Category Archives: supplements

GABA, GABA, GABA, hey the ringing’s not so bad anymore

In this 2011 post I referred to a ScienceDaily report linking low GABA levels and tinnitus. Since then I’ve used GABA for nine months or so? in two different formulations, but for sleep issues, not specifically for ear ringing. In fact I kind of forgot about the tinnitus thing. But now I can share the following.

The first day I tried plain old GABA, in maybe a 1,000 mg dose — I don’t piddle around — the ringing cut out completely, with a sort of wwwwwOP! sensation, for about a minute. It does that every 18 months or so anyway, but still.

The straight GABA made me sleepy but, as I mentioned here, made it hard to breathe. (Now I’m wondering if this was because I wasn’t taking it with a truckload of P5P. Yet another experiment to revisit.) So I switched to GABA Calm and settled on three tablets a night. More than three and I was a zombie the next day. The ingredients in one tablet are magnesium 5 mg, gaba 125 mg, glycine 50 mg, N-acetyl L-tyrosine 25 mg, taurine 20 mg. On two occasions I’ve quit taking it for a week or so. Both times, after two or three days, I was startled again by worsening tinnitus. It was as if it suddenly got significantly worse. The tinnitus had not disappeared on this supplement, but it had stopped being a distraction and I stopped thinking about it.

This is yet another demonstration of the valuable lesson I learned from my orthomolecular self-experimenting parental unit (OSEPU): evaluate a supplement by how you feel when you’re on it AND on how you feel when you stop it.

Unfortunately the artificial sweetener in this supplement is now a problem and I need to find a new GABA formulation.

Watch out for outdated info about tryptophan — it’s not banned

In 1989 a batch of the amino acid tryptophan from Japan killed about 40 people, and in 1991 the U.S. banned the sale of it here as a result. In 2001, when it was clear the cause was due to contamination, not tryptophan itself, the ban was lifted. However, I occasionally find sources referring to the ban as still current. Here are the most recent ones I’ve come across. There are many more. I’ve also seen it repeated in discussion forums.

  • Prescription for Nutritional Healing, Fourth Edition. That’s copyright 2006! For shame! Where was the editor?
  • I’ve visited this site a lot, as it has some of the most thorough descriptions I’ve ever found of the various nutrients. Their entries on tryptophan seem to be up-to-date, but two articles on other subjects refer to tryptophan as a banned supplement — one on aspartame and one on L-theanine.The latter is clearly identified as an article from a back issue of the journal “What Doctors Don’t Tell You,” so I guess the site owners could be forgiven for it being out of date, but they could at least display the publication date. Instead they refer to the volume and issue numbers, which mean diddly to readers.
  • Berkeley Wellness Letter. An entry from their January 2005 issue refers to 5-HTP as replacing tryptophan for safety reasons.


GABA as a painkiller

Last year I wrote about the abdominal pain that started in 2008 and was a mystery to a dozen doctors. I finally learned to stave off the worst of it by eating small meals, avoiding starches, and not eating after 6 p.m.

Eventually things improved and I was able to eat later and later in the evening and a little more at each meal, as long as no potatoes were involved. However, sometimes a girl needs to go out on the town like a normal person and have an all-American meal of hamburger, fries, and brandy sidecar. Which I did last week and which brought back the old discomfort.

That night I happened to take more GABA Calm* than usual — 4 tablets instead of 3, for a total of 500 mg GABA (an inhibitory neurotransmitter), 20 mg magnesium, 200 mg glycine, 100 mg N-acetyl L-tyrosine, and 80 mg taurine. In about 30 minutes I experienced a strange sensation that I finally identified as the absence of pain in my torso.

When I first started experimenting with GABA for insomnia relief I tried plain old GABA, as well as its amino acid precursor, L-theanine, and another version of that called Suntheanine. I know I noticed the pain-relieving effect with the plain GABA, but can’t remember if I did with the other supplements. I forgot about the matter since I couldn’t take large enough doses without eventually feeling spacey the next day. However, a few days in a row every once in a while seems to be okay.

A few commenters on another blog, referring to my earlier post about GABA, insisted that GABA supplements can’t work because GABA doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier. A ScienceDaily article implied the same. The Wikipedia entry for gamma-aminobutyric acid also suggests that the calm-inducing effect claimed by supplement manufacturers cannot be scientifically proven. For me, my brain slows down quite nicely with the supplement mentioned above. I’ve tried the three other substances it contains — glycine, L-tyrosine, and taurine — alone in supplement form and noticed nothing. GABA alone will make me sleepy and groggy, but it takes a lot more — 1000 mg or so — and it suppresses my breathing too much for comfort.

* …the manufacturers of which had better buy me a car for mentioning it three times now on this blog, or I and my 20 subscribers will boycott their sorry #$@es. I might even be driven to suggest that I once found a dismembered body part, or perhaps a smallish thermonuclear device, in one of the bottles.

Figuring out how much of a nutrient supplement is absorbed at one time

If your doctor has you on calcium, you’ve probably already heard that the body can only handle about 500 mg of it at one time, and that you need to divide larger doses over the day. I recently discovered something similar with thiamine (vitamin B1) in the form of TTFD.

