GABA for a Balanced Brain!
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is the third brain chemical needed for weight loss and balanced mental moods. In fact, helping to balance the pace of mental activity is the most important activity of GABA. It even helps balance out our dopamine and acetylcholine responses so they are on an even keel.
In a healthy, well-nourished person, the brain produces sufficient amounts of GABA and supplementation may not be needed. However, many people struggle with healthy dieting. When you add in modern bulk farming methods, food processing removing many nutrients and over-expose to environmental toxins, GABA levels can easily fall below optimum amounts. Low GABA levels are associated with a range of problems, including anxiety, depression, irritability and sleeplessness.
As we have seen, supplements are a good way to increase brain neurotransmitters while learning to implement a healthy diet. We have looked at natural ingredients, in other articles, that have shown in study after study to help rebuild dopamine, acetylcholine and serotonin levels in the body and brain. Now, we can look at what GABA does.
GABA is your major inhibitory or relaxing brain neurotransmitter chemical. Normal brain GABA levels leads to a reduction in stress, anxiety, nervousness, epilepsy brain disorders and a reduction of insomnia resulting in a more restful night’s sleep.(1-2) This helps your body and brain relax and repair itself for better efficiency.(3)
Beta brainwaves can enhance your memory and are required during periods of concentration, attention, alertness. However, high beta concentrations that occur during times of stress can lead to more stress, anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Alpha brainwaves are produced when you go into a meditative state such as meditation, yoga, when you focus your attention on one task or as you begin to fall asleep. Alpha brainwaves are involved in memory but their major function within your body is to calm and relax you.
Alertness can stimulate production of both alpha and beta brainwaves but it is the type of alertness that determines which brainwave is produced.
When your body is in a relaxed state of alertness alpha brainwaves are produced.
When you are alert and stressed beta brainwaves are produced.
Both can be beneficial, but excess beta wave production eventually reduces concentration and focus ability. Then, it contributes to an array of nervous disorders such as anxiety and stress.(4-5)
How does GABA Work?
GABA decreases your beta brainwaves and increases your alpha brainwaves by binding to your benzodiazepine receptors. It’s the “peace” neurotransmitter – calming you down during periods of stress. GABA is the most potent calming chemical in human brains. It regulates many of the depressive and sedative actions in brain tissue and is critical for relaxation.
Many of the popular prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium, and Neurontin act by duplicating the effects of GABA in the brain. We just prefer to use natural means to do the same thing!
GABA may also sneak into the the brain through an unlocked door: the pituitary gland. The researchers of another study published in “Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” in 2008 found that oral GABA supplements elevated growth hormone levels. Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland. It is thought the pituitary may provide the path that GABA can take to enter the central nervous system.(6)
Technically, the amino acid L-glutamine is the precursor to GABA production. Glutamine is first converted to glutamic acid or glutamate. Glutamic acid is responsible for your attention span, memory, brain energy, learning ability, staying awake and the metabolism of carbohydrates. From there the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (I may need more IN-Focus supplements just to pronounce that) converts glutamate to GABA.
One nice thing about GABA is that our body is able to balance itself with brain GABA levels. While GABA is important to the growth and development of your nerve cells and your mental health, ingested GABA should never get a chance to reach vital brain tissues. Even if a small amount of GABA crossed, researchers of a 2001 study published in the “Journal of Neurochemistry” describe how the body limits GABA levels in the brain.(7)
So, GABA is such an important neurotransmitter that your brain makes it itself. Then, nature erected a “blood-brain barrier” between the central nervous system and the bloodstream that limits what may cross over – which includes GABA. It simply transports it out of the central nervous system and into the bloodstream through a special one-way pump.
The brain is able to eject excess GABA and the blood brain barrier’s efflux rate for GABA is approximately 16 times as potent as the uptake rate. This makes it active to prevent excessive depressive effects. As a result, orally ingested GABA doesn’t alter human physiology to much of a degree – unless overdosed to a very high level.(8)
Supplements that Help
As with the other nutrients, we have seen that balance is important. What is good for one person may not be the same as another. The body can eliminate some excess but not a heavy dose. Therefore we have kept to a smaller dose of GABA itself – but have included nutrients the body needs if it wants to produce more!
