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GABA, the calming chemical

Posted by Kim McNeil on 2021 Jan 7th

Posted by Kim McNeil on 2021 Jan 7th

Could adding fermented foods to your diet create a calming effect in your life? They potentially can, all because of one friendly chemical called GABA.

GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter, a fancy way of saying a chemical found in the brain. And found in the brain it is! GABA is our noggin’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter. Inhibitory in that it tells brain cells to stand down and wait instead of firing on all fronts.

GABA plays a role in our sight, our breathing, our sleep, and our motor control, but its main claim to fame is regulating fear and anxiety. Think of it this way: when you’re feeling stressed and anxious because you’re out of kimchi, your body produces GABA to calm you down. GABA takes you from a ‘Fight or Flight’ state to a state of ‘Ahhh’. If your body doesn’t produce enough GABA, you could expect to feel more restless, fearful, and stressed out. In more severe cases, headaches, panic attacks, and seizures could occur.

Enter diet. Caffeine, for example, inhibits the inhibitor. It prevents GABA from providing its calming effects. Is it no wonder then we feel wired after drinking too much java?

On the other hand, many foods contain GABA which offers up the possibility of benefiting from the positive effects of this lovely amino acid in the body through our diet. There is evidence that ingesting GABA-enhanced foods can decrease blood pressure, reduce the risk of diabetes, improve memory, increase learning, combat anxiety, reduce pain, and overall make you a better person. That last part isn’t true but it could be true if you believe that a healthy person is a happier person and a happier person is a person who is kinder to others. But, we digress.

Back to diet. How can one take advantage of these positive GABA perks? One way is by eating fermented foods. Thanks to a certain helpful bacteria, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, certain cheeses, yogourts, and sourdough bread go through a fermentation process that leads to the production of naturally-derived GABA. Although the exact mechanism by which the GABA absorbed through your gut ends up helping your brain is still unclear, there is evidence to show that eating fermented foods that could lead to a calmer, more rested, and less anxious you.

The best part: when you ferment properly at home, you end up with foods that are tastier, longer-lasting, more nutritious, and that help keep the stress-demons at bay. So go ahead, add fermented foods to the menu. Your mood and taste buds will thank you. 


Interested in learning more?

References:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC37690...

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4594160/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK513311/

https://dnalc.cshl.edu/view/485-GABA-Neurotransmitter.html

http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/gaba/gabajm.htm

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