Here at Troscriptions, we are big fans of all things GABA and have already published an in-depth guide that you can read here. You might say that we are indeed, gaga for GABA :)
However, if you don’t have time to read the whole guide, here is a quick summary:
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid (which is an amino acid) and is arguably the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter in our brain. When we talk about the GABAergic function, we are referring to the relaxation effects that happen through GABA and its receptors in the brain.
GABA is synthesized from glutamate and needs vitamin B6 to make that happen . Foods with high levels of glutamate that will help your body produce more GABA include dairy, meat, seafood, and mushrooms.
GABA has a positive effect on sleep quality, anxiety, and stress , it protects the brain and decreases blood pressure , improves memory as well as other cognitive functions .
In this article, we are going to focus on 7 ways to naturally increase GABA in the brain, including some cool tech and one awesome orange troche!
Meditation and Yoga Increase GABA and Promote Relaxation
Meditation improves attention, cognitive performance, and emotional regulation by increasing activation of the prefrontal cortex and stimulating the reticular nucleus of the thalamus, which is involved in the production and release of GABA .
The type of meditation is entirely your choice! It can be mindfulness, loving-kindness, transcendental, or vipassana meditation; guided or unguided; using an app, music, or just in silence. Even walking or standing meditation will do the trick. Regardless of the type of meditation, the one that will give you the most benefits is the one that you will actually do. If you want to learn more about meditation and GABA, don’t miss this article.
Yoga can help too! In experienced yoga practitioners, GABA levels in the brain increase right after practice, and yoga is even considered a treatment for disorders with low GABA levels such as depression and anxiety .
For example, a 12-week yoga practice improves mood and decreases anxiety even more than walking exercises by increasing GABA in the thalamus .
There are many types of yoga to choose from, for all tastes. You can practice Hatha, Iyengar, ashtanga, Bikram yoga, acroyoga, aerial yoga, or any kind that resonates with you.
Exercise Positively Affects GABA Function
Scientific studies assessed the effects of physical activity on neurophysiological measures of inhibition or relaxation. In the prefrontal cortex, the inhibitory effect of exercise is largely mediated by the activation of GABA receptors .
Physical exercise is also a low-cost and effective way to manage chronic pain through GABAergic mechanisms. It can reduce the dosage of drugs used to treat pain and eventually lessen their side effects .
Nerd time! As physical exercise lowers stress and anxiety, scientists wanted to understand the role of GABA in these effects. So they studied rats with free access to a running wheel for 4 weeks and saw that long-term voluntary exercise enhances forebrain GABA synthesis capacity in a region-specific manner. They concluded that regular exercise changes the forebrain’s GABAergic system, which can influence stress sensitivity and emotionality .
Aerobic exercises such as running, cycling, swimming, or dancing increase GABA levels and enhance GABAergic neurotransmission, which improves mood and reduces stress.
So if you were about to skip today’s training session, you might want to think twice!
Sleep Optimization Can Directly Enhance GABA Function
GABA levels tend to increase during sleep, contributing to sleep induction and maintenance. GABAergic neurons become more active, leading to the suppression of wake-promoting neurotransmitters such as histamine and norepinephrine, and the incitement of sleep-promoting neurotransmitters such as serotonin and melatonin. The enhanced GABAergic activity during sleep helps slow down brain activity, reduces arousal, and promotes deep and restorative sleep. Conversely, sleep deprivation or disturbances can disrupt the balance of GABA, leading to reduced GABAergic function and increased neuronal excitability. This can contribute to difficulty falling asleep, fragmented sleep, and decreased overall sleep quality. Therefore, having good sleep hygiene is crucial for optimal GABAergic function .
There are some things that you can do to optimize your sleep and increase GABA, which includes turning off screens and bright light at least one hour before going to sleep (ideally after sunset, but who will do that, right?), using f.lux on your computer and a nighttime filter on your phone, replacing light bulbs at home or using blue light-blocking glasses, and making sure your room is cold and as dark as possible. This is basic sleep hygiene that your body will need for a good night's rest, but there is always more you can do!
If you’d like to know more about sleep hormones and how they affect the GABA system, check out this article.
The Tech: Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to Increase GABA
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is a non-invasive neurostimulation technique that delivers magnetic pulses through an electromagnetic coil placed on the scalp, which stimulates or inhibits specific regions of the brain. TMS can be used to increase GABA release and improve GABAergic neurotransmission. It can even promote neuroplasticity.
While extensive research is still needed to understand the mechanisms behind it, TMS can potentially be used as a treatment for neurological and psychiatric disorders, including depression, OCD, and migraines. The downside is that TMS requires specialized equipment and is typically administered in a clinical setting under the supervision of a healthcare professional .
In addition to TMS, another technique called vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) can increase the tone of the nervous system responsible for relaxation (also called the parasympathetic nervous system or rest-and-digest mode).
While in a clinical setting, VNS is considered an invasive technique in which a device is surgically implanted inside the body, transcutaneous VNS (tVNS) involves applying mild electrical stimulation to the skin over the ear or neck regions. tVNS delivers electrical stimulation through surface electrodes applied to the skin, transmitting the electrical current through the tissue to vagus nerve branches. However, the stimulation is generally weaker and more diffused compared to TMS. tVNS is a new technique that has shown promise in treating conditions such as epilepsy, depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and inflammatory disorders.
