What Pain Patients Should Know About the GABA Neurotransmitter

This article by Forest Tennant, PNN Columnist, first appeared in Pain News Network

“GABA” is short for the neurotransmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid. GABA is the natural (endogenous) biochemical substance in the brain, spinal cord, and all nerves that control electrical conduction.

Without proper GABA function, we experience pain. New research also shows that low levels of GABA make it harder to keep negative emotions such as fear, worry, anxiety and depression in check. 

All Intractable Pain Syndrome (IPS) patients have nerve damage somewhere in their brain, spinal cord, or nerves. Consequently, IPS patients will either need extra GABA or a GABA surrogate to force damaged nerve tissue to correctly function and relieve pain. 

GABA Surrogates

Without realizing it, you may already be taking a GABA surrogate. And you may have found that your pain gets worse without one. Here are the most effective prescription surrogates:

  • Gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • Carisoprodol (Soma)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Alprazolam (Xanax)
  • Lorazepam (Ativan)

There are also herbs and amino acids available without a prescription that can be used as GABA surrogates:

  • Valerian root
  • Ashwagandha
  • Taurine
  • Brahmi
  • Bacopa

Glutamine: GABA’s Precursor

The term “precursor” refers to nutrients or raw material that help make a neurotransmitter. Glutamine is the precursor of GABA. A dose of 2000 mg or more of glutamine a day when taken on an empty stomach with vitamin B6 (2mg or more), will increase your natural level of GABA and probably reduce your pain levels. 

Pure GABA is available as a tablet, capsule or in sublingual (under-the tongue) form in most health food stores or online. Unfortunately, when swallowed in tablet or capsule form, GABA may be digested just like food or fail to cross the blood-brain barrier, and be rendered ineffective.

But sublingual GABA is well absorbed by the body and should be given a thorough trial by every person with IPS. You can take 100 to 300mg sublingual GABA to treat pain flares, or 100 to 200mg of GABA simultaneously with an opioid medication or GABA surrogate for added pain relief.

Forest Tennant is retired from clinical practice but continues his research on intractable pain and arachnoiditis. This column is adapted from newsletters recently issued by the IPS Research and Education Project of the Tennant Foundation. Readers interested in subscribing to the newsletter can sign up by clicking here.

The Tennant Foundation gives financial support to Pain News Network and sponsors PNN’s Patient Resources section.    

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