Irritability can appear on a spectrum of symptoms such that we are nagged by a vague grating feeling that prevents us from feeling calm and at peace. It can prevent us from relaxing or falling into a deep sleep and can progress to feeling agitated or having a short fuse or make us downright aggressive to others. It can make us toss and turn, it can elevate our blood pressure, give us headaches, make our neck and shoulder muscles tight, affect our digestion, distract our mind with racing thoughts, and make us feel wired and tired all at the same time. We can have frequent bouts of sighing, our face appears red for no reason, we can have red eyes, and elevated pulse rate. We want to relax but can’t.

Irritability is a function of many complex metabolic processes from liver detoxification, sex hormone levels and their lack of detoxification, toxic accumulations in the liver, mineral imbalances and brain chemistry imbalances. Each one of these systems can be a hint of pathogenic processes developing in the body than can result in disease states when advanced. While this is not meant to be an exhaustive source for the cause of irritability it’s a good place to start in your detective health journey.


Toxic accumulation stresses and congests the liver’s ability to process and excrete toxins. This can result from lack of efficient detoxification pathway function, poor lymphatic drainage, elevated accumulation of heavy metals, pesticides, food and metabolic toxins. In Chinese Medicine there is an energy pathway that run through each organ. The energetic pathway that runs through the liver also affects the eyes (red or burning eyes), frequent sighing, feeling like you cant get a breath in, feeling like you are going to burst or lash out at someone, feeling aggressive, talking louder than you usually do, and headaches.


Mineral imbalances are quite common because our diet is so out of balance and acidic. Too many carbohydrates, sodas, acidic drinking water and the fact we are exposed to more toxins daily than ever before in history rapidly consume what little minerals we do ingest. Minerals are essential for the body to process toxins and mineral deficiencies directly contribute to our toxic overload!

Key mineral imbalances leading to irritability are elevated copper to zinc ratio. The ratio should be 1:1 but when there is more copper than zinc our nervous system becomes over stimulated. Low calcium, from bad absorption, low magnesium and elevated phosphorous also contribute to irritability.


Hormonal imbalances are often chronic and irritability is a symptom. Low salivary cortisol levels at anytime of day can cause low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and low blood sugar can make our nerves jittery and irritable. Our brain needs glucose to function properly and low blood sugar prevents our brain from balancing our nervous system.

Elevated serum or urinary adrenaline and elevated salivary cortisol at any time of day makes our body feel like its racing. Our heart rate and blood pressure can be elevated and irritability and anxiety can result.

Elevated testosterone in men and women push us towards the more aggressive side of irritability. Elevated estrogen in menstruating women commonly results from their liver’s inability to detoxify estrogen and therefore it accumulates and causes breast tenderness, boating, a feeling of wanting to explode in anger, irritability and crankiness. Hormone therapy often does not check salivary estrogen levels in women and therefore many women may suffer the effects of excessive estrogen long before they go on to succumb to estrogen based cancers that are HRT induced. The same goes for birth control pill because these are synthetic hormones and they are more difficult for the liver to detoxify.


Brain chemistry imbalances, in particular low GABA or the inefficient cell receptor usage of GABA by the brain will definitely contribute to irritability along with anxiety. Many individuals try to take GABA as a supplement and if they react badly, it could mean that the immune system has become sensitized to GABA preventing its synthesis. Therefore, the more GABA one takes the worse you feel. On the other hand, those that take GABA supplements and feel calmer as a result have leaky blood brain barriers but are able to benefit by the GABA supplementation. These individuals are in particular need of supplementation to improve GABA receptor sites over being concerned with their quantity of GABA.

Elevated urine Glutamate is neurotoxic and stimulatory. Many foods elevate our glutamate levels and some detective work to find out where the sources of your glutamate levels are coming from will help you to change your diet and stop fueling the fire. Children are especially sensitive to glutamate levels in their diet as their nervous systems are constantly developing.


Vitamin imbalances, mostly the B vitamin family, are crucial because B vitamins are essential to fuel the liver detoxification pathways and to repair the brain and nerves. Here is a brief description of their significance towards the issue of irritability.

