Have you ever heard of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)? If you haven’t, then it’s time to be introduced to this essential neurotransmitter that is responsible for most of the body’s functions.
What Is GABA?
Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or GABA is an important neurotransmitter in the brain and its main function is to reduce the activity of nerve cells by blocking the impulses between them. It is essential to have the optimum amount of GABA in the body because a lack of it has been linked to various problems like severe pain, mood disorders and even epilepsy.
When present in the right concentration, GABA is said to have a calming effect on the nervous system, and that is why many people take GABA supplements to help improve mood, reduce anxiety, relieve pain, enhance sleep and help with the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
Functions of GABA
GABA receptors are available in different parts of the brain including the cortex and basal ganglia. Its main functions include:
- Regulate seizure activity in the cortex: Anti-seizure medications increase the production of GABA and suppress the impact of excessive glutamate — another neurotransmitter that could cause brain disorders when in excess.
- Promote calmness: The natural calming effect provided by GABA could reduce the feeling of anxiety and promote calmness.
- Support PMS symptoms and mood: The distinct properties of GABA may help reduce mood swings and symptoms of PMS.
- Signal the cortex: The cortex works with other parts of the brain to control various body functions like movement, perception and behavior. GABA sends signals to the cortex to promote or control the movement of different muscle groups. With an optimal amount of GABA, the muscles feel relaxed.
- Produce neurons: GABA has an important role in the production of neurons and can reduce the “hyperexcitability” of these brain cells. This is key because hyperexcitability can increase the chances of having a seizure, cramps and insomnia among other conditions.
- Control sleep cycle: GABA receptors may regulate the body’s circadian rhythm or sleep-wake cycle. Sleep aids try to increase the activity of these neurotransmitters to induce sleep and boost a healthy sleep pattern.
Maintaining GABA Levels in the Brain
Before learning how to maintain optimum levels of GABA in the brain, it is important to learn how GABA is produced naturally. The amount of GABA in the brain is proportionate to the body’s ability to synthesize glutamate, so GABA is produced when the body metabolizes glucose. Since GABA inhibits excited neurons, the body does not need too much GABA as it can cause lethargy, skin reactions and difficulty in breathing.
The following are healthy ways to maintain the optimum amount of GABA:
- The body needs glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) to synthesize glutamate efficiently and vitamin B6 is required to support GAD. You can get this vitamin from foods like bananas, spinach and chickpeas.
- Magnesium is another important supporter of GABA activity. It has the ability to stick to a GABA receptor and activate it to function efficiently. Foods rich in magnesium include quinoa, nuts and broccoli.
- Supporting mitochondrial health is the best way to support GABA activity and this can be achieved by consuming whole foods that contain nutrients like Coenzyme Q10, ribose and vitamin C. The best sources for these are cauliflower, pumpkin, mushrooms, citrus fruits and bell peppers.
- Exercises like deep breathing, pilates and meditation may also help support the maintenance of GABA levels.
With a balanced diet, exercise and supplements (optional), the right level of GABA could be maintained in the brain, enhancing its productivity to positively impact overall health.
Ruhoy, I. (2018, April 12). GABA: Here’s How It Works In Your Brain Why It’s So Important. Retrieved from https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/gaba-what-is-it
GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid). (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/vitamins-and-supplements/gaba-uses-and-risks