for vets

GABA: The Forgotten Anti-Anxiety Neurotransmitter

It seems each day I see a new post in veterans’ group’s I belong to where folks are reaching out for support stating they are feeling anxious, anxiety is getting the best of them, they can’t sleep, they’re irritable, nothing seems to be going right, there’s just too much going on right now.  The same day I may see posts where members are reaching out to other members for information about certain psychoactive medications; can anyone tell me about this drug?  Does anyone else experience this feeling on this medication?  Who’s taking X drug, I have some questions.  Has anyone in the group every just stopped taking drug X?

I want to share with you something I only recently discovered for myself and that is GABA.

GABA is called an inhibitor neurotransmitter; that is, its purpose is to counter the excitatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.  The brain is exposed to stimuli everyday – cell phones, tv, computer monitors, the people around us, construction noises, traffic, and the list goes on.  These seem like almost meaningless every day things, however what we don’t really consider is our brains have to react to  probably a couple hundred situations every day.  As your driving and approaching an intersection you have to scan fr pedestrians, other cars, cyclers.  You have to start thinking how you are going to react if one or multiple of these present themselves.  BAM!  Stimuli.  When your staring at your cell phone, weather reading the news or scrolling through your social media news feed, the light emanating from the phone is stimulating your brain.  The articles you are reading are surely triggering an emotional and thus a physiological response forcing your brain to react.  BAM!  Stimuli.  Whether you’ve been to combat or not, a loud boom from a construction site would cause any normal person to stop and assess a situation for danger.  BAM!  Stimuli (times that by 10 if you’re a combat vet).  We do not consider the amount of stress our brains are under every day, but fortunately we have that little neurotransmitter GABA which is supposed to make everything better…unless of course your body is not producing enough of it.  If your brain is under this kind of stress every day it may be that your GABA stores are depleted and your body just cannot produce enough.  And if your body isn’t producing enough GABA it is likely you will see a doctor and be prescribed some kind of benzodiazepine.  And once the beno’s show up, so do the questions about their side effects.  

Where does GABA come from?  Without going too far into the weeds, but touching on just the right amount of important stuff, GABA is produced in your gut when glucose (sugars) are broken down during the digestive process.  Glutamate is a byproduct of glucose metabolism.  An enzyme, glutamate decarboxylase, assisted by Vitamin B6 and magnesium form GABA which is then transported to the brain.

When you are not producing enough GABA, you may experience:

  • Poor sleep
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress
  • Fatigue

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar?  When I was introduced to GABA I was feeling anxious, stressed, fatigued, couldn’t sleep.  For me, GABA does not put me to sleep, but it relaxes me enough to where I can get to sleep and I don’t wake up vibrating in my bed thinking about all the stressors in my life.  And if I do wake up to answer the call of nature, I go right back to sleep as opposed to tossing and turning wondering what the next day has in store for me.

So what’s wrong with benzo’s.  Two things, 1) they’re not natural and anytime you introduce chemicals into your body you are bound to have some sort of adverse reaction.  2) benzo’s do not replace GABA.  What they do is they go to work on the GABA receptors in the brain, simulating GABA, but not being GABA.  By bombarding the GABA receptors they essentially become overloaded which can lead to a) falling into that zombie state of lethargy or just not giving a damn, or b) the receptors have become resistant causing one to become irritated or angry because your brain is not calming down as it should be.

One of the ways to help ensure your gut is producing GABA is to take care of it.  You need to feed the little microbes inside your intestines the right foods to keep them happy and working properly.  The gut flora really love fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, fermented ginger.  Probiotics are also good to have on hand, especially if you have recently completed a dose of anti-biotics for an infection.  

If you are curious and want to have your GABA levels checked you can order an organic acid test.  This is a urine test which will reveal information pertaining to neurotransmitter metabolites, basically by products of metabolism.  Homovanillic Acid (HVA) is a byproduct of dopamine.  Vanillylmandelic Acid (VMA) is a byproduct of epinephrine and norepinephrine.  High levels of HVA and VMA could be an indication of an over excited brain.  Low levels of vitamin B6, along with high HVA and VMA markers could be an indicator of low GABA levels.  (Dr. David Jockers).

So here’s the bottom line, if you’re feeling anxious, on edge, irritable, can’t sleep, can’t sleep through the night, you’re burnt out, maybe feeling a little depressed, it could simply be your brain needs a break and it’s natural mechanism for slowing down can’t keep up with the amount of stimuli it has to deal with on a daily basis.  But you can potentially correct this deficiency naturally, without the use of drugs which inevitably come with their own set of side effects.  You can purchase GABA supplement a vitamin/health store and try taking a GABA before going to bed.  I’ve taken GABA and a passion flower supplement, but if I don’t have the passion flower the GABA seems to work just fine.  Keep in mind, this is a supplement, so you shouldn’t have to take it every day, but I would recommend giving it a try.  Personally, I had instant results, as in the first time I took it before bed I slept through the night!






DISCLAIMER: Content on this website is for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice. Please see a physician or mental health specialist before making any medical or lifestyle decisions. Statements made on this website have not been evaluated by the FDA. Products recommended on this website are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

James Conner , USMC (Ret.)
I am a 20 year United States Marine Corps veteran. I spent 10 years as an infantryman participating in many overseas deployments to include multiple combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I earned a BSc. in Sports and Exercise Science from the University of Limerick (Ireland), and am currently living in the Netherlands where I am pursuing a MSc in Biomedicine specializing in Physical Activity, Nutrition, and Metabolism. I am a Certified Fitness Trainer, Sports Nutrition Specialist, Precision Nutrition Level 1 Coach, and Cancer Exercise Specialist.
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