If you’re here, you already know that the neurotransmitter GABA, or Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, is the body’s calming chemical. It helps you fall asleep, quiets your racing mind, and calms your anxiety.
It does this by inhibiting certain neurons, regulating brain activity, and blocking signals to your nervous system. If you know how anxiety and racing monkey mind feels when your sympathetic nervous system kicks in, then you know how important it is for your body to be able to put the brakes on this over-stimulation.
If you have low levels of GABA you may experience:
- chronic stress
- insomnia or sleep issues
- memory issues
- inability to focus
- muscle tension
- a tendency for substance abuse
Before we talk about how to raise GABA levels, let’s look at the benefits.
Benefits Of Raising GABA Levels
GABA is an important player in keeping you healthy. When you’ve reached the correct levels of GABA in your body you can experience:
GABA therapy is also used in people with epilepsy because it regulates muscle tone, and there are also some studies that show that GABA can lower blood pressure.
One study found that GABA levels were 30% lower in people with insomnia. It seems GABA is very important in helping you unwind before bed and get restful sleep.
Natural Ways To Raise GABA Levels
Before we get into the supplements that can help increase GABA, let’s take a look at what you can do to make this a permanent change rather than a temporary band-aid.
1. Gut Health
Gut health goes a long way when trying to rebalance your neurotransmitters since so many of them are produced in the gut by our own bacteria. Most people don’t realize that many of their health problems start in the gut microbiome. This includes mental health.
So in order to really fix the problem and help your body raise GABA levels, make sure your body has a baseline of health so that real change can take place and you don’t have to take supplements forever.
Returning your gut back to health takes a multifaceted plan that includes an adjustment of diet, lifestyle, and repairing the gut with probiotics and other supplements to heal seal, and protect the gut lining. I will be writing an article on gut damage control in the near future!
Don’t forget to eat fermented foods that will get to work creating this neurotransmitter for you. Include foods such as kimchi, sauerkraut, kefir, yogurt, and tempeh. You may want to take a probiotic if these foods don’t tempt you.
2. Exercise, Yoga, Meditation & Breathwork
I know people don’t usually take this advice when it’s offered, but yoga and meditation are actually backed up by many studies as a way to increase GABA levels and to de-stress. It is a really good idea to add these to your day.
Meditation has been shown actually change brain chemistry and structure and it turns on your parasympathetic nervous system.
Scheduling time in your day for some kind of practice like this will help but it needs to become a habit.
Start with setting an alarm on your phone for a certain time every day when you have at least 10 minutes to yourself. Start with one minute if you have to. The important part is to stick to it even if it’s only 2 minutes a day. Increase it when you can. If not, just do the 2 minutes. Use it as a building block that will form a larger practice over time.
That’s how success begins!
There are a few foods that contain GABA, however, it may not make it across the blood-brain barrier. This means that the GABA in your food may not make it to the brain and therefore, you won’t feel an effect. It’s up to you to try them as they are all good for you: green, black, white, and oolong teas, fish, seaweed, lentils, beans, berries, sweet potatoes, and sprouted brown rice.
You may, however, be better off focusing on eating foods that contain vitamin B6 as well as the neurotransmitter glutamate. Your body needs both of these in order to make its own GABA, (which is the end goal):
If lowering anxiety, reducing brain fog, and improving sleep, mood, and memory is at the core of your need to raise your GABA levels, it could also be worth looking into your own food sensitivities or allergies that you may not even be aware of.
I’ve recently made changes to my diet for this reason and will be making a post on it in the future after I’ve completed my experiment. I can tell you now though, it’s only been a week and I feel a definite reduction in my anxiety.
And it can’t hurt to check for these particular foods in your diet that may be contributing to your anxiety.
The point is, that it’s important to know your own body and your current internal state of body and mind.
There are many supplements and herbal remedies that you can take to help raise your levels of GABA. There are two categories I’ll put these in: nootropics and herbal supplements. Nootropics are also known as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers” because they are used to improve cognition and memory. The herbal supplements listed here are any medicine that’s derived from a plant: the oils, roots, flowers, fruits, stems, or leaves.
*Always consult a health professional before taking supplements and talk about any interactions with your current medications
The most obvious is to take GABA itself. Make sure you find one with the formula called PharmaGABA. This formula has been clinically tested in randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials. Twice. PharmaGABA was created through the fermentation of Lactobacillus hillgardii in kimchi.
Other GABA supplements don’t seem to cross the blood-brain barrier and are, therefore, ineffective.
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea. At a higher concentration, it helps people relax, fall asleep, reduce stress, and ease anxiety. It raises your GABA levels and lowers brain chemicals that excite the nervous system. It also promotes alpha brain waves present in REM sleep but L-Theanine is not a sedative and can actually be used during the day to promote focused relaxation.
Inositol used to be known as vitamin B8. Your body needs Inositol to help relay messages to neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It improves the effectiveness of GABA and glutamate. In controlled trials, Inositol has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic attacks, and agoraphobia.
Valerian is often safely used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Its sedative effect is a result of the herb acting on GABA receptors and decreasing the rate of GABA metabolism causing the GABA to stick around longer.
2. Lemon Balm
Lemon Balm raises GABA levels by inhibiting the enzyme GABA-transaminase. It also improves memory, general cognition and it’s a mild sedative that will help you sleep.
Ashwagandha (Withania somnifera) is an adaptogenic herb that has been successful in the treatment of “general anxiety disorders, sleep disturbances, muscle spasms, and seizures.” It mimics the effects of prescription benzodiazepines without the side effects and addictive qualities. Although large doses don’t come without risks like stomach upset and diarrhea so always follow directions and talk to your doctor.
The root of this herb not only repairs damage to the brain but also enhances both GABA and serotonin receptors. Because it is an adaptogen, ashwagandha reverses the damage that chronic stress causes to the brain and helps you better cope with stress in general.
Help Your Body Heal
If you follow these guidelines to raise your GABA levels, you will find that you’re falling asleep easier, managing stress levels, feeling more relaxed, clearing your brain fog, and having an easier time focusing.
Helping your body heal will help support GABA production. This is why I will always recommend healing your gut, a healthy diet of whole foods, exercise, and relaxation techniques such as yoga and breathwork as a part of any plan to remedy any imbalance or unpleasant symptoms you experience. Always work with your body.
Let us know in the comments if you have had any experience with raising your GABA levels or by trying any of the supplements or advice offered here. And let us know if there’s something we should add to the list!