To neuroscientists, GABA is known as an important neurotransmitter that mediates between the brain and the nervous system, thus regulating their communication. By either reducing or completely inhibiting hyperactivity of nerve cells, GABA influences the way human beings think, feel, and behave.
- 1 Summary
- 2 GABA Benefits and Effects
- 3 How GABA Works
- 4 The Experience
- 5 GABA Dosage
- 6 GABA Side Effects
- 7 Where to Buy GABA
- 8 Conclusion
However, what’s clearly understandable to scientists may not be so obvious to laymen. As always when it comes to mind-altering substances, brain enhancers, smart drugs, or nootropics, we’re mainly interested in two things – what they are, and whether or not they actually work.
Though we won’t be able to avoid scientific explanations (brace yourselves, new and impossible-to-read terms are definitely coming), today we’ll focus on what you need to know about GABA as both a naturally occurring acid and a supplement.
Note that the effects of the GABA neurotransmitter have been studied in great detail over the years, while the potential benefits of using GABA as a supplement still need to be researched, discussed, and talked about.
Our review is based upon scientific facts, but we’ve also used community comments and user recommendations. What follows is a mix of objective studies and subjective experiences, and is a somewhat basic guide that will be updated once the scientists finally conclude their latest research.
What exactly is GABA?
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid, and is defined as a “neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain”. It has a regulatory function, i.e. it reduces or inhibits the interaction between brain cells.
To better explain GABA’s effects, we’ll try to describe what happens in its absence. Without the GABA neurotransmitter, there’s nothing to regulate the way our brain cells and the nervous system communicate with each other. Soon enough, the communication path becomes too crowded with impulses, while brain receptors become overwhelmed with information.
It’s exactly what happens when you start overthinking everything – fear, anxiety, and insomnia follow shortly after, in some cases leading to depression, panic attacks, or even more severe mental conditions like schizophrenia.
GABA as a Supplement
When you take GABA in the form of a supplement it should help increase the natural levels of the GABA neurotransmitter and keep them balanced. Because the supplement is consumed in cases when a deficiency of naturally occurring GABA transmitters causes physiological havoc, they are expected to treat anxiety, insomnia, and depression.
Whether or not they actually do that is subject to scientific discussion. Some studies indicate that there might be a problem with the GABA supplement even passing through the blood-brain barrier. If this barrier is truly impassable, this would mean that the supplements cannot really replace the real thing.
That being said, long before GABA supplements were even marketed as a viable solution, doctors treated insomnia and anxiety disorders with drugs like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta).
The fact that there are many prescription medications that successfully pass through the blood-brain barrier, thus mimicking the effects of GABA the transmitter, suggests that GABA the supplement should be able to do the same without any problems.
With GABA, everything is a matter of balance. If the natural levels of this neurotransmitter are low, the nerves become overexcited. Fear and anxiety kick in shortly after, paving a path to various mood disorders
GABA Benefits and Effects
With GABA, everything is a matter of balance. If the natural levels of this neurotransmitter are low, the nerves become overexcited. Fear and anxiety kick in shortly after, paving a path to various mood disorders. Recurring panic attacks, depression, and schizophrenia are only the most common ones.
The benefits of taking GABA are numerous. They eliminate or at least alleviate symptoms of these conditions. As a supplement, GABA compensates for the loss of natural neurotransmitters, thus reducing neural activity and preventing their overxcitement. With that in mind, let’s take a look at GABA’s main boons.
The link between low levels of GABA and anxiety disorders has been proven in a number of studies, with a few of them – notably those by the American Journal of Psychiatry, the Columbia University College of Physicians and the Surgeon’s Department of Psychiatry – associating reduced GABA levels with panic disorder as well. Conversely, their findings indicate that supplementing GABA may eliminate the symptoms of both.
It’s no surprise that nerve excitability can take a toll on the quality of your sleep. The results of a 2008 study published in the journal Sleep confirm this – having compared patients with insomnia with a control group, scientists found that their GABA levels were 30% lower than usual.
