There is plenty of research and clinical evidence showing that low serotonin promotes worry and ruminating thoughts and we know that using tryptophan (or 5-HTP) can help with easing these worries and unwanted thoughts i.e. the worry-in-the-head type of anxiety.
The calming supplement GABA has long been recognized to help ease the more physical type of anxiety where you feel body tension and may have stiff and tense muscles.
Over the last year I’ve been getting feedback from women in my community saying that oral GABA supplements also helps some of the head symptoms too and now we have some new research supporting the possible mechanism of this – Scientists identify mechanism that helps us inhibit unwanted thoughts:
We are sometimes confronted with reminders of unwanted thoughts – thoughts about unpleasant memories, images or worries. When this happens, the thought may be retrieved, making us think about it again even though we prefer not to. While being reminded in this way may not be a problem when our thoughts are positive, if the topic was unpleasant or traumatic, our thoughts may be very negative, worrying or ruminating about what happened, taking us back to the event.
Scientists have identified a key chemical within the ‘memory’ region of the brain that allows us to suppress unwanted thoughts, helping explain why people who suffer from disorders such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and schizophrenia often experience persistent intrusive thoughts when these circuits go awry.
Professor Anderson, Dr. Schmitz and colleagues showed that the ability to inhibit unwanted thoughts relies on a neurotransmitter – a chemical within the brain that allows messages to pass between nerve cells – known as GABA.
GABA is the main ‘inhibitory’ neurotransmitter in the brain, and its release by one nerve cell can suppress activity in other cells to which it is connected.
Anderson and colleagues discovered that GABA concentrations within the hippocampus – a key area of the brain involved in memory – predict people’s ability to block the retrieval process and prevent thoughts and memories from returning.
The study is looking at GABA concentrations within the hippocampus and there is no mention of the use of GABA supplementation to enhance this process:
While the study does not examine any immediate treatments, Professor Anderson believes it could offer a new approach to tackling intrusive thoughts in these disorders.
Ideally the next step will be to study the use of oral GABA supplementation. I’ll be reaching out to Professor Anderson to share details about the effectiveness of sublingual GABA.
I would also love to know what levels of GABA the study participants had in their gut and what other low GABA symptoms they had.
Here is the study abstract: Hippocampal GABA enables inhibitory control over unwanted thoughts
Feedback on GABA helping with overactive brain and perseveration
When I shared this research on facebook two people commented on how the Source Naturals GABA Calm product I recommend helps them with this aspect of anxiety.
Tiffany shares how Source Naturals GABA Calm helps calm her overactive brain:
I have definitely noticed that sublingual GABA Calm that you suggest helps calm my overactive brain.
Dawn shares how this same GABA product has helped her a lot:
I have an old TBI [traumatic brain injury] and the physiology of PTSD, from childhood trauma, so a double whammy. This sublingual lozenge makes a big difference in my day if I start to get anxious, or begin to perseverate on something that really isn’t all that important.
Perseverate is not a word I use very much and in case you’re not familiar with this term, the Oxford dictionary defines it as follows: “repeat or prolong an action, thought, or utterance after the stimulus that prompted it has ceased.” It’s also defined as: “the tendency of an idea to stick in your mind or recur, or getting stuck on something mentally and not being able to shift gears.” In psychiatry it’s “the persistent and pathological repetition of a verbal or motor response, often seen in organic brain disease and schizophrenia.”
Updating the GABA questionnaire and GABA blog
I’m using this research and feedback to make a preliminary update of the low GABA section on the amino acid questionnaire:
- Do you have intrusive thoughts, perseverate or have an overactive brain? Or do you have unwanted thoughts – thoughts about unpleasant memories, images or worries?
I’ve also updated this recent blog post – Anxiety, compulsive thinking, counting behaviors: gluten, tryptophan and inositol where I to share my feedback on a question I received on how to approach working with a child with anxiety, compulsive thinking and counting behaviors. I mentioned GABA as a possibility but with her symptoms and this new research, a GABA trial would definitely be something to pursue.
I’d love your feedback
- Do you resonate with any of this and have you seen this benefit when using GABA, in addition to the relief of physical anxiety?
- If you’ve also observed improvements in your ruminating thoughts when using tryptophan, I’d love you to try and share how GABA helps and how tryptophan helps i.e. how you feel before and after with each supplement?
- Also, if you are also using tryptophan and/or 5-HTP how do you know if it’s these amino acids or the GABA that is helping?
- I’m really looking for the differences you observe as you support low GABA vs low serotonin? Are they clear or are they blurred?
- If you’re a practitioner what feedback do you get from your clients/patients about low GABA vs low serotonin?
As I mention above I would love to see follow-on research showing that sublingual GABA supplements can actually shift this. I’ll be reaching out to the study authors sharing what we see clinically so your feedback is valuable and appreciated.
Additional Anxiety Resources