Want to beat Anxiety and Addiction? Here’s what I know from 36 years in practice.
GABA Neurotransmitter for Anxiety and Addiction
GABA is our main inhibitory (stabilizing) neurotransmitter and a regulator of anxiety and addiction.
It helps us stay calm and avoid sympathetic flight or fight mode. It governs dozens of functions in the mind and body.
Along with Serotonin, GABA provides the brakes in our body (the “slow-slow”), much as Dopamine and Acetyl-Choline provide the “go-go”. Like yin and yang, we need both to be balanced.
In our natural state as hunters and gatherers, we only went into alarm mode if a real or potential threat was encountered.
But our nervous systems in modern however perceive much of our day as threat. Deadlines, traffic, money, and worries of all types. We can feel endangered just by missing a phone call or freeway exit.
This depletes GABA and makes us crave calming and sedating substances
What does GABA do?
GABA balances the flow of electricity between the left and right brain, creating steady, balanced electrical activity. It establishes rhythms all over the body including the heart, nervous system and more. We produce GABA primarily from the amino acid glutamine, along with healthy gut bacteria and the enzyme GAD65. More on the crucial roles of GAD65 and gluten below…
When brain rhythm is disturbed and electrical firings become random, we get a range of symptoms of GABA deficiency, including anxiety and addiction, increased sensitivity to pain, PMS, Irritable Bowel, reflux, allergies, insomnia and much more… Seizures, insomnia, anxiety, cravings for sedatives and panic attacks are classic symptoms of GABA deficiency.
It may also be that autism is, in part, a GABA disorder. Read this for more.
Anxiety and Addiction are Linked
The brain may be drawn to alcohol, marijuana, Valium, painkillers or heroin.
We turn to drugs and alcohol to self-soothe. The body knows what it needs (perhaps desperately) and alcohol, pot, sedatives and heroin do provide a type of GABA support. But a suffering brain can become dependent on these supports.
Clearly, the underlying issues have to be dealt with. “Stress Management” takes on a new level of urgency when addiction is involved.
Salivary Testing for Stress Hormones
Low DHEA is a common finding in saliva tests of older folks and in people with anxiety. If the adrenals are too tired to make DHEA, the ability to handle stress gets worse and we deplete GABA even faster. I order saliva tests for my virtual Consults and in-house clients to assess Adrenal Cortisol, DHEA, estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. I have several blog posts and podcasts that talk about saliva tests. For starters, check here and here.
Herbs and Supplements for Anxiety and GABA
None of these will hurt you (except overdoing the pharmaceuticals), so try your own combos, and see if different doses and combos of work at different times. Exam? Dental work? Anxiety? Panic? Insomnia? Have your arsenal ready for when you need it, or take daily as desired.
- I carry this chewable correct form of GABA in the online store. Many types of GABA won’t work. It has to be fermented to cross the blood-brain barrier.
- Passion Flower is my top choice for GABA support for most people, including children (not babies). Here’s the one I sell in alcohol or glycerite tincture form. I prefer the glycerine extract as it tastes OK. It is sweet enough to take straight without water. (Good for the middle of the night or the freeway). As a liquid, you can dose the number of drops you need better than taking a whole pill which may be too strong for taking the edge off that trip to the vet.
- Systemic Formulas N3 – Relaxa is a calming, non-sedating herbal combo in use for 50 years. Take it day or night for sleep, waking too early, panic, anxiety, tense muscles, pain.
- L- Theanine, away from food, can be stabilizing.
- Rescue Remedy, the original Bach Flowers formula. I don’t like the new versions much. Stick with the plain Rescue Remedy.
- Kava or Valerian work well for some.
Can I take straight GABA for anxiety and addiction support?
Plain GABA does not work for most people. The label will have a short term for GABA, or just say the word GABA. What is needed is GABA that has been phenylated, fermented to change its structure. (Often called Pharma GABA). Take it away from food. It may work well for you or it might not.
Why phenylated? GABA is not supposed to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This barrier is extremely selective about what gets access into the brain. Phenylated GABA is modified by enzymes and other processes and is allowed into the brain.
Gluten, Glutamate, GAD65 antibodies, Anxiety
GAD 65 is an enzyme used to make GABA from Glutamate. Antibodies to our own GAD65 enzymes is a problem not fully explored by doctors. These antibodies may be implicated in autoimmune diseases (such as Diabetes Type 1 and Celiac), autism, schizophrenia, epilepsy and hormonal disorders.
There also appears to be a strong link between gluten and GAD65 enzymes. When gluten (in all its forms, wheat, oats, barley, rye) is removed from the person’s diet, skin care and makeup, not only do gluten antibodies reduce, but GAD65 antibodies reduce too. Cyrex Labs has tests for these and I highly recommend investing in running tests they offer. (I do this in Consults).
Gluten and GABA – Pro Tip!
Next to greatly reducing stress and adding the above supplements, getting off gluten 100% is the most powerful action I know to improve GABA levels and create a healthy new body in general. Gluten causes multiple neurological and hormonal issues, as well as contributing to leaky gut and an impaired immune system.
What else can I do to help rebuild my GABA?
- Learn EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to do on yourself. I find this extremely helpful and can do a few rounds in the car, in the bathroom, or even in bed. Simple tapping on particular acupuncture points (while focusing on the issue concerning you) is an outright miracle…. Any time I notice I’m not calm or happy, I can tap and usually feel better right away. Learn it for free with their website’s downloads.
- Proper exercise can be calming – not too much, not at night, and non-competitive. Don’t over-exert or exhaust yourself.
- Keep blood sugar stable at all times! I eat protein, fats and veggies + a little potato 4 times daily. If you’re hungry, your sympathetic nervous system can kick into “alarm mode”.
- Make a list of all the alarming people and projects in your life. Handle them as quickly as possible so your life is “cleaner”. Do what it takes to get happier!
- If you struggle with real anxiety and/or are moving towards addiction, get help with a good therapist, and have a low dose med such as Lorazepam or Xanax tucked away in a high cabinet. When you need it, it’s there when all else fails. Don’t forget your Passion Flower, PharmaGaba and N3 first!
Want more info?
Here are some related blog posts from my website and from my podcast Primal Diet – Modern Health. This one, this one and this one. Search GABA, insomnia, anxiety or stress and find more. Good luck and best wishes to you!
Beverly Meyer, Clinical Nutritionist, MBA