But, can taking GABA supplements help with this? According to another study from 2015, the answer is a resounding “yes”. As the study concludes, these calming supplements can shorten the time needed to fall asleep. If taken in proper amounts, they act exactly as they should – as potent nerve sedatives.
Just like some studies show that patients suffering from insomnia have low GABA levels, other research reveals that these levels are increased in the aftermath of antidepressant treatments. This proves that the link between GABA neurotransmitters and depression is real and controllable.
If they can effectively pass through the blood-brain barrier, then GABA supplements may be powerful enough to finally help us win the ongoing battle with depression. Taken alone or with other ingredients, gamma-aminobutyric acid has already shown impressive progress in many patients suffering from depression.
Is there anything that PMS doesn’t disrupt? To make a bad matter even worse, it seems that symptoms of premenstrual syndrome have only been deteriorating more and more over the years. In a 2002 study, scientists concluded that this intense hormonal disbalance disrupts GABA levels as well, initiating their abrupt decline.
What’s important is that this notion leads us directly to the cure. If symptoms of PMS go hand in hand with low GABA levels, then it is only natural that resolving this deficiency can alleviate some of the worst symptoms. Consequently, GABA supplements could become a successful treatment for painful PMS in the future.
The link between GABA neurotransmitters and depression is real and controllable
In 2008, the Journal of Neuroinflammation published a study that demonstrated the role of gamma-aminobutyric acid in the development of chronic inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. According to the authors, GABA could be pretty successful in the treatment of both of these conditions.
Improves Focus in ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is another condition that has been scientifically linked to reduced GABA levels. The same can be said about lowered inhibition and increased impulsivity, both of which are regular symptoms of ADHD. Taking a GABA supplement can help you tackle them all.
Growth Hormone Level
As if relieving PMS and treating conditions like arthritis and ADHD wasn’t impressive enough, new studies indicate that GABA could also be a life-saver for patients suffering from human growth hormone deficiency (GHD), a diagnosis that leads to poorer life quality in both children and adults.
How GABA Works
The entire controversy surrounding GABA supplements is based upon one thing – the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. GABA the transmitter acts as the primary inhibitor that calms the mind and puts the brakes on brain activity when needed. When levels of these transmitters are low, both the brain and the nervous system become easily overstimulated and stressed out. In theory, GABA the supplement should help them unwind and relax.
Why does this happen in some cases, and not in others? As always, scientists have a number of possible explanations.
On a molecular level, the GABA supplement is too big to pass through the blood-brain barrier and thus enter the brain. In cases when this does happen despite GABA’s limitations, experts believe that this barrier is compromised or leaky enough to let the molecules pass through.
A 2015 study that deals with the effects of GABA on brain and behaviour suggests that some areas of the brain actually allow small amounts of GABA to squeeze through and get in.
Even more surprisingly, the authors of this same study suspect that GABA doesn’t have to enter the brain at all. The receptors it binds to are located not only here, but across the peripheral nervous system as well, where GABA has no problem of reaching them. This vital fact has been revealed back in 1990, in a study called GABA-receptors in peripheral tissues.
Though these, and similar results, definitely work in favour of the GABA supplement, it seems that the only way to find out to what extent it will work for you is to give it a try.
Having discovered and read the studies related to the GABA neurotransmitter and its many effects, I have to say that I was quite excited to hit the forums and find out more about using GABA as a supplement.
While one consumer claimed, and I quote, that “GABA has opened up a new world to me”, another one reported that the supplements did little to relieve either his chronic pain or the stress caused by it. In another review I’ve read, a consumer said that GABA helped him suppress anxiety and regain vitality, but was less effective when it came to his lack of sleep.
So, I tried it myself to see what it was really all about.
