GABA - The Calming Neurotransmitter. To Supplement Or Not?
IF Insider No. 45
In our last issue (IF Insider No. 44) we did a deep dive review of the basics of intermittent fasting, including whether or not you should consider a reboot. In this issue, we are going to look closely at the human body’s most widely distributed calming neurotransmitter, known as GABA.
For our premium subscribers, in this week’s Research Spotlight, we are examining the results of an intriguing study on the effectiveness of using oolong tea that is specially processed to increase its natural GABA content.
Plus our paid subscribers also get one of Ellen’s recipes each month and access to a live Q&A call. If you are a paid subscriber, you may remember that we shared a really easy and delicious way to make a classic Shrimp Cocktail. This month, we are going to use the broth we saved (and put in the freezer) from cooking the shrimp to make the base for a warming, spicy and delicious Thai-style Shrimp Coconut Soup that’s simple and quick to prepare.
The paid option also includes a monthly live Q&A call with Ellen and Denise held on the second Tuesday of each month at 12 Noon Eastern (9 AM Pacific) time. The next call is on Tuesday, February 8, 2021.
Looking for a supportive group that “gets” your interest in IF and other cutting-edge health information? Our free intermittent fasting Facebook group, with over 1800 members, is a wealth of info, in addition to our Fast Factor Circle membership.
What is the IF Insider?
This email is your briefing on the most compelling developments in intermittent fasting as well as innovation in practices that can be stacked with IF, such as plant-based eating, sleep hacks, natural nootropics, brain training, and more, all curated by our team of entrepreneurs and 'future-think' scouts.
Our Mission is to introduce the power of Intermittent Fasting to entrepreneurs worldwide so they can exponentially improve their lives and businesses and the lives of the people they impact every day.
P.P.S. Get our free Fast Factor Primer: The Entrepreneur's Quick Start Guide to Intermittent Fasting by clicking here.
GABA - The Calming Neurotransmitter
GABA, aka gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or γ-aminobutyric acid, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is widely produced and distributed in the human brain and produced in large quantities by bacteria in the gut.
Let’s unpack this with a little lesson in neuroanatomy/physiology, shall we? (Don’t worry, there won’t be a test!)
First of all, what is a neurotransmitter? You can think of a neurotransmitter as a chemical messenger of sorts. These are molecules that function to transmit messages between neurons (the specialized cells that make up the brain and nervous system) or from neurons to muscles.
The neuron is composed of three parts: a cell body, and two extensions: an axon, and dendrites. The dendrites come off the cell body and look similar to tree branches. Their function is to receive messages coming into the cell. The axon is a single, thicker cable of sorts, and its function is to send messages from the cell.
So picture this: between the axons and dendrites of the neurons that are adjacent to one another, there are small gaps, known as the synaptic clefts. When an electrical signal traveling along the axons or dendrites comes to one of these gaps, it is very briefly converted from an electrical signal into a chemical signal.
This conversion happens through the release of packets of neurotransmitters into the synaptic cleft, which then binds onto receptors in the receiving neuron, causing the receiving neuron to act in a specific manner.
These neurotransmitters (there are many of them!) can influence a neuron in one of three different ways. They can work to excite the cell, they can inhibit the cell or they can be modulatory. An excitatory neurotransmitter works on the receiving cell by promoting an electrical signal in the receiving neuron. And yes, you guessed it, an inhibitory neurotransmitter prevents (inhibits) an electrical signal in the receiving neuron.
Modulatory neurotransmitters, just FYI, are not confined to the tiny space between neurons but can have an effect on large populations of neurons. They generally act over a longer time frame than either excitatory or inhibitory neurotransmitters.
Here’s something important to understand: What determines whether a neurotransmitter is excitatory or inhibitory depends on the receptor to which it binds.
Ok, now that we have all that out of the way (whew!) we can get back to GABA. At the beginning of this, I said that GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it reduces the activity of neurons.
