Can methylfolate help with my anxiety? Does my MTHFR make me anxious? Stay with me throughout this entire article and we’ll talk about anxiety, how to break it down chemically in the brain and what we can do to help lessen it, especially if we have MTHFR or want to consider taking methylfolate to alleviate it.
Our Customer Success Story:
"I’m Jamie Hope, owner of Methyl-Life, and I have been studying MTHFR & related genes since 2011, way before most folks had ever heard of it. I learned about it through a doctor in eastern WA. I was convinced not only by the science I learned from Dr. Rawlins, but also by my own personal journey through anxiety, low mood, IBS, chronic fatigue, and fibromyalgia. I went from a nervous breakdown where I was forced to take medical leave to a place where I found much more calm, ease and most importantly, hope. Methylfolate and methylation have changed my life and that’s why I’m so passionate about ensuring the methylfolate I take every day is the highest quality methylfolate one can find in the world today."
How do we get anxiety? Well, we know it can come from many different sources, but at its core is a chemical interaction that takes place in the brain between two neurotransmitters, Glutamate and GABA (specifically too much Glutamate and not enough GABA is what brings on anxiety).
Glutamate is considered what’s called an “excitotoxin” particularly when too much of it exists in the brain without enough of the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter, GABA to balance it out. When you have too much Glutamate in the body, it can result in excess acetylcholine which has an excitatory effect.
And this can put you in a state of continuous stress (specifically on the sympathetic nervous system) which then generates anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and/or insomnia. And over time too much glutamate can bring on conditions like: Hyperactivity, OCD, Bipolar, Tourette’s, Fibromyalgia, Migraines, MS, Seizures, Huntington’s, Autism, Parkinson’s, ALS, Restless Leg Syndrome, Schizophrenia, Seizures and more.
GABA is Glutamate’s opposite, it’s the neurotransmitter that calms you down and helps you “feel good” and relaxed. It’s the ‘chill’ neurotransmitter. It does a lot of the “good” regulation for you regarding things like appetite, body temperature, sleep, sexual desire and arousal, pituitary action, autonomic nervous system and HPA axis balancing.
When you don’t have enough of GABA, you crave things like sugar, carbs, alcohol &/or drugs, because these things artificially increase GABA and make you feel better, temporarily, but they also deplete the neurotransmitters which will actually perpetuate the issue over time.
And this is why low GABA in the brain plays such a profound role in alcohol and drug addiction, it becomes a vicious cycle. You can think of Glutamate like the gas pedal in a car and GABA kind of like the brake – you need both to get where you’re going, but if you have too much gas and not enough brake, then you’re in for trouble.
Okay, so what kinds of things cause this Glutamate level in our brains to become so high and our GABA to get so low, triggering so many of these unwanted symptoms?
In a perfect world, when our Glutamate levels get too high, our body would recognize this and convert this Glutamate into GABA to help us regulate ourselves. But sadly, it doesn’t happen this way for everyone, as you can imagine.
Certain genetics, stress, traumatic experiences, poor diet, and toxic build-up in the body can throw this delicate balance of GABA and Glutamate off the rails in a hurry. Causing you more grief than you want and often simulating a downward spiral of unwanted symptoms that seem difficult to reverse.
GAD is the name of the gene that converts excess Glutamate into GABA (so GAD is your friend), however, many folks have mutations on these genes which means that they can’t convert Glutamate into GABA very well, so they need to be careful not to take in too much Glutamate (23andme might be a source for determining if you have GAD mutations – most folks have some, but some folks have many GAD variants or defects).
However, even if you don’t have many mutations on GAD SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), many things can interfere with GAD activity and dramatically slow its ability to convert glutamate into GABA. Some viruses can reduce GAD activity by up to 50%. The pancreas plays a role in GAD activity, so if you have pancreatic problems that could be a contributing factor to low GAD activity.
Type 1 Diabetics have antibodies that interfere with GAD activity. Environmental toxins, lead, heavy metals, pesticides, chemicals, pollution, bacteria and mold as well as Lyme and things like Candida overgrowth and more can all inhibit GAD functionality and therefore neurotransmitter balance as well, so try to reduce your exposure to these things whenever possible.
Vitamin B deficiencies can also be an issue, especially B6 which is actually a co-factor for GAD, so make sure you’re getting the active forms of B vitamins, even if you’re only able to tolerate small or micro-doses.
Now here is where we come to MTHFR and methylation and how that impacts anxiety – essentially when folate is not properly converted into the form the body can actually utilize, methyl folate, then it can break down into Glutamate – and we’re trying to avoid this.
So if we have MTHFR, we want to avoid folic acid or folates that can’t convert, otherwise they’ll add to our excess Glutamate burden. Consider taking an L-Methylfolate supplement instead.
Glutamate receptors can also pull in other excitatory substances, things like MSG (monosodium glutamate), aspartame, aspartate, glutamic acid, glutamine, cysteine, and even homocysteine, which is again where methyl folate comes in – both methyl folate and TMG (or trimethylglycine) can convert homocysteine into methionine so that the excess homocysteine won’t become an excitatory toxin increasing your Glutamate.
So you might want to consider trying to supplement with methylfolate &/or TMG in order to prevent the excess homocysteine build up. If you’re super sensitive, you may notice that citrate or citric acid causes excess Glutamate, if you don’t respond well to it, that might be a reason why.
Gluten, dairy (specifically casein & whey proteins), yeast, bouillon, maltodextrin, bone broth, fermented and processed foods all contain excitotoxins which make a lot of trouble for GABA.
