Written by Joseph Claussen, Co-Founder
About the Author:
Joseph has 20+ years of leadership experience in high-touch luxury industries. For the past five years, he has worked exclusively on mycology & plant medicine supply chain development with a focus on mushroom cultivation and extraction, nutrition science, health coaching, cognitive health, metabolic function, and product development in CPG supplements. Joseph is an avid speaker and cognitive health evangelist.
Slow-wave sleep is a critical component of the sleep cycle with numerous benefits for both physical and mental well-being. It contributes to physical restoration, memory consolidation, emotional regulation, metabolic health, and overall brain function. Disruptions in slow-wave sleep can have significant implications for various aspects of health and may contribute to the development of certain disorders. Prioritizing good sleep hygiene and addressing factors that may interfere with deep sleep is essential for maintaining optimal brain health.
GABA, a neurotransmitter/modulator, is crucial for down-regulating the central nervous system, particularly in the context of slow-wave sleep. Slow-wave sleep (SWS), is characterized by synchronized neural activity and slow, high-amplitude brain waves.
GABA, functioning as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, brings a calming effect to the brain by reducing neuronal excitability. As we transition into sleep, GABAergic neurons kick into gear, resulting in an increased release of GABA. This heightened GABAergic activity is intricately linked to the start and maintenance of slow-wave sleep, managing the synchronization of neural firing and the distinctive slow-wave oscillations of this sleep stage.
GABA's influence doesn't end with sleep; it extends to safeguarding brain health. During slow-wave sleep, the glymphatic system, a waste clearance system in the brain, springs into action. Astrocytes, a type of glial cells that make up the majority of cells in the human central nervous system, form a network around blood vessels. As the space between brain cells expands during slow-wave sleep, the glymphatic system efficiently clears away waste products, including beta-amyloid and Tau proteins associated with cognitive decline.
This intricate interplay of GABAergic activity and the glymphatic system during slow-wave sleep emerges as a vital component for overall brain health, potentially serving as a preventative measure against neurodegenerative conditions.
How lifestyle behaviors can influence GABA levels and function:
- Exercise: Regular physical activity, encompassing both aerobic exercise and resistance training, has been linked to increased GABA levels, contributing to the anxiety-reducing and mood-stabilizing effects of exercise. Even walking has been shown to increase levels of GABA, so if your schedule doesn’t allow for time for the gym, get out and walk for 30 minutes daily.
- Diet: Not only what you, but when you eat is vital. The timing of food also plays an important role in your sleep cycles. Studies suggest that eating close to bedtime can affect the different stages of sleep, including REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and SLS, which are crucial for cognitive function and memory consolidation. Disruptions to sleep stages can result in lower sleep quality and leave you feeling less rested upon waking. Certain foods, such as fermented delights (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut), green tea (with its L-theanine content), and nuts (rich in glutamic acid), have the potential to impact GABA levels positively.
- Stress Management: Chronic stress, a notorious disruptor, can negatively affect GABAergic neurotransmission. Practices like meditation and mindfulness emerge as potent tools to maintain healthy GABA function.
- Alcohol Consumption: While a glass may induce relaxation, chronic alcohol use may lead to down-regulated GABA receptors, resulting in increased excitability.
Our Moonlight supplement was intentionally formulated with natural ingredients that enhance slow-wave sleep stage, which is critical for brain health.
The interaction between kava and GABA is thought to involve multiple mechanisms, and scientific research has explored various aspects of this interaction. Here are some studies and findings that provide insights into how kava may affect GABA:
Direct Modulation of GABA-A Receptors: A study published in the journal "Psychopharmacology" (2003) investigated the effects of kava extract and individual kavalactones on GABA-A receptors. The researchers found that certain kavalactones, particularly yangonin and kavain, modulated GABA-A receptor function. They suggested that kava's anxiolytic effects might be attributed to its interaction with these receptors.
GABA Uptake Inhibition: A study published in "Phytomedicine" (2013) explored the effects of kava extract on GABA uptake. The researchers observed that kava extract inhibited the reuptake of GABA, leading to increased GABA levels in the synaptic cleft. This mechanism could contribute to the anxiolytic effects of kava.
