GABA is the mind’s natural calmness signal, it’s the neurotransmitter that relieves anxiety, helps you get good sleep, relax, and wind down. By reducing overactivity in the brain, GABA increases empathy, emotional intelligence, attention, and cognition. GABA may even enhance exercise performance and boost energy levels. Read on to learn about why GABA is so important.
What is GABA?
GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which means that it functions as the mind’s brakes. It slows down and stops the firing of brain cells and brings a state of relaxation, calmness, and of simply winding down.
GABA counters the main excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. The brain has a smart way to balance activation and relaxation, noise and silence, yin and yang. It does so through glutamate and GABA.
We can think of GABA and glutamate in the brain as if on a scale:
As always, balance is key. On the extreme side, too much glutamate can cause seizures and mania. But an overly active GABA system, such as due to sedative drugs like Valium, can cause extreme sedation and even coma. In fact, some general anesthetics bring about a state of deep unconsciousness by enhancing GABA.
When GABA and glutamate are in harmony, the brain can function optimally. However, many factors can throw this balance off. In our modern, urban world and fast lifestyles, GABA often takes the toll. When the mind is constantly activated, under stress, or anxious, glutamate increases, GABA levels drop and so does stress resilience.
GABA reduces the rate at which neurons fire, which is important for normal, healthy, daily functioning. But it’s especially important when neurons become too excited, such as in anxiety, headaches, muscle tension, chronic pain, and even Parkinson’s Disease symptoms.
It’s questionable how GABA acts to improve cognition, since it’s relaxing, not stimulating. But this may actually be the key – the brain cannot focus when stressed and anxious. In fact, poor cognition is one of the main symptoms of mental health disorders like schizophrenia and anxiety.
GABA is a peace-promoting neurotransmitter. It also improves emotional intelligence, eases socialization, and increases empathy.
How the Brain Produces GABA
Many parts of the brain are naturally high in GABA. The concentrations of GABA in these regions are >1000 times higher than of other neurotransmitters anywhere in the brain.
The main relaxing neurotransmitter, GABA, is made directly from the main stimulating neurotransmitter, glutamate. The brain makes GABA in several important steps: