Are you thinking about using supplements during benzodiazepine withdrawal?
The truth is that a lot of people have the same question. People who are tapering down or are in withdrawal from benzodiazepines often wonder whether they should take GABA supplements.
While past research suggests that taking GABA supplements with benzodiazepines can be dangerous for your health (Dr. Ashton, 2002), recent studies contradict the results and demonstrate that supplements to support GABA have great potential to help you in the withdrawal process.
Considering this, it’s no wonder why there’s a big controversy about the issue. So, if you feel confused about receiving amino acids or different nutrients to cope with benzodiazepine tapering or withdrawal, this is a must-read. In this blog, we’ll review the four main concerns regarding GABA supplements and answer the frequently asked questions about this issue.
Main Concerns About Benzodiazepine Withdrawal
The most widely used method of dealing with benzodiazepine withdrawal was developed by Dr. Heather Ashton, who assisted thousands of people all over the world in dealing with benzo dependence. She gathered the data from patients who used benzodiazepines and created the “Ashton Manual” in 2011, which became a guide for patients and doctors.
In the manual, Dr. Ashton raises five main concerns about replacing benzodiazepines with other GABA-promoting supplements. Even though many doctors still emulate her method that suggests switching from short-acting benzos like Xanax to longer-acting benzos like Valium, the research about benzodiazepine withdrawal has advanced since 1999, when Dr. Ashton did her research.
The following five main concerns from Dr. Ashton about replacing benzodiazepines with other GABA promoting supplements have become the most frequently asked questions about this issue:
- You are not actually resolving the issue of your brain and body making insufficient GABA by continuing to give it GABA, just in a different form.
- There is no evidence that nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, etc. are helpful in benzodiazepine withdrawal.
- Excessive doses of some GABA-promoting supplements can be toxic, and others may even contain benzo-like substances that have the same adverse effects as benzodiazepines themselves.
- Nor is there any evidence that suggests benzodiazepine withdrawal causes vitamin, mineral, or other deficiencies.
- No one should take supplements without clear evidence of a specific deficiency.
What Does the Latest Research Say?
Before answering these frequently asked questions about supporting benzodiazepine taper and withdrawal by adding GABA supplements, it’s important to point out that the findings of the latest studies are different from Dr. Ashton’s ideas. However, the pharmaceutical industry has significantly advanced since her time.
Nowadays, there is more diverse research about GABA supplements, and not surprisingly, many doctors suggest their clients use amino acids and other nutrients for benzodiazepine tapering and withdrawal. In particular, recent studies prove that niacin, or vitamin B3, is helpful for clients who are in the process of benzodiazepine withdrawal. The same applies to taking GABA with vitamin C (Penberthy & Saul, 2014).
Nevertheless, although replacing benzodiazepines with GABA supplements can be an efficient strategy for people who are in withdrawal, it’s obvious that further research would be helpful in using GABA and other neurotransmitters as food supplements (Boonstra et al., 2015).
FAQ about GABA Supplements
Q: Can I resolve the issue in my body and brain by receiving GABA in a different form than benzodiazepines?
A: The effect of using GABA supplements in benzodiazepine withdrawal depends on what we use and how we use it.
Some supplements can indeed be palliative, meaning that instead of solving the problem, they just contribute to it. However, everything depends on the right type of supplements and the right balance.
For example, if you use aspirin to reduce pain, you could also palliate your pain naturally by using white willow bark. But what if the pain is caused by inflammation in your gut? In this case, taking a probiotic that also happens to reduce pain can relieve symptoms and address the root cause of the pain to begin with.
Similarly, we can use amino acids that have the ability to increase GABA in order to create a bridge and relieve symptoms, which is called a GABA bridge. Besides, amino acids are also helpful for healing the root of symptoms.
For example, benzodiazepines have been shown to damage the brain. But inositol amino acids can boost GABA levels and heal the brain by increasing neuroplasticity (Fabrice, 2016). Increased neuroplasticity, in turn, can assist your brain in recovering from various injuries, improving cognitive abilities, and assisting you in adapting to the withdrawal process (Shaffer, 2016).
Moreover, theanine increases GABA to support withdrawal. Besides, it addresses benzodiazepine withdrawal inflammation because of its ability to decrease salivary immunoglobulin A (s-IgA). Benzo withdrawal causes dysfunction in the HPA axis, and theanine reduces stress hormones in the body, which can be balanced in the HPA axis and minimize your symptoms of stress (Rui Li et al., 2018).
To sum up, yes, benzodiazepines have a strong impact on the central and peripheral nervous systems. Therefore, adding anything to your protocol can change the balance that your body is trying to achieve and cause it to go off-kilter. But if you use the right type of supplement at the right time and in the proper doses, chances are that your body and mind will react positively.
For instance, Happy Sleepy Powder, a combination of amino acids, can help your body and mind produce their own GABA and reduce anxiety in a natural way as a result.
Q: Is there any evidence that nutritional supplements such as vitamins, minerals, or amino acids are helpful in benzodiazepine withdrawal?
