Introduction to GABA and Anxiety
If anxiety is a modern epidemic, then how did British poet W.H. Auden write, “Now is the age of anxiety” back in 1947? What is the link between GABA and anxiety?
Constant anxiety, feeling irritable and on edge, unexplained irrational fear and worrying thoughts, tension, tiredness and struggles around sleep are common. This can lead to dizziness, palpitations, headaches, shortness of breath, restlessness, tiredness, insomnia, difficulty concentrating and issues with everyday life and worklife. What is frightening, is that it is now known that in around 6% of cases, anxiety that begins between the ages of 13 and 18 can last for an entire lifetime .
In fact, studies show that anxiety begins in childhood, around 7-11 years of age, and usually initially in the form of separation anxiety disorder or specific phobias. This is often followed by SAD (social anxiety disorder), and then, in youth aged 13-17 by agoraphobia (without a history of panic attacks), and then finally, by panic disorder, around 24 years of age.
The average age for a diagnosis of GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) is 31 years of age. In fact, highest rates for panic disorder were found to be within the age group of 35-49 years.
Given the fact that only 20.6% of individuals with anxiety disorders seek help, the figures could be way higher!
So, what is the cause of modern anxiety?
I like this quote by Auden “All we are not, stares back at all we are”. He added…. “I guess the main source of stress for me, is the stress I put on myself. The world is nothing but a great desire to live, and a great dissatisfaction with living”.
It is known that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from an anxiety disorder. . Generalised anxiety disorder dominated my life for over 10 years and the symptoms feel relentless.
GABA and its role in anxiety
This is mostly unknown, however, what is known is that: Anxiety is linked to fear. Fear is a subconscious state of fight or flight that can be real or perceived and leads to inappropriate or excessive responses. It is believed that causes of anxiety in the central nervous system are controlled by our sympathetic nervous system (SNS). SNS activity is often termed ‘fight or flight’ .
Our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) however, opposes the SNS and is often termed ‘rest and digest’. Often, the bridge between the two, is GABA (Gamm-amino butyric acid). GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) within the brain. You can imagine it as the “off switch”, as its role is to balance the excitatory and inhibitory brain chemicals .
Reduced levels of GABA in the brain, have been implicated in epilepsy, schizophrenia, premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), anxiety disorders , depression and bi-polar disorder. Correct GABA levels are essential for us to fine tune our thinking/rationale and to allow us to put the brake on negative/anxious thinking. Truly personalised medicine of the future aims to be able to assess an individuals response to specialist medications as many current medications do not help in many cases . Tiny spelling mistakes on DNA called SNPS’s that relate to GABA, can also predispose one to alcoholism .
I remember being anxious from around 9 years of age. I finally freed myself of anxiety only 3 years ago, aged 45. I did this through a combination of gut healing, increasing Serotonin, addressing my diet and eating for my genotype.
So how can we help ourselves?
Food is scientifically acknowledged as being able to alter mood, but this is dependent on there being enough pre-cursors in an individuals diet. A pre-cursor is a compound (such as a vitamin or mineral) that is needed to create a specific chemical reaction in the human body.
Foods to aid GABA and Anxiety
Certain foods and herbs have been shown to aid GABA’s calming activity. Such compounds are often included in natural sleep remedies, for this exact purpose. The following food items may be beneficial :
- Aduki bean
- Peas, barley
- Sweet potato
- White potato
- Shiitake mushroom
- Wild celery
- White tea
- Lemon balm
- Soya bean
- St Johns-Wort
Including these compounds in ones diet may promote relaxation and reduce anxiety . Eating for your genotype will also help.
In addition, low levels of magnesium are also thought to induce anxiety related behaviour and can imbalance stress response . Low levels of magnesium in the body can also worsen the detrimental effects of stress. . Magnesium rich foods such as:
- Green leafy vegetables
- A twice weekly epsom salt bath may help with coping mechanisms
Be mindful is the Mental Health Foundation’s NHS approved online mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT) course. This course reports resulted in (on average) a 58% reduction in anxiety levels, 40% less stress and 63% less depression . What’s it all about? Basically taking control of our own thoughts.
For fast acting relief, try slowing down – Lily Tomlin
Find out more
Get in touch for a free and informal chat to see how I can help you put yourself first and feel your best – Amanda Grant Registered naturopathically trained Nutritional Therapist and Certified Nutrigenomics practitioner.
Learn more about your genetics and nutrition our most recent podcast with Amanda. Find us on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts and all other platforms – Evolution by Champ