GABA is one of the most important amino acid produced in our brain. It acts like the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, working to calm neurons that are firing in excited patterns.
It controls our mood, ability to focus, promotes relaxation and controls stress. Glutamate speeds things up in the brain, GABA does the opposite. So you can clearly see where we’re going with this…
How does GABA work in the brain?
It’s synthesized directly from the neurotransmitter glutamate de-carb-oxy-lase and can be reversed back to glutamate via the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Brain GABA concentrations and systemic GABA have a reflective effect on each other, which means change in one causes change in the other. This is how GABA self-inhibits itself, by keeping the concentration inside the brain constant. GABA receptors are the most common kind in the mammalian nervous system, about 40% of the synapses in the human brain work with GABA and therefore have GABA receptors.
The main function of GABA is to reduce the activity of the neuron it binds to, hence slowing down the firing of synapses. The end physiological result is reduction in stress or anxiety.
GABA is referred to as “nature’s valium” because of it’s calming, relaxed and happy feeling. Low levels of GABA can leave you feeling anxious and stressed out and this is why GABA is one of the key supplements for stress and anxiety.
What causes low levels of GABA?
It can range anywhere from stress, low blood sugar, too much caffeine or nicotine and gluten intolerance. Some people have have the genetic inability to synthesize GABA.
When it comes to supplementation, there’s an issue ingesting GABA supplements due to low permeability through the blood-brain barrier.
How do we increase the concentration of GABA?
Fortunately, there are several ways of increasing GABA naturally.
Taurine a precursor of GABA that can readily cross the blood-brain barrier. It activates GABA receptors, acting very much like GABA. This results into the slowing down of the overstimulated neurons causing relief from stress, anxiety and also insomnia.
DOSAGE: 500mg – 2000mg have shown efficacy.
Magnesium is one of the key ingredients for our brain that we often forget about. One of the main ways magnesium helps with stress is by binding and stimulating GABA receptors in the brain.
DOSAGE: 300 – 420mg (please consult your physician for correct dosage)
L-Theanine is a relaxing amino acid that’s found mainly in green tea (please listen to episode 19 for more information on matcha, and episode 6 for more information on theanine -link matcha green tea). This increases levels of GABA, serotonin and dopamine. According to the study conducted in 2006, it also resulted in improved learning and memory. It reduces psychological and physiological stress response.
Overall, preparing your brain to deal better with stress by inhibition of cortical neuron excitation acting as a possible neuro-protective and cognitive enhancing agent.
DOSAGE: 200mg has resulted in cognitive lift, sharpening of focus and energy
Picamilon is a relatively new “smart drug”, that’s a more bioavailable version of GABA supplement. This was a supplement that was developed in the Soviet Union and studied in both Japan and Russia. This is how it works, it penetrates the blood-brain barrier and then gets hydrolyzed into GABA and niacin. The released GABA activates GABA receptors inhibiting the symptoms of stress and anxiety by slowing down the firing of neurons. Niacin is a vasodilator. Along with relieving stress, it is also known to boost memory, focus and brain power.
DOSAGE: At a lower dosage of 50mg three times a day, users claimed it to be a mild tranquilizer and anxiety reducer
At the higher range of 100mg three times a day, users reported that provided increased energy levels and endurance.
Overall, all physical exercises promote happiness by relieving anxiety and stress because they produce “happy” neurotransmitters like serotonin, endorphins and GABA. However, Yoga in particular is known as a GABA booster. According to a pilot study that involved 8 experienced yoga practitioners, who were asked to do 60 minutes of yoga postures and breathing and 11 comparison subjects, who were asked to read quietly for an hour. In conclusion, the people who did yoga ended up with 27% increase in GABA compared to the comparison group.
One of the easiest ways is to increase GABA is through the consumption of your food. The following is the list of GABA-rich foods:
- brown rice
- citrus fruit
- herbal teas
- organ meats
- rice bran
- whole grains