Balance your GABA levels to reduce your risk for many physical and mental health disorders
11/21/2018 // Ellaine Castillo // Views

There are so many things in life that can make people stressed. Fortunately, the body has its own way of coping with the pressure of everyday life.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that also functions as a neurotransmitter, and one of the most important ones at that. It is derived from glutamate, a neurotransmitter produced from glucose metabolism in the brain. These neurotransmitters are used by the brain cells to communicate with each other. The specific role of GABA is to slow down brain activity by preventing nerve impulses from firing. This induces feelings of relaxation and calmness that people who are under a lot of stress yearn for. Moreover, GABA is also involved in other brain functions, such as vision, sleep, cognition, and motor control.

The role of GABA in maintaining brain health is tightly linked with glutamate activity. These neurotransmitters work in completely opposite ways. GABA is inhibitory, whereas glutamate triggers the firing of nerve impulses, thereby accelerating brain activity. You can think of them as the gas and brake pedals of the car, which are used to regulate speed. It is important to maintain the balance between these neurotransmitters to prevent drastic effects on mental health. There is a higher chance that a person suffers from GABA deficiency since more than 86 percent of the general population have low neurotransmitter levels. People who do not have sufficient levels of this neurotransmitter are at a higher risk for anxiety, depression, fibromyalgia, insomnia, meningitis, migraines, colorectal cancer, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and Crohn's disease.

There is actually no reliable way of measuring GABA. However, there are different symptoms that indicate deficiency. These include the following:

  • Unexplained feelings of dread
  • Preoccupation with negative thoughts (especially at night)
  • Disorganization
  • Increased intake of carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Reliance on drugs or alcohol

Most cases of GABA deficiency can be blamed on a person's lifestyle. According to Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, the main reasons for GABA dysfunction are excessive amounts of stress and caffeine, lack of sleep, and gluten intolerance. Gut bacteria also play a role in producing GABA so when there are more bad bacteria than the good, they produce less of the neurotransmitter. Moreover, vitamin B6 deficiency and autoimmune disorders that react to glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) also inhibit the conversion of GABA from glutamate.

Increasing GABA levels

Since most people are likely to suffer from GABA deficiency, it is important to know how this can be increased. The most common ways to do so are by taking supplements or eating GABA-rich foods. It is common to find GABA supplements on the market. However, most of these contain synthetic forms of the neurotransmitter that are not sure to work. This is because of the presence of the blood-brain barrier, which keeps foreign substances away from the brain. Moreover, GABA supplements can also cause side effects like headaches, sleepiness, and muscle weakness. Natural products are therefore a more effective means of increasing GABA levels. Some foods that are rich in this brain chemical include the following:

  • Barley
  • Beans
  • Brown rice
  • Chestnuts
  • Corn
  • Kale
  • Probiotic foods (such as yogurt, kefir, kimchi, and sauerkraut)
  • Spinach
  • Sprouted grains

Any type of exercise can also be done to increase GABA levels. However, improvements are especially good for people who do yoga. Previous studies have shown that a one-hour yoga session can increase GABA levels by up to 27 percent. For those who do not like physical exercises, they can also give meditation a try since this also improves the production of GABA, to a degree similar to yoga.

GABA is a very important neurotransmitter that maintains not just mental health but also physical health so it is important to take steps to make sure that you have enough of it. (Related: How to increase your GABA levels naturally.)

Sources include:

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