As the body’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA is widely distributed and utilized throughout the central nervous system. Glutamate, an excitatory neurotransmitter, is the most common neurotransmitter and the metabolic precursor of GABA. GABA works to calm overexcited neurons, counterbalancing glutamate’s effects and helping to keep anxiety and brain overstimulation in check. While some neurotransmitters have dual functions–both excitatory and inhibitory–GABA functions solely as a calming agent, supporting optimal brain function and reining in fear and anxiety. In fact, pharmaceutical medications designed to alleviate anxiety work by targeting the GABA system, binding to GABA receptors in the brain, and enhancing GABA’s natural relaxing effects.
As GABA is the main inhibitory and glutamate the main excitatory neurotransmitter, GABA and glutamate have a complex and interconnected relationship. Each must perform a delicate dance to provide a stable, steady and well-functioning brain environment under normal conditions. Glutamate must be present in the right concentration and be in the right place at the right time for proper functioning. As the major mediator of excitatory signals, glutamate is responsible for many aspects of normal brain functioning including cognition, memory and learning. In addition, glutamate must also mediate the information that regulates brain development and cellular survival. When there is either excess or insufficient glutamate, mental wellness and physical health are affected.
Although glutamate is one of the most abundant and powerful neurotransmitters, it is almost exclusively located within the brain’s nerve cells, where it remains relatively inactive until extracellular glutamate binds with receptors. When glutamate levels are abnormally high or receptors are oversensitive, nerve cells activated by glutamate become overexcited, which can lead to glutamate toxicity, neurological inflammation and cellular exhaustion. Chronic glutamate toxicity can affect nerve cell survival and brain function and is believed to play a role in numerous neurodegenerative disorders, including Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases.
GABA’s primary function is to prevent overstimulation. An imbalance of GABA and glutamate can leave you feeling depressed, overwhelmed, anxious, restless, nervous and sleepless. Low serotonin levels result in low GABA levels, as serotonin is a positive regulator of the interaction between GABA and GABA receptors. Factors that contribute to GABA insufficiency include genetics, inadequate diet, and prolonged stress. In addition to a healthy diet, that includes green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, fermented foods, and citrus fruits. Certain supplements, including the amino acid taurine, can support GABA receptors and encourage GABA formation. Exercise, such as yoga, is believed to help to increase GABA production, which may help to explain its calming and stress relieving effects.
Just like all cells, organs and metabolic processes, neurotransmitters require vitamins, minerals, amino acids and phytonutrients for effective function:
Taurine – As an amino acid, taurine freely crosses the blood brain barrier and is a positive GABA modulator with no side effects. Taurine has been shown to prevent neuronal damage, that can occur through increased glutamate levels, and significantly reduce neuron death associated with overstimulation.
L-Theanine – This plant-based amino acid found in tea increases brain levels of GABA, while enhancing receptor response. Studies have shown that L-theanine is useful for improving sleep quality, calming the central nervous system, and counteracting the toxic effects of stress.
Magnesium – Magnesium binds to and activates GABA receptors helping to relieve anxiety, insomnia, irritability and nervousness.
Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 is key to GABA synthesis and is used to help regulate GABA levels. GABA is formed from glutamic acid, utilizing B6 as a cofactor.
5-HTP – As a precursor to serotonin production, 5-HTP can help increase GABA activity. Adequate serotonin is needed for proper GABA function.
While researchers continue to study the effects of supplementation, scientists have studied GABA’s effects on brain waves. One study concluded that GABA significantly increased alpha waves and decreased beta waves, denoting that GABA effectively induced relaxation and reduced anxiety within one hour after supplementing. Another study showed that in addition to encouraging relaxation and diminishing anxiety, GABA may enhance immunity under stressful situations.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality products to support overall wellness.
NeuroAdrenal Essential by Pharmasan Labs – This at-home test kit measures cortisol and select neurotransmitters, including GABA, glutamate, dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Simply collect urine and saliva specimens in the privacy of your home and send them off in the prepaid packaging. Laboratory results are typically available within 7-10 days. A 15-minute follow-up consultation with our registered nurse is included with the test kit.
Calm G by NeuroScience – Calm G, formulated with neuron protecting ingredients, is used to reduce anxiousness, promote sleep and support healthy GABA levels. Calm G helps to modulate GABA-glutamate levels to calm overstimulation. Gluten, soy and yeast free formulation.
Trancor® by Metagenics – This GABA-glutamate balance formula supports tranquility by modulating the balance between these two neurotransmitters. Supplies NAC, vitamin B6, magnesium, taurine, and green tea catechins. Gluten free formulation.
GABA 750 by Integrative Therapeutics – One serving provides 750 mg of GABA in support of healthy brain nerve cell functions and healthy neurochemical balance. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formulation.
Taurine 1000 mg by Designs for Health – This sulfur containing amino acid is essential for glucose metabolism and healthy heart, immune, and nervous system functions. Gluten, soy and dairy free formulation.
GABA Receptor Physiology and Pharmacology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28090/
Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16971751
GABA and glutamate in the human brain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12467378
Glutamate as a Neurotransmitter. http://neurotransporter.org/glutamate.html
Glutamate Toxicity. http://web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_test/about-glutamate-toxicity/
Chronic Glutamate Toxicity in Neurodegenerative Diseases. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4679930/