Low GABA Levels

by Greg Newson September 29, 2017

Low GABA Levels

GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid) is a natural occurring brain chemical or neurotransmitter that sends signals from your nerve cell to a specific target cell. The main role of GABA is to have a calming effect on you and your nervous system.

What health problems can GABA Deficiency cause?

We know that low levels of GABA and anxiety are related but a deficiency in GABA may also lead to:

insomnia depression
mood disorders excessive stress
hypertension atherosclerosis
motion sickness digestive disorders
low levels of digestive enzymes ADHD

GABA may lower elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics.

A deficiency in GABA will also reduce the production of hyaluronic acid in the skin. Hyaluronic acid is needed to moisturise the skin and lubricate connective tissue such as cartilage, ligaments and tendons.

GABA also inhibits the production and secretion of the potentially harmful hormone called prolactin. Excessive production of prolactin is known to be a major cause of male and female infertility as well as increasing the risk of breast and prostate cancer while suppressing immune function. Prolactin has also been found to contribute to obesity due to it's ability to increase adipose (fat) tissue formation.

How is GABA produced and how can I increase my levels?

For your body to correctly manufacture GABA there needs to be adequate levels of the amino acid glutamine present. Glutamine is then converted to add another amino acid called glutamic acid. From there glutamic acid is converted into GABA. For the whole process to work effectively your body needs certain nutrients (zinc, vitamin B6 and taurine) to be present for these nutrients are essential and without them the conversion from Glutamine to GABA will not take place.

There are specific nutrients and herbs such as; theanine, St john’s wort and ginkgo biloba that have a beneficial effect on increasing GABA levels within your brain. The herb valerian prevents GABA from breaking down which allows it to hang around longer in your brain. We recommend our nutritional supplement Be-Calm Powder or Capsules, which contains glutamine and the essential cofactors to increase GABA levels. Regular exercise and meditation also naturally increases the GABA levels in your brain.

Caffeine lowers brain levels of GABA and long-term excessive or chronic alcohol consumption reduces the number of receptor sites within the brain for GABA. 

How does GABA help me to relax and have a good night sleep?

Your body has two sorts of neurotransmitters; one that excites you (keeps you awake) called Glutamate and one that relaxes you called GABA.

GABA is your body’s main relaxing neurotransmitter. Your body’s main excitatory neurotransmitter (Glutamate) is most active during your waking hours. So when you fall asleep your brain Glutamate levels should drop and your brain GABA levels should rise. This facilitates a great restful nights sleep.

People who have trouble sleeping, or more specifically are unable to switch their minds off, generally have lower than normal levels of GABA with elevated Glutamate levels. These people generally make the comment that their minds are always racing and that they are unable to fall asleep or when they wake up they are always thinking and are unable to get back to sleep.

Why not just use a sleeping pill?

Sleeping medications fall in to the class of drugs called benzodiazepines. What these drugs do is bind to the GABA receptors in your brain thus having the effect there are adequate levels of GABA present. This sounds good in theory but unfortunately this eventually leads to a decrease in your body’s production of GABA resulting in a need for higher dosages and stronger medication. Besides this they also have some terrible side effects such as:

Sleeping Pills side effects

Amnesia Anxiety may occur as a result of the withdrawal syndrome associated with cessation of benzodiazepines use
Benzodiazepines may cause speech impairment (slurred speech) Benzodiazepines may interfere with learning ability
Benzodiazepines may reduce the duration of Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM sleep) Benzodiazepines may suppress Slow-Wave Sleep
Drowsiness Drug dependence
Excessive or long-term usage of benzodiazepines may cause dementia Long-term usage of benzodiazepines may impair memory
Mental confusion Panic attacks once usage is stopped
Waking with fatigue

With the right ingredients your body is designed to manufacture GABA by itself without interference from man. Unfortunately due to our modern nutrient dead diet, stress, illness, medications, drugs, alcohol and stimulants such as caffeine your body has a struggle to produce the amount of GABA you need on a daily basis.

How to test my GABA levels

An easy way to test for GABA deficiency (or excess) is by the Mental Health Test which not only measures your bodies GABA levels but also the levels of serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline and glutamate.

