Written by Tara Brooks (Naturopath)
Serotonin has become popular in the last decade with the majority of people I talk to being able to tell me that it has something to do with being happy. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to increase mood and improve your sense of wellbeing. A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that carries a signal from one neuron (brain cell) or nerve cell to other cells in the body.
So, what about GABA?
Gamma Aminobutyric Acid, or GABA, is the neurotransmitter responsible for calming the neurons in your brain and central nervous system. If GABA is low it can result in issues such as anxiety, insomnia and depression.
Below I have detailed the main areas of health that may be affected if your levels of GABA are low:
Anxiety is the most common symptom of low GABA. By understanding that GABA is the calming neurotransmitter, you can see that when GABA is low, anxiety can be heightened. Anxiety is associated with an overactive brain, repetitive thoughts, restlessness and nervousness and even muscle spasms. All of these suggest hyperactivity of the nerves and potentially a low level of GABA in the body.
Herbs such as passionflower, lavender and lemon balm are all excellent to reduce anxiety as they interact with GABA receptors. These herbs can be consumed as teas, or as a herbal tincture prescribed by your naturopath.
Do you have trouble falling asleep? Do you wake in the middle of the night with an over-active brain? There is a good chance your GABA could be low. GABA allows your mind and body to relax. If your levels are low, your brain has trouble switching off at night and so does your body.
Herbs that are associated with GABA and sleep are: passionflower, kava, valerian and zizyphus. Qualified naturopaths can prescribe safe and therapeutic herbal tinctures that can help with insomnia or sleep issues.
Most mental health issues involve an imbalance in neurotransmitters. Depression is no different. Studies show that there is an imbalance in GABA as well as serotonin in people suffering major depressive disorders.
Increasing GABA through your diet by increasing protein or glutamine (as seen below) can help to decrease depressive emotions, whilst introducing a herbs such as St Johns wort can assist in regulating GABA. Remember to always check with your naturopath before taking medicinal herbs, as those such as St John’s wort can interact with anti-depressive medication.
Now that we’ve looked at the main areas low GABA can effect, the following are recommendations of nutrients that you can include in your diet to increase GABA production.
Glutamine (glutamic acid) is an amino acid that is essential for GABA production. The following plant based foods are high in glutamic acid:
And for the meat eaters:
B6 is one of the building blocks for GABA. Low levels of B6 can decrease GABA production. Foods high in B6 include:
And for the meat eaters:
Magnesium helps to increase the availability of GABA. A good quality supplement will help to decrease anxiety, reduce insomnia and help increase mood. Generally, the mass produced (and often cheap) magnesium from the supermarket just won’t cut it. If you have any of the above issues I recommend booking in for a consult.
Is naturally found in tea and it can increase levels of GABA in the brain. Drinking tea is a simple and accessible way to increase GABA. Green tea, especially matcha, appears to have the highest concentrations of L-thianine. Remember green tea does contain low levels of caffeine, so avoid drinking it too late in the day.
When it comes to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression or insomnia there is normally a few different factors contributing to your symptoms. Increasing GABA through your diet is a good place to start but a holistic approach, which addresses all systems of your body and lifestyle will be more thorough. Please book in a consult with me or another health practitioner if you want to get on top of your anxiety, depression or sleep issues.
If you would like to book an appointment with Tara you can call the clinic on (03) 5429 3610 or book online by clicking the link below.