Vitamin B6 is needed to increase its production.(9) In the meantime, the amino acid taurine increases the communication and productivity (10) and anxiety may occur from a lack of taurine.(11) We have precursors for taurine but vegitarians, in particular, often need extra so we may add some in the future.
Zinc on the other hand has been shown to enhance the release of GABA from its receptors. Both zinc and vitamin B6 are essential for the production of your other brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline and histamine.(12)
L-theanine – is a compound found in tea that increases brain GABA levels.(13) It also increases levels of GABA within the brain, increases alpha brainwaves and enhances GABA-A receptor response.(14) Studies have shown that theanine is useful in the treatment of anxiety due to its ability to sedate the central nervous system.
A study published in the September 2011 issue of the journal “Child: Care, Health and Development” found that L-theanine supplementation significantly increased GABA levels in children with traumatic backgrounds. Then, it also improves the quality of sleep and counteract the toxic effects of stress.(15)
As a bonus, it also decreases caffeine’s stimulant effects (one of the reasons that tea is a milder stimulant than coffee).
Inositol – is a B vitamin that helps alleviate anxiety and depression, by enhancing the ability of GABA to bind to the benzodiazepine receptors within the brain.(16) Inositol may also help to stimulate poorly sensitive serotonin receptors within the brain and facilitate a good night’s sleep.(17)
Taurine – The amino acid taurine increases the effectiveness of GABA. Typical doses have been used safely, according to Dr. Uzzi Reiss, author of the book “The Natural Superwoman: The Scientifically Backed Program for Feeling Great, Looking Younger, and Enjoying Amazing Energy at Any Age.”
Vitamin B-6 – coordinates the mood-regulating and nervous system activity of other B-complex vitamins, thereby helping to ensure adequate production of GABA. Since the B vitamins work as a team, taking a comprehensive B-complex or a few capsules of ourFoundation multi-vitamin/nutrient with the IN-Focus helps everything work together.
Magnesium – is well known for its calming effects and provides a highly safe and natural approach when paired with vitamin B-6. Magnesium also supports your endocrine system, which, through feedback mechanisms, influences your brain’s levels of neurotransmitters, including GABA. A study published in the 2006 issue of the journal “Medical Hypotheses” found that magesium glycinate was helpful in treating major depression.
Magnesium deficiency is common in western society with up to 80% of women and 70% of men having some form of magnesium deficiency. Magnesium binds to and activates GABA receptors 54. Anxiety, panic disorders, apathy, poor attention span, depression, insomnia, irritability and nervousness may all result from magnesium deficiency.(18)
5HTP – is a precursor to serotonin, and serotonin is well know to enhance the effects of GABA.(19)
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8. Al-Sarraf H. Transport of 14C-gamma-aminobutyric acid into brain, cerebrospinal fluid and choroid plexus in neonatal and adult rats. Brain Res Dev Brain Res. (2002)
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10. Molchanova, S. M., et al. Effect of taurine on the concentrations of glutamate, GABA, glutamine and alanine in the rat striatum and hippocampus. Proc West Pharmacol Soc. 50:95-97, 2007.
11. Kong, W. X., et al. Effects of taurine on rat behaviors in three anxiety models. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2006.
12. Trabrizian, Igor. Visual textbook of nutritional medicine. ISBN 0–975 6920–5–4.
13. Ito, K., Effects of L-theanine on the release of alpha brain waves in human volunteers. Nippon Nogeikagaku Kaishi. 72:153-157, 1998.
14. Hoosain SJ, Aoshima H, Kiso Y. Fragrances in oolong tea that enhance the response of GABA A receptors. Biosci Biotechnol Biochem. 2004 Sep;68(9): 1842 – 8.
15. Kimura, K., et al. l-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 74(1):39-45, 2007.
16. Colodny, L., et al. Inositol – clinical applications for exogenous use. Alternative Medicine Review. 3(6):432-447, 1998.
17. Nick, G. L. Inositol as a treatment for psychiatric disorders: a scientific evaluation of its clinical effectiveness. Townsend Letter for Doctors and Patients. October 2004.
18. Morris, M. E. Brain and CSF magnesium concentrations during magnesium deficit in animals and humans: neurological symptoms. Magnesium Research. 5(4):303-313, 1992.
19. Wang DS, Xu TL, Li JS. 5-HTP potentiates GABA- and glycine-activated chloride currents on the same neurons in rat spinal cord. J Hirnforsch. 1999;39(4):531-7.