One of the key starting points for this program, in parallel with the focus on the Methylation Cycle is the recognition of the role of glutamate and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in chronic neurological conditions. In many cases, especially when my focus was adults in my private practice, merely working to balance glutamate and GABA was sufficient for a return to health. Excess glutamate has been illustrated to be a factor in a number of neurological conditions including Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome amongst others. Balancing glutamate and GABA is the first step of the program for autism and there too, a number of individuals find that glutamate/GABA balance is all that is needed to relieve a number of symptoms.
To understand this concept it is important to realize that excess glutamate relative to GABA can over excite your nerves. Glutamate works with calcium to stimulate your nervous system. Some stimulation is a good thing, but too much stimulation can leave you feeling nervous, twitchy and unable to sleep. The goal is to keep glutamate in balance so that you gain the benefits from it without having so much that your system is unbalanced.
One way to visualize the impact of excess glutamate in the body is like a car whose gas pedal is stuck, pressed to the floor. Speeding through life, without the ability to put on the brakes virtually ensures that you will either experience a major crash due to excessive speed or eventually run out of gas. Think of glutamate as the gas and GABA as the brake pedal. While you need the gas pedal to move forward in life, you also require the ability to use the brake as needed to be certain that you’re able to moderate your speed.
Recognize that we do need glutamate, it helps us to think and process information. But too much glutamate will exhaust your nerves to the point of creating health issues. Glutamate is considered an “excitotoxin”. Excitotoxins are compounds that have the ability to overexcite nerves to death. Before you even start to work on your Methylation Cycle you can begin by working on your glutamate/GABA balance. Look to eliminate food and supplement sources from your diet that serve to increase glutamate beyond a healthy level. Look to support with nutrients that help to calm the nervous system including GABA, valerian root, theanine, pycnogenol, grape seed extract, resveratrol and CoQ10.
As with glutamate, calcium is something your system needs. But too much calcium will work with glutamate to overexcite your nervous system. One way to look at the interaction between calcium and glutamate is that glutamate is the gun and calcium is the bullet. In experiments looking at the impact of minerals on excitotoxin death it was found that “Calcium, it appeared, was the culprit. Apparently glutamate opened a special channel designed to allow calcium to enter the neuron, and it was calcium that triggered the cell to die…It appeared that excitotoxins, including glutamate and aspartate work by opening calcium channels, at least on certain subtypes of receptors. When those neurotransmitters are allowed to come into contact with the receptor in too high a concentration or for too long a period of time, the calcium channel gets stuck in the open position allowing calcium to pour into the cell in large amounts” (Russell Blaylock, Excitotoxins the Taste that Kills). Thus, you want to strike a healthy balance in terms of the level of calcium support you are using. Look to support with magnesium, zinc and lithium which may help to balance excess calcium in the system.
According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, we are often unaware of the issues of excess glutamate until more than 80% of our neurons have been impaired. “What is so unusual about these diseases is that most of the people who are affected by them have lived perfectly healthy lives up until the time the disease strikes, which is usually later in life.. ..The puzzle of what causes these particular neurons to start dying after decades of normal function has intrigued neuroscientists for many years…evidence began to appear indicating that even though the symptoms do not appear until the later years the pathological destruction of neurons begins much earlier, even decades earlier…the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease do not manifest themselves until over 80 to 90% of the neurons in the involved nuclei have died. The neurons didn’t all suddenly die at the same time, rather they slowly and silently deteriorated over many years. The same is true for Alzheimer’s disease. This is why prevention is so important.”
Addressing imbalances in the glutamate/GABA ratio as well as the calcium to magnesium ratio is what I consider the starting point, or Step One of this program. Even in the absence of nutrigenomic SNP information you can begin to work on addressing excitotoxicity in your system. This is a critical ongoing way of life, to keep glutamate and calcium in balance as you move forward to work on the other aspects of multiifactorial health conditions.