This calming neurotransmitter plays another, more risky, role when you are overweight or diabetic.
GABA May Not be Calming if You’re Obese or Diabetic
GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that has a calming effect on the nervous system. It’s used as a supplement to support stress relief, PMS relief, sleep, mood, focus fat-burning, lean muscle-building, and blood pressure issues, according to WebMD.
Now, a new study published in the journal Cell Reports indicates that the calming effect of GABA can sometimes backfire.
The study found that weight gain and an associated accumulation of fat on the liver is correlated with a rise in blood sugar and a release of GABA from the liver.
This study suggest that the body’s natural production of GABA could, on one hand, be mitigating stress, but, on the other hand, inadvertently raise blood sugar in those who are diabetic or considered obese..
When researchers chemically blocked the production of GABA, they saw a positive change in blood sugar regulation in just two days.
GABA is produced in response to all kinds of stress. Weight gain and the accumulation of fat on the liver is perceived by the body as a stressor, resulting in the production of GABA from the liver. Sometimes, there are unwanted consequences for how the body heals itself.
In this case, the stress-fighting effects of GABA on the liver may overzealously sedate the brain.
While the de-stressing effect of GABA makes sense, the brain’s response to the aggressive production of GABA from the liver is high blood sugar.
The body’s response to brain sedation is to restore energy, but in obese individuals and diabetics, restoring energy means increasing blood sugar.
Ashwagandha Supports Healthy Blood Sugar and GABA without Unwanted Consequences
The classic herb to support stress relief in Ayurveda is ashwagandha (Withania somnifera), or Indian ginseng. I have written numerous articles about the science behind this amazing herb, but haven’t written before about its ability to support healthy levels of blood sugar and GABA.
A 2015 study in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology showed that ashwagandha naturally supports the body’s healthy production of GABA, while calming the brain. It doesn’t sedate or slow brain function, but rather enhances cognitive performance.
This could explain why ashwagandha has also been shown to support healthy levels of blood sugar. For example, in a five-week study on rodents that compared ashwagandha supplementation with a control group, the ashwagandha group saw significantly healthier blood sugar and insulin levels, along with normal insulin resistance and glucose tolerance.
Ashwagandha Supports Healthy Levels of Fat on the Liver
Studies have also shown that by supporting a healthy response to stress, ashwagandha supports healthy levels of cholesterol, triglycerides, LDLs, and glucose in the blood, along with the healthy removal of fat accumulation in the liver.
Ashwangandha Crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier
Perhaps one of the reasons ashwagandha has been shown to have such a powerful effect on protecting the brain and nervous system from stress is its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
In one study done several years ago, mice were given a human equivalent dose of ashwagandha and researchers measured the effects on their brains. The study found that anamides, the active ingredient in ashwagandha, crossed the blood-brain barrier and were responsible for supporting the natural neural protective properties of the brain. This supports earlier studies that measured the ability of ashwangandha to boost a brain cell rebuilding protein called brain derived neurotrophic factors, or BDNF.
It seems that ashwagandha’s superior adaptogenic status has been confirmed again.
Rising Blood Sugar in Americans
Rising levels of blood sugar are a concern for almost half the American population, and treating those levels accounts for every one in seven dollars spent on healthcare in the U.S.
Understanding how the body’s natural response to stress influences blood sugar can play an important role in addressing this issue.
Research has shown that practicing meditation can have a powerful effect on balancing blood sugar levels.
In one study, 60 patient with blood sugar issues were split into meditation and non-meditation groups for six weeks. At the end of the study, the meditation group saw significantly lower fasting blood sugar levels; hemoglobin A1c levels, which measure the amount of blood sugar (glucose) attached to hemoglobin; and fasting insulin.