By Amy Medling, founder of PCOS Diva
Many women with PCOS have low GABA, and it is impacting their quality of life. Anxiety, trouble sleeping, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are all symptoms. The good news is, there is something you can do about it. Here’s what you need to know.
What is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, aka the part of the nervous system consisting of the brain and spinal cord. Being an “inhibitory neurotransmitter” simply means GABA is a compound capable of slowing down neuron or nerve cell activity.
Because it’s a neurotransmitter, there is also a corresponding GABA receptor which transmits the “messages” brought by neurotransmitters throughout the body.
A good example of one of the main functions of GABA is in improving quality of sleep as one of its duties is to tell your brain that you’re about call it a day and you want some decent shuteye. Low levels of GABA will of course lead to poor sleep quality.
More than sleep, GABA is also responsible for a person’s behavior, cognition, and their response to stress. It also helps manage fear and anxiety levels since these are two types of behaviors that fire your neurons rapidly. GABA acts as a form of buffer or counter-firing activity to balance everything out.
GABA works a lot like alcohol. Alcohol is known to mimic GABA, which explains why people who drink feel relaxed, calm and happy, and even have a heightened sense of bravery to do irrational things. The hangover is when your brain realizes it had too much GABA, so now it deliberately crashes it which then causes headaches and nausea before it achieves balance again.
What does it have to do with PCOS?
Studies have documented the effects of PCOS on female behavior. Studies show those with PCOS commonly have reduced quality of life, anxiety, depression, body dissatisfaction, an eating disorder, and sexual dysfunction. 
In fact, a 2014 study by scientists in Turkey investigated the connection between PCOS and GABA. They found out various hormonal imbalances that lead to PCOS also contribute to lower GABA levels.  They also wrote:
“These findings show that women with PCOS are under hormonal oppression. After all, undoubtedly, these hormonal changes affect the emotional state of the patients…The impaired psychosocial functions in patients with PCOS are associated with frustration feelings and anxiety.”
If you have PCOS, there’s a good chance you also have low GABA levels.
How do I know if I am low in GABA?
As with any disorder, there are symptoms to having low GABA. Some of them are:
- Trouble relaxing or loosening up
- Anxiety or panic disorders
- Feelings of helplessness
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Easily agitated or angered
- Difficulty in sleeping due to racing thoughts
When you constantly have your nerve cells running all over the place, you’re bound to experience restlessness, agitation, and eventually lack of sleep. Lack of sleep can snowball into illnesses linked to chronic sleep deprivation which will only worsen the situation with someone who is already diagnosed with PCOS.
So I’m low, what can I do?
As with many diseases, one of the root causes of having low GABA is poor lifestyle choices. Even something as seemingly trivial as sleep can be a root cause of low GABA. Sleep and GABA go hand in hand. When you have low GABA, you have bad sleep and vice versa. If you can force your body to adapt to a regular sleeping pattern, and ultimately improve circadian health, your body will naturally have better GABA receptors and respond to GABA neurotransmitters faster.
Other lifestyle choices you can try include:
- Dietary changes
- When it comes to diet, you would want to eat foods where GABA is found. I say found because glutamine is a byproduct of fermentation in foods. Some of these foods are sauerkraut, kimchii, kefir, and kombucha.
- Regular exercise
- There’s a lot to say about the benefits of exercise, but regular movement is ideal for all neurotransmitters specially GABA. Low-intensity walking or calming exercises like yoga all help support healthy GABA levels.
There are supplements readily available in the market capable of raising GABA indirectly and products that are actual GABA supplements. We’re telling you right now, there’s a good chance GABA supplements don’t work, and it’s all thanks to a thing called the blood-brain barrier (BBB).
The BBB is a special line of defense produced by our body to prevent harmful substances from entering the brain. While the BBB is capable of detecting and filtering these harmful compounds, it also makes it difficult for beneficial substances such as GABA to directly affect the brain.
So what supplements can you take? You can choose to take supplements that indirectly increase GABA such as
- Valerian Root
Likewise, you can also take direct GABA supplements so long as they’re attached to a compound capable of penetrating the BBB. Common ingredients are niacin and phenyls, but those who like to use GABA analogs such as Phenibut and Picamilon will fare better when it comes to bioavailability. Phenibut and Picamilon has 65% and 50-88% GABA bioavailability respectively. 
- Scaruffi E, Gambineri A, Cattaneo S, Turra J, Vettor R, Mioni R. Personality and psychiatric disorders in women affected by polycystic ovary syndrome. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2014;5:185.
- Balikci A, Erdem M, Keskin U, et al. Depression, Anxiety, and Anger in Patients with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Noro Psikiyatr Ars. 2014;51(4):328-333.
- Dorofeev BF, Kholodov LE. [Pikamilon pharmacokinetics in animals]. Farmakol Toksikol. 1991;54(2):66-9.
- Lapin I. Phenibut (beta-phenyl-GABA): a tranquilizer and nootropic drug. CNS Drug Rev. 2001;7(4):471-81.
As a certified health coach, Amy Medling often hears from women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) who are frustrated and have lost all hope when the only solution their doctors offer is to lose weight, take a pill and live with their symptoms. In response, she founded PCOS Diva and developed a proven protocol of supplements, diet and lifestyle programs that offer women tools to help gain control of their PCOS and regain their fertility, femininity, health and happiness.