Fixing Your Brain: GABA
Updated: Oct 3, 2018
Stave off Panic and Feel Calm in any Situation
This writing is one in a series called “Fixing Your Brain.” For the full guide, check out Fixing Your Brain: A Guide to Balancing Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are signaling chemicals in our brains. They are responsible for our moods, motivation, energy, learning ability, and much, much more. When our neurotransmitters become unbalanced, we experience some of the worst states of being known to man.
Gamma-amino butyric acid, or GABA, is the neurotransmitter responsible for calming the nervous system and down regulating the effects of stimulating nor-epinephrine. Think of it like a gentle massage for the nervous system. Adequate GABA levels are associated with calm and content, while low GABA feels like overwhelm and contributes to panic disorder.
Identifying Low GABA
Symptoms of low GABA are:
Rapid or uneven heartbeat
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Cold hands and feet
Obsessive compulsive traits
Unexplained feelings of stress, panic, and anxiety
Feelings of dread or doom
Tendency to expect the worst from people and scenarios
Unexplained feelings of overwhelm
Racing, restless thoughts
Difficulty turning off thoughts when trying to relax
Scattered attention, difficulty focusing on one task
Worrying about scenarios that are unlikely to occur
Feeling uneasy, on-edge
Becoming easily tired or fatigued
Losing your train of thought and feeling your mind go blank
Depersonalization and feelings of unreality
Answers of “Yes” to the following questions may indicate a GABA deficiency
Do you experience panic attacks, or sudden, unexplainable episodes of over-whelm? Y / N
Do you ever feel detached from reality, like you’re observing but not actually here? Y / N
Do you feel like you can’t help but vividly imagine worst-case scenarios? Y / N
Would you describe yourself as feeling “burnt out” and “spent” without recovering? Y / N
Do you feel stiffness or soreness despite lack of exercise? Y / N
Does your heart ever skip a beat, or give the feeling of a fish flopping in your chest? Y / N
Do you ever feel “starved for air” like something is in your throat or you just can’t get enough oxygen? Y / N
I’ve never heard of someone having too high GABA, however the symptoms would be a complete lack of fear, but also a lack of motivation. You would feel like just not doing anything all day, and you wouldn’t notice much emotion. Too high GABA would have you feeling like you didn’t feel much of anything, actually, and you’d find it difficult to get yourself to focus on anything.
Root Causes of Low GABA
Once we have identified potential neurotransmitter imbalances, it is time to treat them. However, you should know this needs to be a careful process, and if you suspect multiple neurotransmitter deficiencies, be sure to educate yourself thoroughly and if possible: work with a professional. That said, first we’ll discuss a few major causes of neurotransmitter imbalances that you should address right away, regardless of which ones you think are low.
Treat the gut.
You may not know this but your gut is actually a sort-of second brain. It contains over 300 million neurons, and affects our mood and behavior, and is considered to be the source of intuition (gut feelings are actually valuable input.) Furthermore, damage to our gut biomes: the colonies of bacteria that live inside us and keep us healthy, has been implicated in many mental diseases, including autism. Poor gut health is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances for two main reasons.
Neurotransmitters are made in the gut! Most of the serotonin in our bodies is made in the gut first, and the other neurotransmitters are no exception. If your gut health is poor, then your body is less capable of converting amino acids from food into the neurotransmitters in your brains.
Gut inflammation leads to brain inflammation. This bit is a little more nerdy. There is an epidemic condition called leaky gut, which occurs because the cell wall of our intestines begin to rip and allow foreign molecules into our bloodstream. This process is driven by inflammatory foods such as gluten, pesticides such as glyphosate, and environmental factors such as over-sterile birth environments, etc. As bad as leaky gut is, what is worse is that it directly contributes to leaky brains. Our brains are housed inside something called the blood-brain barrier, a membrane which keeps foreign molecules from causing inflammation. Glyphosate, which is a chemical in the pesticide round-up, is on many of the foods we eat and causes both leaky gut and leaky brain problems. The inflammation from this damage directly contributes to neurotransmitter programs.
So, what do we do? Well, gut health is a topic that is extensive and intricate and deserving of it’s own long article, but you can start by addressing gut dysbiosis and leaky gut. For the sake of keeping this article on-topic, I suggest strongly that you look into the product Restore by Biomic Sciences. Restore directly heals leaky gut and heals the tight junctions which are damaged in leaky gut and leaky brain. I’ve written about it more extensively in my article about glyphosate, but you should also check out the work of Dr. Zach Bush,who is a genius triple Ph.D who helped create the product.
I know it may seem hokey, but stress is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances that we can actually control for. Lack of sleep, over-working yourself, too much exercise, and negative relationships and thoughts all affect your neurotransmitters. As you continue to stress yourself and push towards burnout, the more you’ll gamble with creating neurotransmitter problems. Thankfully, there are great, free tools you can use to de-stress your life. Here are my number one methods for managing stress:
Prioritize quality sleep above everything else
Implement yoga, or meditation into your daily routine
Practice daily gratitude, preferable every morning before the day starts and every night before retiring
Read books about self improvement, such as Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Malts, Way of the Seal by Mark Divine(has several meditations too,) or 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
Implement saunas and cold exposure into your weekly routine. I recommend infrared or dry saunas, and the work of Wim Hof for the cold exposure therapy.
With all of that said, addressing your lifestyle can be a long road to fixing major neurotransmitter problems that are affecting you right now. This is why I want you to start on these lifestyle changes now, so that you can address the cause while we also work to address the symptoms. Now we can get into supplements that target specific neurotransmitters directly.
GABA Increasing Supplements, Medications, and Hormones
GABApentin (prescription drug)
Growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH)
A note on increasing GABA, phenibut is considered effective but also highly addictive, even more so than prescription drugs. Also, taking supplemental GABA may be ineffective due to the inability for the GABA molecule to cross the blood-brain barrier.
For more in-depth instruction on treating neurotransmitter imbalances, check out the work of Dr. Daniel Kalish, creator of the Kalish Method for targeted amino acid therapy to balance neurotransmitters. His book is short and to the point, but covers all the bases of amino acid therapy.
Another amazing resource is the work of Trudy Scott at www.antianxietyfoodsolution.com. She has a method for targeted amino acid therapy which I personally love, and she goes over it on the wellness mama podcast and in her book which can be bought on her website.
Resources & Links
Due to the extensive nature of this post, I am not including the links that were listed as supplements under each neurotransmitter. Otherwise I’d just be repeating those lists here in an unorganized fashion. The resource list is a way to quickly find the links that were interspersed throughout the article, and since the neurotransmitter supplements are already organized into lists anyway, I do not see the need to add un-necessary clutter by having them again here.
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