The brain relies on a wide variety of biological processes to produce optimal output. Understanding how these work to improve cognition and promote brain health is an important step in getting the most from supplementing with nootropics.
GABA is a common term thrown around in the nootropic market and is touted for its capacity to relieve stress, anxiety, and many other benefits. Even though the term is used frequently, not too many people are sure what role GABA plays in the brain and why it is important for good health.
What Is GABA?
The brain uses a special selection of chemicals, called neurotransmitters, to communicate with all other parts of the body. There are some neurotransmitters that prepare the body to fall asleep or wake up while others regulate the digestive system. Neurotransmitters also send commands to muscles and allow for mobility.
One important neurotransmitter is called gamma-aminobutyric acid. This is better known as GABA. GABA plays an important role as an inhibitory messenger, meaning it keeps nerve cells from becoming overly excited. As such, GABA helps to modulate behavior, counteract the stress response, and allows for smooth cognition.
GABA binds with receptors and prevents the production of another neurotransmitter called glutamate. Glutamate has the opposite effect as GABA and excites neurons. You can imagine excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters like the accelerator and braking system of a motor vehicle.
One neurotransmitter without the other would be quite useless or even dangerous. However, when the synchronization between the various neurotransmitters in the brain is finely tuned, the mind is capable of great accomplishments almost effortlessly.
By the same measure, if the brain is not producing enough GABA this deficiency becomes evident in some specific symptoms:
Studies have shown those suffering from conditions of depression have lower levels of GABA.1
Anxieties and Traumas
It has been known that anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand. Therefore, it is not surprising that a lack of GABA in the brain may also lead to stress, fears, and anxieties, which only further aggravate the conditions.2
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If any of these symptoms seem familiar to you, considering your GABA levels is a good place to begin your search for relief. Since GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, it plays a vital role in controlling how the nervous system can be activated at any one time and can affect many biological processes.4
Benefits of Improved GABA levels in the Body
Stress and Anxiety Relief
When the nerves in your brain are operating within their capacity, work is relaxed and effortless. As increased workloads and demands may negatively impact the brain due to fear or the presence of stressing factors, brain nerves become overexcited which thwarts their ability to function normally.
GABA works to keep this from happening or getting worse by inhibiting the actions of stress. It is like a commanding presence being introduced to an unruly assembly; order is established and progress in a single direction can be made.
GABA prevents the mind from becoming overwhelmed by fears and recurring panic attacks. Studies have shown that families with a history of panic disorders have much lower concentrations of GABA working through their systems.5
Improved Sleep Quality
GABA is an important part of helping the mind and body settle down for quality sleep. The sleep cycle is essential to effectively process information and stabilize chemical balances in the body. This simply can’t happen if neurons are still firing warnings, reminders, and other stressors in your head.6
GABA works to silence these reminders which allows the body to begin relaxing into its rest cycle. Improved GABA levels as accomplished through supplementation can reduce sleep latency, the time it takes to fall asleep after climbing in bed, by a little over 5 minutes.7
Nevertheless, GABA supplementation should be considered for improved sleep habits. Some other actions include drinking less caffeine in the late afternoon and reducing electronic light an hour before sleep.
Depression can be caused by fears, traumas and even undue levels of stress. Those suffering from depressive conditions typically have reduced GABA activity. This is both a symptom and an aggravator. In addition to addressing external causes for the condition, GABA supplementation is an effective way to banish the blues.
Depression can be an especially difficult condition to address and many of the pharmaceutical options available today may come with unpleasant side effects. Clinical studies have found that modulators of GABA provide a promising alternative for relieving a downcast mind.8
Inflammation is an important part of the immune function. Much like stress, inflammation can become a bad thing when conditions get out of hand, called chronic inflammation. This can be the result of old injuries as well as inflammatory conditions like cancers, gingivitis, and dermatitis.
Antioxidants and anti-inflammatories are important for a nootropic stack as they protect the blood vessels of the brain from damage. The brain has a special need for high quantities of oxygen. Brain cells become stressed and damaged when they are deprived of oxygen even momentarily. If the vital supply lines of oxygen to the brain are compromised, degenerative conditions can soon follow.
GABA is being studied for its role in interrupting the communications of cytokines, another chemical messenger that triggers the inflammatory response. By increasing the efficacy of GABA functions, inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis and other chronic conditions can be ameliorated.9,10
The inhibitory function of GABA has dampening effects on the impulsivity and hyperactivity associated with ADHD. Studies found ADHD patients had considerably reduced GABA levels and suggested that treatment should include balancing GABA levels.11
Impulsivity and hyperactivity are not restricted to ADHD alone but are the ultimate enemy of effective plans, organization and productive efforts in all areas of life. Regulation of GABA can improve resilience to mental distractions and impulsive behavior, thus increasing powers of focus and concentration.
Increasing GABA Levels
There has been some debate as to whether taking GABA as a nootropic supplement would be effective in the brain. In the past, it was believed that when GABA was introduced to the bloodstream through the digestive tract it could not pass the blood-brain barrier.
Some companies that sell GABA supplements claim otherwise. However, more studies are needed to verify these claims as the mechanism of GABA is still not known.12
The only way to be absolutely certain your body has all it needs to keep GABA levels at an all-time high is by making some small GABA-friendly adjustments to your daily life. Here are some simple practices to help you make the most of your home-grown GABA supplies.
Green Vegetables and Whole Grains
B Vitamins are a necessary intermediate when GABA is being made in the body. Green leafy vegetables are a great source of vitamins, especially Vitamin B-6. Try accompanying this with brown rice and other unrefined cereals to ensure you are getting enough whole grains.13
Meats and Fish
Seafood of all sorts contains B-6 and B-12 vitamins which are the most important vitamins that directly encourage GABA production. You can also find some good Vitamin B sources in healthy beef and pork.
Not only are pinto beans, lentils, and chickpeas great sources of dietary fiber but they also contain a wealth of B vitamins. For vegetarians hoping to get an adequate supply of GABA, plenty of legumes is a must.
Meditation and Yoga
Risks and Precautions for GABA Supplementation
Currently, there are no reports of adverse effects from GABA supplementation in any form. Still, many of these products have not been thoroughly tested for their effects on those with specific health conditions and or with other medications and treatments. So cautions is always advised.
Anyone with health conditions as well as breastfeeding or nursing mothers should be extra careful when changing their diets which includes supplementation.15 Consult a qualified medical professional for more information.
Final Thoughts on GABA
As an inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA is essential for regulating many aspects of the nervous system. Increasing the levels of GABA may be the solution to treating stress, moodiness, and sleep problems.
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