GABA Supplements: Benefits for Mood, Insomnia and Anxiety

GABA acts as the principal inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, naturally involved in reducing activity in the neurons that lead to anxiety, stress, poor mood and insomnia.

Type: Gabaergic Supplement
Used For: Anxiety, Enhancing Mood, Depression, Stress Relief, Sleep, ADHD, Focus, Pain, Promoting Lean Muscle Growth, Burning Fat, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Typical Dosage: 250 mg-1000 mg per day
Some Possible Drug Interactions: Anti-Hypertensive Drugs
Supplement Interactions: May interact with supplements that lower blood pressure including, alpha-linolenic acid, cocoa, cod liver oil and more

What is GABA?

GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) is an amino acid and produced in the brain from glutamate and vitamin B6. It acts as the primary inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitter in the central nervous system working to prevent over-stimulation of Glutamate, the primary excitatory (stimulating) neurotransmitter. This chemical is known to promote a relaxed state, reduce the neurological signs of nervousness and act as a sleep aid.

GABA Uses For Mood & SleepGlutamate (glutamic acid) is crucial for brain function including memory, attention span and learning. However, too much stimulation can lead to anxiety, PTSD, depression and insomnia. The proper balance of GABA acts to calm these receiving nerve cells from becoming overstimulated.

Clinical trials have suggested that GABA supplements promote relaxationreduce anxietyimprove your mood and increase the ability to focus. However, the value of taking it as a Nootropic continues to be questionable due to the fact that oral ingestion cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to affect cognitive functions.

There are many reports from users that support its positive effects as a sleep aid and for other uses including symptoms of ADHD, panic attacks, addiction and anxiety, however, GABA is sold as a dietary supplement and is not approved by the FDA to treat or prevent any conditions. You should always speak with your doctor first before using supplements especially if you are diagnosed with a medical condition.

This article will discuss the benefits associated with the GABA neurotransmitter, alternative supplements to consider, potential side effects and dosage guidelines.

GABA Benefits

GABA supplements are often referred to as natural tranquilizers. They are commonly used for their many potential benefits related to reducing symptoms of anxiety, stress, depression and insomnia.

The main function of GABA is to stabilize hormones, chemicals and neurotransmitters from becoming too overstimulated and to help in the production of endorphins that trigger a positive, mood-boosting effect, which may lead to feeling a sense of well being.

In the brain, it is the second most important chemical that attaches to receptors to prevent signaling from overstimulated neurons that can cause symptoms of anxiety. It also helps in communication between neurons and nerves. Individuals can have deficiencies or naturally lower GABA levels in the brain.

There are many connections that have been established between anxiety, panic disorder, insomnia, unusual levels of depression and the tendency towards drug and alcohol abuse to relax when GABA levels are low. In addition, symptoms of ADHD have been associated with insufficient amounts of this brain chemical.

You may also experience other symptoms such as a constant state of worrying, disorganization, racing thoughts and the inability to relax enough to fall asleep.

GABA itself has to be made in the brain and oral supplementation cannot cross the blood-brain barrier due to the size of the molecule. Despite this fact, this supplement seems to work for many people who claim it promotes feelings of calmness, improves mood, helps with the ability to focus and battles insomnia.

In summary, this neurotransmitters’ main function is to help the brain calm down and reduce feelings of irritability, restlessness, stress and anxiety that are caused by too much activity in the brain.

What are the Effects of GABA in the Brain?

GABA is vital for proper brain function. It is found in the highest concentrations in specific areas of the brain including the hippocampus, hypothalamus and in the central brain. It is present in 30% to 40% of all synapses, which are the gaps crossed between neurons allowing them to communicate with each other.

It is produced during the Krebs cycle that is responsible for the production of energy that is made from carbohydrates and is the second most important neurotransmitter in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers the brain uses to communicate with other neurons.

GABA produced in the brain, acts as a primary inhibitory neurotransmitter, preventing neurons from firing too fast (causing anxiousness) by attaching to receptors and preventing overstimulation of glutamate.

Glutamate is the metabolic precursor of GABA. For the brain to produce GABA, you need to have adequate levels of glutamate, a powerful excitatory neurotransmitter that plays an important role in learning and memory.

However, when glutamate concentrations are too high, overexcitation can occur in the receiving nerve cells and in some cases, receptors can be oversensitive, which means less glutamate is necessary to excite the cells.

