If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with epilepsy then you may well be in search for effective ways to treat and manage aspects of the condition. GABA is a natural supplement that many people take to assist their epilepsy symptoms. If you are encountering GABA for the first time you may be questioning exactly what it is. Before exploring how GABA is related to, and can treat, epilepsy, we will first briefly explain GABA itself.
GABA is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter. This is a type of brain chemical that acts as a messenger, signalling for the brain to act in certain ways. One of the main ways in which GABA in particular works is as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA is able to stop or lessen the actions of other brain chemicals linked to functions such as stress and anxiety.
What is epilepsy?
Epilepsy is the name for a number of similar conditions which involve the disruption of the brain’s electrical impulses. This disruption results in seizures of various lengths and severity. Not every seizure is the result of epilepsy and people can experience seizures without having or developing full epilepsy. According to the UK’s National Health Service there are three main types of epilepsy –
1. Symptomatic Epilepsy
This is a type of epilepsy which is diagnosed when seizures can clearly be linked to an event which has damaged or disrupted the brain.
2. Cryptogenic Epilepsy
This type of epilepsy is diagnosed when no clear indication of brain disruption can be found but symptoms such as learning difficulties strongly suggest it has occurred.
3. Idiopathic Epilepsy
This type of epilepsy is diagnosed when there is no obvious cause of epilepsy as in the above two instances.
No matter which specific type of epilepsy is diagnosed, the condition is usually identified after the occurrence of more than one seizure in a person’s lifetime. Seizures come in various forms and may be as mild as losing focus for a few seconds at a time or as major as losing consciousness, falling to the floor and experiencing muscular spasms.
How are GABA and epilepsy linked?
The scientific relationship between using GABA for epilepsy is not fully understood and theories relating to it have modified with the progress of science. There is a clear link between GABA and seizures however.
According to an article published in the Journal of Child Neurology, it was originally assumed that drugs acting as GABA imitators, known as GABA agonists, would act as a universal method of stopping seizures. This has not proven to be the case as results have been mixed in both human and animal trials.
Stimulation of GABAA receptors however has been shown to have an anticonvulsant effect insofar as it inhibits the occurrence of seizures. This may suggest that natural GABA in sufficient levels is an important aspect of reducing the likelihood of seizures.
How can GABA supplementation benefit epilepsy?
GABA supplementation may be beneficial to epilepsy in two ways –
1. GABA may reduce the likelihood of epilepsy occurring
As previously stated, epilepsy is typically diagnosed after a person experiences the occurrence of multiple seizures. If a person does not have multiple seizures then they will not be diagnosed with epilepsy. Some of the most common triggers of seizures include –
- Lack of sleep
- Alcohol consumption
By using GABA for epilepsy you are able to improve how you handle stress levels by inhibiting the brain chemicals which are linked to unhealthy levels of stress. Supplementing with GABA may prevent a build-up of stress that triggers a person’s first and subsequent seizures, meaning that they never occur and epilepsy is not diagnosed.
The brain mechanism that causes sleep difficulties is similar to the one which causes stress. GABA’s inhibitory function in the brain can help a person fall asleep easier and experience deeper and more restful nights of sleep. This improved sleep may lessen the likelihood of a person having a seizure.
Many people consume alcohol as a way of self-medicating against stress and sleeplessness. GABA supplementation can address the root cause of these issues and subsequently reduce a person’s perceived need to consume alcohol. Less alcohol consumption lowers the likelihood of multiple seizures and an accompanying epilepsy diagnosis.
2. GABA may reduce the occurrence of epileptic symptoms
The main symptom associated with epilepsy is seizures and GABA is able to lessen the impact of common seizure triggers in the manner described in the previous section. As a result of having epilepsy some people may also experience –
People may feel anxious after being diagnosed with epilepsy as they are unsure of when their next seizure will occur and whether it will embarrass them. This anxiety and stress unfortunately actually increases the likelihood of a seizure occurring. Taking a GABA supplement for epilepsy can inhibit the brain chemicals that cause people to worry and stress. This may make life more pleasant for a person with epilepsy and lessen their likelihood of further seizures as a result.
Depression can occur in people with epilepsy for multiple reasons, not all related to the epilepsy itself. Healthy levels of GABA have been shown to have a positive effect on depression. Unfortunately, seizures actually make it more difficult for the brain to produce its vital levels of natural GABA. Taking a GABA supplement can counteract this effect and improve a person’s mood and emotional outlook.
Why consider GABA rather than other treatments for epilepsy?
It is vital to note that epilepsy cannot be cured, only managed and treated. Some of the ways in which the condition are managed include –
- Anti-seizure drugs
- Brain lobotomies
Many people diagnosed with epilepsy are familiar with the experience of experimenting with various combinations of anticonvulsant medications until their seizures are bought under control. This can be stressful and only has a 70% success rate at the best of times.
In extreme cases surgeons may cut out a piece of a person’s brain in an attempt to control their seizures. This is obviously a stressful occurrence and not one which people generally wish for.
Taking GABA supplementation may provide a safer and natural way of either stopping seizures from ever occurring or lessening their likelihood after occurrence. It is vital to consult a doctor before stopping any prescribed medication or combining a GABA supplement with prescribed medication.