Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) is the main calming neurotransmitter released to keep our brain relaxed and balanced when we need it. GABA controls the actions of the excitatory neurotransmitters, so understandably, a person with low GABA may have anxiety, racing thoughts, insomnia, addictions, or even weight gain.
Deficiency of GABA levels can be genetic, but more commonly are a result of an inadequate diet and chronic stress. The good news is, by making better choices and safely using over-the-counter supplements, we can increase GABA levels to help provide a more peaceful mind and a leaner, healthier body.
Low GABA levels are exacerbated by low protein intake, excessive exercise, hormone imbalances, and food sensitivities, which means that diet and lifestyle adjustments are imperative when it comes to calming our brain and gut. While there are no foods that contain actual GABA, we can consume a diet rich in precursors like the amino acid glutamine and co-factors such as vitamin B6, magnesium, iron, and zinc to support GABA synthesis. Recent studies show bacterial imbalances in the gut are also a major cause of low GABA production; therefore, incorporating fermented foods like kimchi and sauerkraut are extremely beneficial as well. GABA-supportive foods are found in grass-fed meats, eggs, dairy products, fish, sea vegetables, tomatoes, mushrooms and many other plants.
GABA can be found in sports and weight-loss supplements because it helps the production of growth hormone (GH), which plays a key role in muscle growth, loss of body fat, cell repair, and metabolism. GH can improve strength and exercise performance, and even helps during recovery from injury and disease. In a recent study, consuming 3 grams of supplemental GABA daily (a very high amount), increased production of GH by 400%.
For management of anxiety, muscle tension, and sleep deprivation, GABA can be a lifesaver. There are prescription drugs that can mimic actions of GABA, but they also come with dangerous side effects. Using over-the-counter GABA supplements may be a better approach for mild to moderate symptoms from stress. High stress can also cause people to self-medicate with sugar or alcohol. Using a GABA supplement or the precursor, L-glutamine, has shown positive results in managing these cravings. Due to conflicting opinions, some do not believe GABA can cross the blood-brain barrier and suggest supplementing instead with L-theanine, an amino acid that increases the level of GABA and crosses the blood-brain barrier. In my experience, both work well.
GABA is best used in the sublingual tablets (I prefer Source Naturals brand), or open a capsule and place under the tongue. Conservative dosing is advised starting low at 125mg one to three times per day between meals, slowly increasing each day until desired effects are achieved, not to exceed 800mg per day unless directed by your practitioner. Avoid taking GABA if you are taking prescription medication for anxiety, and discontinue if symptoms worsen.
Tiffany is a certified nutrition consultant and functional diagnostic nutrition practitioner and can be reached at (760) 285.1221. For more information visit www.tiffanydalton.com