L-theanine, an amino acid primarily found in tea leaves (especially green tea), is known to influence the levels and activity of the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. Here's how L-theanine affects GABA:
Increases GABA Production: L-theanine is believed to stimulate the production of GABA in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it has a calming and relaxing effect on the central nervous system. By promoting the synthesis of GABA, L-theanine helps enhance the brain's ability to regulate excitability and maintain a balanced mood.
GABA Receptor Modulation: L-theanine not only influences GABA levels but also interacts with GABA receptors. GABA receptors are proteins on the surface of neurons that respond to GABA. L-theanine has been found to bind to these receptors, leading to an increase in the binding of GABA itself. This interaction results in an enhanced inhibitory effect, promoting relaxation and reducing neuronal excitability.
Crosses the Blood-Brain Barrier: L-theanine has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, which is a protective barrier that separates the bloodstream from the brain. Once in the brain, L-theanine can exert its effects on GABAergic neurotransmission directly.
Passion flower is a plant known for its traditional use in herbal medicine, particularly for its potential calming and sedative effects. It has been suggested that passion flower may influence the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, contributing to its anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and calming properties.
GABA Receptor Modulation: GABA is a neurotransmitter that acts as an inhibitory signal in the brain, meaning it reduces the activity of the neurons it binds to. Passion flower is believed to interact with the GABA-A receptors in the brain. GABA-A receptors are ionotropic receptors that, when activated, allow chloride ions to enter the neuron, leading to an inhibitory effect. Substances that enhance the binding of GABA to its receptors or increase the opening of these receptors can have calming effects.
GABA Release: Some studies suggest that passion flower may increase the release of GABA in certain brain regions. This can contribute to an overall increase in GABAergic activity, potentially leading to relaxation and reduced anxiety.
Monoamine Oxidase (MAO) Inhibition: Passion flower has been found to contain compounds that may have monoamine oxidase inhibitory activity. MAO is an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters, including GABA. Inhibiting MAO could potentially increase GABA levels by slowing down its breakdown.
Synergistic Effects: Passion flower may work in synergy with other compounds present in the plant. The combination of various phytochemicals, such as flavonoids and alkaloids, could contribute to the overall calming effect.
Holy basil is an herb traditionally used in Ayurvedic medicine. Evidence suggests that holy basil may influence the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain, contributing to its potential anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and calming effects.
GABA Receptor Modulation: Holy basil is believed to interact with GABA-A receptors in the brain. GABA-A receptors are ionotropic receptors that, when activated, allow chloride ions to enter neurons, leading to an inhibitory effect. Substances that enhance the binding of GABA to its receptors or increase the opening of these receptors can have calming effects.
GABA Release: Some studies suggest that holy basil may influence the release of GABA in the brain. This increased release of GABA could contribute to the herb's anxiolytic properties.
Antioxidant Effects: Holy basil has been found to possess antioxidant properties. Oxidative stress has been linked to anxiety and other neurological disorders. By reducing oxidative stress, holy basil may indirectly support the health of GABAergic neurons.
Adaptogenic Effects: Holy basil is classified as an adaptogen, meaning it may help the body adapt to stress. Chronic stress can negatively impact GABAergic neurotransmission, and by supporting the body's response to stress, holy basil may indirectly contribute to maintaining optimal GABA levels.
Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Inflammation in the brain can affect neurotransmitter function, including GABA. Holy basil has been reported to have anti-inflammatory properties, which may contribute to its overall neurological effects.
Reishi is a functional mushroom that has been used in ancient Chinese medicine for years. Reishi contains both a high concentration and a large variety of naturally sedative compounds called 'triterpenes', which work with the nervous system to induce relaxation and calm. They have also been shown to interact with the GABA pathway.
Anti-Stress and Anxiolytic Effects: Reishi's adaptogenic properties may contribute to stress reduction, influencing neurotransmitter levels, including GABA.
Neuroprotective Effects: Research indicates that Reishi may possess neuroprotective properties, potentially extending to GABAergic neurons and maintaining GABA levels.
Modulation of Neurotransmitter Release: Some studies report that Reishi extracts may modulate neurotransmitter release, including GABA, although specific mechanisms remain unclear.
Anti-Inflammatory Effects: Reishi's anti-inflammatory properties may indirectly support a healthy GABAergic system by reducing inflammation in the brain.
In our quest for optimal brain health, let's embrace the synergy of lifestyle choices and the potential of natural supplements to optimize your quality of sleep.