What Are Brain Zaps?
Have you ever heard of brain zaps? If you’re tapering off of an antidepressant or benzodiazepine, chances are that you will have experienced this condition at least once. Brain zaps, otherwise known as brain shivers, head tingles, or electric zaps, are sudden, periodic, electrical sensations in our brain. They are not harmful, it is simply your body chemistry adjusting.
However, the truth is that brain zaps are one of the most common side effects of antidepressants that often shows up when people stop taking certain medications (Onton, 2018). Based on the study published in the UK journal “Addictive Behaviors,” over 56% of people who are withdrawing from antidepressants experience brain zaps. Among them, 46% of people who are experiencing withdrawal symptoms describe this condition as severe (Davies & Read, 2019).
Usually, withdrawal effects last for several weeks or even months. But unfortunately, there is very little information in the scientific literature about what causes brain zaps and what strategies are efficient to soothe them.
If you’re dealing with chronic withdrawal symptoms and experiencing brain zaps, keep reading as I’m sharing the top supplement solutions to get this condition under control.
What Causes Brain Zaps?
Even though researchers haven’t yet found the exact cause of brain zaps, we can still say that the reason why people experience this condition is based on a three-prong approach: structural, functional, and genetic factors. Let’s discuss these factors one by one to see why you might be dealing with brain shakes.
One proposed theory of the cause of brain zaps is that they are due to motion of the eyeballs. Sufferers, particularly those who are withdrawing or tapering off of benzodiazepines or antidepressants, report that lateral rotation of the eye can provoke feelings of electricity, vibrating, shaking or nerve pain shooting through the brain (Papp, A., & Onton, J.A., 2016).
The structural theory of brain zaps is founded on the observation of how motion of the eyes can trigger other types of pain in the brain, such as migraine headaches (Marandi et al., 2020). Many migraine sufferers report amplification of pain with motion of the eyes. For example (MedicalNewsToday, 2021).
The functional factor behind brain zaps which refers to the impact of changes in the chemicals in your brain and body.
According to a report in Mental Health Daily, in 2014, some brain zap sufferers report worsening of their brain zaps after rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (MentalHealthDaily, 2014).
REM sleep is a phase of sleep that is typically associated with dreaming. During REM sleep, the eyes rotate back and forth, and neurochemicals in the brain change (Kovalzon, 2021). In particular, serotonin drops to its lowest levels during REM sleep (Monti, J.M. 2021).
Serotonin is one of the main chemicals altered by antidepressant medications, and levels may shift dramatically during the taper process. Regardless of whether you receive SSRIs or SNRIs, both of these medications appear to be associated with brain zaps in some people.
An interesting theory of how serotonin may be related to brain zaps is that serotonin can be effective at modifying our experience of pain (Heijmans, L., et al, 2021). For instance, some medications used for treating migraines interact with serotonin (e.g. Relpax or Imitrex), and certain antidepressants that target modifying serotonin levels can also help to suppress pain, such as fibromyalgia (Dellwo, A., and Apetauerova, D., 2022).
With respect to these findings, future research is warranted in exploration of the link between REM and pain, REM and serotonin, and serotonin and brain zaps.
A third potential cause of brain zaps is the individual’s unique genetic or epigenetic factors related to sensory processing disorders.
Your genetics are the scaffold by which your body processes and deals with information in the way that it responds to medications and in the way that it detoxes from medications. In simple words, the term “epigenetic” means the expression of your genetic traits. And therefore, epigenetic factors come into play when we take that gene and that scaffold and impact the way that it’s behaving.
Research has linked sensory processing disorders with heightened awareness of internal and external stimuli, and increased risk of anxiety (Folk, J, and Folk, M., 2021). Sensory processing disorder means that the brain can’t process incoming sensory information like noise, light, smells, sounds, and textures. Even watching videos can be provoking for pain, anxiety, or even vertigo in people who struggle with sensory processing disorders.
