Keep Calm and GABA On

GABA Neurotransmitter and You

Though most of us never think of them throughout our day, week, or even life – our body is full of neurotransmitters.1, 2, 3 Think of neurotransmitters as power lines that transmit certain signals from one place, to another. In more scientific terms, they are endogenous chemicals that transmit signals across a synapse.4, 5 They transport these signals from one cell to another cell.6 With this basic understanding in mind, it is easy to see how an imbalance of these neurotransmitters could cause serious neuronal issues.7, 8 What if your heat went out, but you also had a flood in your basement? This is a parallel to what happens in your brain, when your neurotransmitters aren’t equilibrium.9

When all is said and done, it’s obvious that diet, lifestyle and stress are huge contributors (or detractors) to a healthy balance of neurotransmitters.10 Some relatable, anecdotal examples of negative food and lifestyle choices in today’s society on neurotransmitters are: coffee, alcohol, lack of sleep, and poor diet.11, 12, 13, 14

Of these neurotransmitters, the so-called ‘calming’ one is called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). Interestingly, during central nervous system development, the role of GABA is switched from an excitatory transmitter to an inhibitory transmitter.15 In mice, GABA has been shown to reduce high-fat diet-induced hyperglycaemia.16 What must be noted, of course, is that these ‘high fat’ diets are a sacrilege, and not what we in the Paleo community would recognize as a high-fat diet.17

Also of note, is that researchers have shown that there is an appropriate dietary GABA level, which will help to reduce blood pressure.18 However, again, this was in rats, not humans. Other interesting findings of GABA show that mice exhibited reduced anxiety, when consuming a low protein, high fat diet.19 This was associated with a reduced expression of GABA in the hypothalamus and cortex.

More relevant human findings show that an imbalance of glutamate and GABA neurons are  found in various models of autism.20 In anxiety disorders, GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter known to counterbalance the action of the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate.21 Since we covered elements of the modern lifestyle that could possibly contribute to an imbalance of neurotransmitters, we must ask the question: can a Paleo Diet help?

When fed pure GABA, athletes exhibited raised amounts of human growth hormone (HGH) concentrations.22 This may mean that eating foods high in GABA, could help not just neuronally, but also physically. Black, green and oolong tea have high concentrations of GABA. GABA is abundant in shrimp, as well. Fermented foods are another good source of GABA, in the diet.23, 24 It also is important to note that a proper balance of non-processed foods, which are rich in nutrients and phytochemicals, will only help your neurotransmitters.25, 26, 27, 28, 29 Other lifestyle factors, like getting enough sleep, limiting stimulant sources (like coffee) and minimizing stress, all play a bigger role on our neurotransmitters than one may realize.30, 31, 32, 33, 34

Ultimately, a Paleo Diet will leave you feeling not only energetic and positive, but also calm and relaxed. With many mood disorders (such as ADHD) commonly seen today, drugs are often the only prescription given. In these cases, altering a patient’s food intake to a Paleo Diet, may prove to be massively beneficial. Even if you do not suffer from any kind of mood disorder, keeping your neurotransmitters in check is no easy feat in today’s society. But, with a Paleo Diet, rich in healthy fats, good sources of protein, and nutrient-rich carbohydrates, balance is much easier attained and good for all of us!


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