How To Increase GABA Naturally | Vitality and Wellness

In this blog, we look at what GABA is, what damage low GABA levels can contribute to and importantly how to Increase GABA Naturally.

What is GABA?

GABA is the abbreviated name for Gamma Amino Butyric Acid and is the body's major inhibitory, relaxing, sedating and tranquillising brain chemical or neurotransmitter. GABA acts as a brake on the excitatory neurotransmitters, in particular glutamate. It prevents glutamate's nerve impulses, the ones associated with anxiety and stress, from reaching the motor centres of the brain by filling the benzodiazepine receptors with GABA [1] [2].

Low GABA levels can cause or contribute to a variety of health issues including anxiety, panic attacks, convulsions, feeling overwhelmed and insomnia [3] [4].  GABA is paramount to facilitate the stimulation and secretion of pancreatic enzymes, with low levels leading to bloating, flatulence and malabsorption.

GABA helps to modulate our brainwaves, in particular, the balance between the alpha and beta brainwaves. Too much beta brainwave activity can lead to insomnia and nervous disorders including anxiety and panic attacks. Alpha brainwaves, on the other hand, help calm and relax the body and are what connects our subconscious mind to our conscious mind. 


How To Increase GABA?

The body naturally produces GABA from the amino acid L-glutamine. Vitamin B6, Zinc and L-taurine are the catalysts in helping to turn Glutamine into GABA. What occurs is that glutamine is firstly converted to glutamate, which is responsible for attention span, memory, brain energy, learning ability, staying awake and the metabolism of carbohydrates. It is the function of the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase to convert glutamate into GABA and does so with the help of Vitamin B6. Low levels of Vitamin B6 equates to poor functioning and productivity of glutamate decarboxylase [5] [6]. Reduced levels of Vitamin B6 are often seen in a variety of health conditions including Pyroluria, PMS, heart disease and Alzheimer's and as a result of inadequate consumption of Vitamin B6 rich foods, Dysbiosis, malabsorption and poor digestive function.

The amino acid L-taurine increases the communication and productivity of glutamate decarboxylase [7]. Interestingly, animal studies have shown that anxiety may occur as a result of taurine deficiency [8]. Zinc, on the other hand, has been shown to enhance 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  [6].

GABA Pathway Infographic

Nutrients Helping To Increase GABA Naturally

In addition the above mentioned Vitamin B6, Zinc, L-Glutamine and L-Taurine there are additional nutrients and herbs that help enhance GABA production or uptake by the GABA and Benzodiazepine receptors.  

Theanine, a plant-based amino acid found only in tea increases levels of GABA within the brain [9] [10] and the production of alpha brainwaves [11] and in animal studies enhances GABA A receptor response [12].  Studies have shown that theanine is useful in the treatment of anxiety due to its ability to sedate the central nervous system as well as improving the quality of sleep and counteract the toxic effects of stress [13].

Inositol, a B group vitamin may help alleviate anxiety and depression, by enhancing the ability of GABA to bind to the benzodiazepine receptors within the brain [14] [15]. Inositol may also help to stimulate poorly sensitive serotonin receptors within the brain and facilitate a good night's sleep [16]

Magnesium deficiency is common in western society with up to 80% of women and 70% of men having some form of magnesium deficiency. In animal studies, magnesium has been shown to binds to and activates GABA receptors [17]. Anxiety, panic disorders, apathy, poor attention span, depression, insomnia, irritability and nervousness may all result from magnesium deficiency [18] [19] [20]. Animal studies also show magnesium may also improve the length and quality of slow-wave sleep [21]

Holy Basil, is a sacred aromatic herb native to India and is an important medicinal herb used in Ayurvedic medicine. Studies have shown that Holy Basil is an important herb in helping to control generalised anxiety disorders, stress response and depression [22].

Valerian, a herb traditionally used to help induce sleep, reduce stress and support nervous system function. Studies have shown that valerian helps modulate GABA, reduces anxiety and decreases the breakdown of GABA within the brain, thus leading to more stable GABA levels [23] [24] [25].

Passion Flower modulates the GABA system including improving GABA receptors and GABA uptake [26]. Passion Flower has been shown to be as effective as the drug midazolam in treating anxiety [27].

Chamomile, a medicinal herb used for thousands of years and commonly found throughout the world as a tea has been shown to have sedative effects due to the flavonoid apigenin that binds to the benzodiazepine and GABA receptors within the brain [28]. Traditionally chamomile has been used to help alleviate anxiety and improve insomnia by sedating the central nervous system [29].

St John's Wort is known for its anti-depressive capabilities, but studies that it inhibits the reuptake of GABA, which leads to increased brain GABA levels and GABA activity [30].

Kava Kava the famous sedative herb from the South Pacific helps GABA bind to its receptors and increases the density of those receptors [31]. It also inhibits noradrenaline (norepinephrine) uptake. Too much noradrenaline causes people to feel like they are out of control, which can lead to anxiety, panic attacks, schizophrenia, blood clots, hypertension, depression and elevated stress [32].

Ginkgo Biloba has been found in to increase GABA in the hippocampus region of the brain. The hippocampus plays an important role in long and short term memory it is also one of the first area affected by Alzheimer's disease, hence memory loss and disorientation [23]

Glycine is an amino acid that helps improve GABA function and alleviate anxiety and panic attacks by reducing the stimulatory effects of noradrenaline within the brain [33]. L-Glycine functions as a calming neurotransmitter within the nervous system by causing a relaxing effect when it binds to and activates the glycine receptors within the spinal cord [34]. Glycine may also help alleviate insomnia due to its role as a relaxing neurotransmitter.

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Why Increase GABA Naturally When You Can Take a GABA Supplement?

I know it sounds quite feasible that if you have low GABA levels and are suffering from anxiety, insomnia or depression then taking a GABA supplement makes sense. Even though the theory may sound good, how much GABA does your body actually need? One person may need 200mg a day, while another person may need 500mg, but they may both be taking a standard 750mg supplement. What does the body do with the excess GABA?

The toxic effects of too much GABA are nausea, numbness, impair learning and poor memory, [35] while inhibiting the release of serotonin. Serotonin is your 'feel-good' neurotransmitter and low levels are associated with depression, anxiety, anger, insomnia, low melatonin and carbohydrate cravings. Allowing the body to increase GABA naturally negates any potential adverse effect from GABA supplementation.

In our clinic, we recommend Be-Calm along with Cortisol Calm to improve GABA levels, alleviate stress, reduce the symptoms of low GABA and support nervous system function. 

The information provided herein this blog on how to increase GABA naturally is of a general nature intended for educational purposes only. We make no claims to diagnose, treat, prevent, alleviate or cure illnesses or diseases with any information or product stated. With any health issue, we suggest you consult your healthcare professional before undertaking any health treatment.

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