Anxiety is an emotion that can range from the occasional nervous episode to full-blown panic attacks. Specific events can trigger anxiety, but you may experience chronic, unexplained anxiousness for which you take medications. Anxiety's roots may lie in your brain with a brain chemical, or neurotransmitter, called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA. GABA receptor sites are targeted with anti-anxiety medications, but there are natural substances that may also stimulate GABA receptor sites, such as taurine.
According to a 2010 study in "Psychopharmacology," 18 percent of the U.S. adult population suffers from an anxiety disorder. There may not be one specific cause of anxiety, but rather several contributing factors. The University of Maryland Medical Center states that anxiety may be caused by brain chemical imbalances, genetic or psychological makeup and life experiences.
Symptoms of Anxiety
If you have anxiety, your symptoms can include panic, uncontrollable or obsessive thoughts, traumatic flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, racing heart, jitteriness and gastrointestinal upset, notes the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Sometimes, this anxiety is continuous and unrelated to actual experiences. Chronic anxiety can have devastating effects on your life; it can disrupt your work productivity and damage relationships with family, friends and coworkers. The National Institute of Mental Health explains that anxiety can also coexist with other disorders, such as depression, alcoholism or drug use. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor.
GABA and Anxiety
Gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a neurotransmitter that is associated with mediating calm and counteracting excitatory stimulii. The study in "Psychopharmacology" states that anxiety and fear responses are partly modulated by GABA type A receptor sites. Anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines target these GABA receptor sites in order to induce calm. Another study, published in "Neurobiology of Learning and Memory" in 2010, found that rats more vulnerable to stress and anxiety differ in the mechanisms that control the GABA A receptor sites. Research is continuing to develop better ways of achieving GABA modulation to treat anxiety disorders. As for GABA supplements, a report from the Denver Naturopathic Clinic reports that GABA supplements do not reach the brain and therefore have no benefit on brain functions.
Taurine is an amino acid used by the body for a variety of functions. Recently, it has become the subject of clinical research for its association with GABA. Taurine has been used as a natural anxiolytic, or anti-anxiety compound, although some studies show mixed results. It may inhibit anxiety as well as produce it. A 2007 study published in the "Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism" found that use of supplemental taurine induced anti-anxiety effects in animal maze and staircase tests. However, further exploration has shown that taurine effects may be dependent on administration. "Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology" featured a study in 2009 that investigated the effects of taurine supplementation versus taurine injection. The study found that mice given oral supplementation over time saw increases in activity, from the distances traveled to speed of travel. In contrast, those mice receiving direct injections of taurine experienced decreases in stress and anxiety.
Points to Consider
In light of research, anxiety and stress appear to have links to GABA A receptor function, and substances targeting this receptor site may help reduce these symptoms. Taurine itself may have inhibitory effects, but it may also lead to increases in activity depending on administration. If you have anxiety or are considering using taurine, talk to your doctor. Since taurine is typically only available in capsule or tablet form, you may want to ask your doctor about other anxiolytic supplements.
- Psychopharmacology: Reduction of Fear-potentiated Startle by Benzodiazepines in C57BL/6J Mice
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Anxiety Disorders
- Neurobiology of Learning and Memor: Differences in the Density of GABA-A Receptor Alpha-2 Subunits and Gephyrin in Brain Structures of Rats Selected for Low and High Anxiety in Basal and Fear-Stimulated Conditions, in a Model of Contextual Fear Conditioning
- Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology: Effects of Taurine on Anxiety-like and Locomotor Behavior of Mice
- Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism: Taurine Induces Anti-Anxiety by Activating Strychnine-Sensitive Glycine Receptor In Vivo
- National Institute of Mental Health: What Is Anxiety Disorder?
- Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Symptoms
- Denver Naturopathic Clinic: GABA