What Is GABA?
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is an amino acid that occurs naturally and acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter that blocks certain brain signals and reduces activity in the nervous system. Proteins known as GABA receptors produce a calming effect and can help reduce feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear, and may also be able to prevent seizures. (1)
During periods of stress, the adrenal glands produce hormones that spark the fight-or-flight responses, such as increased heartbeat or an adrenaline rush. GABA counteracts these natural stimulants by relaxing the brain.
People with lower levels of GABA may also be more receptive to feelings of anxiety, stress, insomnia, and depression, or suffer from certain conditions such as seizures, movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and panic attacks. (1) When these conditions occur, GABA supplements may be recommended to boost levels.
Health Benefits Of GABA
GABA’s main function is within the brain. When quantities get too low, the body finds it hard to relax, especially after periods of stress. This can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders.
As a natural brain relaxant, GABA makes us feel good, but may also help prevent and treat other health conditions:
- Anxiety: Studies have noted the health benefits of GABA in the treatment and management of anxiety. (2)
- Weight management: It has been suggested that GABA plays a key role in the regulation of food intake and body weight. A high fat/calorie diet may decrease GABA levels leading to eating disorders by increasing anxiety and appetite, resulting in the development of obesity. (3)
- Blood pressure: Studies have shown that GABA can lower blood pressure in patients with mild hypertension. Lowering blood pressure decreases the risk of heart attack and stroke. (4)
- Improved sleep patterns: By helping to create a feeling of calm and relaxation, GABA can improve sleep patterns and reduce insomnia. (5)
Using Supplements To Increase GABA
To increase levels of GABA, many people use supplements as an aid for stress management. Some people may take a supplement in pill form, while others may add it to foods, such as protein drinks or shakes. Manufacturers too, add GABA as a food supplement to products such as:
- Sports drinks
- Snack bars
- Chewing gum
Natural herbal supplements or a combination of different supplements including Be Serene Instant Relief can also work wonders in the fight against stress, anxiety, and depression. By applying topically to the wrists and temples, Be Serene’s potent ingredients include mulungu, California poppy, albizia, l-theanine, and GABA that work together to ease the body and mind into calmness day or night.
Some medicines may be prescribed by doctors to help increase the amount of GABA or stimulate the same neurotransmitters in the brain. According to one study, people who suffer from depression may have reduced GABA levels. (6)
How To Increase GABA Naturally
GABA is produced naturally by the brain, however, people who have low levels may be more prone to stress, anxiety, and other conditions. To increase GABA naturally, here are a few suggestions:
GABA is not found in sufficient quantities in any foods, but certain teas and herbs may contain, or increase production levels of GABA in the brain, including:
- White tea
- Wild celery
- St. John’s wort
- Mouse-ear hawkweed
- Poke root
Researchers at Boston University found that just one hour of yoga can increase GABA levels by up to 27%. The study was compared to subjects who read for one hour and had no change in GABA levels. The findings suggest that practicing yoga should be explored as a possible treatment for depression and anxiety, and disorders associated with low GABA levels. (8)
Studies have also shown meditation to have a similar effect on GABA levels as yoga. In the study, a group of 35 subjects was assessed over two 60 minute periods. One period was meditation, the other watching television. Results showed GABA levels were significantly higher during meditation than watching television. (9)
It has long been known that exercise releases chemical endorphins known as feel-good hormones, triggering feelings of positivity and improved mental health. Research has also now revealed that exercise can increase GABA levels.
Researchers measured GABA levels in two different parts of the brain immediately before and after three vigorous exercise sessions lasting between eight and twenty minutes. Similar measurements for a control group that did not exercise were also carried out. GABA levels increased in the participants who exercised, but not among the non-exercisers. (10)
Vitamins and Minerals
Magnesium and Vitamin B6 may also be effective in increasing GABA.
- Magnesium has been shown to regulate GABA activity in the brain providing some effects of relaxation. Magnesium-rich foods such as avocado, nuts, seeds, and whole grains may be added to a healthy balanced diet. (11)
- Vitamin B6 intake has a significant effect on the production of GABA as an inhibitory neurotransmitter that controls symptoms of depression and anxiety. Vitamin B6 can be found in many animal products as well as eggs, dairy, and grains. (12)
- Reduce alcohol intake: Although alcohol increases GABA, those who have a high level of alcohol dependency may be prone to depression in the long run. Chronic alcohol levels may also lead to vitamin B6 deficiency. (13)
As we strive to be fitter, healthier and happier, modest changes in areas such as diet, exercise, and lifestyle can make a huge difference. By simply reducing the things that can work against our wellbeing and replacing them with a lifestyle that will allow us to flourish, we can banish stress and anxiety to the fringes of our lives. What we spend on vices such as cigarettes, alcohol, and sugar-dense or high-fat treats, can be redirected towards a better standard of living, and a longer life free from illness.