Ever wondered about the physiology of anxiety? Why is it that you can be perfectly calm one minute, have one anxious thought, and be experiencing anxiety all over your body the next? This happens because of the signals and messages your brain sends to the rest of your body via your central nervous system. Luckily, there are a series of checks and balances that your body carries out, depending on the state it is in. GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is one of nature’s tranquilizers that acts as a neurotransmitter (a chemical that affects the transmission of an impulse across a synapse, or gap, between nerves) in the brain to slow over-excited nerves and stop them from over-firing. It works in conjunction with vitamins B3 and inositol to block the effect that worrying thoughts have on the motor centers of your brain; thoughts that will tense muscles, have your stomach in knots and have you unknowingly clenching your jaw. Sometimes prescription medications are suggested to relieve chronic anxiety. However, there is always the fear of addiction with prescription tranquilizers and this is why GABA, taken for its calming properties and on the advice of your primary health care provider, can be used as a natural sedative.
GABA is formed in the body from another amino acid, glutamic acid, which has been converted from glutamine in the brain. Glutamine is referred to as a conditionally essential amino acid because, under certain circumstances, the body is unable to produce enough, at which time glutamine then becomes essential.
GABA’s function is to decrease neuron activity and inhibit nerve cells from over-firing. It’s interesting to note that GABA is formed from glutamic acid because glutamic acid’s function, opposite to that of GABA’s, is to increase the firing of neurons in the central nervous system.
RECOMMENDED DAILY ALLOWANCE:
GABA does not have an established RDA but there are suggested supplemental amounts for some of the more common conditions. Before beginning any type of supplement, always check with your primary health care provider to assure there are no contraindications to taking the supplement.
- For fibromyalgia sufferers, 250mg to 500mg to be taken three times daily.
- For insomnia, 500mg to 1,000mg of GABA to be taken 30 minutes before bedtime.
- For stress, 250mg three times daily.
There is also an indication that GABA can help to calm your nerves when you’re in the process of quitting smoking. Try taking 250mg three times daily or 750mg at night before retiring.
It is useful to note that overuse of GABA has the opposite effect in the body. This really is a case where more is not better.
THE FUNCTIONS OF GABA IN THE BODY
GABA is the most widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and helps maintain a proper balance between the mind and the body. In technical terms, there are two forms of GABA; A and B. It’s as simple as that. Both are inhibitory, or calming neurotransmitters that take care of stress-related tension and anxiety naturally.
In adults, inhibitory neurotransmitters play an important role in the regulation of muscle tone. Nerve signals are constantly being fired in muscle tissue to stimulate it. This causes muscle to maintain its strength. However, if this nerve signal isn’t regulated and inhibited occasionally, muscle tissue would hypertrophy (increase in volume/size – think of an enlarged ventricle in your heart; the enlargement happens from overuse). GABA is the regulator of these signals.
GABA increases the level of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which further helps in maintaining a healthy body. HGH plays a significant role in converting body fat to muscle mass, energy levels, tissue repair, cell replacement, bone strength, brain function, enzyme production, organ health and the integrity of hair, nails and skin. HGH production naturally declines as we age.
GABA is also a precursor to sleep. During the day, our bodies and minds are constantly “on”. GABA calms us during the day, and at night, turns off our body and mind so we can rest and rejuvenate.
SIGNS OF A GABA DEFICIENCY
Some physical signs of a GABA deficiency could include:
- Trembling, tremors, twitching, feeling shaky
- Blurred vision
- Carbohydrate cravings
- Cold or clammy hands
- Muscle loss and/or muscle tension
- Night sweats
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
Some common mental/emotional signs of a GABA deficiency could include:
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Mood swings
- Sudden onset of phobias or fears
- Short temper
CONDITIONS WHICH CAN BENEFIT FROM TAKING SUPPLEMENTAL GABA
Insomnia: GABA is a natural tranquilizer; it helps induce sleep and improves sleep quality as well. It also turns your body “off” at night.
High Blood Pressure: If you live with high blood pressure due to daily stress and anxiety, GABA tea might be the answer! Yes, you read it correctly, tea. First developed by Japanese researchers two to three decades ago to enhance the natural GABA on tea leaves, GABA tea has become a daily health drink in Japan. GABA tea is also reported to be a good cure for hangovers but there is little scientific evidence to back up this claim.
Headaches: If stress headaches are a fact of life for you, using a GABA supplement has been shown to help alleviate this type of headache. GABA helps slow the effects of stress on your body, reducing the amount of excitatory signals your brain sends out.