The role of GABA is to balance these levels out. When adequate GABA levels are lacking, glutamate levels can become too high which can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia and more.

This mechanism as a whole controls balance and is thought to play an important role in calmness versus excitability.

In general, GABA reduces over stimulated brain activity. It is often referred to as “nature’s valium” since many benzodiazepine drugs such as Diazepam, Valium, Ativan and Xanax and other substances like alcohol and cannabis also work to increase GABA availability by binding to specific sites on receptors.

Do GABA Supplements Work?

GABA is quickly absorbed into the bloodstream. In terms of the effectiveness of using GABA supplements to generate higher levels of this amino acid, research has shown that the molecules are too large to be able to cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore cannot affect the brain. However, there are mixed theories on this subject.

In spite of this, there are a multitude of claims online by users stating that GABA supplementation has helped them to relax, cope with stressfall asleep with more ease and reduce anxiety. In some cases, even where other alternatives may not have worked.

It is suggested in theory, that this may be due to a potential connection between neuronal networks in the gastrointestinal system and GABA interacting with their receptors. This may cause positive effects on our mental state without having to reach the brain. More research is required to prove this theory.

In terms of the debate on whether this supplement can reach the brain, studies have mixed findings. It’s suspected that under certain circumstances such as a “leaky blood-brain barrier” GABA supplements will cross the blood-brain barrier in some people. This may be due to the possibility of individualistic differences in blood-brain barrier permeability.

Alternative ways to increase this amino acid or precursors to it are found in foods such as bananas, beef liver, almonds, halibut, whole grains, broccoli and spinach.

If you are considering GABA supplementation, it is considered generally safe as a dietary supplement when taken in proper dosages with few side effects reported. As with all supplements, consult your doctor first as it may interact or interfere with medications you currently taking.

Alternative Supplements to GABA

There are many real benefits of GABA supplementation but if you are finding that it isn’t working for you, there are a few alternative supplements you may want to consider for boosting GABA levels in the brain.

GABAergic natural supplements that have shown to be effective at reaching the brain are L-Theanine and Lemon Balm. Through their mechanisms of action, both supplements are thought to result in raising brain levels of GABA and providing calming effects.

Another supplement that binds to and stimulates GABA receptors, is Magnesium. An essential dietary mineral, it also serves to restrict the release of stress hormones from entering the brain. Deficiencies have been linked to anxiety and panic attacks.

GABA Side Effects

GABA supplements are considered generally safe and well tolerated when taken within the recommended dosages. It has no known drug interactions.

When staying within the dosing guidelines side effects have been considered rare. However, possible mild to moderate side effects have been reported which are typically due to high doses. They include increased heart rate, rapid breathing, tingling sensation in the limbs.

If you experience these side effects when using GABA at recommended dosages, these may disappear shortly after onset.

This compound is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women or children. It is a good idea to avoid this supplement due to lack of research.

It is also not recommended for people who have liver or kidney disease or people with bipolar or unipolar depressive disorders due to lack of research.

This supplement may cause drowsiness and it is recommended to not drive or use heavy machinery.

GABA should be taken with caution when combining with any drugs that affect GABA pathways in the brain including benzodiazepine, barbiturates or alcohol.

Research has not provided evidence that supplementation has any effects on anxiety, depression, insomnia or ADHD due to it’s inability to cross the blood-brain barrier. Supplementation may or may not work in all individuals.

GABA Dosage

A standard dosage of GABA has not yet been determined, however, some manufacturers will include dosing suggestions and in some cases, will list the side effects.

Some users have noted to experience the effects of GABA supplementation right away while others say it can take a few weeks before noticing any difference.

Based on thousands of user reports, the dosage seems to be between 250mg-1000mg per day depending on what you are taking it for.

For a relaxing effect, users recommend a total daily dosage between 500mg-1000mg. Those taking it for insomnia suggest 500mg-750mg in one daily dose right before bed.

In some cases, this supplement is also noted to be used by bodybuilders and athletes to promote lean muscle growth and support recovery. There are no standard dosage recommendations established for this use.

It is recommended to always stay within the lowest dose available when starting on any new supplement. This helps you gauge your body’s effect and find what works best for you.

These are just guidelines. Please follow instructions on the product label. It is recommended to consult your doctor first to determine what dosage may work best for you.

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