The advantage of tVNS is that it can be administered through small, portable devices that can be used at home or on the go. It is generally considered safe for self-administration after appropriate training and guidance [13,14].
Nutrition Can Optimize GABA Function
Certain dietary factors can influence GABA levels. Foods rich in glutamate, such as green tea, spinach, and nuts, may promote GABA synthesis. Additionally, supplements like magnesium, vitamin B6, and L-theanine have been suggested to support GABA function, although the evidence is limited and individual responses may vary.
Quick side note: When possible, it’s essential to detect and correct for deficiencies to best optimize nutrition and supplementation. For more information on this, go to homehope.org and learn about our nonprofit organization that is training doctors and practitioners on how to optimize health rather than just treat disease!
Magnesium is known to play a crucial role in the regulation of the GABAergic system in the brain as it acts as a cofactor in the enzymatic reactions that facilitate GABA synthesis. Additionally, magnesium can modulate GABA receptors, enhance their sensitivity to GABA, and increase its inhibitory effects in the brain. Adequate magnesium levels are essential for maintaining a healthy GABA balance. Magnesium may also modulate anxiety via increasing GABAergic availability by decreasing presynaptic glutamate release . Supplementing with magnesium may also help with everyday relaxation and calmness.
Vitamin B6 (aka pyridoxine) is essential for the conversion of glutamate to GABA; therefore, optimized vitamin B6 supplementation ensures that all available glutamate can be effectively converted to GABA.
Certain natural substances can indirectly support GABA function too. For example, L-theanine, which is commonly found in green tea, helps promote a sense of calmness by increasing GABA levels in the brain. Passionflower extract, valerian root, and chamomile are also known for their effects on GABA, providing relaxation and alleviating stress.
Also, ashwagandha or Withania somnifera, an adaptogenic plant, may confer modest benefits in certain neuropsychiatric conditions. Its benefits may arise from the induction of neuroplasticity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects, and modulation of GABA and glutamate, as well as other neurotransmitters .
Supplements that Naturally Increase GABA
GABA supplements are widely available online. Although many consumers claim they feel their benefits, it is still unclear if these supplements provide more than a placebo effect, as the mechanism of action of these products is still unknown. It has long been thought that GABA cannot cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB); however, even these studies are contradictory and don’t clearly establish if oral GABA administration reaches the human brain. Some of the observed effects may be indirect, via the enteric nervous system .
As you hopefully remember from the start of this article, GABA comes from glutamate and needs vitamin B6 to do the trick. In contrast to GABA, glutamate can cross the BBB and reach the brain, where it can be converted to GABA.
Interestingly, there is a way to help GABA get into the brain. Niacin (aka nicotinic acid or vitamin B3) bound to GABA creates a molecule called N-nicotinoyl-GABA, which helps GABA cross the BBB by increasing both B3 and GABA levels in the brain. Needless to say, this combination works magically to reduce stress and anxiety. You can read more about N-nicotinoyl-GABA here!
Moreover, Piper methysticum or Kava, is widely consumed by the indigenous peoples in the islands of the South Pacific. Kava is thought to work by increasing the binding of GABA; therefore, with more GABA bound, the brain fires less and calms more .
However, the mechanism of its pharmacologically active constituents, kavalactones, has not yet been established. The pharmacological properties of Kava are thought to block voltage-gated sodium ion channels, increase ligand binding to GABA type A receptors, decrease excitatory neurotransmitter release due to calcium ion channel blockade, reduce neuronal reuptake of noradrenaline, facilitate reversible inhibition of monoamine oxidase B and suppression of the synthesis of the eicosanoid thromboxane A(2) which antagonizes GABA(A) receptor function, and more. However, to date, none of these properties has been proven .
GABA type A receptors (GABAARs) are thought to be the in vivo molecular targets of kavalactones . Read more about Kava here!
Finally, the endogenous cannabinoid (eCB) system is linked to the major excitatory (glutamatergic) and inhibitory (GABAergic) neurotransmitter systems in the brain. The major non-intoxicating component of cannabis, cannabidiol (aka CBD) has been extensively studied as a treatment for mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders. CBD modulates brain excitatory glutamate and inhibitory GABA levels. While further research is still needed, studies have shown that CBD increases GABA and modulates glutamate-GABA systems .
The interaction of CBD with the eCB, glutamatergic, and GABAergic systems is not yet well understood. Studies show that CBD can act as a positive allosteric modulator of the GABAAR to increase inhibitory tone , but more research is yet to come.
To learn more about how CBD affects GABA, take a look at this article!
Bonus track: Tro Calm and Carry On
Tro Calm is our precision-dosed, pharmaceutical-grade, and physician-formulated buccal troche that will help you take the edge off, chill out, and quiet your mind. All 4 ingredients directly or indirectly modulate the brain’s GABAergic system. It contains N-nicotinoyl-GABA, which crosses the BBB and increases GABA directly, and Kava, which is thought to increase the binding of GABA to its receptors at an allosteric site. It also contains CBD and CBG, which modulate the endocannabinoid system and the GABA system indirectly.
At low doses, these ingredients work synergistically and safely without risk of dependence or tolerance when used as directed. Give Tro Calm a try here!
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