Anti-Aging Properties: Higher brain functions such as visual recognition or understanding language require the processing of information in the brain. This ability declines as we age. This decline appears to be due to a reduction in GABA in the brain. Neuroscientist Audie Leventhal, at the University of Utah School of Medicine, led a study of applying GABA on Macaque monkeys, with an age equivalent to 90 years in humans, and concluded the monkeys improved vastly. 1
Once we are done growing (somewhere in our early 20’s), our body’s production of HGH slows. This allows for the onset of the signs of aging; a decrease in the quality and quantity of sleep, an increase in body fat, gradual memory loss and a decline in brain function. One way of increasing the amount of HGH in your system is through the use of a GABA supplement. This stimulates the pituitary gland to produce and release HGH. A possible side benefit; more youthful looking skin.
Another sign of age is wrinkles; the type you get from frowning and furrowing your brow. GABA can help prevent wrinkles from pinched, drawn skin before they even start by preventing the anxiety issues that can cause them. It also can be effective in suppressing the minute spasms and movements that lead to wrinkles. What a bonus but you should still avoid the most common causes of wrinkles; sun, smoking and alcohol.
Weight Loss: Low levels of HGH can sometimes be the reason for excess fat storage on our body, with the waistline and hip regions being the main dumping sites. Unfortunately, these are also two of the most stubborn regions to get to release their excess weight. GABA is helpful in stimulating the pituitary glands that release HGH. More HGH can help “increase the release” of this stubborn fat. And don’t forget; GABA helps your muscles perform at optimum levels. When your muscles perform the way they should, your metabolism speeds up and you burn fat more effectively.
Chronic Pain: It was reported on Web MD in November, 2004 that “chronic…pain actually shrinks the brain by as much as 11%. Specifically, it shrinks the gray matter, which makes up the part of the brain responsible for memory and information processing.” This constant chronic pain affects the nervous system which, in turn, affects communication in the neurotransmitters of the brain. Remember, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, used throughout the nervous system to reduce stress, anxiety, panic and pain. A deficiency of GABA in the brain means your brain will not receive messages as regularly as it should, often causing surges of anxiety which can result in a hypersensitivity to pain.
SOURCES OF GABA
GABA is found in almost everything we eat, but here’s the catch; as soon as you cook your food, you’ve almost completely depleted the GABA in it. Try and eat as many raw foods as you can. Good quantities of GABA are found in dairy products, almonds, bananas, broccoli, brown rice, halibut, lentils, oats, oranges, potatoes, walnuts, eggs, beans, spinach and whole grain products.
Because glutamine is the amino acid needed to produce GABA, good sources of glutamine include cabbage, beets, beef, chicken, fish, beans and dairy.
Because GABA works in conjunction with vitamins B3 and inositol, good sources of B3 include beef liver, broccoli, carrots, cheese, dates, eggs, fish, milk, nuts, pork, potatoes, tomatoes and whole wheat products. Good sources of inositol include fruits, legumes, meats, milk, raisins, vegetables and whole grains.
BEFORE TAKING A GABA SUPPLEMENT
It is always prudent to avoid taking supplements otherwise prescribed by your primary health care provider if you are pregnant, intend on becoming pregnant or are nursing. Too much GABA can cause an increase in anxiety, a shortness of breath, numbness around the mouth and tingling in the extremities. When you start taking GABA you might experience drowsiness or lightheadedness (so don’t take it before driving), and in some individuals, skin hives or a rash may appear. If you experience chest pains or difficulty breathing, stop taking the GABA right away. Talk with your primary health care provider before taking GABA to discuss the reasons why you want to start taking it and to get a clearer picture of how it might affect you personally.
NUTTERS CAN SUGGEST…
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a natural calming and anti-epileptic agent in the brain. In fact, it is one of the brain’s most important regulators of proper function and neurotransmission. It appears that many people with anxiety, insomnia, epilepsy, and other brain disorders do not manufacture enough GABA on their own. Many popular drugs, such as Valium, Neurontin, Baclofen, and Valproate act by increasing the effects of GABA within the brain. However, these drugs have numerous side effects and are highly addictive drugs, making them unsuitable for long-term use. GABA, in the right form, is completely safe and remarkably effective without side effects.
Are you suffering from the “tired and wired” syndrome? If so, view this short video by Dr. Kate Rheaume-Bleue, ND on stress, insomnia, your wellbeing and personalized stress management. CLICK HERE.
1. Aura Teas, Tea and Healthhttp://www.aurateas.com/tea_health_benefits-health_info_GABA_tea-detail.aspx
Essentials of Human Anatomy & Physiology, Seventh Edition, Elaine Marieb
Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 12 years experience in her area of expertise, natural health and wellness, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch Practitioner, and Reflexologist.
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