GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the brain's natural benzodiazepine. In fact, the benzodiazepine class was created in an attempt to mimic or amplify GABA's natural calming effects.
GABA is an amino acid and a potent mood enhancer. In fact, it is one of the most effective single nutrient mood enhancers that we know of. It is referred to as an "inhibitory" neurotransmitter because rather than revving up certain brain reactivity, it will turn it off. Under conditions of high stress, the brain will over-produce epinephrine. In short-term situations this is helpful, but if the stress is not managed properly, the flood of epinephrine can lead to adrenal burnout and persistent anxiety symptoms
SIGNS OF ADRENAL BURNOUT
- Inability to tolerate much exercise, or feel worse after exercise
- Depression or rapid mood swings
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Breathing difficulties
- Headaches, particularly migraines, along with insomnia
- Edema (water retention)
- Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep
- Feeling tired all of the time
- Feeling of not being rested upon awakening
- Tendency to startle easily
- Low tolerance of loud noises or strong odors
- Tendency to get upset or frustrated easily
- Tendency to get a second wind at night
- Eyes sensitive to bright light
- Feeling of being weak and shaky
- Fatigue and muscular weakness
- Sweating or wetness of the hands
- Frequent heart palpitations
- Sweet cravings
Chronic pain in the lower neck and upper back
- Inability to concetrate and/or confusion, along with clumsiness
Adrenal burnout is very, very common in sobriety - particularly early sobriety. So much so that a lot of people will go to their family doctor with the complaints. The most commonly prescribed prescription medications for anxiety are the benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, Ativan, Klonopin, etc.) Benzodiazepines are very similar to alcohol in their effect on the brain and can complicate and often ruin a good sobriety attempt. We are not suggesting that there is never an appropriate indication for benzodiazepines, however when it comes to recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, it is on you to be very careful what you choose to consume. Most anxiety symptoms can be easily managed with diet changes, regular exercise, and nutritional supplementation. It is worth trying before taking a medication.
HOW MANY EXTERNAL STRESSORS ARE YOU DEALING WITH?
Many factors contribute to adrenal burnout. The obvious ones are the external stressors: illness, injury, overwork, pain, privation, relationships at home and work, etc. Additionally, regulating sugar intake to help maintain a stable blood sugar level is an absolute must. If your adrenal system is constantly expending all of its resources responding and regulating your reaction to starchy foods and sweets, it will not be properly optimized to keep the rest of the system in check. The nutritional suggestions being made in this section can help you cope with these stressors without resorting to dangerously addictive medications, but they will not take the place of addressing the root cause of the preventable stressors.
Too much stress can deplete our GABA supplies. Taken as a supplement, GABA can help not only turn down the stress reactions following an upset, but it can even help to prevent a stressful presonse when taken prior to an expected ordeal.
We've seen GABA supplementation restore a sense of calm in a matter of hours. However, typically we counsel clients that it may take a few days to notice an improvement.
We usually recommend starting with as low a dose as is available. This would be 100mg 1-3 times daily before meals. Some people do not respond to this low a dose and can safely increase up to 500mg capsules if needed. We recommend taking the first dose at home later at night in case you are more sensitive to the nutrient and feel too relaxed or tired after the dose.
Two other amino acids that can neutralize a stressful state similarly to GABA are Taurine and Glycine. Taurine is a soothing amino that can turn off over-excited brain activity, and glycine helps to relax the muscles. There are several supplements available that combine these three soothing aminos.