GABA has become my new favorite brain health supplement because across a wide range of people and symptoms, it has changed their life dramatically and immediately.
A GABA supplement has meant the first night of restful sleep for some, and complete freedom from addictive prescription medications for others. It has been helpful in managing anxiety, chronic pain, insomnia, and fibromyalgia, as well as treating withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines, alcohol and opiates (narcotics, and heroin).
Low brain GABA levels have been implicated in anxiety, insomnia, depression, autism, sensory processing disorders, and chronic pain.
What is GABA?
GABA is a neurotransmitter, which simply means a chemical used by our brain and nerves for communication. Its full name is Gamma-Aminobutyric acid.
GABA is often confused for Gabapentin which is a pharmaceutical prescription medication used frequently for treatment of nerve pain, anxiety and alcoholism.
What is the purpose of GABA?
While there are many chemicals that each communicate different things, GABA is used throughout the brain and body’s nervous system to calm things down. Think of it as a warm bath that spreads a message of peace and calm as it travels along the channels, relaxing the brain and nervous system.
GABA is only one of many neurotransmitters that generate a bath of chemical messages in your brain and nervous system. Depending on our genes and environment, and most importantly how we perceive and respond to our environment will dictate what chemicals make up that neurotransmitter bath. We can thus have messages of happiness, fear, anxiety, depression, and apathy to name a few.
In our Western society, and especially in my location in Southern California, it seems the majority of the populace perceive life, the world, and their environment as unsafe, responding by working more, exercising harder, and overall feeling like they are not good enough and need to strive harder. We end up chronically stressed with low GABA levels resulting in a nation of anxiety, depression, and insomnia, requiring food, substances, and addictions to stimulate GABA and relax us.
You very well may be walking around with a GABA deficiency and not realize it. Even if you are not struggling with severe symptoms or addictions yet, you do not want a GABA deficiency to go untreated because lower GABA levels stresses your brain and body. All those functions the brain and nervous system run for you in the background will be struggling to function, requiring more energy and making it harder to keep things running smoothly in the unconscious background while you try to go to work, cook for your family, or study for that test.
How do you know if you have a GABA deficiency?
Low GABA levels will keep your brain too stimulated, giving you anxious thoughts and making it harder to concentrate, relax, and sleep. It will also keep your nerves throughout your body in a more excitatory state, making your nerves and muscles tense without you being conscious of it. You may notice especially at night your thoughts racing and your muscles may be tense.
Having deficient GABA levels will make you crave substances that will calm your nervous system like marijuana, opiates, benzodiazepines (addictive anti-anxiety medications), food, cigarettes and alcohol.
An imbalance in your GABA levels often goes unnoticed for two reasons: (1) you have become so used to these symptoms, you consider this your normal state of health, and (2) you may have compensated for the symptoms without realizing it, perhaps using substances or medications to help sleep or for chronic pain.
Perhaps you are on a medication like Gabapentin or Xanax or on narcotics for chronic pain. None of these corrects the underlying chemical imbalance, and in fact over a period of time, makes the deficiency worse because none of them provide your brain with more GABA. This results in a dependency on the substances and medication, and when you try to get off them, you realize your symptoms are even worse than before.
It is not uncommon for a GABA deficiency to be accompanied by a deficiency in other brain neurotransmitters that keeps it stuck in sub-optimal functioning. As I like to explain to my patients, the brain and body were created to be able to heal themselves, restore themselves back to health and function after an injury. If you have ever had surgery, you have see this process happen before your eyes. After an injury to the skin where it was cut open during the surgery, the skin has healed back. This healing happens naturally, it is not something you had to use your willpower to happen, nor did you even have to consciously think about for it to heal and close. All the skin needed was a good enough environment and the restoration to health and function happened naturally.
This is the same for your other organs including your brain, muscle tissues, and nervous system. Given a good enough environment, they should be able to restore themselves back to health and function after an injury or an imbalance. If we see persistent mood and health symptoms, like anxiety, chronic pain and chronic anxiety, it means the brain or body does not have a healthy enough environment in which it can heal itself. It needs help.
Correcting A GABA Deficiency
A GABA deficiency is easily corrected though with an amino acid supplement. This is a natural way to directly restore your levels of GABA up to normal. You will feel the difference and be amazed! A GABA supplement is just what you need to help create a healthy enough environment for your brain and body to heal itself of its GABA imbalance.
There are many forms of GABA supplements, including ones that have combined other vitamins, supplements, or herbs with the GABA. When you are find the GABA supplement you would like to try, you should start with a low dose, 250 mg, and increase only if you do not experience a negative reaction.
While it occurs in the minority of people, it is possible for you to have genetics that will make you actually have more anxiety when you take GABA. Your genes may metabolize the GABA into a pro-anxiety chemical. Most people do not have this reaction though, and after an hour you may take another GABA supplement if you feel you still have some anxiety or tension.
Taking up to 1.5 or 3 g daily of GABA has been done by many with no negative side effects. Click this link to see my favorite GABA neurotransmitters supplements I have used myself and recommend to my patients. As always, the brain and body’s physiology is complex, and it is always recommended to seek a professional’s opinion who is experienced in GABA supplements prior to trying, especially if you are taking other prescription medications.
Are you taking a GABA supplement? Have you had a positive experience? Or perhaps you had a negative side effect? I would love to hear from you about what GABA supplement you tried and your brain and body’s response to it. Through shared experiences, we can learn from each other, helping each other journey towards a more vital and healthy life!