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GABA: Increasing the Brain’s Own Calming Chemical

gaba, stress, l-theanine, suntheanine, anti-anxiety, naturally decrease stress
Reducing stress by naturally elevating GABA levels

Photo credit: Renjith krishnan

Anxiety has become nearly a near epidemic as thousands of people today struggle with feeling chronically anxious, irritable and unfocused on a daily basis. And for some, persistent untreated anxiety seriously interferes with their ability to function in social and workplace settings.  Low levels of GABA, gamma-aminobutyric acid, may be a contributing factor because GABA deficiencies can negatively affect an individual’s ability to manage even the most low level stressful situations.

GABA Deficiency Symptoms

A calming or “peacemaker” chemical in the brain, GABA induces relaxation, reduces stress and anxiety, and increases focus. One of the four key neurotransmitters, GABA also serves to keep all the other neurotransmitters in check. A deficiency can lead to:

  • Anxiety symptoms
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Hypertension
  • Palpitations
  • Seizures
  • Lower sex drive
  • Disorders of the heart
  • Depression

Naturally Increase GABA:

While many people diagnosed with anxiety disorders take prescription medications such as Valium, Xanax or Ativan, benzodiazepine drugs that stimulate GABA receptors, these drugs often produce unwanted side effects and over time, can become less effective until the dose is increased.

Alternatively, individuals can gradually manage their mood disorder with a program that includes daily exercise, regularly eating foods that naturally elevate the production of key neurotransmitters and targeted supplementation.

Foods rich in complex carbohydrates increases GABA in the brain because they increases glutamine, an amino acid that is a precursor (needed in the formation of) to GABA. Introducing GABA-friendly foods into meals and avoiding excess simple sugars, white flours and wheat products (besides whole grains) can help elevate and maintain GABA levels.

Foods That Increase GABA:

According to Dr. Braverman, author of “The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain Advantage,” the following foods are high in glutamic acid/glutamate (forms glutamine, precursor to GABA):

  • Almonds, tree nuts
  • Bananas
  • Beef Liver
  • Broccoli
  • Brown Rice
  • Halibut
  • Lentils
  • Oats, whole grain
  • Oranges, citrus fruits
  • Rice bran
  • Spinach
  • Walnuts
  • Whole wheat, whole grains.

Supplement with L-theanine to Reduce Anxiety:

L-theanine, a naturally occurring amino acid found in green tea, raises GABA levels and has few if any side effects. L-theanine creates a calm feeling in people without the drowsiness many anti-anxiety medications have, and in almost a paradoxical affect, L-theanine also improves mental clarity and focus.

Suntheanine®, the tested and patented form of L-theanine, is produced by several vitamin companies and is available in most health food stores. Individuals should vary the dose and frequency according to their symptoms although most people find between 100 to 200mg one to four times a day is effective.

How GABA Works to Lower Anxiety

GABA controls the brain’s rhythmic theta waves, the normal brainwave in the encephalogram of a person who is awake but relaxed and drowsy. Theta waves help the brain maintain physical and mental balance. Dr. Ray Sahelian, author of Mind Boosters explains, “GABA is the most important and widespread inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. Excitation in the brain must be balanced with inhibition. Too much excitation can lead to restlessness, irritability, insomnia, and even seizures. GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep.”

This key brain chemical is critically important to maintaining an overall sense of mental well-being. “GABA is also involved in the production of endorphins, brain chemicals that create a feeling of well-being known as ‘runners high.’,” writes Dr. Braverman. “Endorphins are produced in the brain during physical movement, such as stretching or even sexual intercourse.” As endorphins are released people begin to feel a sense of calm, often referred to as the Endorphin Effect.

Although experiencing occasional anxiety is common, chronic anxiety can be debilitating and can dramatically decrease an individual’s quality of life, as well as negatively impact their immune system.

Individuals suffering from chronic anxiety should ask their doctor to test their neurotransmitter and hormone levels because each has a complex relationship with the other that can affect numerous functions in the body, including mood regulation.

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

Laura G Owens

Writer. Blogger. Essayist. My focus is wellness, social commentary and personal essays that explore the messiness of being human. Our ambivalence. Our uncomfortable feelings that when revealed, shed shame and reveal our authentic selves.

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Site last updated March 14, 2024 @ 3:00 pm; This content last updated August 30, 2011 @ 3:19 pm

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