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.
I blame the smartphone.
We are so used to having everything instantly that we have forgotten how to wait.
We want everything right now. Whether it is a piece of information, our coffee order, or a response from someone; we have little patience if something is taking longer than we think it should. Even Facebook will rate a business's page based on how quickly that business responds to messages. We want everything now!
On top of that, we are always on the go. In fact 24 hours, 7 days a week. We keep ourselves busy, busy, busy and rarely take the downtime to do nothing. And if we do, we feel bad that we aren't doing something.
We are incredibly impatient when it comes to our health too. We feel sick and want something that will fix it right now.
The thing is, our bodies don't realise that we are living in the 21st century. Our adrenal glands struggle to pump out the large quantities of noradrenalin we demand it to get up and start everyday.
Our over-anxious minds struggle to slow down so we can rest properly. I mean blissed out, completely relaxed rest.
We start to burn out with all the caffeine and sugar we feed it to keep going, and then our livers don't get a rest from the alcohol we drink to try and slow down.
Have a cold? Then we take something to "soldier on".
Many cultures of ancient times valued and appreciated the body's need for downtime. These cultures understood the moon cycles (often linked to menstrual cycles) and that during menstruation women needed to retreat and be introverted. They understood and respected the seasons of the year and that in winter we needed to slow down and sleep more. If only our workplaces respected this as well!
Many cultures also knew that we need significant rest after traumatic events - for example mourning periods lasted for months and years. Today we get 2 or 3 days of bereavement leave.
The impact that big life events has on us are also not marked as they once were. Whether we have started or ended a relationship, moved house, had a new baby or started a new job, we are expected to keep going at the same pace as always.
The thing is, in nature, things take time.
You can't just plant a seed in the ground and expect a fully-grown tree to spring up straight away. You need to water it, give it the right nutrients, have cycles of warmth and coldness, light and dark. And wait.
It is the same with achieving long term health. You have to give yourself time. The right nutrients. Periods of rest. Periods of activity. And be patient.
For true wellness - on a physical, mental and emotional level, we simply can't bypass the laws of nature. Sure, we can obtain a quick fix or band-aid solution, but for long term good health, we have to work in with the cycles and laws of nature.
Nearly every one of my clients are overworked and struggling to keep pace with the expectations of society. Every single one. Too much depending on adrenalin. Too much fast food. Too many quick fixes. Not enough self care and nurturing.
It is often the cause of so many health conditions.
I've been there too. I get it. It is incredibly hard to take the time to heal ourselves properly.
Society just doesn't make it easy for us to slow down.
But sometimes, we just have to.
The only way though to change things is to put your health first. You have to prioritise it.
Sometimes that means making difficult decisions such as taking time off work. Asking for space. Making time to cook from scratch. Making more time for exercise. Most importantly, more time for rest.
And, I'll say it again, it simply has to be done. You can't hurry biology or nature. Our body's have evolved with a slower pace of life over thousands of years. Which is why we are now burning out as things speed up so quickly.
Let's be more gentle on ourselves. More gentle on each other. And more patient.
Jackie*, a 37 year old accountant, came to see me in my Sydney clinic, wanting help with low energy, low motivation and difficulty concentrating at work. She told me that she would try to eat well during the day, but at night would eat compulsively. She craved chocolate and salty foods especially.
She had had a child 6 years ago, and in that time had gained almost 30 kgs and now weighed 102 kg, which made exercising difficult.
She had tried different diets, including shakes and then a low-calorie, home delivery meal program, but it left her feeling unsatisfied.
During the day she was very tired, but then would have trouble sleeping at night. She was plagued by regular headaches and had also developed eczema on her hands, inside the elbows and behind the knees.
A recent course of antibiotics had complicated things by causing bloating in the abdomen and reflux.
Her mood was very low, and she felt “heavy and stuck”. She found that she was not coping with stress very well.
We undertook some tests which showed that Jackie’s cortisol was elevated, and she also had an imbalance of several key nutrients.
WHAT WE DID
I first started Jackie on a six week nutritional detox program with specific strains of probiotics to support the liver function and establish a healthy flora balance in the gastrointestinal tract. We cut out many processed foods, especially refined carbohydrates and sugars, and started on a “cleaner” way of eating.
At the same time, I prescribed a herbal medicine to help support the nervous system, energy production, stress response and low mood; a high quality fish oil; and also a herbal and magnesium sleep formula.
By week two, Jackie reported a significant improvement in both mood and energy levels along. By week four, she told me her concentration had started to improve, and her bloating reduced. She felt that she now had the energy to start going for a regular 30 minute gentle walk each day.
After 6 weeks, her eczema had improved significantly, and Jackie noticed she didn’t get a headache as much, in fact she couldn’t remember when she had last had one. Even though we hadn’t yet started focusing on weight loss, she lost 4.5 kgs in those 6 weeks, and was thrilled with this.
She was keen to continue with weight loss as an objective, so we commenced on an efficient weight loss protocol with the aim to improve leptin sensitivity (the hormone which regulates appetite) and also discover if there were any particular foods causing inflammation.
By week 10, she had lost a total of 11 kgs. Jackie noticed that she could think more clearly and had a lot more energy and so had joined a gym, where she especially loved the aqua-aerobics classes. She had noticed that she was able to deal with challenges at work which previously used to stress her out.
Jackie had started to enjoy cooking and eating wholesome foods, and had cut out some specific foods which she noticed gave her a headache and skin rashes - a sign of inflammation in the body which can contribute to weight gain.
By week 14, she had lost a total of 15.5 kgs, and her energy had improved so much that she wanted to start training for a 5 day hike in New Zealand, something which had been on her dream list for a long time.
At this point, I moved from Sydney to Coffs Harbour, but I asked Jackie to promise to tell me when she achieved her hike.
Jackie’s case shows how strategic detoxification and weight loss can have so many positive effects on the mind and body. Jackie did all the hard work, but I was proud to be involved with such a positive change.
UPDATE: 3 Years Later
I received an email from Jackie recently who reported that she had spent her 40th birthday in New Zealand, where she completed a 10 day hike (her third long hike!).
She now weighed 72kgs, which was less than before she had her daughter. She had been offered a partnership in her accountancy firm, and she also cheekily shared that her libido had improved.
Her next goal was to start sailing, and to take the family sailing around the world for a year. I can’t wait to hear from her when she achieves this.
Thank you Jackie for letting me share your story today.
Rhodiola Rosea also known as “golden root” is an adaptogen herb with tremendous fat burning, energy enhancing and brain boosting power.
Adaptogens are a group of plants that can help your body adapt to physical, chemical, and environmental stress and rhodiola is one of the most effective in this family.
This unique herb grows at high altitudes in the arctic areas of Asia and Eastern Europe.
Historically the Vikings used rhodiola to enhance physical strength and the Sherpa people used it to climb at high altitudes including Mt. Everest.
The Russians have used rhodiola benefits extensively over the past 70 years mostly for improving work performance, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and increasing athletic endurance.
It works really well with other herbs in mixes I prepare individually for clients (particularly busy working women and mums) when I need to help someone increase their energy, burn belly fat, improve mood, fight stress, and generally just feel better able to take on the day like a warrior queen.
Naturopath, Nutritionist and Herbalist