstart online group program and I posed the question to folks on Facebook. Today I’m sharing some of that feedback and asking you to please contribute to the discussion so we can all learn.
Based on what I’ve learned so far I believe it’s very feasible and also probable for many individuals who have histamine issues to have a bad response to pharmaGABA. Keep in mind, histamine triggers are not the same across the board, and it’s possible that some individuals may not react initially and may only react as more and more is used. Or they may not not react at all.
Today’s blog is to shine light on the matter because it’s not something I’ve heard about or seen documented in the research or company product specifications or warnings.
PharmaGABA wasn’t tolerated by Calina’s daughter: she had increased ADHD, agitation, rages, tics and was argumentative and very emotional
Calina shared this about her daughter’s reaction to pharmaGABA and asked about a GABA product that isn’t fermented:
My daughter has high histamine and did not tolerate the pharmaGABA at all. She has increased ADHD, agitation, rages, constantly starts arguments, tics and is very emotional. She has the same reactions with fermented foods (like sauerkraut).
Calina shared that she is 20 and was diagnosed with MCAS at 2 years old:
It improved some for many years, but she’s always been very short attention span, anxiety, OCD, ODD, and learning differences.
Her daughter has a number of more recent factors that are likely compounding things for her:
In 2017 after a mold exposure, dog bite, mosquito bites that left bullseye rashes, all of those symptoms intensified to the extreme.
She used to eat sauerkraut daily but became intolerant. She’s always had problems with all fermented foods and supplements.
I suspect her daughter does have a histamine reaction to pharmaGABA. The clue for me is that her reactions to pharmaGABA are the same as when she consumes fermented foods.
And the symptoms are more severe and more varied than what we see when too much GABA or too much pharmaGABA is used. With too much of either we see increased anxiety and/or more sleepiness and/or feeling flushed. Flushing is common with histamine issues/MCAS and it can be challenging to figure out cause and effect, but this mom and daughter have been dealing with this for a long time and are more likely able to identify what is causing what.
If her daughter has low GABA anxiety physical type symptoms (with insomnia, spinning/focus issues, intrusive thoughts, panic attacks, stiff and tense muscles) I would recommend a GABA-only product, with manufactured GABA instead of fermented pharmaGABA.
PharmaGABA didn’t work for Bren and caused a migraine the next day
A common sign of histamine intolerance/MCAS is migraines so it’s possible that pharmaGABA could trigger a migraine in someone with histamine issues.
Bren shared this on my Facebook post:
Ah now I think I understand why Jarrow’s GABA Soothe not only didn’t work nearly as well for me as GABA Calm, but I also had a migraine the next day. Thanks so much for that information.
When I asked if she has histamine issues and if a migraine is a typical histamine reaction for her she shared that is really only just learning about histamine issues:
Until recently I would have said no and have only had the vaguest idea of what that might mean. But I have been struggling to get off Seroquel, which is the reason I started taking GABA, and I recently found out that Seroquel is a potent anti-histamine. So when you posted about people having histamine issues with the pharmaGABA, which seemed to have caused my migraine, I put 2 and 2 together. I may have it all wrong, but if so it is quite a coincidence.
In Bren’s case it’s a bit more challenging to tease out since this is new to her, she doesn’t eat sauerkraut because she doesn’t like them, but she feels there may be other foods that are affecting her.
This Jarrow GABA Soothe product also contains theanine and Ashwagandha extract so it’s hard to know if it was the pharmaGABA itself. In this instance confirming her reaction with a pharmaGABA only product would be better.
Quetiapine, sold under the brand name Seroquel, is an atypical antipsychotic medication and Bren started to make the connections when she saw my question and because she had read about Seroquel being a histamine-blocking medication.
I share her example because you may not know if you have histamine issues but you may have had a less than pleasant reaction. This will hopefully give you some things to think about.
