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GABA: Nature’s Anti-anxiety and Sleep Aid

GABA, or Gamma-Amino Butyric acid, is an amino acid that travels throughout the central nervous system. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and inhibits or blocks nerve transmissions, especially during times of stress.

Because GABA can block these transmissions, it can help to calm the nerves, especially when you are too excited, nervous or stressed. GABA helps to relieve these feelings, allowing you to calm down, rest, relax and sleep.

There is research indicating that taking GABA supplements can help not only induce relaxation but can relieve anxiety and reduce stress.

Further research is being done and needs to be done to determine the relationships of low levels of GABA on depression, seizures and movement disorders.

GABA health benefits

GABA may be able to offer a variety of health benefits, including:

  • Helps to reduce stress
  • Helps to calm nerves
  • Helps to relieve insomnia
  • Lessens feelings of irritability
  • Improves the immune defence

How does GABA help to reduce stress?

The primary health benefits of GABA are interdependent upon one another. By blocking nerve transmissions during periods of stress and irritability, GABA may help to calm nerves, reducing stress and anxiety. When you feel less stressed and anxious, you are also less irritable and are able to sleep better.

Stress and poor sleep can contribute to a reduced immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses, diseases and a variety of health-related problems. By relieving your stress and insomnia, GABA also helps to support your immune system health.

Common symptoms related to stress include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Poor sleep
  • Increased susceptibility to illness and disease

GABA health benefits

Researchers have been examining the role GABA plays in a variety of conditions, including depression, epilepsy and seizures, and movement disorders such as Tourette syndrome and Parkinson’s disease.

In examining the relationship between GABA and depression, researchers in a 2006 study suggested that women suffering from post-partum depression had low GABA levels. In a similar study, results indicated that patients suffering from chronic depression also had low GABA levels. However, there have been no studies conducted to determine the effectiveness of GABA supplements on assisting with depression.

There are also a few studies examining GABA and its effects on seizures. Current research indicates that people who suffer from seizures have low GABA levels. However, there have been no studies indicating that GABA supplements are an effective treatment for either seizures or epilepsy.

New research shows that GABA levels are involved with movement disorders such as Tourette syndrome and Parkinson’s disease. One study published in 2014 suggested that increased GABA levels may help with motor control and tics in patients with Tourette Syndrome.

Why take a GABA supplement?

GABA supplements may help those who are feeling symptoms related to low mood, including:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping, related to stress and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Nervousness

Who may benefit from taking GABA supplements?

Researchers have conducted few studies on the effectiveness of GABA supplements. One study tested the effectiveness of orally-administered GABA on anxiety levels. It found that in 13 subjects, taking a GABA supplement reduced anxiety and induced relaxation within one hour of taking it.

In a different study, researchers found that taking GABA under severe stress conditions, not only helped to reduce anxiety but also increased Immunoglobulin A (IgA) levels in those who took it, indicating that GABA supplements can improve immunity under stressful conditions.

Research on GABA supplements is ongoing, and further research is necessary to establish the effects of oral supplements on GABA levels in the brain. While it is inconclusive if GABA can cross the blood-brain barrier, a number of GABA users report a reduction in stress and anxiety as well as improved sleep.

Unfortunately, GABA supplements may not be helpful for everyone - but there are other ways to boost your GABA levels naturally.

Can you boost GABA levels naturally?

If you don’t want to take a GABA supplement, there are certain herbs and supplements that do play a role in increasing GABA levels in the brain, including:

  • Lemon Balm and Valerian root - the combination of lemon balm and valerian root is thought to cause stimulation of GABA concentrations in the brain secondary to inhibiting breakdown and stimulating synthesis of GABA
  • L-Theanine - an amino acid found in green tea, L-Theanine may also play a role in increasing GABA levels
  • Magnesium - magnesium is thought to bind to and activate GABA receptors
  • Taurine - taurine may activate GABA receptors, according to research published in the Journal of Neuroscience (2008)
  • Passionflower - passionflower extract, a herb traditionally thought to have calming properties and increase GABA levels in the brain

Are there side effects in taking GABA?

There are side effects associated with GABA supplements, including drowsiness and dizziness, if the dosage is too high. Simply reduce the dosage and the symptoms should disappear. Or take GABA only before bedtime.

Who should not take GABA supplement?

GABA may adversely react with certain anti-depressants or other neurally active prescription medications. Also, you should not take GABA supplements if you have bipolar disorder or are taking any psychoactive medications.

No studies have been done to examine whether GABA supplements are safe for pregnant and lactating women and their babies. Therefore they are advised to not take GABA supplements due to its effects on neurotransmitters.

What is the recommended dosage of GABA?

It is suggested that dosages for GABA be based on the condition being treated. For anxiety or sleep disorders, 100-200 mg up to three times a day is suggested. You may want to start out taking smaller amounts and increasing them if needed to get the desired result.

GABA capsules

GABA capsule supplements are widely available in a variety of dosages.

Other names of GABA

Beta-Phenyl-Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid, Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, Gamma-aminobutyric Acid