If you have never lived with anxiety for an extended period of time, you never really understand the extent of the problem. Imagine that time just before your examination, the uncontrollable urge to run away, eyes darting around, easy to make jump. Or, maybe it is the hour before your first date and you can’t breathe well and you think you might vomit, or need the toilet, or both. This anxiety can be paralysing enough and can stop people embracing life. This fear deserves some remedy – even if we know it is temporary – even though we suspect it is part excitement, part fear, part anticipation.
Now, take that anxiety and magnify it. Imagine if that anxiety lived with you almost every waking moment and visited you most in that twilight time between awake and asleep. A tsunami of thought drowns your peace and you grip tight to the duvet, to the pillow, to your insides – pushing them back in, stopping them spewing out around you. You know there is nothing to fear – there is no worry that can kill you in that moment – but your reptilian brain is triggered and it is fighting an irrational feat against imaginary foes.
Life with anxiety can be paralysing. Life with anxiety can in fact feel like no life at all – the urge to act and the desire to ease the pain – this has to be the leading cause of suicide. Depression sucks out your soul and leaves you empty, devoid of action – but with anxiety holding its hand it delivers the imperative to solve, to resolve – and then ultimately to end the life that feels like no life all.
So, if the anxiety that makes the examine, the driving test, the first date seem too daunting deserves a solution – a supplement to solve the angst and set you free – then what does an anxiety disorder deserve? Surely, people who struggle this way each day need a salve, a means of helping them face the fears face on, head up, heart strong?
There are medications. There are benzodiazepines -Valium, diazepam, lorazepam – but these are addictive and the reaction to the calming effects declines each time you take them. Each time you are required to take more and more to take the edge of the fear away. There are anti-depressants but most are quite toxic to the system and come with side effects such as postural hypertension and withdrawal symptoms such as sickness and rebound depression.
So, the truth is that there is room for a natural supplement to help those with anxiety. And, this supplement is GABA or gamma-Aminobutyric acid to give it the full title. GABA is a neuro-transmitter that counters glutamate. Glutamate is the neuro-transmitter that fires when we need more strength, more speed and more alertness in times of danger. Too much glutamate and you become anxious. So, GABA and glutamate are the Ying and the Yang of the brain. One makes us alert and energised in the face of danger, the other calms the brain and brings that level of alertness down. The ideal is an equal balance between the two.
How does GABA work?
Gamma-Aminobutyric acid is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This is present in the central nervous system of most mammals. Its main role is to reduce the excitability of neurons throughout the nervous systems. GABA work by binding with receptors in the plasma membrane of the pre- and the postsynaptic neuronal processes. This opens up the ion channels – which allows the flow of either negatively charged ions into the cell or positively charged potassium ions out of the cell. This results in a negative change in the transmembrane potential. In doing this it inhibits or depolarises the nervous system and therefore reduces excitability. This is in fact only true for the adult brain. For the developing brain GABA acts as an excitable neuro-transmitter.
This means that GABA is the most potent depressive neuroamine in the human brain, as it is the regulator of the depressive and the sedative actions – therefore critical for relaxation. It is a difficult compound to get into the system because the body is designed to adapt and cope with increased levels of one neurotransmitter over another. There adding more GABA into the system may result in the body creating more glutamate. Therefore, it is important to buy a supplement with proven effects as a nootropic and a stress relief agent. Also, it is often advised that GABA should be taken with nitric oxide in order to increase the potency of the GABA supplement as a depressive.
GABA and the blood brain barrier
If you want GABA to calm anxiety you really need the supplement to make the leap past the blood brain barrier. The brain will naturally repress any intake of GABA beyond what it recognises that it needs to maintain a supposed balance – so you are sixteen times more likely to reject the GABA in your system than you are to get that GABA to your brain. However, the inhibitory powers of the blood brain barrier are only at best 80% effective. This means if you super load GABA into your system, some of the GABA will make it into the neuro-transmitter balance in the brain. Nitric oxide has been proven by scientists to increase the permeability of the blood brain barrier, significantly increasing the chances of GABA reaching the brain.
Therefore, the reports from scientists claiming that GABA has no more than a placebo effect on anxiety is founded on the idea that small doses of the supplement will stay in the system and not impact on the brain. However, this claim has been countered by those who note that the influx capacity of the blood brain barrier is not 100% and that with the aid of nitric oxide, this permeability is significantly increased. In short – GABA can reach the brain in significant enough quantities to truly act as a depressive to over-excitability.
