That’s right, I said GABA – not ABBA! GABA, also known as Gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a neurotransmitter in the brain that inhibits or slows the brain’s functions. Its primary function is to reduce the activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system. That, in turn, has a broad range effect on the body and the mind, including increased relaxation, reduced stress, a more calm, balanced mood, alleviation of pain, and a boost to sleep. At this particular time, we all need to know more about GABA.
Natural Supplements and Food Sources that Affect GABA
These natural supplements help relieve stress and anxiety, promote a balanced mood, and help with sleep. Valerian, hops, magnesium, and L-theanine, all have an effect on the brain’s GABA activity. Other natural supplements that have an effect on GABA activity include L-arginine, kava, passionflower, and American ginseng.
GABA is found naturally in varieties of green, black, and oolong tea, as well as, fermented foods including kefir, yogurt, and tempeh. Other foods contain GABA or may boost its production in the body, including whole grains, fava beans, soy, lentils, and other beans; nuts including walnuts, almonds, and sunflower seeds, fish including shrimp and halibut; citrus, tomatoes, berries, spinach, broccoli, potatoes, and cocoa. (Michael Breus, PhD, Jan. 03, 2019).
There is ongoing research to determine how GABA supplements affect brain functioning. There are no real solid research results that point to the effectiveness of GABA through supplemental use. The studies have been small and inconclusive. The investigations are an effort to determine how the mechanisms of action from internally produced GABA differ from GABA supplement action. The biggest question researchers are trying to answer is if supplemental GABA crosses the blood-brain barrier – or – how it moves from the blood stream directly to the brain. Additional research is needed to discover how supplemental GABA may affect the nervous system via the gut (enteric nervous system).
Benefits of Taking GABA Supplements
GABA is naturally produced in our brain. However, like other neurotransmitters, production can decrease, resulting in low GABA levels. Low GABA activity in the body can result in:
· Chronic Stress
· Difficulty concentrating and memory problems
· Muscle pain and headaches
· Insomnia and other sleep problems
· Low GABA activity is also associated with substance use disorders
GABA’s calming effect on the brain has led to countless claims about the use of GABA supplements to reduce stress. Too much stress is linked to poor sleep, a weaker immune system, and a higher risk of depression. The following are some of the benefits GABA has:
For sleep: The body’s own GABA activity is important for sleep. GABA enables the body and mind to relax and fall asleep, and to sleep soundly through the night. Low GABA is linked to insomnia and disrupted sleep.
For stress and anxiety: As I mentioned earlier, GABA’s primary role is to diminish activity of neurons in the brain and central nervous system. This puts the body in a greater state of relaxation and alleviates stress and anxiety.
For high blood pressure: There is evidence indicating that GABA may work to reduce high blood pressure. In a study of people with borderline high blood pressure, 12 weeks of use of the supplement chlorella, a type of algae rich in GABA, significantly lowered blood pressure.
GABA and the Enteric Nervous System
The enteric nervous system is a network of neurons that control your gastrointestinal system. The ENS contains many GABA receptors and GABA itself, and, is connected to the brain by way of the vagal nerve. It has been proposed that ingested GABA is able to affect the body even without crossing the blood-brain barrier through its interactions with the ENS. (www.mcgill.ca). This area deserves more intense research because anecdotal evidence of effectiveness is large.
The Bottom Line
GABA has a very important role to play in our bodies as a chemical messenger. But used as a supplement the picture is less clear. Some research demonstrates that it may be an option to help reduce stress, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia.
My feeling on this is that they could fill a large-scale research study now while we are in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic!
Breus, M.J. (January 3, 2019). 3 Amazing benefits of GABA. Retrieved from www.psychologytoday.com.
McVean, A. (October 11, 2018). GABA supplements: glorious, gimmicky, or just garbage? Retrieved from https://www.mcgill.ca
Nail, R. (October 19, 2019). What to know about GABA. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326847
Westphalen, D. (March 7, 2019). What does gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) do? Retrieved from https:// www.healthline.com/health/gamma-aminobutyric-acid