GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is one of the major neurotransmitters in our brain – and is a chemical that our brain cells use to communicate with each other.
It is a naturally occurring chemical that calms the mind and puts the brakes on brain activity when needed.
If you are easily overstimulated and often overwhelmed and stressed out, then your GABA might be depleted.
Other signs of GABA deficiency include:
While you can get synthetic GABA, as a naturopath I prefer to instead support the body to increase the production of GABA naturally. Nutrients such as Vitamin B6, glutamine and l-theanine (found naturally in tea) helps us produce GABA, as well as magnesium and kava.
Eating carbohydrates can also help, but it is important to choose low-sugar, unrefined sources such as sweet potato, wholegrains, legumes (beans) and fruit. Include oats and almonds as these also naturally support GABA production.
And in case you need another reason as to why to enrol in that yoga and meditation class, then it is worth noting that yoga has been shown to increase GABA in the brain of those who practice regularly.
Bianca* aged 37, came to see me about her insomnia and subsequent fatigue. She also wanted to quit smoking and reduce her drinking - she was enjoying 3-4 glasses of wine every evening.
She described herself as always being an anxious person, and also had been diagnosed with depression previously. Bianca had seen psychologists and psychiatrists frequently in the past, and at times had been on various antidepressants.
In her 20's, she had been, in her own words, " a bit rock and roll" - binge drinking and regularly taking recreational drugs - which she now felt she had been using to deal with her anxiety and depression.
She never felt completely well. Always tired and she had trouble thinking clearly.
Most nights she had trouble getting to sleep - sometimes she didn't fall asleep until about 3am, and then struggled to get up in the morning. As a result, she was often late for work, and on weekends wouldn't get up until the afternoon.
Bianca was worried about her current mood swings. She noticed that recently she had started lashing out with anger - "explosive rage" she called it. And her libido was low.
After taking her case history, I suspected that she may have Pyrrole disorder -the main biochemical features of this disorder are a severe zinc and B6 deficiency (amongst other nutrients).
A urine test to detect the disorder was organised, and 2 weeks later we had indeed confirmation from the laboratory that Bianca likely had Pyrrole disorder, which meant here body had trouble storing zinc, B6 and other nutrients - vital for mental health and hormonal health.
The next step was to supplement. When dealing with mineral and vitamin deficiencies, it is important to supplement very carefully, as reintroducing too much can cause side effects. So, an individual supplement regime was put together, gently introducing vitamins and minerals to Bianca over a period of time.
In addition to this, I also put together a herbal mix to support the nervous system.
After a month, Bianca came in to my clinic to tell me that she was able to fall asleep more easily, and sleep soundly. She felt better able to manage her mood and angry feelings during the day. What's more she had started to reduce the number of cigarettes she had daily - she noticed that she just didn't think about smoking as much anymore (addictive behaviour has been linked to Pyrrole disorders).
Two months later she reported her energy had improved significantly, and she has the motivation and energy to move from part time to full time work. She was sleeping really well, and found it easier to get up in the morning.
She also noticed that her skin had improved (she suffered from eczema) and her menstrual cycles were more regular and with less incidence of PMS - an example of how when we address the root cause of one thing, we end up improving other health conditions.
Three months later, and Bianca now feels that her energy has gone from 3/10 to 9/10 on average. She has given up smoking, and now only drinks on weekends, just having one drink at a dinner out.
This is a great example of how correcting a nutrient deficiency can have effects in many parts of the mind and body.
If find myself recommending tahini to everyone lately, and so thought it was time to do a quick blog post on it. Tahini is rarely on any list of superfoods, but it should be.
Firstly, it is an amazingly high source of well-absorbed calcium.
Secondly, it contains essential fatty acids.
Thirdly, it's slightly bitter taste stimulates the digestive system, meaning that we break down food more thoroughly in the gut and increase our uptake of nutrients.
And lastly, it is soooo useful in recipes. You can use it as a thickener for sauces, dressing and dips, and it makes a good substitute for nut butters.