To combat the splitting headaches that vitamin D3 supplements and sun exposure give me, I tried TTFD (aka Authia*) and eventually found that 100 mg three times a day worked well. (I have no idea how much that translates into the other forms of thiamine such as thiamine HCl or benfotiamine.) The schedule got annoying, though, so after a few weeks I tried 200 mg at one dose and 100 mg at the second. After three days of that, the headaches returned, although not as terrifyingly. I went back to the 3x/day routine and voila, headaches gone. Apparently my body only does 100 mg at a time.

My experience with riboflavin 5′-phosphate went along the same lines. An customer in a product review mentioned a study that indicated that the body only processes so much at a time, so I experimented and discovered that taking two 36.5 mg capsules at a time does not seem to do more than taking one.

According to the members of’s Vitamin B12 Deficiency group, vitamin B12 is another supplement with limited absorption, but in a different way. You can only absorb about 3% of whatever amount you’re taking. Forum members taking large doses of it spread them out over the day, but this might just be because walking around with two sublinguals under your tongue tends to cause drooling.

The “Suggested Use” info on the supplement label is of course a starting point for determining how much the manufacturer thinks is useful at one time, but usually those calculations do not take into account those customers working the crazy end of the self-experimenter spectrum.

*I believe the name was inspired by the gagging sound you make when you open the bottle.

Supplements can differ in effectiveness by brand

by M.E.

I have discovered not only that the effectiveness of different supplement brands can vary wildly, but that they can differ from person to person.

The first brand of glucosamine sulfate I tried for early arthritis symptoms cleared them up after just a few weeks. It was a “house” brand at a local drugstore chain. Let’s call it Brand A. After a year or two I noticed that the store’s house supplements had all new labels. A nice new look. But a month or so later my arthritis signs were mysteriously returning.

Some phone calls determined that the chain had switched suppliers, but the old manufacturer also supplied another chain in my area. After a few weeks back on Brand A I was back in shape.

When this retailer dropped its house brand, they recommended a national brand which worked just as well. (I had no idea how lucky that was.) Let’s call it Brand B. Then more good luck – we moved away but now internet retailing had arrived and Brand B was readily available online.

Every couple of years I would think “this is ridiculous” and try a new brand I had come to like for other supplements. None of them worked. Weird.

Time flies and, after a decade or more, the symptoms reappeared and I wondered if it’s just part of getting older? Increased dosage to no avail. Bummer. Six weeks (to the day!) went by after I opened a new bottle before I noticed it was not Brand B. Adding insult to injury, it was my own mistake – the labels are similar and I clicked on the wrong brand when comparing prices online. Good grief. Within days a new supply of the real Brand B arrived and in a few weeks the symptoms began to disappear. Whew.

1. Scientific studies comparing the effectiveness of particular brands on your unique body are, shall we say, hard to come by.

2. A self-administered study making use of a placebo effect by definition eliminates the possibility of testing a placebo effect.

3. With some types of supplements, brand may make a difference sometimes to some people but it may take dumb luck to figure it out.

50,000 IU doses of vitamin D might not be such a great idea

A commenter (Blake) on a recent post directed my attention to Dr. Stasha Gominak’s series of videos on her work treating sleep disorders with vitamin D. The videos run more than an hour, but here’s a summary of some of her points. One of her points — of course, not covered on the summary — is that those whopping 50,000 IU vitamin D pills that some doctors give to their patients to take once a week are not as effective as taking it daily in smaller amounts.

I’m not sure if she was referring to the fact that the majority of those 50,000 pills used to be in the D2 form, which is not as effective, or to a claim I’ve read elsewhere that past a certain dose, the larger the dose, the less effectively it is absorbed, so that one day of 50,000 IU actually provides less vitamin D than ten days of 5,000 IU. Of course now I can find no such citation. Aren’t I helpful?

Another reason to replete with smaller, daily doses is to lower the risk of catastrophic interactions. If you’re low in vitamin D, you’re probably low in other nutrients, and taking a whole lot of one nutrient can wipe out its cofactors, and depending on the extent of your deficiency of that cofactor, the deficiency symptoms can be pretty bad. In my case, I had unknowingly been suffering from reallllly low vitamin K levels, and the mega-whoppa-D3 dose shot it to hell. I had an asthma-like attack that was very scary. I thought about going to the ER but luckily it tapered off quickly enough and my doctor was able to get me an appointment with a pulmonary specialist within a few days.

The specialist said it was just a one-off asthma attack caused by a hitherto-unknown vitamin D allergy. I knew that vitamin D interacted with vitamin A, so I asked him if asthma was linked to vitamin A deficiency. Why I bothered, I do not know: some delusional fit of psychotic optimism hit me. He went to his computer, looked up vitamin A in the clinic’s database, which from what I could see was no better than any consumer medical database you can find online, and said that vitamin A deficiency is only a problem in orphans in India, where it causes blindness. Ah, I said. Okay then. Later I somehow stumbled onto this 1975 Japanese study and started to figure it out.

In an older person or smaller person or someone much sicker, that reaction could’ve been disastrous and even more terrifying than it was for me. By sticking with a smaller dose, my reactions would, I assume, have been smaller and hopefully more manageable.

I did appreciate Dr. Gominak’s comment that “We blame people who can’t sleep,” which I have found to be very, very true. Humans are idiots, have you noticed? I have to say, though, that I am annoyed by her claim that she is the first to recognize the link between vitamin D and sleep. Perhaps she’s just not being specific enough, or is referring only to the world of neurologists, but my osteopath mentioned it a lot earlier than 2009.