For more information

Please visit our health blog entries on Increasing GABA Naturally and Sleep Maintenance Insomnia

Scientific studies on GABA's Health Benefits:

GABA increases the production of your alpha brain waves which causes your mind to relax and you to become calm while decreasing the production of your beta brain waves which occurred during periods of concentration, attention and alertness as well as during periods of stress and excitation.

GABA prevents anxiety by inhibiting the nerve impulses associated with anxiety from reaching the motor centres of your brain.GABA may facilitate sleep and alleviate insomnia and night time waking.3,4 Lowers elevated blood pressure.1

GABA stimulates the secretion of your digestive enzymes.GABA may lower elevated blood sugar levels in diabetes mellitus patients and may therefore minimise the complications associated with diabetes mellitus 6

GABA may help to prevent convulsions due to its role as a calming/relaxing neurotransmitter.GABA may be useful for the treatment of depression, and postpartum depression.8, 13

Adequate brain GABA levels are required to prevent the seizures associated with epilepsy.10 Panic disorder patients have been demonstrated to have low brain levels of GABA.11

GABA may help to reduce the effects of stress via its calming mechanisms by attaching to the benzodiazepine receptors in your brain.GABA may inhibit stress-induced suppression of your immune system.GABA may be useful for the treatment of Tourette’s syndrome.12

Many pre-menstrual syndrome patients with symptoms of anxiety and depression have a defect in their synthesis or activity of GABA.9

GABA protects the skin from damage and helps it retain moisture by stimulating the production of hyaluronic acid in the dermis of the skin as well as having antioxidant activities that protects fibroblasts in the dermis from cell (oxidative) damage.

  1. Shimada, M., et al.  Anti-hypertensive effect of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)-rich Chlorella on high-normal blood pressure and borderline hypertension in placebo-controlled double blind study.  Clin Exp Hypertens.  31(4):342-354, 2009
  2. Abdou, A. M., et al.  Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans.  Biofactors.  26(3):201-208, 2006
  3. Shell, W., et al.  A randomized, placebo-controlled trial of an amino acid preparation on timing and quality of sleep.  Am J Ther.  17(2):133-139, 2010
  4. Head, K. A., et al.  Nutrients and botanicals for treatment of stress:  adrenal fatigue, neurotransmitter imbalance, anxiety, and restless sleep.  Alternative Medicine Review.  14(2), 2009
  5. In-Tele-Health © 2009
  6. Nakagawa, T., et al.  Protective effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid in rats with streptozotocin-induced diabetes.  J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo).  51(4):278-282, 200
  7. During, M. J., et al.  Extracellular hippocampal glutamate and spontaneous seizure in the conscious human brain.  Lancet.  341(8861):1607-1610, 1993
  8. Bhagwagar, Z., et al.  Low GABA concentrations in occipital cortex and anterior cingulate cortex in medication-free, recovered depressed patients.  Int J Neuropsychopharmacol.             11:1-6, 2007
  9. Backstrom, T., et al.  Pathogenesis in menstrual cycle-linked CNS disorders.  Ann N Y Acad Sci.  1007:42-53, 2003
  10. Loeb, C., et al.  Preliminary evaluation of the effect of GABA and phosphatidylserine in epileptic patients.  Epilepsy Research.  1(3):209-212, 1987
  11. Goddard, A. W., et al.  Reductions in occipital cortex GABA levels in panic disorder detected with 1h-magnetic resonance spectroscopy.  Arch Gen Psychiatry.  58(6):556-561, 2001
  12. Monograph:  Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).  Alternative Medicine Review.  12(3):274-279, 2007
  13. Epperson, C. N., et al.  Preliminary evidence of reduced occipital GABA concentrations in puerperal women: a 1H-MRS study.  Psychopharmacology (Berl).  186(3):425-433, 2006
  14. Ito, K., et al.  GABA-synthesizing enzyme, GAD67, from dermal fibroblasts:  evidence for a new skin function.  Biochim Biophys Acta.  2006





Greg Newson
Greg Newson


Greg Newson is a qualified Naturopath, Herbalist, Nutritionist and Health Enthusiast who is passionate about wellness and dedicated in educating people of the enormous potential of natural medicine.

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