You can make your own by grinding sesame seeds - here is a great recipe, or pick up a jar of hulled or unhulled tahini in the health food aisle. Unhulled tahini is darker and has more nutrients, but is also more bitter. If you are trying tahini for the first time, then I recommend you go for the hulled version first.
Here are some ways that I use tahini:
I recently gave a workshop, and the most commonly asked questions revolved around fish oils.
Ever since researchers noted that native sub-actic populations were quite stout and yet didn’t have many of the chronic diseases of industrialised society, fish oil has been in the research pipeline. The results of 20+ years of publications, on balance, point to fish oil having big health benefits chiefly through its potent anti-inflammatory effect (helping with everything from cardiac disease and mental health, from skin conditions to arthritis).
However, for years I’ve told most of my clients that while they think they have this base covered, the junk they’re buying at the chemist or supermarket store isn’t helping. Now a recent study highlights that fact.
This study compared the effectiveness of 4 different types of fish oil, including concentrated (and more expensive) fish oil, cheaper concentrated fish oil, cheap krill oil and unconcentrated salmon oil.
The more expensive concentrated fish oil was found to be far, far more effective.
Furthermore, it is worthwhile remembering that fish oil can go rancid - even in capsules. So if you are buying a big bottle of fish oil that was sitting in the bargain bin outside the chemist for some time, and then that sits on your kitchen bench for even longer, then chances are it has gone off on the inside. Rancid fish oil actually CREATES inflammation in the body, the exact opposite of what you want.
You can check the freshness of your fish oil by biting into a capsule. If it tastes like fresh fish, then you are probably OK. If it tastes bitter, rancid or unpleasant, then it might not be that good for you. I often recommend fish oils that you take off the spoon as you can always taste whether it is OK, and you also get a good therapeutic dose that way.
There are many other factors to consider when buying fish oil - including the ratio of EPA/DHA (types of fatty acids) - differences here help us know whether your fish oil is best for mental health or cardiovascular health for example. If you are going to shell out on a supplement, then you might as well get the one which is formulated for the particular effect you are after.
Of course, it is always good to get your fish oil from fresh fish as well. Some varieties are better than others, but that is a whole other blog post (or kettle of fish, so to speak!).
Next time you are in for a consultation, feel free to ask me for a recommendation on the fish oil best for you. I am not aligned with any particular manufacturer or supplier, so happy to provide an unbiased recommendation.
Turmeric first came to my attention about 15 years ago when I was a naturopathic student and the spice had started to get some serious attention in both the natural medicine and scientific community.
We knew that in countries where people use turmeric extensively in cooking, that the intake seemed to be associated with a lower level of certain chronic conditions including arthritis, gastrointestinal diseases and even cancer.
Traditionally turmeric was used to strengthen overall energy of the body, to improve digestion, regulate menstruation, relieve arthritis, gallstones, bruising, immune conditions (such as cold and flu) and toothache.
Clinical trials are now showing evidence that turmeric can help with :
- Dyspepsia and peptic ulcer
- Hyperlipidaemia – such as high cholesterol
- Certain cancers
- Inflammatory disorders including asthma and irritable bowel
- Psoriasis (when used externally)
Some evidence is even emerging that turmeric can assist with mood disorders with greater effectiveness that Prozac, and also beats Ibuprofen as an anti-inflammatory. However, unlike these medications, turmeric is safe and well tolerated in most people.
High-standard turmeric is now available in capsule form, however turmeric golden paste is a powerful way to get these benefits.
Personally, I definitely notice a difference when I haven't had turmeric for a couple of weeks - my little arthritic toes ache.
Below is an easy-to-prepare Golden Paste recipe, plus 7 different ways to use it in food.
I also share some thoughts on dosage.
WHY BLACK PEPPER BOOSTS TURMERIC BLOOD LEVELS
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric and responsible for its golden color, but it is not readily absorbed by the body. Once ingested, most of the curcumin gets quickly metabolized before it can get absorbed. Piperine (the heat in black pepper) helps make curcumin more bio-available as it temporarily slows the liver from removing it from the blood.
We now know that the bioavailability, serum levels, and levels of absorption of curcumin all improved dramatically when both are present. (Although traditional cultures discovered this thousands of years ago).