GABA receptors are widely distributed throughout the brain and are found in particularly high concentrations in the brain’s limbic system, the part of the brain that is associated with personal feelings and emotional memories. GABA receptors are also widely distributed throughout the human gastrointestinal tract.
Studies suggest that GABA functions to help control anxiety and fear when certain neurons become overly excited. Research also has found links between low levels of GABA in the brain and depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, and even schizophrenia.
The prescription medications known as the benzodiazepines (Valium and Ativan to name two) also bind to the same receptors as GABA and so mimic the neurotransmitter’s calming actions. In fact, GABA is often referred to as “nature’s valium.”
GABA supplements are widely marketed as aids to reduce anxiety, insomnia, and even depression. Some researchers are wary of these claims, as although these supplements may increase the GABA level in the bloodstream, there is not much evidence they actually do anything to increase GABA levels in the brain, due to the difficulty of getting across the blood-brain barrier.
But wait…remember I said earlier that GABA is not only produced by bacteria in the gut, the intestinal tract is also filled with GABA receptors. Previous research has clearly shown there is bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, so GABA supplements would not necessarily have to directly reach the brain in order to produce calming effects.
This may explain why some people have good results from taking a GABA supplement, either in pill or capsule form or by drinking GABA Oolong tea. We featured regular oolong tea in IF Insider No. 36, Oolong Tea: The Black Dragon And Human Longevity.
Why It Matters
As I wrote in our previous issue, understanding the biological basis for the miraculous processes that go on every second in our bodies gives such an appreciation for the lives we have been given.
“My research has shown me that when emotions are expressed-which is to say that the biochemicals that are the substrate of emotion are flowing freely-all systems are united and made whole. When emotions are repressed, denied, not allowed to be whatever they may be, our network pathways get blocked, stopping the flow of the vital feel-good, unifying chemicals that run both our biology and our behavior.”
~ Candace Pert, Ph.D. (1946 - 2013) - Dr. Pert was an internationally recognized neuroscientist and pharmacologist who, as a graduate student, discovered the opiate receptor in the brain. Her findings were hailed as a breakthrough discovery and changed the way researchers understood the mind-body connection.
Her book, The Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine, first published in 1997, is as much about Dr. Pert’s personal journey as a woman scientist in a very male-dominated field, as it is about the science itself. The book, now a classic, details her cross-disciplinary approach to her work, which was flatly rejected by the scientific establishment, but resulted in a new scientific discipline, that of psychoneuroimmunology.
What We Are Reading 📚
With each issue, we bring you a short blurb on what we are currently reading or watching, including books, articles, podcasts, videos, movies, and research papers of value.
Denise - I’ve been browsing my way through the last book in the Blue Zones series: The Blue Zones Challenge, by Dan Buettner. As the title implies this is an interactive book.
The 4-week challenge is laid out in detail and includes the what, why, and how to design your life inspired by the world’s longest-lived people. There are assessments, worksheets (accessible to download via QR code), recipes, trackers, and planners. This little book takes you step by step through 4 weeks, and doesn’t leave you there. Follow-up chapters guide you through making lifestyle changes over the next 12 months.
I’ve realized the Blue Zones lifestyle and food recommendations come the closest for me to the way I want to live and fits in neatly with my IF practice.
Ellen - My friend and colleague Carrie Wilkerson aka “The Barefoot Executive” recently recommended this book by Benjamin Hardy, Ph.D. and I couldn’t agree more…
I’ve just gotten into it and so far I am impressed with Dr. Hardy’s approach.
Here’s what entrepreneur and best-selling author Seth Godin has to say about the book:
“This is a generous, empowering, and purposeful book. If you’re ready, it will help you to unlock a future that you may have been brainwashed into believing wasn’t possible. Worth sharing a copy with someone you care about.”
Did you like this article and learn something new? If so, please let us know in the comments! Questions and suggestions for future articles are welcome, too!
Know someone who would benefit from getting access to the IF Insider? Please share it!