GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid), is an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter and is crucial to the release of epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine in the brain to control its activity levels. It’s the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain and reduces excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate, leading to a calming effect that is necessary for lower levels of stress and a good night’s sleep.
Anti-anxiety medications like alprazolam (Xanax) and diazepam (Valium) work by increasing the amount of GABA in your brain. GABA is concentrated in the hypothalamus and plays a major part in affecting all hormone functions of the body.
Low levels of GABA can lead to some of the following disorders:
- Digestive problems
- Low growth hormone levels
- Panic attacks
- Substance abuse
GABA deficiency can also be linked to seizure disorders like epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Low GABA levels may be caused by a poor diet, prolonged stress and/or genetics.
There are three main components to controlling the levels of GABA- Glutamine, 5-HTP and Theanine. Glutamine is an amino acid and plays an essential part of the biosynthesis of GABA and glutamate that are normally present in the brain and supports the process of GABA synthesis. 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid and increases serotonin throughout the brain, leading to the production of GABA. Lower serotonin levels are related to insomnia, depression and anxiety. GABA needs serotonin to function properly. Supplements containing both GABA and 5-HTP are beneficial to improving sleep quality and mood. Theanine is also a naturally occurring amino acid and has been found to alter glutamate transport and increase GABA levels. It also reduces hypertension.
The best way to supplement for GABA is through your diet. These foods don’t contain GABA, but do contain glutamate/glutamic acid that produces GABA.
- Grass-fed meats
- Raw cheeses
In addition, foods like fermented vegetables and kefir are rich in beneficial bacteria that have an impact on your GABA levels. The advantages of proper levels of GABA are numerous, ranging from improving your mood, promoting relaxation and controlling stress levels.