Finding ways to increase GABA naturally to be less stressed out might be an alternative for some people, instead of using medications like benzodiazapines for anxiety.
Sometimes it seems like there’s no end to the stress and pressure that comes with day-to-day life. For many people, feeling tense and anxious is their default setting and even the thought of slowing down or enjoying a peaceful moment rattles the nerves.
If this is you or someone you know, one of the issues might be a GABA deficiency.
It’s important to maintain healthy levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid, more commonly known as the GABA neurotransmitter in the brain, because it is associated with a positive mood, restful sleep, and decreased muscle tension, stress, and anxiety.
Proper levels of GABA in the brain can also be beneficial for breaking the cycle of an overtaxed and overactive mind due to the fact that is an inhibitory neurotransmitter.
The body naturally makes the GABA neurotransmitter, which helps cells in the brain communicate with one another. There are also receptors in the gut that use GABA to interact with the brain and impact our emotions.
There are several ways to naturally boost or increase the GABA neurotransmitter, including the use of a GABA supplement that comes in a number of different forms.
While the efficacy of certain types of GABA supplements have received skepticism, it may be worth trying for some people, because they don’t pose any health risks and are safe to use.
For many people, finding alternatives can help them avoid problematic, and potentially addictive medications simply for their GABA activation properties.
Benzodiazepines and GABA for Anxiety
Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, Valium, and Ativan are medications commonly prescribed for anxiety issues and other mental health conditions.
One of the reasons these prescription medications are so effective at reducing anxiety is because they are strong GABA activators.
While there is certainly a place for benzodiazepines, especially for patients who struggle with anxiety disorders, they should only be used in the short-term as they can be extremely habit forming, addictive and difficult to quit because of painful symptoms of withdrawal.
Unfortunately, a 2019 study found that the number of benzodiazepine prescriptions in the U.S. increased by about 50 percent between the 10 year period from 2005 to 2015, with most of the prescriptions coming from family physicians.
This is problematic for a number of reasons, but most importantly, there is a serious risk of dangerous side effects, including fatal overdose, especially when mixed with other substances like alcohol or opioids.
“I don’t think most people realize that benzodiazepines share many of the same characteristics of opioids,” Dr. Sumit Agarwal, a physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told NPR News. “They cause you to have slower breathing; they cause you to be altered in terms of mental status. And then, eventually, [they] can cause overdose and death.”
In fact, fatal overdoses involving benzodiazepines has seen a dramatic spike in women aged 30 to 64, increasing by more than 800 percent between 1996 and 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
For people coming off benzodiazepines, as well as for those who have never taken these drugs, but may have a deficiency of GABA in the brain, focusing on healthy, natural ways to increase GABA levels is often a much better and effective option.
Here Are 6 Ways to Increase GABA Naturally
1. GABA Foods
Consuming foods rich in glutamic acid, which helps create GABA in the brain, is a quick and easy way to increase and maintain proper GABA levels.
These are foods like citrus fruits and bananas, or certain nuts like almonds and walnuts.
Vegetables like spinach, potatoes, broccoli and lentils are also high in glutamic acid.
A meal with brown rice and halibut packs a one-two-punch of glutamic acid to increase GABA for sleep and other health benefits.
GABA Foods Rich in Glutamic Acid
- Soy Proteins
- Fermented Yogurt and Kefir
- Oranges and Citrus Fruits
- Walnuts, and Almonds
- Spinach, and Broccoli
- Sweet Potatoes
- Lentil Beans
- Brown Rice
- Shrimp and Halibut
2. Exercise Regularly to Increase GABA Naturally
Cardiovascular exercise has shown to increase GABA levels. Running, jogging, hiking or walking at least four times a week, at whatever intensity you can manage, will help to manage weight and energy.
In addition, the GABA increasing effect tends to lessen anxiety, improve sleep, and create a better overall mood. This is one reason why so many mental health programs promote exercise as a way of managing stress and anxiety.
Set reasonable exercise goals, especially in the beginning, and as they get easier, slowly increase the intensity.
3. Take up Yoga
A session of yoga is an excellent way to cool down, stretch and boost GABA production after some cardiovascular exercise.
Research has shown that holding the posture sequences involved in yoga can have a beneficial effect on mood and anxiety as a result of GABA activation.
There are quite a few online yoga resources for beginners and those who are already more advanced in the practice.
4. Meditation and Mindfulness Boost GABA
Regular meditation and mindfulness are ways to boost GABA production through relaxation and deep breathing.
Simply find a quiet, peaceful spot at home or in another relaxing space. Get in a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes and practice inhaling through the nose for a five count. Hold it for a second or two and exhale through the mouth for the same amount of time.
Carve out five to ten minutes each day, even if it’s before school or work, to meditate and breathe. Not only does it boost GABA, it helps to clear the mind and improve focus when you need it the most.
5. Avoid Drugs, Alcohol, and Junk Food
While some drugs and alcohol actually activate GABA in the brain, making us feel good in the process, it’s the after-effects that are problematic.
Feeling hung over, depressed, or anxious after a night of drinking or doing drugs is in part due to a drastic decrease in amount of GABA in the brain.
Junk foods can have similar results, leaving you feeling tired and sluggish, while having a negative impact on mood.
6. GABA Supplement for Anxiety or Sleep
There are a handful of GABA supplements to increase the inhibitory neurotransmitter that are safe to take regularly.
These can include things like:
- Green tea
- The amino acid taurine
- Magnesium, B6, and Zinc supplements
Some people need to boost GABA for anxiety, while others want to increase GABA for sleep, and these have shown to be effective for many people.
Straight GABA supplements are also available, though some experts argue that they don’t actually work because GABA is not actually reaching the brain.
Whenever taking supplements, it’s important to do some research to make sure the products and their manufacturer have been properly reviewed.
Options for Overcoming a GABA Deficiency
As pointed out above, the GABA neurotransmitter is responsible for reducing anxiety, stress, and tension, while promoting good sleep and improving mood.
Many people with mental health conditions like anxiety disorders benefit from prescription medications.
Unfortunately, they can have side effects that may be difficult to deal with, and there are people who get them from friends or others, and take them without a prescription. This can be dangerous and cause serious health issues.
For those who medically need them, prescription benzodiazepines should only be taken as directed and prescribed by a doctor. They should also be used as part of a complete medication management program where they are monitored by a mental health professional to avoid health complications or an overdose.
For anyone that has a problem taking benzos or similar medications, the options above offer ways to increase GABA naturally without the risk of adverse side effects.
These natural options will also work for those who regularly take medications for anxiety or stress to complement the prescriptions.
If the natural methods prove to be effective, there’s always a possibility that they will serve as a replacement for prescription drugs if GABA production increases to healthier levels.