There’s more and more talk about GABA these days. As we learn about the function of neurotransmitters in our brains – and bodies – it becomes very clear that GABA plays a major role in our health, overall.
What is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is our chief inhibitory neurotransmitter. Its principal role is reducing neuronal excitability in the central nervous system. In layman’s terms, GABA blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain, slowing down activity.
Where does the word GABA come from?
GABA is an acronym of the words Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. Gamma, or microgram combined with amino, containing an amine group, butyric, relating to or producing butyric acid, and acid, any of various typically water-soluble and sour compounds that in solution are capable of reacting with a base to form a salt.
How is GABA made?
GABA is made from the amino acid glutamate combined with glutamic acid. Once thought to be manufactured in the brain, they are actually converted in the gut microbiome to GABA.
A study done at Northeastern University in Boston found that a particular gut bacteria depended GABA for its survival. The gut bacteria, called KLE1738, could only be grown if fed GABA. This further supports the evolving theory that depression and other mood disorders are affected by the health of our gut.
What does GABA do?
GABA acts on brain activity in a similar way to brakes in a car. When nerves are excited, GABA helps to reduce the messages received and results in a calmer mood.
Low levels of GABA can interfere with sleep and is often associated with insomnia.
Is it better to have higher or lower levels of GABA?
It is not ideal to have low levels of GABA. Low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety, insomnia, and drug and alcohol dependence. And, as with serotonin, there are undesirable symptoms to deal with if your levels of GABA are too high, such as difficulty concentrating and memory problems. Interestingly, anxiety and insomnia are associated with both high and low GABA.
What depletes GABA?
Poor diet causes low GABA. Prolonged use of benzodiazepines, often prescribed to combat anxiety, may alter the GABA receptors, resulting in a long-term issue with GABA processing.
An actual deficiency in GABA is an extremely rare medical disorder that affects newborns. It is most often fatal within a few years.
What raises GABA levels?
Vitamin B6 and glutamate are required by the body to manufacture GABA so diets high in both will help keep it at a desirable level. A healthy gut will also ensure that GABA levels are stable.
What are benzodiazepines?
Benzodiazepines are anxiety-reducing, hypnotic, sedative, and anticonvulsant drugs. They are used to treat anxiety, insomnia, and seizures – conditions all associated with improper levels of GABA. They work by slowing down the neurotransmitter messaging between nerves. Benzodiazepines are not recommended for long periods of use as they are physically and psychologically addictive.
Are there natural alternatives to benzodiazepines?
There are herbs that enhance the activity of GABA, such as rhodiola, valerian root, and ashwagandha. L-theanine can also be effective against anxiety, creating a feeling of peace while allowing for focus. Kava is also very effective and has been used by the population of the Pacific Island region to reduce anxiety for centuries. GABA cannot cross the brain/blood barrier so it isn’t recommended to take supplemental GABA – although it is available.
Limitless Life’s AVA does not contain GABA, but contains kava and organic green tea extract, which contains l-theanine. AVA users report an elevated state of consciousness, a reduction in feelings of anxiety and worry, and a feeling of light-hearted and focused relaxation.