What is GABA? Health Benefits, Dosage and Side Effects

GABA

GABA

Commonly used for anxiety relief, GABA is a natural sedative that can be found in the brain that regulates nerve impulses and sleep patterns. Increasing the level of GABA in your brain can help to improve both your health and your mental state. GABA supplements have been shown to calm nerves and improve sleep quality by elevating levels of the neurotransmitter without producing any undesirable or dangerous side effects.

What is GABA

GABA is an amino acid that acts as a key inhibitory neurotransmitter in our Central Nervous System (CNS). It is made in the body from a glutamate precursor and acts as a natural tranquilizer, reducing anxiety and inducing sleep. Low levels of GABA are linked to conditions such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and addiction.

GABA is sold as an over-the-counter supplement in many countries, but there is debate as to whether orally ingested GABA has any effect. The blood-brain barrier cannot easily absorb GABA molecules, which reduces the overall efficacy of oral supplements. Still, studies have indicated that high enough doses of GABA do indeed have a calming effect [1]. Its sedative effects are milder than similar medications such as benzodiazepines and barbiturates, but GABA users tend to experience fewer side effects.

While GABA is most commonly used as a sedative and sleep aid, it is also known to have other health benefits. The supplement can help to ease the symptoms of Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS), lower blood pressure, and even reduce motion sickness in prone individuals.

Other Names

Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, 4-aminobutanoic acid

Editor’s Note

GABA is vital for our day-to-day comfort and health. Without it, we would be tired, irritable and anxious on a regular basis. GABA is found naturally in the brain, but not all of us have high enough levels of the hormone.

GABA supplements are designed to help boost GABA levels within the brain, promoting sleep and relaxation, but users report mixed results when it comes to the efficacy of available supplements. While some people report immediate improvements in mood and a reduction in anxiety, others experience no effect.

There is limited evidence suggesting that GABA supplements offer any significant benefit for users. Medical professionals tend to agree that GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier, which would indicate that GABA supplements don’t work on the molecular level. While reports of positive results may just be the result of a placebo effect, studies on how GABA supplements affect Growth Hormone (GH) production indicate that at least some GABA molecules can cross into the brain after ingestion of the nootropic.

While these results are promising, I remain at least somewhat skeptical of the efficacy of GABA supplements in alleviated physical and mental health issues. Many accounts indicate that these supplements produce minimal results that are difficult to measure.

Some suggest taking GABA in conjunction with vitamins and minerals that aid in its absorption, but the supplement still offers only mild benefits. Instead of flooding the brain with spare GABA molecules that are difficult to utilize, I would rather use a supplement that enhances the activity of GABA or converts into GABA after crossing the blood-brain barrier.

GABA Reviews

Many have taken to the internet to relay their experiences with GABA supplements, with plenty of users reporting positive effects. While there may be no medical consensus amongst doctors that GABA supplements cross the blood-brain barrier, many bloggers and other online reviewers report experiencing an anxiolytic effect after taking GABA supplements.

Benefits and effects

While GABA is primarily used for its calming properties, it also offers a whole host of other health benefits:

Anxiety and Depression

GABA’s inhibitory effects make it a natural calming supplement, reducing the activity of nerves in the CNS. The neurotransmitter is able to block nerve impulses, exerting a relaxing effect in the face of stressful stimuli. Taking GABA can be an effective means of managing excessive anxiety. GABA supplements also help to alleviate some of the symptoms associated with clinical depression [2].

High Blood Pressure

According to clinical trials, GABA can be used to control high blood pressure in adults who suffer from borderline hypertension [3]. Increasing levels of GABA in the brain helps to decrease anxiety and stress levels, which in turn promotes circulatory and cardiovascular health. Keeping your blood pressure low can help you to prevent the onset of heart disease, boost kidney health, improve vision, and reduce the risk of having a stroke.

Motion Sickness

Studies have shown promising evidence that GABA helps to alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness [4]. Taking the supplement before a trip by car, boat or plane can slow or stop the onset of motion sickness altogether. GABA helps to stop the chills, cold sweats and clammy skin that commonly occur immediately before feelings of nausea.

Immune Function

GABA helps to regulate the body’s immune system, enhancing immunity under stressful conditions. The neurotransmitter can activate or suppress cytokine secretion in immune cells, modify immune cell proliferation, and even direct the migration of these cells [5]. Increased levels of GABA can help to stave off illness by strengthening an otherwise weakened immune system during periods of intense stress.

Growth Hormone Secretion

Taking GABA supplements has been shown to increase levels of human GH in active adults, making it popular amongst bodybuilders and fitness experts. Oral ingestion of GABA stimulates the release of both immunoreactive GH (irGH) and immunofunctional GH (ifGH), which supports the development of lean muscle [6].

How It Works

Many anxiety disorders are tied to low levels of GABA, including panic attacks and some seizure disorders. Addiction, headaches, Parkinson’s syndrome, and cognitive impairment are also related to low GABA activity.

GABA supplements help to build up levels of the neurotransmitter present within the brain, ensuring that enough GABA is present to prevent nerve cells from firing too often or too easily. The nootropic is fast-acting, and effects can generally be seen within an hour of ingesting the supplement.

