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9 Foods That Increase the Benefits of GABA

The neurotransmitter GABA has multiple functions in the brain. It is responsible for balancing out the excitatory effects of other neurotransmitters, like glutamate and dopamine. If you have too little GABA in your brain, you may experience stress, anxiety, insomnia, or even panic attacks. Fortunately, there are many food sources that increase the benefits of GABA in your body.

We know that nutrition can affect our mood and cognition by influencing the levels of hormones like serotonin and dopamine. But what about GABA? Is it worth paying attention to this lesser-known neurotransmitter? It turns out that GABA plays a critical role in our ability to cope with stress and anxiety as well as promote relaxation and sleep. Reducing stress also takes some effort — not just diving into a bowl of ice cream!

What is GABA?

GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter that is found in many areas of the body, including the brain. In the brain, GABA acts as a “neurotransmitter” — a chemical that facilitates communication between neurons. GABA acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it slows down and inhibits (i.e., puts the brakes on) brain activity. This is helpful because if brain activity gets sped up, it can feel anxious and we can’t focus as well. GABA also plays a critical role in regulating the effects of the other major neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine, serotonin, and glutamate. If one of these neurotransmitters gets out of balance, GABA can help bring the rest back into balance.

10 Foods That Increase the Benefits of GABA

The foods that increase GABA are many and varied, but they tend to be high in B vitamins, magnesium, amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Some examples include:

  • Avocado – Avocados are loaded with healthy fats, antioxidants, and fibre. All of these nutrients are known to improve mood and help the body recover from stress;
  • Chestnuts are unique in that they are one of the few fruits or vegetables that contain significant levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA);
  • Bananas – Bananas are rich in potassium and magnesium, two nutrients that help regulate GABA levels in the brain and prevent stress and anxiety;
  • Dark leafy greens – Broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, and cabbages contain B vitamins, magnesium, and amino acids, all of which contribute to increased GABA levels in the brain;
  • Flaxseeds – Flaxseeds are rich in fibre, omega-3 fatty acids, and amino acids that support brain health;
  • Fish – Tuna, salmon, and mackerel are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids that support GABA synthesis in the brain;
  • Tomatoes – Tomatoes are a great source of B vitamins (specifically B6), magnesium, and amino acids that support GABA synthesis in the brain;
  • Yogurt – Yogurt contains amino acids and B vitamins that support GABA synthesis in the brain;
  • Walnuts – Walnuts contain B vitamins and magnesium that support GABA synthesis in the brain.

Magnesium

Magnesium is an essential mineral found in many foods and dietary supplements. It is required for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including the synthesis and regulation of GABA. Because of its role in GABA synthesis, magnesium may improve mood by lowering the production of stress hormones and increasing GABA levels in the brain. In fact, low magnesium levels have been linked to anxiety, sleep disorders, and even stress-related headaches.

Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Tryptophan is an amino acid that our bodies use to synthesize serotonin and GABA. Therefore, eating more tryptophan-rich foods may also increase the amount of GABA in the brain, which can have a calming and relaxing effect. Some tryptophan-rich foods include salmon, chicken, almonds, eggs, oats, and sesame seeds. However, there is a catch when it comes to increasing the benefits of GABA through the consumption of tryptophan-rich foods. As with all neurotransmitters, it is difficult to artificially manipulate their levels in the brain through diet alone. This is because neurotransmitters are not made in the brain; they are made in the gut. Thus, the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain via the blood is dependent on a variety of factors, including diet, genetics, environment, and gut health.

B vitamins

B vitamins, such as B6, B9, and B12, are essential for the synthesis, breakdown, and regulation of GABA. Deficiencies in B vitamins have been linked to anxiety disorders, insomnia, and depression. While it is not recommended to take GABA supplements, which may lead to dependence, it is worth taking a B vitamin supplement. B vitamins are water-soluble meaning they are not stored in the body and can be excreted in the urine.

Dark Leafy Greens

Vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, Swiss chard, and cabbages are rich in B vitamins, magnesium, and amino acids. They also contain flavonoids and other antioxidants that may improve mood and reduce stress. While many people are aware of the benefits of eating leafy greens and other vegetables, not everyone is eating enough. A study found that only 10% of Americans meet the recommended intake for vegetables.

Conclusion

The neurotransmitter GABA has multiple functions in the brain. It is responsible for balancing out the excitatory effects of other neurotransmitters, like glutamate and dopamine. If you have too little GABA in your brain, you may experience stress, anxiety, insomnia, or even panic attacks. Fortunately, there are many food sources that increase the benefits of GABA in your body. We know that nutrition can affect our mood and cognition by influencing the levels of hormones like serotonin and dopamine. But what about GABA? Is it worth paying attention to this lesser-known neurotransmitter? It turns out that GABA plays a critical role in our ability to cope with stress and anxiety as well as promote relaxation and sleep. Reducing stress also takes some effort — not just diving into a bowl of ice cream!

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