A: There is, indeed. In fact, nutrients like inositol, glutathione, theanine, and CBD have been described in research as effective alternatives to benzodiazepines because of their ability to reduce anxiety, inflammation, stress hormones, and increase GABA.
In fact, studies have found these amino acids to be effective, especially during anxiety. For example, inositol regulates insulin in your body and reduces anxiety as a result. Glutathione, another antioxidant, reduces inflammation in your brain while theanine reduces the symptoms of anxiety and stress (Hidese et al., 2019).
This means that various nutritional supplements can be helpful in benzodiazepine withdrawal if a client receives the right doses of them safely.
Q: Are excessive doses of some GABA-promoting supplements toxic?
A: Yes, they can be. Using excessive doses of supplements that promote GABA might be dangerous for your health. The reason is that some supplements may contain substances similar to benzodiazepines that have the same adverse effects as benzos themselves.
That’s why you need to contact your doctor before receiving any additional supplements in the process of benzo withdrawal. Instead of buying and getting all the food supplements, you should individualize your medications with your doctor in order to avoid any complications.
Q: Is there any evidence suggesting that benzodiazepine withdrawal causes vitamin, mineral, or other deficiencies?
A: Yes. According to the Pharmacist’s Resource for Clinical Excellence, benzodiazepine medications can deplete the brain and body of many mood-regulating building blocks. Research shows that these nutrients are depleted by certain medications, and benzodiazepines do deplete your brain with building blocks. And these can lead to health problems.
You can find a more detailed table at the American Academy of Family Physicians, published in 2017.
Q: Can I take supplements without clear evidence of a specific deficiency?
A: While Dr. Ashton thinks that no one should take supplements without clear evidence of a specific deficiency, it’s not really a fact. Actually, what she thought was more of an opinion than a fact, and many doctors disagree with this opinion.
Lots of people just want or need to go above and beyond the bare minimum of specific vitamins or minerals and pursue the optimal level.
For instance, maybe you don’t want your liver to function at its bare minimum and prefer to receive supplements before it gets one point into the problem zone. Maybe you don’t have turmeric deficiency but you have some signs of inflammation, such as itchy skin, so taking turmeric might help your itching. Or maybe you don’t have a chocolate deficiency but you still eat chocolate anyway. Similarly, some people don’t have an aspirin deficiency, but if they get a headache, they may take an aspirin.
This opinion that you shouldn’t take supplements without clear evidence of a deficiency means that you should wait before you develop a deficiency and address it only afterward. Also, this puts a lot of faith in what deficiency means and does not consider individualized and changing metabolic demands.
3 Reasons to Use Amino Acids to Create a GABA Bridge
After explaining how supplements like amino acids can help with benzodiazepine withdrawal, let’s now discuss some reasons why you might want to consider using amino acids in creating a GABA bridge.
1. Benzodiazepines are chemically altered to cross the blood-brain barrier. They interact with the brain and with your gut and change your hormone levels. Therefore, these benzodiazepines aren’t only changing your brain, but they’re also changing your body. And taking them away doesn’t necessarily put your body on the right track.
Instead, you have to restore the balance and put your body on the right track. This means that we are not simply supplementing at a 1-1 ratio. We are aiming to restore balance to a body-wide system, and supplementation can aid in this.
This may include taking amino acids to help your body heal the brain or taking probiotics to establish more healthy beneficial flora. So, taking these nutrients can be helpful.
2. When we reduce GABA levels by reducing the dosage of our medications, sometimes it might drop too fast. Instead of making chemically small enough increments where you don’t have withdrawal, some people are taking the smallest dosages to drop, and then they’re diluting that even more. But guess what?
This pattern is very dangerous for your health, and you need to do it correctly. You can only reduce your pharmacological drugs so quickly if you create a GABA bridge that also addresses inflammation, heals the brain, promotes neuroplasticity, and repairs brain receptors.
However, amino acids are helpful in this process. Just simply using amino acids to fill in some of those gaps between what your body is compensating for and the drop can make life-changing differences.
3. Benzo withdrawal is inflammatory and, combined with a standard American diet, it’s a recipe for head-to-toe symptoms. The point here is that repairing the brain, repairing the body, or repairing the hypothalamic-pituitary axis will help you get better.
Therefore, your protocol should be individualized depending on what your body needs. Why? Because different people have different diets and different family systems, they come into contact with benzos differently, and their bodies are metabolically different.
That’s why it has to be individualized. Repair with psychotics should be a mainstay in psychiatric care, but generalizing not to use supplements doesn’t make sense. Instead, you should talk to your doctor and get the needed information. Remember that you need to pay attention to how you’re feeling. Because if you’ve tried it and you’re feeling better, then your body’s going to give you the information that it needs.
Dr. Nicole Cain is an advocate for empowering people around the world to help themselves via her educational free resources, online courses, and membership group. You can receive the tools you need to find the root cause of your symptoms and feel healthy again.