Cutting down on Booze
If you’re cutting down on your drinking, one of the best ways to go about it without feeling pressure from your peers, or just the general swing of things during a night at a restaurant, pub or bar, is taking up a new hobby or practice that isn’t compatible with alcohol. Sometimes a go-to excuse is all you need. And you can take it further. Should you decide to take up yoga, for instance, there’s sound evidence that it can help in reducing the desire to drink and the reasons for wanting to have one in the first place. Studies looking at the effect of yoga and meditation on treating alcohol use disorder found participants reporting less stress, fewer cravings and fewer days of substance use. Another study using yoga for smoking cessation found that participants had 37% better odds of maintaining abstinence than those in the control group, and calculated that with each yoga class attended the odds of quitting smoking increased by 12%.
So taking up yoga gives you a double whammy, you won’t want to attend a class with a hangover, and the more you go, the better your chances of beating temptation and cutting down.
Yoga, Meditation, and your Brain
Mental health practitioners have championed the anxiety-reducing role of meditation and mindfulness practices for quite some time, and science appears to bear them out. More recently, studies have shown that yoga moderates GABA levels in the pre-frontal cortex, indicating that practitioners have improved cognition, concentration and alertness. So whilst we’ve been modulating our GABA system with alcohol well before meditating or doing downward dog, we figured out long ago that we could reduce anxiety and reach for inner peace without it.
Work and stress go hand in hand, with over half of British workers reporting feeling over-stressed at work in 2022. This follows a lot of us home, with just under half of us feeling stressed when thinking about work after hours. Exercise is a well-known means of reducing anxiety and depression, but we don’t always have the time, or the inclination to go to the gym or out for a run after a long day at the office. There are, however, less intensive ways to de-stress, and take advantage of the anxiety reducing role GABA plays in our brains. A recent study tested the elevation of mood and increased GABA concentrations in the thalamus in two groups of patients. One group followed and exercise regime, the other an equivalent period of yoga. The study found a substantial increase in GABA concentrations in the yoga group and greater self-reported elevation of mood and decreased anxiety.
GABA and the Microbiome
Our intestinal tracts house a universe of microorganisms and the healthy functioning of this microbiome relies on biodiversity. The study of this microscopic world is still in its infancy, but it looks like decreased microbiome diversity correlates with ADHD diagnosis. We know that certain bacterium in the microbiome both consume and produce GABA, and their presence has been linked to resilience in the face of stress and depression. A recent study has shown that the administration of a particular strain—Lactobacillus Rhamnosus—could protect against stress in rats.
- Experiments have shown that GABA receptors manage gastrointestinal motility—essentially, the movement of the musculature that surrounds our intestines.
- Evidence suggests that GABA plays a role in regulating the secretion of gastrointestinal fluids and modulates hormonal release—in the small intestines of Guinea Pigs, GABA receptors have been shown to regulate the release of serotonin, which is an important discovery, as the GI tract is where nearly 95% of human serotonin is produced.
- In the GI tract, GABA plays an active role in immune defence, where it appears that GABA receptors regulate immune cell activity and inflammation. The immune system is a complex system of communication that identifies pathogens and coordinates the body’s responses to them.
- GABA receptors are found in three of the main cells that contribute to immune defence: T-cells, dendritic cells, and macrophages. All these cells possess the metabolic architecture to produce and release GABA.
A recent study showed that Irritable Bowel Disorder—a condition related to the malfunctioning of the immune system—could be moderated by an anti-epileptic medication that is usually used to target GABA receptors in the brain.
- Research has shows that increased levels of GABA producing bacteria in women is associated with reduced levels of anxiety and stress, while other studies have shown antidepressant-like effects of GABA producing bacteria. GABA in the gut is also implicated in the treatment of epilepsy and hypertension, and plays a role in immune defence.