Brain Health,
Know Your Neurotransmitters,
Smart Drugs,

#167: GABA: the Forgotten Neurotransmitter?

February 10, 2017

The Role of GABA

GABA is the main inhibitory transmitter in the brain — it has to do with managing rhythms and stability in the brain.

When your GABA levels get too low, you’re basically having a seizure.  Beverly Meyer, Clinical Nutritionist, has both personal and clinical experience with GABA deficiency.

The Perils of GABA Deficiency

What can you expect when your GABA levels get too low?  The list is pretty extensive: bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, PMS, tremors, diarrhea, constipation, high blood pressure, low blood pressure, insomnia, anxiety, muscle tension, epilepsy, muscle tension, and headaches, to name just a few.

Our perception of pain is also affected when our GABA levels aren’t high enough.  We become more sensitive to pain, and sense pain more acutely.

Causes of GABA Deficiency

You don’t have to have a serious medical problem to have a GABA deficiency.  Bacteria in our gut produce GABA, so any time you’re changing the bacteria composition of your gut, that can affect GABA production — for example, taking antibiotics.

There’s also a connection between GABA and GAD-65 enzymes.  Gluten antibodies can disturb the connection, so eating too many starchy carbs can cause a GABA deficiency.

Finally, a failure to manage every day stress can lead to GABA deficiency.  Our survival instinct causes us to be alert to noises and sounds around us.  But in modern life, that instinct can work against us.

Modern urban life is fast-paced, noisy, and stressful.  There’s a constant stream of pressure from the outside world that uses up our stores of GABA too quickly.

Food to Promote GABA

Meyer recommends following some form of a paleo diet.  The most important element?  Avoiding starchy carbs and gluten.  We aren’t genetically programmed to eat grass and grass seeds like wheat, oats, and corn.  These plants also tend to be highly genetically modified.

Avoiding gluten and processed sugars keeps your blood sugar stable and gluten antibodies low.  If you’re not sure if you’re consuming gluten, Cyrex Labs has probably the best gluten test in the world.  Even if you think you’re off gluten, you should take the test, as gluten can be hiding in the craziest place.  Meyer was being exposed to gluten in her horse’s feed!

Lifestyle Changes to Support GABA

The keys here are sleep, light, and stress.  We’re cyclical creatures, so we need to eat and sleep at the same time each day.

On a similar note, blue light blockers at night are critical.  Keep the majority of lights in your house off in the evening, and use yellow light bulbs or blue light blocking glasses.  We can’t produce enough melatonin necessary for proper sleep.

Finally, learning to train your brain to manage stress and anxiety will go a long way to maintaining proper levels of GABA.

Supplements to Promote GABA

Meyer recommends five herbs to promote healthy levels of GABA:  passion flower, valerian, California poppy, chamomile, and skull cap.  All help support GABA, and can be used in different situations.  For example, valerian is stronger than passion flower.  So while you might take valerian to help you fall asleep, you wouldn’t want to take it at 4 am to help you fall back asleep.

Meyer strongly recommends passion flower to support GABA levels.  She likens it to “a straight shot of GABA.”  It can even be used to help wean people off Xanax or Valium (both gluten receptor drugs).

Passion flower is generally sold in one of two forms:  capsule or tincture.  Meyer prefers the tincture form for ease of calibrating the perfect dose.

You can find both alcohol- and glycerin-based tinctures.  Although neither tastes great, the sweetness of glycerin makes it a bit more palatable.

The good news is that passion flower is incredibly safe, and there’s very little to worry about in terms of dosages or building a tolerance.

PS:  Curious about the Gizmodo article mentioned in the podcast about kissing robots?.  Here’s the link.  🙂

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