How to Increase GABA Levels in the Brain
Doctors frequently prescribe Xanax, Valium, Ativan, and other benzodiazepines for people who have been diagnosed with anxiety disorders and other mental health issues.
These drugs are usually highly effective partly because they are potent GABA activators. While benzodiazepines have an important role to play, they are highly addictive and difficult to quit. That’s why they should only be used for short-term treatment.
If you’re coming off benzodiazepines or you want to avoid taking them, you may benefit from knowing how to increase GABA naturally.
Of course, you should never stop taking prescribed medication without talking to your doctor and you should always clear supplements with your physician before taking them.
What is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human body. This means that it promotes feelings of calm and helps the body and brain to relax.
GABA helps to slow down breathing and heart rate. It works by preventing other neurotransmitters like dopamine and noradrenaline from over-stimulating the brain. GABA also reduces muscle tension and promotes restful sleep.
If your GABA levels are too low, you may experience feelings of anxiety and worry. These feelings cause some people to turn to alcohol and other substances for relief and this can be very dangerous.
The Link Between Alcohol and GABA
Alcohol binds to GABA receptors in the brain and mimics the effects of this neurotransmitter. It’s why you may feel tired or relaxed after drinking.
Alcohol is not actually involved in the production of GABA and it doesn’t have a direct impact on your GABA levels. However, excessive or long-term alcohol use can make it difficult for your brain to regulate its GABA levels.
If you’ve ever craved alcohol after a long, stressful day, it could be because you need to boost your GABA levels. While alcohol can give you the calm feeling you’re after, you’ll also experience negative side effects.
Excessive drinking can overstimulate your GABA pathways, leading to extreme depression of the central nervous system and possible alcohol toxicity and overdose.
Over time, the GABA receptors may become desensitized and you may feel stressed and anxious even when you drink. This can drive you to drink more frequently.
As time goes on, tolerance may develop and this can lead to dependence and addiction.
One of the reasons why people may experience anxiety when they try to stop drinking, could be due to those desensitized GABA receptors. Their brains could be so overstimulated that they can’t regulate GABA levels on their own.
How to Increase GABA Naturally
The importance of diet in recovery can’t be overstated and fortunately, GABA deficiencies in substance abusers can be rectified with food, supplements, and holistic interventions.
Whether you’re in recovery from alcoholism or trying to stop using benzodiazepines, there are lots of things you can try to increase your GABA levels.
Get More Exercise
It’s no secret that moving more can improve both your physical and mental health. Exercise may improve your GABA levels while increasing the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF).
The latter prevents anxiety and depression by assisting in the creation of new, healthy brain cells and increasing neuroplasticity.
While vigorous exercise is recommended for increased GABA levels, even small amounts of daily exercise can make your brain healthier.
If you’re not sold on vigorous exercise, you may want to try the mind-body practice of yoga. However, you can also use it to cool down after cardiovascular activity.
Research shows that yoga can increase GABA levels in the brain and it may be more effective than walking.
One study involved two groups: people who walked for an hour three times a week and people who did yoga for an hour three times a week. Both groups participated in these activities for 12 weeks.
At the end of the period, the yoga practitioners showed a larger increase in GABA in the thalamus of the brain. They also reported improved mood and lower anxiety levels when compared to the walkers.
Get into the Habit of Meditating
Meditating regularly and practicing mindfulness can boost GABA production in the brain. While quieting your mind and focusing on your breathing can seem difficult, especially the first few times you try it, it can help you to relax.
Find a quiet spot, sit in a comfortable position with your eyes closed, and practice inhaling slowly through the nose and exhaling slowly through the mouth.
There are numerous apps you can use to guide you through the process and sessions can be as short as five or ten minutes. You can start the day with meditation or use it to promote restful sleep.
Add Magnesium to Your Diet
Magnesium can modulate the activity of GABA. It acts on the GABA receptors to facilitate neurotransmission and feelings of relaxation. Magnesium can also assist in relaxing the muscles and central nervous system since it activates the parasympathetic nervous system.
This is the part of the autonomic nervous system that’s responsible for helping us to relax.
Magnesium can be found in legumes, avocados, nuts and seeds, and some wholegrains. Research shows that taking about 3000mg of magnesium per day can reduce symptoms associated with anxiety.
Take a Vitamin B6 Supplement
GABA is produced through the activity of GABA transaminase and glutamic acid decarboxylase, both of which require vitamin B6 as a cofactor. Vitamin B6 has a major effect on the production of both GABA and serotonin which prevent symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you have a history of anemia or you consume lots of alcohol, you could have a B6 deficiency.
You can get this nutrient from all animal products along with grains and pulses. However, you can also take a supplement that contains all the B vitamins.
Use Fermented Foods
GABA isn’t only produced in the brain. It can also be synthesized in the gut by good bacteria. Therefore, you may want to try fermented foods that increase GABA production.
Foods that are rich in probiotics include kimchi, kefir, sauerkraut, and fermented pickles. You can also take an oral probiotic supplement that includes lactobacillus rhamnosus, lactobacillus paracasei, lactobacillus brevis, and lactococcus lactis. Studies show that these can help to increase GABA levels.
Try GABA Herbs for Anxiety
If you’re looking for other ways of improving GABA naturally, there are lots of herbs which people say are helpful. We’ll discuss a few of them but you need to keep in mind that these haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
More research would be needed before they’re deemed to be safe and effective so you should talk to your doctor before using them.
Valerian has been used for medicinal purposes for a long time and it dates back to ancient Greece. It is often used for relaxation and stress relief thanks to the active component valerenic acid. This acid, which is found mainly in the root of the plant, positively modulates GABA.
Skullcap herbs are known by several names including scutellaria baicalensis, Baikal skullcap, scutellaria lateriflora, and Chinese skullcap.
Skullcap used in Chinese medicine and it contains flavonoids that act as antioxidants. Not only can it reduce anxiety but it may improve cognition and neuron regeneration.
Skullcap may also have anticonvulsant properties. If you’re interested in supplementing GABA in substance abuse treatment, you may want to try this.
Black Seed Oil
Black seed oil or nigella sativa contains thymoquinone, a compound that has been shown to increase GABA activity in animals.
In studies involving both humans and animals, black seed oil was able to lower anxiety, inflammation, and blood pressure.
Start Improving GABA Naturally
You now have lots of ideas about how to improve GABA levels in the brain and the gut. Regardless of whether you’re in recovery or trying to avoid the use of benzodiazepines, increasing GABA naturally can help to calm your mind and body and make you feel more relaxed.
When your GABA levels are adequate, you’ll likely feel less stress and tension and your mood and sleep quality may improve.
It’s important to bear in mind that GABA isn’t a magical cure. If you have an anxiety disorder, you may need medication to bring your condition under control.
If you’re addicted to benzodiazepines or alcohol, you need to enter an addiction treatment program. This is the only way to get the tools you need to achieve and maintain sobriety.
However, taking herbs and supplements that stimulate GABA production and engaging in yoga, meditation, and exercise can give you the extra help you need.
If you’re looking for a rehab facility that takes a holistic approach to recovery, contact Circle of Hope and talk to one of our highly trained professionals.
Our luxury facility caters to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs of people struggling with addiction. We also diagnose and treat co-occurring disorders. Call us today to learn more about what we have to offer.