5 Top Tips to ‘Feel Good’ with GABA
Do you ever feel overwhelmed, constant worry, fear, tense, anxious or struggle to feel happy on a daily basis? Experience gut upset and bloating, or struggle to switch off at the end of the day? You have likely heard about the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin, adrenaline and endorphin that regulate mood, stress and sleep. But have you heard about the major chemical for calm and relaxation- GABA?
GABA and the brain
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the brain’s most abundant inhibitory, or “calming”, neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers used by neurons to communicate with one another and with other types of cells. Every neurotransmitter behaves differently; inhibitory neurotransmitters tend to calm and put you in a relaxed state, while excitatory neurotransmitters tend stimulate the brain. GABA’s primary function as the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter is to act like a break in a car and slows down the mind, bringing the sense of calm and relaxation.
GABA plays a crucial role in regulating many aspects of mood, attention, cognition, and sleep. Overstimulation and GABA deficiency is associated with anxiety, depression, insomnia, alcohol addiction, drug dependence and more (Krytal et al. 2006). Low GABA levels are most commonly associated with anxiety and can affect your health in a number of ways. Physically you may experience panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, breathlessness, restlessness, or feeling tense. Psychologically it is associated with excessive fear, worry, or obsessive thinking. Low GABA can also affect your behaviour and quality of life as anxiety can result in avoidance of study, work and social situations.
Depression can also be associated with low GABA levels. Studies show individuals with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) have widespread cortical reduction of GABA compared to controls (Godfrey et al. 2018). Individuals with depression whom typical antidepressant medications fail to work appear to have the lowest GABA levels, and low GABA is also associated with the inability to experience pleasure, in previously joyful activities (Price et al., 2009; Gabbav et al. 2012).
Insomnia, troubles with falling asleep and staying asleep can also be associated with low levels of GABA in the brain. Herbal medicines such as chamomile, valerian, passionflower, hops, withania, skullcap, kava and lemon balm have all shown comparative sleep quality, quantity and anxiolytic effects to the current array of pharmaceuticals in subclinical and clinical human trials (Savage et al. 2017). They have also all shown good safety and tolerability profiles (Savage et al. 2017).
5 Top Tips for Boosting GABA Naturally
1. Protein and digestion: GABA is paramount to facilitate the stimulation and secretion of pancreatic enzymes, with low levels leading to bloating, flatulence and malabsorption. Pancreatic enzymes are required to breakdown proteins into amino acids, and interestingly glutamine and taurine are amino acids required to GABA production and function. As Hippocrates once stated ‘all disease begins in the gut’, enhancing digestion and adequate protein is essential for improving mood and feeling good. Food sources: all animal proteins, legumes and nuts
2. Magnesium: Magnesium binds to and activates GABA receptors. Magnesium deficiency is very common, up to 80% of the Western society deficient. Conditions associated with magnesium deficiency include anxiety, panic disorders, apathy, poor attention span, depression, insomnia, irritability and nervousness. Often supplementation is the only way to resolve true magnesium deficiency, we recommend magnesium glycinate at a dose of 200-300mg twice daily. Food sources: red meat, pork, chicken, turkey, nuts, legumes, seeds, dark chocolate, nutritional yeast, banana.
3. Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 is an essential cofactor to convert glutamate to GABA. Low vitamin B6 may be seen in a variety of health conditions including pyrroluria, PMS, heart disease and Alzheimers disease. Food source: Chicken, turkey, kangaroo, salmon, silverbeet, eggplant, sunflowerseeds.
4. Zinc: Zinc enhances the release of GABA from its receptors. Both zinc and vitamin B6 are essential for the production of all brain chemicals including serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline and histamine. Food sources: oysters, red meat, nuts, chicken, turkey, cheeses- hard, yeast spread, sundried tomatoes, eggs, seeds, spinach, mushroom.
5. Probiotics: Psychobiotics is where the latest research is at in mood and psychological disorders. Bacteria in the gut communicate with the brain through the vagus nerve and can enhance or reduce neuroinflammatory states of the brain. Lactobacillus rhamnosus probiotic strains have shown to reduce inflammation markers in the brain, and can be purchased from our store.
Next time you feel overwhelmed, worried, wound-up or wired. Focus on your friend GABA the ultimate ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter.
- Written by Naturopath Ebony Jordan at Des Lardner’s Organic Natural Health Clinic