Note from Doug: This is a guest post from independent health researcher Daniel S. He’s a friend of mine whose own struggles with relaxation lead him to do a lot of research. Here’s some of what he found.
GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is a key neurotransmitter that sends signals to your brain to relax. When we have low levels of fats and proteins, which is what neurotransmitters are made of, our brains cells have a difficult time sending and receiving messages to each other and, therefore, to the rest of the body.
An easy way to understand this is to think of neurotransmitters as a courier service whose job is to deliver a message, such as “Hey, relax a bit, you’re too stressed!” and receptors are at the door of your cells signing for the delivery and accepting that message.
This neurotransmitter/courier service controls every function of the body. That message “to relax” causes a ripple effect that trickles down to the 100 trillion cells in your body.
There are two major dietary keys to making this process work efficiently: Fat and protein.
Omega-3 fats, the essential fat found in fish and seed oils, cholesterol (both made by the body and from the diet) and phospholipids, play an essential role in our bodies for proper cell and brain function. They’re able to open the door to allow the message to get in. Without eating enough fats, the door can’t open and the courier is left in the lurch. Meaning, you may want to relax, but your body can’t hear the message.
Besides fat, there are proteins. Proteins are the couriers, the ones who deliver the messages. They’re what turn into neurotransmitters and send messages. Without these, cells wouldn’t be able to communicate with each other.
How does GABA play a role in all of this? Well, GABA is like the hall monitor that keeps tabs on unruly excitatory transmitters that try and run amok in your body. Excitatory transmitters (think excitement) aren’t necessarily a bad thing to have. The problem is they are turned on too often and for too long. They’re the stress hormones, like adrenaline, your body produces when faced with dangerous situations. They put you into fight or flight mode.
GABA calms the brain from too much of this. More often than not, people with anxiety, panic attacks, seizures and schizophrenia all have lower levels of GABA.
So for proper relaxation, make sure you’re getting all your vital fats and proteins. You can also take GABA directly as a supplement if you’re having relaxation issues (recommended at 500 mg during the day and before bed, preferably on an empty stomach). You can also increase the natural production of GABA by getting more vitamins B3, B6 and B12 from fish, meat and eggs. Magnesium from green veggies and theanine, the amino acid in green tea, also helps.
The Healthy Foodie is Doug DiPasquale, a Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef living in Toronto