What Is GABA?
GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid naturally present in the brain, where it functions as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters act as messengers by carrying chemical signals. GABA acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it obstructs or inhibits specific brain signals and reduces activity in the nervous system.
When GABA binds to a protein called a GABA receptor in the brain, it elicits a calming effect. This can be beneficial for managing anxiety, stress, and fear, and it may also contribute to preventing seizures.
Due to these properties, GABA has gained popularity as a supplement in recent times. This is partly because it is not abundantly available in many food sources. The only natural sources of GABA are fermented foods such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh.
How Does GABA Work For The Brain?
GABA has two notable effects on brain health. Firstly, it prevents anxiety-related neural signaling by attaching to receptors, reducing overstimulation that leads to anxiety symptoms. Secondly, it decreases Beta brain waves associated with stress and increases Alpha brain waves related to relaxation.
Excessive Beta brain waves can contribute to anxiety, depression, and insomnia. On the other hand, being in an Alpha wave state promotes relaxation and creativity. Binaural music can help induce an Alpha state for a relaxed and productive environment.
A study in Japan found that GABA acted as a natural relaxant, with effects observed within an hour of consumption. Subjects who took GABA showed higher stress marker levels compared to the placebo group after the stressful task of crossing a suspension bridge.
Potential Applications of GABA
High blood pressure:
Limited, older studies have explored the potential of GABA-containing products in reducing blood pressure. A 2003 study demonstrated that a fermented milk product with GABA lowered blood pressure in individuals with slightly elevated levels.
Similarly, a 2009 study observed a decrease in blood pressure among individuals with borderline hypertension who consumed a GABA-containing Chlorella supplement.
A small study conducted in 2018 found that participants who took 300 mg of GABA before bedtime experienced faster sleep onset and reported improved sleep quality after four weeks, compared to those who took a placebo.
Stress and fatigue:
A 2011 study conducted in Japan indicated that a beverage containing either 25 mg or 50 mg of GABA reduced mental and physical fatigue during a task, with the 50 mg variant showing slightly greater effectiveness.
Another study demonstrated that GABA-rich chocolate reduced stress during a problem-solving task. Additionally, taking 100 mg of GABA capsules reduced stress measures during an experimental mental task.
Although these studies exhibit promising findings, they were small in scale and some are outdated. More extensive and long-term studies are necessary to fully comprehend the potential benefits of GABA supplements.
For achieving a relaxation or calming effect, the suggested daily dose of GABA is typically between 500 to 1000 mg.
Individual experiences may vary, as some individuals may observe an immediate relaxing effect upon consumption, while others might require a few weeks of consistent use before experiencing noticeable benefits.
Potential Side Effects
Due to a lack of comprehensive studies, the potential side effects of GABA supplements remain uncertain, making it difficult to predict their impact accurately.
Nevertheless, there are some commonly mentioned side effects, including:
- Upset stomach
- Muscle weakness
Considering GABA's potential to induce drowsiness in certain individuals, it is advisable to avoid driving or operating machinery until you are aware of its personal effects on your alertness and cognition.
How To Take GABA
- GABA can be taken orally as a dietary supplement in forms like capsules, tablets, or powders. Follow the instructions on the packaging or consult a healthcare professional for guidance.
- Typically, GABA supplements are taken with water. The dosage and timing vary based on individual needs. Some prefer taking it before bedtime for relaxation and sleep support.
- Consult a healthcare provider before starting any new supplements.
Comparison With Other Nootropics
GABA is compared to other supplements for its potential benefits:
- GABA vs. Melatonin: GABA promotes relaxation by reducing neural excitability, while melatonin regulates sleep-wake cycles and improves sleep quality.
- GABA vs. L-theanine: GABA reduces anxiety and promotes relaxation, while L-theanine found in green tea reduces stress and anxiety without causing drowsiness.
- GABA vs. 5-HTP: GABA targets anxiety by reducing excessive neural activity, while 5-HTP supports mood balance and alleviates symptoms of depression.
- GABA vs. Valerian Root: GABA promotes relaxation by reducing neural excitability, while valerian root acts on GABA receptors, promoting sedation and improving sleep quality.
- Individual responses may vary, and consulting a healthcare professional is advised before starting any new supplement regimen.
Personal experiences with GABA can vary among individuals. Some people report positive effects such as feeling more relaxed, experiencing reduced anxiety, improved sleep quality, and a sense of calmness.
For example, a user said, “I have been taking GABA at 1000 mg I have chronic pain, anxiety, depression, and sleep issues due to a condition called fibromyalgia. I see no huge differences in my sleep. But before I woke up every day in pain and now I don't. Depression is well-managed and I am not having any anxiety. I don't have an overmedicated calm just a clear mind more myself calm. I also lost 30lbs”.
Another user said, “I work the night shift and have a hard time getting quality sleep during the day. I started taking Gaba with the melatonin I usually take. My sleep quality has improved greatly. I fall asleep quicker, sleep for longer periods of time, and wake up feeling rested. Highly recommend”.
Future research on GABA aims to further explore its potential benefits and understand its mechanisms of action. Scientists are interested in investigating GABA's role in mental health, including anxiety and mood disorders, as well as its impact on sleep quality and cognitive function.
Additionally, ongoing research seeks to uncover the effects of GABA supplementation on various health conditions such as epilepsy, hypertension, and neurodegenerative diseases.
GABA, an amino acid and neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in promoting relaxation, reducing anxiety, and supporting brain health. Its inhibitory effects on neural signaling contribute to its potential benefits for sleep, mood, stress management, and cognitive function.
While GABA has shown promising results in various studies, it is important to note that more extensive research, including large-scale clinical trials, is needed to fully understand its efficacy, optimal dosage, and long-term effects.
- Nemeroff C.B. “The role of GABA in the pathophysiology and treatment of anxiety disorders.” Psychopharmacology Bulletin. 2003;37(4):133-46. (source)
- Petroff O.A. “GABA and glutamate in the human brain.” Neuroscientist 2002 Dec;8(6):562-73. (source)
- “HOW DRUGS AFFECT NEUROTRANSMITTERS” McGill University Canada (source)
- Inoue K, et al. (2003). Blood-pressure-lowering effect of novel fermented milk containing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in mild hypertensives. DOI. 10.1038/sj.ejcn.1601555
- Nakamura H, et al. (2009). Psychological stress-reducing effect of chocolate enriched with gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in humans: Assessment of tress using heart rate variability and salivary chromogranin A. DOI: 10.1080/09637480802558508
- Kanehira T, et al. (2011). Relieving occupational fatigue by consumption of a beverage containing gamma-aminobutyric acid. DOI:10.3177/jnsv.57.9