Lately, I’ve been learning more about the role that the autonomic nervous system plays in the activation and inhibition of endogenous detoxification pathways, such as heavy metals detoxification, and in immune function. I read dozens of scientific journal articles per month, many of them quite fascinating, but this recent one published in Nature Communications really caught my eye; in the study, the authors discuss the role of GABA, the human body’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, in enhancing the host immune response to intracellular pathogens. Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium responsible for Lyme disease, happens to be an intracellular pathogen, one that is notoriously difficult to eradicate. These findings suggest that activation of GABA signaling may boost the body’s ability to fight off Borrelia burgdorferi, and enhance Lyme disease recovery!
How Can GABA Support Lyme Patients?
GABA is the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system (CNS). It opposes the actions of glutamate, the primary excitatory neurotransmitter. A fine balance must be maintained between glutamate and GABA to maintain normal, healthy brain function. (1) When GABA signaling is impaired, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders result. Until very recently, the role of GABA outside the CNS remained an enigma. However, a growing body of research indicates that GABA doesn’t just promote healthy brain function; it also supports optimal immune function.
GABA activates autophagy, the body’s cellular “housekeeping system.” Autophagy plays critical roles in cellular health and immunity. (2)
Lyme disease is known to have neurobiological effects on neurotransmission; for example, it alters dopamine signaling, affecting neural circuits involved in reward and motivation, memory, attention, and movement. (5) In addition, chronic infections are known to incite glutamate excess, at the expense of GABA, causing neuroinflammation and alteration of neural circuits. (6) Together, these findings suggest that Lyme disease may impair GABA signaling, promoting brain dysfunction. Conversely, GABA activation may have healing effects in Lyme disease patients.
How to Enhance GABA Signaling
One new nutraceutical I’ve been experimenting with is Quicksilver Scientific’s Liposomal GABA with L-Theanine. This product provides highly bioavailable GABA with the calming amino acid L-theanine, found in green tea leaves, in a liposomal formula that facilitates rapid absorption. Curiously, the sense of calm I’ve experienced while taking it has been accompanied by a sudden flare in some of my Lyme symptoms - and this occurred before I even knew the potential effects of GABA on intracellular pathogens! I plan to continue with the product for at least a month, and will report back on its Lyme-related benefits!
Exercise - including yoga, walking, and endurance exercise - potentiates GABA signaling (7); perhaps this is why long hikes and trail runs have been such a beneficial part of my Lyme recovery process!
Not surprisingly, meditation enhances GABA signaling. (8) Honestly, I’ve struggled with maintaining a consistent meditation practice lately, but this research is motivation enough for me to continue!
I hope you found this brief research summary helpful! I plan to update this blog post soon once I have had time to dive deeper into the research on GABA and immunity!