GABA, Nature’s Valium?
GABA, also known as Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid produced naturally in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps our brain with communication. Think of GABA as the little voice in your head saying, “Everything’s fine. Stop worrying. You’re going to be okay.” GABA tempers neuronal activity in the brain and central nervous system to create a feeling of calm and balance. GABA helps reduce pain, promote better sleep and relaxation, reduce stress and much more.
GABA is naturally produced by our body but may be taken in supplement form to help manage anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia. It has a similar effect on the body as Valium, only it is all natural—nature’s “chill pill.”
One theory on the mechanism of action of GABA is based on the belief that low GABA levels may cause overactivation of the HPA axis, which is the body’s stress central response system. When your brain’s GABA levels are low, this affects how you manage and react to stress.
Chronic stress may actually lead to low GABA levels. As stress hormones rise, GABA levels decrease, contributing to the issue.
People with low GABA activity may experience depression, brain fog, memory issues, anxiety, chronic stress and insomnia. Physical symptoms may include fatigue, headaches and muscle pain. Interestingly, addictions to drug and alcohol are associated with low GABA levels.
Several studies highlight the impact GABA has on anxiety, depression and insomnia:
Anxiety: In a study of the effects of 100 mgs of GABA, research indicated that GABA slowed brain waves down and allowed participants to better manage mental stress.
PTSD: Another study demonstrates that increasing GABA levels may be useful in the treatment of conditioned fear. GABA concentrations were a key factor influencing fear recovery. High baseline GABA levels were associated with an increased ability of recovering from fear, which may play a role in helping those with PTSD and anxiety.
Depression: A study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry in 2010 indicates that people with major depression may be more likely to have low levels of GABA.
Insomnia: If you’re an overthinker right before bed, GABA might be your solution. Low GABA activity is linked to sleep disruption and insomnia.
In one study, GABA levels were 30% lower in participants who had issues falling asleep and staying asleep. Common pharmaceuticals that address insomnia, such as Ambien come with a multitude of side effects but target GABA activity. Simply supplementing with GABA provides the same benefits minus the known side effects.
Natural ways to increase GABA levels:
Although GABA is not a substance that can be found in food, certain foods may help increase the brain’s GABA levels.These include vegetables and fruit, red wine and teas, such as oolong and green tea. Valerian root, magnesium, L-theanine and even the hops in your beer all influence the GABA activity in your brain, helping you to feel calm and more relaxed, as a result.
A 2010 study from the Journal of Biological Chemistry shows that even aromatherapy may promote the production of GAMA. Simply inhaling the scent of jasmine influences GABA levels.
Meditation also helps boost GABA levels. Yoga, for example, promotes an overall calm mood and helps with anxiety, which may be associated with increased GABA. A study published in the Journal of Alternative and Compementary Medicine demonstrated that yoga may increase the brain’s level of GABA. The study even compared yoga to other forms of exercise, such as walking and jogging. Yoga, however, had unique properties that raised GABA levels more than other forms of activity.
Supplementing with GABA is another way of increasing GABA levels, helping to manage chronic stress, depression and insomnia.
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