GABA, Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid, is an amino acid which acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. GABA allows us to feel calm, peaceful, relaxed throughout the day and sleepy at bedtime. It is also essential for handling stress and coping with life’s ups and downs.
GABA is important to our brains and bodies because it’s the main neurotransmitter in your brain that inhibits nerve transmission and calms nerve activity. GABA normalizes brain waves and brings the nervous system back to a calmer and more stable state to meet the challenges coming at you in life. Without it we become fatigued, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed very easily. Ever wonder why your tired all the time? GABA could be out of balance.
When GABA is out of range (high or low excretion values), it is likely that an excitatory neurotransmitter is firing too often in the brain. GABA will be sent out to attempt to balance this stimulating over-firing, but if you don’t have enough, and your body isn’t producing adequate amounts, you are likely to suffer tremendously.
Without a balanced level of GABA, your anxiety, sleep and mood can be troubled for years. Testing your neurotransmitter levels allows for practitioners to see how low or high your GABA is. Many supplements companies out there sell GABA as a supplement, but rarely are they effective. The molecule is too large to pass through the blood brain barrier on its own. Therefore you need a product, if you find that your GABA is low, that can pass through the blood brain barrier, our GABA+ product and few others on the market are able to do so.
Signs You Have Low GABA Levels
1. Depression and Imbalanced Mood. People with depression have lower brain GABA levels compared to people with more even keeled brain chemistry. A study in depressed teens found the lowest GABA levels those who were depressed. Without enough GABA to support the over-firing of excitatory neurotransmitters, people who suffer from irritability, impulsivity and the inability to self-regulate also have lower GABA levels.
2. Panic Attacks, and PTSD. Anxiety, panic disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are each associated with GABA imbalances. Anxiety and feelings of restlessness or high alert are most commonly recognized symptom of low GABA.
3. Sleep Cycle Challenges. People with insomnia have lower levels of GABA. If you have chronic trouble either falling asleep or waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, you likely have a brain GABA deficiency and could benefit from therapies that help to naturally increase GABA function in the brain.
4. Drug and alcohol dependence. GABA plays a role in alcohol and substance use and abuse.. Low levels of GABA increase vulnerability to alcoholism and addiction
What Lowers GABA (this is an oversimplification):
- Stress, chronic stress or unrelenting crisis
- Benzodiazepines (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, Valium)
- Lack of sleep
- Poor nutrition
- Unfulfilled work
- Lack of balance/rest/restoration
- Excess caffeine
What Raises/Maintains GABA:
- Sleep 7-9 hours nightly
- Good nutrition (protein, healthy fats)
- Fulfilling work
- Amino Acid Therapy
- Exercise (especially yoga and brisk walking)
Natural Cures for Getting More GABA
Reduce Alcohol and increase GABA. GABA is one of the most important neurotransmitters in anxiety, which is why many people turn to alcohol. Alcohol temporarily raises GABA levels (you feel relaxed), and then drops it lower. If you reduce your alcohol consumption, your anxiety will gradually improve. However, you may need help with feeling stress relief in a healthy way.
Stress Management for GABA
- Try to do any amount of mindfulness meditation every day; this can simply be sitting and observing your thoughts.
- Try to cultivate a non-judgmental attitude toward the chatter in your mind.
- Book recommendation: Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn (listen to it on Audible.com).
- Consider mind-body practices, such as yoga, tai qi and qi gong.
- Practice gratitude (list 3 things that you’re grateful for every night).
- Identify a creative outlet that you enjoy (paint, play with children, sing, play an instrument, dance).
Better Sleep Helps Support GABA
- Sleep is fundamental to well-being, and it’s your best protection against anxiety.
- Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep nightly.
- Stick to a regular sleep schedule as much as possible.
- Turn off electronics 1 hour before bed.
- Read a paper book in bed (avoid TV, phone, ipad, work, Netflix, Hulu, and videogames in bed).
- Stop caffeine by 12pm or eliminate it altogether.
Do you need more GABA? Let us know how we can help you!
By Emily Roberts MA, LPC
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Emily Roberts MA, LPC is the clinical therapist for the Neurogistics Children’s Program. She has worked with Neurogistics for over a decade. Emily is also an award-winning author of Express Yourself: A Teen Girls Guide to Speaking Up and Becoming Who You Are, Psychotherapist, TV & Media Contributor, educational speaker and parenting consultant. Express Yourself is available at bookstores nationwide and on Amazon. To learn more about Emily click here.
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