4 GABA Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself

Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter to prevent overstimulation and therefore promote calm.

GABA deficiency symptoms

GABA deficiency symptoms may include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the brain’s most abundant inhibitory, or “calming,” neurotransmitter. While GABA is known primarily for its ability to put you in a relaxed state, it actually plays a crucial role in regulating many aspects of mood, attention, cognition, and sleep. GABA deficiency symptoms may involve any of these functions and include depression, anxiety, insomnia, and more. This article will explore the top 4 symptoms related to low GABA levels in the brain and will introduce natural ways to treat GABA deficiency symptoms by increasing your brain’s GABA levels.

What Is GABA?

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers used by neurons to communicate with one another and with other types of cells. Every neurotransmitter behaves differently; inhibitory neurotransmitters tend to calm, while excitatory neurotransmitters tend stimulate the brain. GABA’s primary function as the brain’s major inhibitory neurotransmitter is to prevent overstimulation. It does this by counteracting glutamate—the brain’s major excitatory neurotransmitter. When GABA binds to a receptor, it prevents stimulation by glutamate. When GABA levels are inadequate, overstimulation due to high levels of glutamate can occur and lead to symptoms of low GABA.

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The Top 4 GABA Deficiency Symptoms

  1. Depression. People with depression have lower brain GABA levels compared to people with normal moods. Depressed individuals in whom typical antidepressant medications fail to work appear to have the lowest GABA levels.[1] A study in depressed teens found the lowest GABA levels were consistently in those who reported the inability to experience pleasure in acts which normally produce it (anhedonia).[2]
  2. Anxiety, panic, and PTSD. Anxiety, panic disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are each associated with GABA imbalances. Anxiety is the most commonly recognized symptom of low GABA. Interestingly, there are fewer studies documenting low brain GABA concentrations in those with anxiety than there are in those with depression. Nevertheless, the commonly used drugs for anxiety, benzodiazapines, work by increasing the GABA’s availability. People who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after going through a severe trauma have significantly lower brain GABA levels than those who don’t develop PTSD after traumatic experiences.[3] A number of studies have documented decreased brain GABA levels in people with panic disorder compared to individuals without panic tendencies.[4]
  3. Insomnia. People with insomnia have lower brain levels of GABA.[5] If you have chronic trouble either falling asleep or waking up and not being able to get back to sleep, you likely have a brain GABA deficiency and could benefit from therapies that help to naturally increase GABA function in the brain. Magnesium supplementation increases GABA and has been shown to help relieve insomnia.[6]Herbal extracts of valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm have also each been found to help relieve insomnia in clinical studies via their action on enhancing GABA.[7]
  4. Drug and alcohol dependence. GABA plays a role in alcohol’s actions and addictive nature. GABA is also involved in a person’s vulnerability to alcoholism.[8] It also plays a role in other addictions such as smoking (nicotine) and drug dependence. Lower GABA levels have been found in the brains of adolescents who chronically use cocaine or marijuana, for instance.[9] Drugs that enhance GABA are commonly used to help prevent relapse in addicts who are in remission; however, they are associated with significant side effects and can be addictive themselves.

How to Naturally Boost GABA Levels Yourself

GABA function can be supported with natural treatments including vitamins, minerals, amino acids, herbal extracts, yoga, and acupuncture. Supplementing with magnesium, the amino acid taurine, L-theanine, kava root, and herbs like valerian, passionflower, and lemon balm have all been shown to help treat GABA deficiency symptoms by increasing GABA or directly enhancing its function. Stay tuned for more information on how GABA affects mood and what you can do about it. For now, you can take a look at the following articles:


[1] Biol Psychiatry. 2009 May 1;65(9):792-800.

[2] Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2012 Feb;69(2):139-49.

[3] Depress Anxiety. 2013 Jul 16. doi: 10.1002/da.22155.

[4] Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2013 Jul 1;44:131-5.

[5] Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 May; 37(6): 1548–1557.

[6] J Res Med Sci. 2012 Dec;17(12):1161-9.

[7] Med J Nutrition Metab. 2011 Dec;4(3):211-218.

[8] Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2006 Sep;63(9):957-68.

[9] Drug Alcohol Depend. 2013 May 1;129(3):232-9.

 

This article was originally published in 2013 and is regularly updated. 

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Comments
  • Pseudoscience

    You had me all the way to acupuncture. Acupuncture hasn’t ever been scientifically shown to help anything….

  • Nothing is more irritating then a person who’s never had any experience with acupuncture bash it and dismiss it. I was cured of severe scoliosis as a young tween by a living legend master acupuncturist. This is unheard of even in the acupuncture world. My spine was still pliable because of my young age. I bare witness. I would’ve been a hunchback by the age of 15 and my doctors wanted to put a back brace on me. The next time I returned to my doctors after acupuncture treatment they were stumped. The most priceless look I’ve ever seen! Sad for the friend who had to have surgery for the same condition with lots of complications thereafter.

    I could care less for your pompous attitude and you don’t deserve the time it took me to type this out. This is directed to people like the jerk above. Don’t bash what you don’t understand!

    The artists tool is the paintbrush… the acupuncturist tool is the needle. But I believe the healing begins with the healer. Not all acupuncturist are created equal. Do your research.

  • Absolute nonsense published by people who make profits on it. There is no such thing as “GABA deficiency” in medical text books–its a made up term by people who sell you their product. Theres no known disease due to mutations in glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), the protein that synthesizes GABA from glutamate. Glutamate is in vast excess in you body from your foods. Furthermore, ingested GABA can not get through the blood brain barrier. Its synthesized within the CNS from glutamate by GAD. Dont be gullible!

  • Just because something is not yet in the med school text books doesn’t mean it isn’t real. We have to open our minds, because that’s the only way forward. So many things that medical experts throughout the ages have ignored have eventually been shown to be key in treating diseases; equally, things they’ve claimed to be absolute truths have been proven wrong. As scientists, doctors need to have open minds, and question with an eye on seeing what’s there instead of dismissing opinions, because it’s not what current medicine considers relevant.

  • severe anxiety is not helped by any of the natural substances listed above. I have tried them all at one time on several patients with severe anxiety and panic attacks and insomnia and they didn’t help one bit. only a benzodiazepine is effective is certain severe causes. Benzo’s are not prescribed by doctors who don’t know about the natural treatments, they are prescribed by doctors who tried all the natural treatments and found they weren’t effective enough.

  • Can we agree that one size does not fit all and that a treatment that works in some cases will not work in all of them ? Myself and four of my adult children have taken GABA 1000mg daily for years. It enables us to be free of the cognitive paralysis which besets us when we go for a week without GABA. My understanding is that GABA is effective is specific phenotypes. In our case we have injuries ranging from severe TBI to a series of mild bumps to the head over several years. It helps to calm the “what ifs” often associated with cumulative head trauma. I have suggested this to many patients over the past 7 years with 85% voicing improvement within one month of daily dosing. Yes, I kept records and did the math: the total number of patients who reported back was 115. This is simply my experience. I will continue to recommend GABA for those who have a mild paranoia (blaming, anxiety), difficulty completing simple actions because they are concerned that “somehow it might turn out badly”, and constant thoughts of things that need to be done even though those tasks may be slated for a week or more away.

  • Dr.A, of course there are cases in which sever eanxiety can’t be controlled with passiflora and lettuce, have you read the indications that is indicated for mild symptoms? The problem with benzo’s is that they can lead to addiction in case your symptoms or discomfort continues.

  • My symptoms of (what i think is) Gaba deficiency, which almost always are preceded by my body temperature decreasing significantly even indoors (or at least extremities feeling cold and then muscles starting to tense up) are headache, muscle tension, blood vessel tension (they contract because they have muscles too, and blood flow decreases, a negative spiral) and one feels cold, and it hurts in the tensed body and muscles, anxiety, mild paranoia/blaming a little too much, and then after some hours one feel one had enough and starts getting angry, sleep problem, racing thoughts, emotional roller coaster from angry to sad but never feeling satisfied, calm and relaxed which is what one yearns for, so… i start overeating and getting fatter and fatter, because i feel calmer after candy, chocolate bars, protein bars and all that, but isn’t food increasing serotonin, so i wonder if i have gaba or serotonin deficiency? I take a hot shower to relax my muscles, afterwards i feel calm, when i feel cold then the muscle tension starts again and i feel the gaba-deficiency mood coming back. Magnesium glycinate helps me, magnesiumhydroxid makes pain in joints, and magnesium citrate is muscle relaxing for 30 min but afterwards my citric acid allergy kicks in and i get skin rash. Alcohol helps too, it makes me warm and relaxed and sometimes energetic (i think i have often low dopamine as well), but afterwards i feel even more tensed, cold and tired so i don’t use it for this gaba problem. What i am worried about is that using GABA boosting herbs and stuff can desensitize my GABA receptors because of increased tolerance and then one will feel even more tensed and angry. I wish there are some really good stuff for this problem without negative side effects.

  • Fred, I think what you might find success in changing your focus from increasing GABA to decreasing glutamate. You appear to have too much stress in your system, which will lower GABA no matter what you do. Glutamate has taken over, which produces a lot of anxiety and stress. You appear to be doing a lot of stress relieving behaviors. When you get your glutamate at much lower levels, your natural GABA should increase. So, it is about creating a lifestyle of much lower stress. Meditation has been shown to work just as well, if not better, than medications because it fixes the stress response in the brain. It is easy to meditate with helpful meditation CD’s that help train your brainwaves to a calmer pattern. I like the ones sold by Centerpointe.com. I have no affiliation with them. Blessings in your journey!

  • Gaba means everything to me. 10 years in and out of deeeeep depressions.. body shivering a lot..getting spasms.. feeling ridid..stiff… Anxious. Ten years if hell.. after gaba i am again my nirmal self.And enjoy being alive. I love Gaba.. yes it does crosdes the bbb

  • CinnaGoo

    Acupuncture is non-scientific nonsense. Sticking needles into your body does not help or cure anything. This article lost all credibility as soon as I saw acupuncture as a fix for low GABA levels.

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