B1 (thiamine) deficiency causes irritability as well as stinging burning sensations, and soreness to the touch, depression, irritability, apathy, anxiety, fatigue, especially with exercise as it is used in energy metabolism, poor appetite, numbness in hands and feet. Stress and exercise increase one’s need.

B2 (riboflavin) goes hand and hand with B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency. It is essential for the synthesis of our brain neurotransmitters.

B3 (niacin) deficiency is needed to make serotonin, the calming neurotransmitter of the brain. Insufficient serotonin can cause depression as well as a sort of edgy irritability.

B5 (pantothenic acid) deficiency is called our anti-stress vitamin. It strengthens the adrenals to combat fatigue, insomnia, restlessness, irritability, depression with fatigue, and feeling burnt out.

B6 (pyridoxine) deficiency is needed to make Noradrenaline, Dopamine, & Serotonin. Taking MAO inhibitors can cause B6 deficiency as can HRT or being on the birth control pill. B6 is also essential for the liver to detoxify and insufficient amounts cause congestion of the liver and can indirectly lead to irritability due to decreased liver efficiency and increased toxic accumulation of the liver.

B12 deficiency causes depression 3-5 years before it leads to anemia. Though not directly implicated in irritability, it is essential for the liver to function properly and its deficiency can indirectly lead to irritability born out of congestion of the liver.

Folate deficiency lowers serotonin and SAMe. The lower the levels the deeper the depression. Studies have shown that patients on prescription medication for depression do better when given folate. Beware though because excessive folate can lead to a deficiency of B12, and irreversible brain damage!

Vitamin C works especially well with niacin in equal amounts and is consumed by stress, infection and increased toxic accumulation.


Certain habits we have cause us to burn up vitamins and minerals at a faster rate and put our body into nutritional imbalance that results in irritability and the progression toward more serious conditions. Excessive alcohol consumption depletes our body of B vitamins, throws off our zinc/copper balance, disrupts brain chemistry, overburdens our liver’s detoxification pathways and damages the lining of our intestine preventing the absorption of key B vitamins and other important nutrients. Stress consumes B vitamins. It is important to pace oneself and observe your emotional reactions to conserve your energy and not tax your adrenal, nervous and immune system. Carbohydrates in the form of refined and processed food depletes us of magnesium and B vitamins. Try to decrease your carbohydrate ratio to 30-40% protein, 30-40% vegetables and 10-20% carbohydrate ratios. Diets also high in protein deplete magnesium. Therefore it is important to strike a balance and take magnesium supplementation to make up for the fact that even our vegetables are depleted of magnesium because of the fertilizers used to grow them. Excessive caffeine consumes B vitamins and stresses the liver as does smoking. Individuals that self medicate with caffeine, alcohol, junk food, and alcohol destroy their stomach’s ability to absorb thiamine especially! Caffeine further inhibits absorption of thiamine and protein metabolism, and carbohydrates and smoking deplete the body of thiamine too. Certain foods such as raw fish, clams, oysters also deplete the body of thiamine and taken orally we only absorb about 1%!


When you have a regular blood test (called a CBC) make sure to ask him or her to include the following:

  •  Zinc & Copper: we want the ratio to be 1:1 and if copper is elevated then this means one has a zinc deficiency and the elevated copper will cause over stimulation, irritability, and a host of other issues.
  •  Erythrocyte magnesium: this is a more accurate test than a regular serum magnesium
  •  B12/Folate or folic acid

These are tested in the urine can be ordered at the NeuroScreen/NeuroScience – urine test kit:

  •  Glutamate: we are concerned if it is elevated
  • Histamine: we are concerned here if it is low for depression and high for irritability and allergies

The above factors can be significant oversights by many doctors and health care professionals that YOU, in your detective journey for answers can unravel one at a time. By providing your body with the core nutrients it needs to process toxins, hormones and fuel metabolic processes, you give your body what it needs to rebuilt itself and reset its balance. This will improve or entirely eradicate your symptoms and lessen your need for prescription medication by altering the progression of disease systems caused by metabolic imbalances.

Please note:
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.

Please note:
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional. You should not use the information on this site for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication or other treatment.


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Anna Manayan

Anna Manayan