I first encountered GABA many years ago when I bought my first bag of GABA rice. A lady at a small shop explained that she ferments the rice at a specific temperature for a certain duration, claiming it would make me feel very calm. Although I had heard of this neurotransmitter before, I didn’t fully understand the depth of its impact on the body. To my surprise, the brown rice made me feel amazing, sparking a lifelong curiosity about GABA’s role not only as a neurotransmitter but also as a anti-aging chemical.


GABA has been shown to be vital to certain body systems and functions including the reduction of blood pressure, temperature control, human growth hormone release, weight regulation, respiratory function, brain, kidney and pancreatic function. It is also implicated in protecting against neurodegenerative diseases. Understanding GABA’s multifaceted role in the body has deepened my appreciation for its potential to enhance overall health and well-being. This curiosity has also sparkled interest into why aging women show loss of this neurotransmitter, especially in stages through peri-menopause and menopause.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a key neurotransmitter in the brain that helps control how active our nerve cells are. Think of GABA as the brain’s “calm down” signal. It prevents nerve cells from becoming too excited, which is crucial because too much excitement can lead to problems like autism, ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s and dementia.


GABA works by balancing another neurotransmitter called glutamate, which has the opposite effect—it excites nerve cells. The body has a special process to keep these two in check, known as the GABA shunt. Here’s how it works:


Glutamate to Energy: Glutamate can be turned into energy for the body through a cycle called the Krebs cycle. In this cycle, glutamate is converted into a substance called alpha-ketoglutarate.

Balancing Act: When the brain needs to calm down, some of this alpha-ketoglutarate is turned into GABA instead. This conversion helps ensure there’s enough GABA to prevent nerve cells from becoming overactive.


In simple terms, the GABA shunt is the brain’s way of balancing excitement and calmness. It converts glutamate into GABA when needed, helping to maintain a healthy neurological environment and prevent disorders related to excessive neuronal activity. Because of these effects, GABA is involved in sleep regulation, muscle relaxation, and overall mood stabilization. But this is not all, GABA has also shown to be implicated as a chemical which is anti-cancer and anti-tumour.


There are several ways to potentially increase GABA levels in the brain through lifestyle changes, dietary adjustments, and supplements. Here are some of my favourites.



Fermented Foods: All fermented foods which have had some microbial fermentation are going to have certain amounts of GABA so get your kefir’s or kimchi’s into your diet. Dietary edible fungus are also very high in GABA and can be used in cooking. I personally love cooking with Lion’s Mane mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms.

All Tea’s: Tea contains the amino acid L-theanine, which has been shown to increase GABA levels and promote relaxation.

Whole Grains and Vegetables: These are rich in B vitamins, which are essential for the synthesis of neurotransmitters, including GABA. The foods highest in GABA are wheat germ, pumpkin seeds, tomatoes, strawberries and Lychees.


Natural Therapies:

Herbs: Some herbs are believed to enhance GABA activity, including valerian root, passionflower, and kava. These can be consumed as teas, supplements, or extracts.

Acupuncture: This traditional Chinese medicine practice has been shown in some studies to increase GABA levels and promote relaxation.


Lifestyle and Behavioural Changes:

Exercise: Engaging in regular aerobic exercise, has been shown to increase GABA levels and improve overall brain health.

Meditation and Mindfulness: Practices like meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can reduce stress and increase GABA activity in the brain.

Adequate Sleep: Quality sleep is essential for maintaining balanced neurotransmitter levels, including GABA. Interesting enough, high levels of GABA are associated with shorter latency to fall asleep and longer sleep durations.


In the mid 1980’s, Japanese scientists first developed GABARON, a GABA rich tea drink which lowered blood pressure. By 2021, Japan has recorded more than 270 GABA products and GABA ranks the third place among Japan’s functional food ingredients. I personally believe we will be hearing about the neurotransmitter GABA more and more in the coming years.


The reason why I am interested in GABA is because as hormones decline, there is less signalling in the brain. We as practitioners see this over and over again. Brain looses it’s signalling capacity, and structural changes associate with it. As progesterone and DHEA all decline in our early to mid 30’s, we see a decline of calcium ion signalling in the brain and less binding of GABA onto these receptors. This is why improving hormone health through diet and lifestyle is important in keeping GABA levels adequate.


GABA exerts its effects by binding to two main types of receptors:

  • GABA_A receptors: These are receptors that, when activated by GABA, allow chloride ions to enter the neuron, making it more negatively charged and less likely to fire. Interesting enough progesterone, which is the hormone released in the last half of the cycle has the ability to bind to these receptors and if you are making the alpha progesterone which you see on the DUTCH, you will find more calmness in your life.
  • GABA_B receptors: These are receptors that, when activated, work indirectly, often leading to the opening of potassium channels and closing of calcium channels, which also inhibits neuronal firing. Both estrogen and progesterone have receptors here as these two hormones are able to control the neuronal firing in the brain.


The reason why this plays such as important role in hormone health is the fact that steroid hormones have the ability to modulate a lot more than just menstrual cycles and muscle gain. It is important to see the body as a symphony of reactions to which a lot of it is controlled by healthy hormonal health. I hope you get a few pumpkin seeds and strawberries in or top them on your coconut yogurt this week! Happy Sunday.