One study found that when even 2 g. (a good dose) of curcumin was ingested, serum levels stayed very low. However, when 20 mg. piperine was added to curcumin the bio-availability increased by 2000%!
And it doesn’t take much. Even just a little pinch of black pepper – 1/20th of a teaspoon – can significantly boost levels.
INGREDIENTS FOR MAKING TURMERIC GOLDEN PASTE:
1/2 cup turmeric powder (125 g) – Use organic powder. I just love the Changing Habits Turmeric Powder, as I know that Cyndi goes out of her way to source raw ingredients which meet her strict standards.
1 cup water (250 mls) or a bit more to get desired paste consistency
1 teaspoons ground black pepper (7.5 mls) (or even 1/2 tsp. if pepper is too irritating)
1/4 cup (70 ml) un-refined Coconut oil – enhances the bio-availability of curcumin another seven to eight-fold
When eaten with fat as is done in India, curcumin can be directly absorbed into the bloodstream through the lymphatic system thereby partially bypassing the liver.
QUICK & EASY DIRECTIONS
Add turmeric to water in a pan. Heat gently along with stirring. Do this till you get a thick paste, approximately 6 to 10 min. Adjust thickness by adding some water or adding a bit more turmeric.
Finally, add the pepper and oil. Keep stirring to ensure that all ingredients are mixed properly. Allow it to cool.
Bottle in clean jar with tight-fitting lid and refrigerate it for 4-5 weeks or more. This will ensure you can make it once and use for days.
Okay, so now you’ve slaved (not exactly true, I know) to make your golden paste. What do you do with it?
7 EASY AND FABULOUS WAYS TO USE TURMERIC GOLDEN PASTE
1.) Take half a small spoonful (~ 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon) and chase it with water…all done! It’s one very popular way if you don’t like the taste (over quickly, no fuss or bother) and my favourite to spread it out through the day. One teaspoon is equal to ~2,000 mg. Best to take smaller quantities 3-4 times per day, especially if battling chronic neuro-degenerative, cardiovascular, pulmonary, metabolic, autoimmune diseases, or cancer.
2.) Turmeric honey. Some may not like turmeric paste’s taste by itself. Adding good quality honey makes the job easy.
Raw honey has its own health benefits. Adding raw honey to paste enhances its already existing health benefits. Just mix the paste with honey (to desired taste)
3.) Add to warm or cold milk. Golden turmeric milk is one of the most popular ways to take turmeric daily. Turmeric milk is extremely popular in Asian countries. I prefer to use use almond milk, cashew milk or additive-free coconut milk as dairy is inflammatory for some clients.
Simply add some turmeric paste in your milk and maybe a little honey or stevia (please not artificial sweeteners).
4.) Add to meals and hot soups. Simply add a dollop of golden paste. I’ve found I can ‘hide’ it in dishes with other stronger flavours.
5.) Add to smoothies. There’s no limit to innovations you can do here. Experiment. Add turmeric golden paste to all kinds of smoothies and make your favourite ones even healthier.
6.) Add it to rice. Turmeric golden paste can easily be added to rice. You can add 1 or more teaspoons after you have cooked the rice while still warm which enables smooth mixing.
7.) Turmeric tea. You can add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric golden paste to a hot cup of already-brewed tea, add honey, maybe a splash of almond milk, and your quick turmeric tea is ready. The taste and texture may not seem like a “normal tea” as it has black pepper and oils … but it is tasty; I have tried it.
DOSAGE FOR TURMERIC GOLDEN PASTE
Ground Turmeric: 1 teaspoon (2,000 mg. or 2 grams)
According to the traditional medical community, 2,000 mg – 3,000 mg, and this is considered the maximum amount of standardized turmeric curcumin you should take per day, although some studies show that 8,000 mg per day can be taken without any effects of toxicity. If taking higher doses, it is always best to work with a healthcare practitioner, especially if you are pregnant or wanting to conceive.
Studies show that you will start to notice a positive effect after 2 weeks, however as most conditions which benefit from turmeric are chronic, treatment with turmeric should be considered long term.
(References available upon request).
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist