At various times during our journey, numerous practitioners have suggested the use of supplements. While I know most families working on healing have a heavy emphasis on supplements, we’ve personally chosen to try and avoid them. Because this is so unconventional, I will admit that I’ve questioned this decision at times, but deep down I  firmly believe this was one of the best decisions we’ve personally made for our family.

One reason why we’ve chosen to avoid supplements is because of our experience with them early on. About the time we started with diet changes, we also introduced some of the more common supplements like a multi vitamin, vitamin D3, fish oil and probiotics.  We immediately saw a negative reaction. Through process of elimination, we discovered he was reacting to free glutamate (possibly among other things) in the multi-vitamin (JuicePlus) and developed a massive eczema outbreak from the histamines from the fish oil and probiotics.  We then tried other items like a probiotic with l-glutamine and CoQ10 with citric acid, all causing additional reactions because of the glutamate content.  It was at this time that he was still reacting to some whole food and to reduce some of the guessing-game, we decided to pull all supplements and focus on diet instead. Because of our experience with his regression, I had also developed a sort of distrust towards pharmaceutical companies (big and small) and this carried over into what I viewed as a major risk with supplements.  However, there was no risk in providing him with nutrition from the food God has provided us with.  Additionally, our choice to avoid nutritional supplementation is one of the primary reasons why we chose to pursuit homeopathy over the “traditional” MAPS doctor.

Below you will find some information I’ve gathered from various sources on some of the most commonly prescribed supplements and drugs.  This information is not comprehensive and should not act as medical advice.  As I mentioned above, we’ve personally chosen to make an effort to avoid nutritional supplementation and it is not part of the REID protocol due to the glutamate risk. However, you can see some of the products that we have used to help assist our healing by clicking here. Supplements often contain sources of free glutamate due to:

  • Added ingredients (flavors, citric acid, gelatin, maltodextrin, citric acid, extracts, certain disodium salts, etc)
  • The byproduct of the processing of supplements or even solvents used in the processing can result in high amounts of glutamate
  • Certain metabolic pathways convert certain supplements back into glutamate
  • Certain amino acid chelates ((Citrate, aspartate and glutamate are used as chelating agents with mineral supplements.) Therefore, any supplement ending in Citrate, Aspartate or Glutamate, ie Magnesium Citrate)

“Additionally, glutamate receptors also pull in other excitatory substances into the cell besides glutamate, including all of the following:

  • Aspartate (can also be converted into glutamate)
  • Aspartame
  • Aspartic acid
  • Glutamic acid
  • Glutamine
  • Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
  • Cysteine (But not n-acetyl-cysteine. However, does contain sulfur and too much sulfur can be counterproductive as well, so should be used mindfully.)
  • Homocysteine

Therefore, each of these can bind with glutamate receptors, which also results in excessive stimulation and contributes to the imbalance in GABA and glutamate and the wide array of symptoms that are generated. The more glutamate receptors you have the more excitatory substances that will be pulled in.”

Calcium– “Glutamate and calcium together cause ongoing firing of the neurons, which triggers the release of inflammatory mediators, which leads to more influx of calcium. It becomes a vicious cycle that results in neural inflammation and cell death. Glutamate has been described as the gun, while calcium should be seen as the bullet, says Dr. Mark Neveu, a former president of the National Foundation of Alternative Medicine. It’s important to note that activation of the NMDA receptor also involves glycine, D-serine or D-alanine, which means either one of these could allow for more influx of calcium as well. If one exhibits low levels of calcium, Dr. Amy Yasko recommends using nettle or chamomile to increase calcium levels, rather than supplementation of calcium itself, if we are dealing with someone who has an imbalance in GABA and glutamate. However, if calcium is excessively high, other herbs or nutrients may be used to bring it down, like lithium orotate, Boswalia or wormwood. Lithium, as well as iodine and boron, can also assist in lowering glutamate. Calcium intake in food may need to be reduced or limited if calcium is too high. Evaluate calcium levels using a urine essential elements test.”

Cysteine- cysteine can also act as a mild excitatory neurotransmitter, but N-acetyl cysteine does not. However, N-acetyl cysteine contains acetyl and a sulfur group and so must be used thoughtfully.

Enzymes (Protease)- “Proteases break up proteins into amino acids like glutamate.  So if you have excessive proteases you can potentially create more free amino acids than your body is able to absorb or needs.  The idea is to have your pancreas secrete the proper amount of enzymes based on your body’s need for particular amino acids.  Also, depending on the protease manufacturing, the protease could start to create free glutamate on the other proteins in the enzyme mixture. Typically incomplete digestion is due to too little stomach acid, which can be increased with lemon in water or a pinch of salt in water.” –Dr. Reid

Fermented Cod Liver Oil-  Cod liver oil naturally contains a good amount of protein, when those proteins are fermented they are broken down into amino acids, one of which is free glutamate.  I would highly advise avoiding this if you tend to lean towards excess glutamate or are sensitive to free glutamate.

Folic Acid– “Folic acid is basically a string of glutamate. The chemical name is actually pteroylglutamate” “The form that is manufactured and added to food as a supplement is folic acid, the form found in foods naturally is folate. But if children who have autism are sensitive to excess amounts of glutamate in folic acid (similar to children with PKU who are sensitive to excess amounts of phenylalanine), then even the amounts of free glutamate and MSG in vaccines may be suspect as well”…/could-too-much-folic-acid-cause-a…/

Folate, 5 methyltetrahydrofolate – “With all of the craze surrounding the use of 5 methyltetrahydrofolate (5-MTHF) supplementally to bypass certain MTHFR gene mutations, it should be pointed out the frequency of adverse reactions to methylfolate supplementation is rather common. Among the primary adverse reactions to methylfolate are symptoms of: anxiety, mania, aggression, and headaches. Why? Folates, also known as Vitamin B-9 are of different forms. Some of these include: Folinic acid (5-formyl tetrahydrofolate), Folic acid, 10-formyl tetrahydrofolate and 5 methyl tetrahydrofolate. Folates are comprised of numerous glutamic acids conjugates. The higher the dose of folates, the greater the propensity towards an increase in the pool of free glutamate. Hence, the “excitatory” and neurological types of adverse effects of folate in certain individuals.

Additionally, folate (in the form of tetrahydrofolate) is a cofactor in the conversion of the amino acid histidine into glutamic acid. The compound FIGLU (formiminoglutamate) is the intermediate in this reaction (12). This is why elevated urinary FIGLU is an indicator of a folate deficiency.” Leafy greens, asparagus, beets, lentils, liver and chickpeas are all food sources of folate.

GABA– “GABA itself can be converted back into glutamine, which is then converted back into glutamate through a metabolic pathway called the GABA shunt. So GABA supplementation can end up increasing glutamate in some people as well. According to Dr. Datis Kharazzian, brain expert, if you have any effect from GABA, (positive or negative) that means you have leaky gut. GABA is a large molecule that should not be able to cross the blood brain barrier, if it does, the blood brain barrier is impaired due to leaky gut.”

Glutamine/L-Glutamine- “Any nutritional supplement that contains glutamine. Glutamine is often recommended to heal the gut and increase GABA, but it first increases glutamate, and if you aren’t converting your glutamate to GABA for any of the many reasons we listed above, then you end up with nothing but a bunch of excess glutamate. Anyone who has an issue with excess glutamate should avoid supplementation with glutamine. Glutamine and glutamate convert back and for into one another.”

Glutathione- “Glutathione contains glutamate, so supplementing too heavily may contribute to excess glutamate”

Glycine– “Glycine can be inhibitory or excitatory, and in people who tend to lean towards excess glutamate it typically becomes excitatory, so it may need to be avoided”

Probiotics– Probiotics containing dairy, gluten, soy, l-glutamine, gelatin, maltodextrin, natural or artificial flavors, lactobacillus casei and so on will contain free glutamate. Many also choose to avoid streptococcus thermophiles and d-lactate as well. We have personally not done well with commercial probiotics (see blog post on histamine for additional info) and have chosen to source as many fresh and local food sources for their natural pre & probiotics. If you are able to tolerate probiotics and/or ferments, is a great recipe for a natural probiotic from Dr. Reid,  Be sure to boil water and container before fermenting to avoid fermenting the wrong bacteria.  Once we were at a place where we could tolerate some higher histamine foods we started low with ¼ tsp or less. FarmHouse Culture also has some great options as well and can be found at most health food stores.

Taurine– “The amino acid taurine increases the GAD enzyme and consequently GABA levels. Additionally, taurine doubles as an inhibitory neurotransmitter and can bind directly to GABA receptors, so it can help provide balance naturally in that manner as well. Higher levels of any inhibitory neurotransmitter help lower high levels of any excitatory neurotransmitter. Taurine is found in high levels in the brain and cardiac tissue, indicating its importance in these areas. Taurine is found most abundantly in seafood and animal protein, so it is often deficient in one’s diet. If taurine is deficient, then the GAD enzyme may be low as well, therefore, supplementing with taurine can be used to manage the GABA and glutamate balance and protect from neuron death. However, there are a couple of genetic polymorphisms (particularly CBS and SUOX gene mutations) that can result in negative effects from taurine supplementation, because these mutations result in excess levels of sulfur in the body and taurine is sulfur based. If one has these gene mutations, they may also need to avoid other supplements that are high in sulfur and limit sulfur-based foods. These mutations can also impair ammonia [converts to glutamate as well] detoxification as well. B6 and SAMe increases the activity of these gene mutations, so supplementation with these substances may compound the problem too.” Beef, lamb, dark chicken meat and eggs are food sources of taurine.

Theanine– “Another popular choice for increasing GABA is l-theanine. L-theanine is a glutamate analog. Which means if you fall in the category of people who is having problems converting your glutamate to GABA, this could lead to excess glutamate rather than GABA. Additionally l-theanine is derived from tea or mushrooms, it is an artificial means of supplementing glutamate, not natural. Furthermore, it could have traces of caffeine or fungi since from its original source, which could be problematic as well. Therefore, l-theanine may work for some, but have the opposite effect for others. I prefer to avoid it,”

Vitamin D- “Our preliminary findings indicate it is possible that magnesium intake alone or its interaction with vitamin D intake may contribute to vitamin D status. The associations between serum 25(OH)D and risk of mortality may be modified by the intake level of magnesium. Future studies, including cohort studies and clinical trials, are necessary to confirm the findings.”

Vitamin K- “Vitamin K is very important for GABA and glutamate balance as well, as it is needed for healthy calcium metabolism where it reacts with glutamate and calcium to deliver calcium to the bones and teeth, and it prevents accumulation of excess calcium which would contribute to cell death. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin; however, unlike other fat soluble vitamins, it is not stored in the body and must be consumed on a daily basis. Typically, vitamin K is produced when the friendly flora in our gut process leafy greens, but if dysbiosis is present or you’re not eating leafy greens, then vitamin K is not produced in sufficient numbers and deficiency may develop. The pancreas uses Vitamin K abundantly for sugar regulation. In addition to the brain, the pancreas is also very vulnerable to accumulation of excessive glutamate or other excitotoxins, which will further impair regulation of sugar. As we discussed previously, too much or too little insulin or glucose can both contribute to excess glutamate Therefore, keeping glutamate and GABA in balance is critical for the health of the pancreas and all its functions and the health of the pancreas is vital for maintaining the balance.” Restoring fiber fermentation in the gut and plenty of leafy greens, kale, collards, mustard greens, lettuce, broccoli, Brussel sprouts and cauliflower will all help to increase vitamin K levels.

Zinc– “higher doses of zinc (more than 40mg per day) can also activate the release of glutamate through non-NMDA glutamate receptors, so one must exercise caution with zinc.” Spinach, Beef, Kidney beans, watermelon seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, oysters and shrimp are food sources of zinc, which would be safer than many supplements. Ideally, zinc and copper should be in balance, which is hard to obtain with supplementation.

Glutamate/GABA balancing Pharmaceuticals– “There are many drugs that target your GABA receptors like Ativan, Xanax, Klonipin, Valium, and Neurontin (Gabapentin) and others. These drugs look similar in chemical structure as gamma-aminobutyric acid so they can fit in your GABA receptors, which artificially stimulates them, but they do not actually increase production. Therefore they do not address the underlying problem of not producing enough, because there must be some level of GABA present in order for these drugs to have an effect. Furthermore, anytime a substance is used to artificially stimulate a neurotransmitter the brain responds by reducing production or responsiveness, which results in more depletion of the neurotransmitter, which in this case is GABA. Therefore, any drugs that target GABA receptors or manipulates GABA or glutamate, will inhibit your ability to acquire and maintain balance.”

Some level of glutamate is naturally occurring and necessary. When glutamate blockers are used, the cells can adapt by adding additional glutamate receptors in effort to acquire necessary glutamate.  These additional receptors will make one more sensitive to glutamate, especially with more time on the pharmaceutical or once it has been discontinued.