A theory behind why sensory processing disorder may be associated with an increased risk of developing brain zaps is that these same individuals tend to have a higher risk of developing cranial neuralgia, migraines, fibromyalgia, and other pain syndromes.
With respect to the link between anxiety and brain zaps, research exploring sensory processing disorder and brain zaps may be warranted (Rodden, J., 2022).
How to Soothe Brain Zaps? – 6 Best Supplements
Here are 6 natural supplements for brain zap relief:
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are natural supplements found in fish oil, krill oil, and algae oil. They are polyunsaturated fats that are associated with plenty of health benefits, including a decrease in pain and inflammation (Harvard Health, 2021). This supplement tends to be healing and nourishing for the brain, and it has been shown to be incredibly effective for medication withdrawal symptoms too (Hakimian et al., 2019).
2. B Vitamins
Another great way to soothe your brain zaps is to get your B vitamins back on board. A lot of studies have been conducted about the connection between B vitamins and antidepressants (Almeida et al., 2014; Ryan et al., 2020). These studies prove that antidepressant medications can deplete your brain from B vitamins. And B vitamins are used in many pathways to aid serotonin, helping your body to send all the necessary signals to detox and process. As a result, you can think and feel in a balanced state.
So, if you’re on a medication that’s been depleting you of B vitamins, and having too low a level of B vitamins in your organism can cause the symptoms of brain zaps. Considering this, replacing the supplements you take with other B vitamins can be incredibly helpful.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine is an amino acid that is absolutely necessary if you’re taking an antidepressant or tapering. This supplement helps the body turn fat into energy. Therefore, if you’ve been feeling withdrawal side effects or just side effects of antidepressants, then you should think about receiving Acetyl-L-Carnitine.
However, don’t forget to ask your doctor about it before making the decision to start taking this supplement. It helps heal brain tissue and energizes the brain, especially if you’re dealing with brain fog, forgetfulness, or you just don’t feel sharp or crisp.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine balances serotonin and adrenaline, which are out of whack when we’re withdrawing or tapering off of antidepressants.
4. Magnesium L Threonate
Magnesium l-threonate is a form of magnesium that is usually used to improve cognitive abilities. Instead of magnesium that’s more citrate-based, which goes straight to your gut, magnesium l-threonate is among the three innate forms of magnesium that readily cross the blood-brain barrier (Matthew, A.A., Panounnummal, R., 2021) creating calm and relaxation of the brain and body.
5. Vitamin D
If you’re struggling with depression or taking antidepressants, you should know that there is a significant connection between vitamin D and the severity of depressive symptoms (Stefanowski et al., 2017). In fact, vitamin D is depleted by certain medications (Orrange, S., 2019), and therefore, it’s important to check the levels of vitamin D in your blood if you’re dealing with anxiety, depression, anger, symptoms of OCD, bipolar disorder, or other mental health conditions related to your mood. Ask your doctor if it’s appropriate to replace your vitamin D.
Keep in mind that when supplementing with vitamin D, you should always make sure that you take it with other fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, K, calcium, and magnesium.
6. Avena Sativa (Oats)
Have you ever heard anything about the herb Avena Sativa? This herb is famous for its highly nutritious seeds and I have seen in my patients that it works incredibly well for relieving brain zaps.
Avena Sativa, or milky oats, has been used for centuries to help people who are dealing with the side effects of medication withdrawal or effects of toxicity. It’s considered a trophorestorative herb, meaning that it can restore brain tissue. This means that it can restore health to the brain and it can definitely reduce migraines. Considering this, the herb Avena Sativa can be really helpful for brain zaps too.
All in all, brain zaps are a common condition that can occur during medication tapering, while you’re taking your medications, or as a result of antidepressant withdrawal. Even though the exact reason for this condition is unknown, all of the supplements we’ve discussed in this article can be extremely helpful in soothing the symptoms of brain zaps.
So, if you’re struggling with brain zaps and experiencing the sensation of having electricity in the brain; if you’re struggling with a medication withdrawal or a medication taper, don’t forget to talk with your doctor and see if these solutions might be appropriate for you.
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.
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