GABA helps to induce a calm and relaxed state in users by inhibiting nerve transmission in the brain. When GABA molecules lock into a neural receptor, they encourage the nerve not to fire, blocking whatever signal it might send. This prevents us from feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Many tranquilizing drugs such as barbiturates are designed to mimic the inhibitory effects of GABA and reduce the number of nerves firing at any one time.

GABA has a low affinity for the blood-brain barrier, which it must cross in order to reach its target receptors. As a result, many oral GABA supplements have minimal, if any, effects. Adults are recommended to take a relatively large dose of GABA each day to see any effect. Many supplements also contain additional nutrients and extracts to help enhance the absorption of GABA molecules through the blood-brain barrier.

Dosage

Because the blood-brain barrier does not absorb GABA well, a relatively high daily dosage of the supplement is necessary to produce an effect. Experts recommend that adults take between 3 and 5 grams of GABA each day, with doses varying based on age, weight, and gender. This dose can be taken all at once, or divided into two to three equal administrations throughout the day. GABA can affect digestion, so it should be taken without food.

Very little research exists on the effects of GABA supplements on pregnant women. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, it’s a good idea to err on the side of caution and avoid GABA supplements. GABA should not be given to children either, since little is known about its effects on a developing body.

Side Effects

Even when taken at high doses, GABA supplements are reported to have very few side effects. At most, you may experience a slight tingling throughout your body along with general restlessness and an elevated heart rate. Side effects are usually mild and temporary, generally lasting between one and three hours.

You should avoid taking GABA supplements if you are currently using other drugs that affect GABA pathways in the brain. Sleep aids and tranquilizers, including barbiturates and benzodiazepines, can affect GABA activity in the brain. You should also avoid depressants such as alcohol, which can also amplify the sedative effects of GABA supplements.

Stacking

There are numerous natural substances that interact with GABA, enhancing its effects:

GABA with Valerian Root, American Ginseng, or Kava

Valerian root, American ginseng, and Kava are all natural supplements that increase the effect of GABA on its receptors. Taking a low dose of GABA in combination with any of these extracts will magnify the calming effects of both supplements. The recommended dosage is 3 grams of GABA with 150mg of Valerian root, 100mg of American ginseng, or 60mg Kava Kava.

GABA with Tryptophan and 5-HTP

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that enhances the action of GABA. You can increase your serotonin levels by ingesting its precursors, Tryptophan and 5-HTP, which can be found in foods such as turkey, beans, and fatty fish.

GABA with Green Tea, Black Tea, or Oolong Tea

In clinical studies, extracts of different teas increase GABA responses in participants. Theanine, an amino acid found in teas, also increases overall GABA levels by enhancing glutamate transport [7]. Drinking a glass of tea with your GABA supplement may help to aid in absorption, but you should limit yourself to just one or two cups. Enough epigallocatechin gallate extracts from tea can end up inhibiting your body’s GABA response.

Alternatives

GABA supplements don’t work for everyone. If you suffer from anxiety, depression or insomnia, you may want to try a more powerful alternative:

Benzodiazepines

Drugs such as Ativan and Xanax are powerful medications that are designed to provide short-term relief from symptoms associated with anxiety. These drugs belong to a class of substances known as benzodiazepines. Instead of flooding the brain with excess GABA molecules, benzodiazepines work by enhancing the effect of GABA at the level of the neuroreceptor. By making GABA work more efficiently, benzodiazepines create a strong sedative effect.

Heavy use of benzos can lead to a number of undesirable side effects and result in physical and psychological addiction. If GABA supplements don’t work for you, ask your doctor about benzodiazepines.

  •  Effective
  •  Expensive
  •  Addictive
  • Strong side effects

Kava

This plant has been used for centuries as a natural treatment for anxiety. The extract comes from the root of the Piper methysticum pepper plant and contains kavalactones, a class of lactone compounds with calming effects. Clinical studies have shown Kava to be effective in reducing anxiety in a variety of common stressful situations [8].

In recent years, Canada and several countries in Europe have pulled Kava from the shelves due to concerns over liver toxicity, but to date, no definitive link has been found. If you live in a country where Kava is legal, you can check it out as a natural alternative to GABA supplements.

  •  Cheap
  •  Powerful and effective
  •  Possible liver toxicity

Inositol

Inositol is found in high levels in the brain and is necessary for communication between brain cells. Supplements have been shown to help treat anxiety disorders and depression [9]. Inositol can be found naturally in many foods such as cantaloupes and oranges, but it is present in insignificant amounts.

If you plan to take Inositol to help reduce anxiety, experts recommend taking up to 18 grams of supplement daily. Some users experience mild side effects, but Inositol is generally safe for people of all ages. If you are looking for a natural sedative that is similar to GABA, you may want to learn more about Inositol.

  •  Mild side effects
  •  Powerful and effective
  •  Safe for all ages

Closing Thoughts

GABA supplements can help ease the symptoms of depression and anxiety by increasing levels of GABA in the brain. This natural nootropic can be used to treat conditions as varied as PTSD, panic attacks, insomnia, and addiction. While GABA supplements have been shown to have calming properties, the effects are severely limited.

GABA molecules are not able to easily cross the blood-brain barrier to inhibit neural signaling, rendering the supplement essentially ineffective. Users can stack GABA supplements with other nutrients to increase absorption and enhance anxiolytic effects. If you are interested in learning more about GABA supplements and the health benefits that they offer, click here.

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