My husband is suffering from PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] from 3 tours in Afghanistan. Can [GABA] help with the anxiety he is experiencing. Your thoughts?
I received the above question in response to one of my blogs addressing GABA for the physical, stiff-and-tense muscle type of anxiety.
It’s very likely that GABA will help ease some of the anxiety he is experiencing. Anxiety can have many root causes and with PTSD I would look into neurotransmitter imbalances first and use three key amino acids to address these three possible root causes, before digging deeper to address other nutrient deficiencies and root causes that may take longer to address.
Amino acids to provide some anxiety relief quickly
In order to provide some anxiety relief as quickly as possible I would assess for low GABA, low serotonin and low blood sugar using the amino acid questionnaire:
- With low GABA he could be experiencing physical anxiety, muscle tension and the need to self-medicate with alcohol or sugary foods in order to calm down and relax. We would do an amino acid trial with calming GABA. Research also now shows that GABA helps with unwanted obtrusive thoughts which are common with PTSD.
- With low serotonin he could be experiencing mental anxiety, ruminations, fears, phobias, anger and irritability and probably insomnia. We would do an amino acid trial with tryptophan first and then 5-HTP if the tryptophan isn’t helping and we know cortisol is not high.
- With low blood sugar he could experience anxiety and feel extra stressed when he goes too long without eating. It’s likely he could also have an intense desire to eat candies and sweet treats. We would do a trial with glutamine and make sure he’s eating a breakfast that contains quality animal protein such eggs and bacon, or a protein smoothie.
We would also want to determine if high cortisol is a driving factor of the anxiety. I’d want to see the results from a 4-collection cortisol saliva test (on waking, noon, around 5pm and around 10pm).
We would address adrenal issues (either high or low) with adrenal support of a good 50mg B-complex, extra pantothenic acid, vitamin C, and adaptogen such as rhodiola. If cortisol is high this can trigger anxiety and adrenaline-type surges and the phosphorylated serine product Seriphos used a few hours before the high cortisol is the best for lowering the high cortisol.
Recent research finds evidence that orange essential oil reduces fear and anxiety, diminishes immune system markers of stress in mice and may help alleviate PTSD and a blend of lavender, ylang-ylang, marjoram, and neroli (also a citrus oil) reduces stress and lowers cortisol too.
Other factors: gut health, diet, low vitamin D
When it comes to anxiety and PTSD, there are other factors to be considered:
- gut health and the microbiome – has he picked up parasites or other gut bugs or been impacted by foodborne pathogens
- diet and the importance of getting back to eating a real whole foods quality diet in order to provide the body with the best nutrients. An example from a recent study report that blueberries boost serotonin and may help ease PTSD
- addressing low vitamin D: “Through its association with testosterone production, vitamin D deficiency may increase the risk for posttraumatic stress disorder”
- removal of gluten, sugar and caffeine – all of which can contribute to anxiety and cause nutrient depletions
Possible effects from malaria drugs and other toxic exposures
If symptoms persist other factors like the effects of medications (or other toxic exposures) must be considered. In one case study, Malaria drug causes brain damage that mimics PTSD, a service member was diagnosed with anxiety, PTSD and a thiamine deficiency. Various treatments, including medication, behavioral therapy and vitamins didn’t help. It was determined that his symptoms were due to the anti-malaria medication mefloquine, which is now known to contribute to neuropsychiatric symptoms in susceptible individuals.
As with any anxiety condition, the root causes and solutions are unique to each individual and the above approach would be adapted based on each person’s unique needs and biochemistry. Additional approaches over and above these listed here may well need to be considered.