Work hard to eat more whole foods and less processed foods in your daily routine. Ensure you’re getting plenty of animal protein and fats – these are important in supporting the GABA/Glutamate balance. Keto and Paleo diets are often touted as the most beneficial for folks who are trying to increase GABA.
Glutamate and Calcium can be a negative combo together because they increase inflammation in the body, so consider taking plenty of magnesium and also zinc, both can help bind up the excess calcium (though not more than 35 mg a day of zinc, otherwise Glutamate will move into a state of excess again).
So LOTS of magnesium & up to 35 mg of zinc. The great double whammy with magnesium is, not only can it help bind to the excess calcium, it can also bind to and activate GABA receptors.
Not to mention the fact that it is used in over 300 enzymatic processes within the body including being a methylation co-factor – Honesty, I can’t say enough about the value of magnesium in your daily routine.
But make sure you get a highly absorbable version, maybe consider our Sucrosomial product, it has phenomenal bioavailability, especially compared to what’s out on the market today. Lithium orotate, boron and iodine may help lower glutamate.
Take care with Vitamin D, Glycine and Glutathione supplementation, they can when too heavily supplemented, produce excess Glutamate. Your brain needs good fats, make sure you are getting good DHA (the key active in Omega 3s) which is important for the brain.
Taurine is an amino acid that can increase GABA in some people, it increases the GAD activity and therefore boosts the GABA levels as well.
However, if you have CBS or SUOX gene mutations, supplementing with taurine may not be as helpful because taurine is sulfur-based and these mutations don’t clear sulfur well.
If you supplement with taurine and feel more calm, that may work well for you, however, if you feel worse when you take it, you may have some of these compounding mutations and should avoid it. Pay attention to how your body responds to what you take, if you don’t react well, there’s likely a good reason, even if you don’t understand it.
Don’t push your body, respect it and maybe continue exploring other options. If you’re taking beta-alanine or are fighting candida (which produces beta-alanine), you may find you are taurine deficient (and therefore GABA deficient) because beta-alanine competes with taurine and wins.
So maybe stop supplementing with beta-alanine or get that gut in better shape by winning the war against Candida.
GABA does not work well in the body without Serotonin, so again, we go back to our methylfolate and MTHFR subject and how the MTHFR variant impacts anxiety.
If you have MTHFR and don’t metabolize folate well, you’re not able to make as much serotonin because not enough SAMe is getting promoted in the body. So maybe explore methylfolate supplementation, it could be a good option for you to boost your serotonin levels and therefore GABA effectiveness, reducing anxiety for you.
Dealing with chronic stress will deplete GABA and Serotonin in the body very quickly – so take the time to take care of yourself and keep your stress levels down, think restorative yoga, meditation, exercise, deep breathing, and other activities that make your soul sing as well as your body feel relaxed.
Get close to nature and bask in the sunshine whenever you can. Note: childhood abuse is a big one that alters GABA receptors and serotonin levels that follow many people on into adulthood, so be aware that you may need to give yourself extra care in order to boost GABA and Serotonin levels especially if you have any history with abuse.
Note that benzodiazepines are drugs targeted at GABA receptors (Xanax, Ativan, Valium, Klonopin, Gabapentin, etc.) oftentimes given to folks with anxiety, however, they only function very temporarily and can cause more harm than good especially if used over time.
They will decrease your body’s ability to balance neurotransmitters because your body reduces its production of them (artificial stimulation leads to depletion).
Also, it’s likely that Phenibut (a specific form of GABA) sits in this category of GABA-receptor-targeted substances, so please be careful with these things, consider using them only situationally and try not to use them long-term if possible.
Anything that alters your state of mind will also be affecting the chemical balance of your brain and its neurotransmitters, so be aware that those things may also be affecting your GABA levels.
Some of these include psychotropic drugs (like ketamine, LSD, heroin, cocaine, meth), also marijuana, anti-depressants, ADHD and sleep medicines, nicotine, caffeine, and even chocolate can all affect the brain.
Herbs that might also have an opposite effect on the brain chemistry over time, St John’s Wort, kava kava, valerian root, passionflower, holy basil, etc. Continued use of these things causes the brain to down-regulate its production or responsiveness to the neurotransmitters, therefore perpetuating the imbalance. So be mindful of what you’re taking and pay attention to how it might be affecting you long term.
So to wrap it all up, let’s summarize. GABA is the feel good neurotransmitter we want and need more of if we’re over-anxious, because it balances out the Glutamate which can be an anxiety-maker.
If we’re working to lower Glutamate by increasing GABA, the keys we want to remember are: supplement with magnesium daily, and up to 35 mg of zinc, we can try methylfolate (if we tolerate it) to increase serotonin (which works in conjunction with GABA) and reduces homocysteine (which keeps it from turning into glutamate). Check out our dosage video if you want to know more about where to start with methylfolate amounts.
Taurine can be taken (if sulfur is not an issue for us), and Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (or active B6), again, if we tolerate it may be good for some (however, some folks get headaches from P-5-P toxicity because they can’t clear it well). Glutamine may be good, but for some it can turn into Glutamate, so pay attention to how your body responds to it.
In addition, vitamin C, other active B vitamins and certain amino acids can help balance our neurotransmitters. As with everything you put into your body, remember you are unique, so listen to your body’s specific reactions and respect them. Keep your blood sugar steady.
Don’t supplement with calcium. Stay away from the mind-altering substances that can be found in drugs, diet and the environment which hinder GABA production or receptors.
Reduce toxins wherever you can. Get out in nature and bask in the sun. Engage in relaxing activities that help reduce stress. Exercise. Reduce sugar, caffeine, carbs/grains/starches. Eat whole foods and a diet heavy in animal proteins and fats (Keto or Paleo).
And enjoy living your life to its highest potential!