What a person with PTSD reports
Science will always pose questions that aims to cast doubt on previous held scientific thought. This is the way that scientific endeavour moves forward. One scientist makes an assertion through experiment and analysis of data and another scientist comes along and replicates this to see if it is indeed valid or wrong. So, for the layperson, it might seem that no medicine or supplement is every 100% recommended by expert minds. This leads to an anxiety in itself.
James is someone who has been diagnosed with a personality disorder. His personality isn’t broken – his brain formed in a toxic environment and built channels and connections that are unhelp in normal living. Part of this disorder is also diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder – the anxiety disorder that most commonly effects returning soldiers who have experienced intense battle. James has never gone to war in the sense we all imagine but his brain grew up in an environment that it perceived to contain the threats of such a war time environment. This means he is constantly afraid but with no good reason to be afraid. This fear can paralyse him to the point where he sees flashing lights and his mind switches off sense to prevent information overloading his system anymore.
James tried all sorts of cures for his anxiety – alcohol, cannabis and prescribed tranquillisers from the doctor. In the end, each of these stopped working and each of these put James in the high risk category for addiction. After research James was interested to note that each of his previous solutions, whether it is alcohol, cannabis or tranquillisers, each work by increasing the release of GABA in the brain.
Therefore, in James’ mind, the natural logical leap was to suggest that GABA would be the perfect supplement to aid him in his most anxious moments. He felt it was possible that he may not have enough GABA and therefore his neurons were firing far too easily and too often. He undertook some research into the brain and what it meant to have a brain that developed at a time when it was under threat. It seemed that the literature suggested that his brain’s balance was likely to have formed at a time when other neurotransmitters – adrenaline and glutamine in particular, were in more demand. Now, even though that demand is no longer there, James no longer needs to stay that alert to danger anymore, the brain has been shaped to believe it might be needed at any moment.
James tried a GABA supplement – and followed advice in the literature to take this with nitric oxide, which is a separate B6 supplement. He mixed this with magnesium – which is also meant to increase uptake of GABA and in itself is a great muscle relaxant. The results for James were amazing. He managed to calm himself enough to go to a job interview, get the job and work with the people on a regular basis. He knew that it was thanks mostly to the calming effects of GABA – which made its way into his system thanks to the use of B6 and magnesium. This made a significant difference to James’ life and undoubtedly acts as a great testament to the power of the supplement.
Does it work this way for everyone?
GABA works best for those people who have an imbalance in brain chemistry. If there is a healthy balance, then it is likely that the body will keep this amino acid mixing around the body doing general good to your health but not necessarily calming your mind. How will you know? Well, trialling GABA with B6 will let you know if your brain needs help balancing the neuro-transmitters – if it does then it will work. In short, if your brain is a bit leaky and in need of repair then GABA will do the repair. If not, then GABA will stay in the body side of the blood brain barrier and do its good work there instead.
What other good work can GABA do?
Well, GABA is a favourite of body builders and athletes – the reason being that it is thought to stimulate the growth hormone and therefore help to “grow” better muscles. As it is also acts on muscles health directly – it is thought that taking exercise whilst taking GABA will enhance the effects of your efforts in the gym. Even though this is an amino acid – it does not bind with proteins – so it does not impact the repair function of muscles – but in essence boosts the hormones that help the muscles to grow. Quite a lot of scientists are dubious of the effects of GABA on physical state – but again – a lot of gym buddies claim it really helps them build lean muscle mass.
Anxiety is a life altering condition. People who suffer even a marginal case of anxiety deserve relief from its limiting effects on our life. So, if the anxiety is bad enough to cause day to day distress than you deserve access to a solution that can continue to provide relief. Most pharmaceuticals come with concerns of addiction or side effects. Although the impact of GABA cannot be assured, it is likely to have a real impact on most – especially when taken with B6 and magnesium supplements.
Unlike anti-depressants and diazepam, there is no great risk of side effects. The only hint of caution comes if you are already taking medication for your problems, at which point seeking medical advice before supplementing is always advised.
The brain is a complex computer that runs on a balance of boosting and sedating chemicals. If this chemical balance is out of whack, then you are not going to respond to life in the balanced way that you need. Therefore, it is important that people seeing no shame in seeking a solution through whatever means work for them. GABA has every chance of offering you the relief you need because in all likelihood your excessive anxiety is due to a dominance of glutamate. Take GABA and your body will once again find a balanced approach to life.