Product labeling of pharmaGABA can be confusing
You may have noticed this product, Jarrow GABA Soothe, has GABA on the front of the bottle and strangely has “Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) (PharmaGABA)” on the product label.
This label makes no sense at all and is contributing to consumer and practitioner confusion.
Unfortunately this kind of labeling is not unusual and variations of this is common with many products.
GABA is used interchangeably with pharmaGABA all the time. In fact, I do it here on the blog and did it in my book. Maybe we are going to find we need to be specific.
Is the flush reaction from too much GABA or because of a histamine reaction?
The biggest issue I see with GABA and pharmaGABA is using too high a dose to start. This causes a temporary and uncomfortable tingling niacin-like flush sensation (in the brain and body).
One challenging aspect is figuring out if the flush reaction is from too much pharmaGABA, or if it’s due to a histamine reaction.
I’d suggest lowering the pharmaGABA dose and looking at all the adverse symptoms. For example, the symptoms of increased ADHD, agitation, rages, tics, being more argumentative and very emotional experienced by Calina’s daughter would not be attributed to too much pharmaGABA but to a histamine reaction (especially when correlated with her similar reactions to high histamine foods.)
If you’re new to histamine issues and MCAS
If you’re new to histamine issues and MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome), Dr. Jill Carnahan has an excellent overview here – Mast Cell Activation Syndrome: Here’s What You Need to Know When Histamine Goes Haywire.
Mast cell activation syndrome is an immune disorder. It’s just one type of mast cell activation disease.
What sets MCAS apart from other mast cell activation diseases is that it isn’t caused by an abnormally large amount of mast cells, and it isn’t a result of pathogen infection. Instead, when you have MCAS, you have a normal amount of mast cells, but they’re overactive and malfunctioning.
When your body is exposed to what it thinks is a threat, these overactive mast cells start to go haywire and secrete massive amounts of chemical mediators stored in the cytoplasm of your cells—degranulation. What’s meant to be a positive, protective response from your mast cells instead triggers both local and systemic negative effects.
When chemical messengers are released into your body, they set off an alarm that triggers an immune system response. And when this response becomes chronic—the chemical messengers are set off too much, too often—the result is mast cell activation syndrome.
In this instance, because pharmaGABA is fermented (and is likely high in histamine for this reason), it’s perceived to be a threat and causes adverse symptoms.
Over the next few months I’ll be sharing additional information about histamine issues and MCAS because of the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, brain fog, depression and racing heart. Stress is a big trigger and teasing out the role and interplay of neurotransmitter support with GABA and tryptophan is of value.
Resources if you are new to using GABA or pharmaGABA as supplement
If you are new to using the amino acids as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see all the low GABA symptoms).
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 on your own so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
I actually write about pharmaGABA briefly because it was new at the time and I had some clients who were seeing success with GABA, also trial pharmaGABA. The results were not as good as when they used GABA, so I continued to use GABA.
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 amino acids that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
If you don’t feel comfortable reading my book and figuring things out on your own (doing the symptoms questionnaire and doing respective trials), you can get guidance from me in the GABA Quickstart Program (online/virtual).
If you are a practitioner, join us in The Balancing Neurotransmitters: the Fundamentals program. It’s an opportunity to interact with me and other practitioners who are also using the amino acids.
If you have histamine issues or have been diagnosed with MCAS:
- Have you found you can’t tolerate pharmaGABA and do better with GABA for easing physical anxiety, insomnia and/or stress eating?
- Are your histamine reactions to pharmaGABA similar to when you eat fermented foods and other high histamine foods?
- Please share which pharmaGABA product you used and how much you used
- Please share the reactions and the foods that trigger similar reactions so we can build an informal database with the feedback
If you have experienced reactions to pharmaGABA but do well with GABA, do you now have plans to look into the possibility of histamine issues/MCAS? Please share which pharmaGABA product you used and how much you used.
If you’re a practitioner, have you observed these effects with your patients and/or clients and is it something you caution them about?
Feel free to ask your questions here too.