Being a compulsive overthinker, I was amazed to discover that GABA truly does have a gentle, calming effect. It helped me structure my thoughts and see things the way the really are, which was pretty much the end of my anxiety and panic attacks. Thanks to the supplement, I’m now sleeping better and waking up with my batteries charged and my mind ready for new intellectual challenges.
The experiment was successful, and the experience was a delight.
As mentioned before, GABA supplements can be used for a myriad of reasons. Since most consumers take them to eliminate or relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, insomnia, and ADHD, the instructions and dosages for these conditions can be found everywhere around.
In all other cases, the treatment must be established after consulting a doctor.
What follows is the overview of recommended dosages for treating common conditions.
Despite these instructions being accessible online, I urge you to review them with your doctor just in case. Not only may the effects vary in accordance to your sex, age, and weight, but they can also be less or more potent in accordance to the state of your immune system and your general health. If you want GABA to work, you simply must use it responsibly.
For Stress Relief
The recommended dosage for mitigating stress is 750-800 mg per day, divided up into 3-4 doses.
If you’re feeling anxious or panicky, 250-650 mg 3 times per day will be enough to help you out.
In cases of ADHD, GABA should not be used in doses larger than 250-400 mg 3 times per day.
GABA Side Effects
When GABA supplements do work, they usually leave the user with a tingling sensation in the hands, feet, or both. Some consumers have reported numbness in these areas as well, along with skin flushing and shortness of breath.
If misused or taken in excessive amounts, GABA supplements can actually increase anxiety or cause depressive episodes to last longer and be more intense.
Since taken for stress relief, GABA acts as a tranquilizer and makes the user sleepy. Though this is a sign that the supplements work, it may be dangerous to take them if you’re operating or driving heavy machinery. The same effect will drive you nuts if you’re trying to work, study, or tackle intellectually difficult tasks.
A Note on Restrictions and Interactions
Though GABA supplements work as a potent treatment for depression, they should not be mixed with depakote, gabapentin, and other drugs prescribed for manic depression. In case you’ve been diagnosed with bipolar or unipolar depressive disorders, it’s better to steer clear from them.
Since GABA can cause blood pressure to drop too low, taking it with high blood pressure medications is another interaction that doctors don’t recommend.
Whether you are still expecting or already breastfeeding, leave GABA supplements for later. Research on how they affect pregnant women hasn’t been concluded yet, and neither have studies on their effects on children and people with liver or kidney disease.
Where to Buy GABA
GABA comes in many forms, and can be found in multiple sources. If you’re feeling low or blue, and your body screams for some peace, I have good news. You can take pure GABA supplements, find ones that work in a similar fashion, or simply eat more sweet apples.
GABA supplements can be bought in health shops, pharmacies, or online. The choice between capsules and powder is entirely yours, but make sure to do some research before you decide. Read community reviews, talk to consumers, and opt for the most reliable vendor.
If it turns out that supplements do nothing for your condition, consider replacing them with valerian root, magnesium, or vitamin B6. All three of them effectively increase GABA activity in the brain, thus delivering the same health benefits as GABA supplements should.
Alternatively, try eating more fruit, veggies, legumes, and whole grains. A diet rich in apples, broccoli and kale, beans and chestnuts, brown rice and oatmeal is a diet rich in naturally occurring GABA and ingredients that have a positive effect on brain activity and neurotransmission.
Until scientists complete their work, GABA the supplement will probably remain a slightly controversial remedy. When we take a look at all the benefits it packs, we can only conclude that the lack of official research doesn’t do any favour to those in need. It’s pity, really, since GABA has all the potential to end our long-lasting struggles not only with anxiety, depression, and insomnia, but also with more severe cases of PMS, ADHD, arthritis, and GHD.
If your thoughts keep racing around without anything to keep them calm, positive, and focused, and if your heart keeps pounding erratically for no apparent reason, you should definitely give it a try. GABA supplements are perfectly safe, and even though there might be some non-responders out there, they can do wonders for your overstressed body and mind.