Gamma-aminobutyric acid also known as GABA is an amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter in your central nervous system (CNS).
While GABA is an amino acid, it is never incorporated into proteins, which means you cannot obtain it through food sources!
It plays a multitude of vital roles in your brain and body which we’ll cover in this article.
We’ll go in depth on how it does what it does, its research-backed benefits, how it may help reduce your anxiety, dosages, and any potential side effects and safety concerns you should be aware of.
- Take GABA as needed when your mind is racing with thoughts on Sunday night about what you need to get done on Monday morning.
- Take before public speaking or important meetings to ease nervous tension.
- Can help you to have more relaxed and enjoyable mornings when your cortisol levels/stress hormones are at their highest.
- Take before bed to help get some quality Zzz’s.
- GABA does not readily cross the blood- brain barrier but it is still effective for calming the nervous system in your gut where almost 90% of your serotonin is located!
How GABA Works
First off, if you’ve researched GABA to any extent you’ve most likely read about its ability to cross the Blood-Brain Barrier (BBB). It does not readily cross the blood-brain barrier when taken orally, key word being “readily.”
This blood-brain barrier is a highly-selective membrane that separates circulating blood from brain fluid in your CNS (see image below).
This barrier allows certain molecules, gasses, and water to pass while also preventing entry of potentially dangerous toxins into your brain.
Think of your BBB as the bouncer at a nightclub letting certain guests in and asking others to stand to the side for further inspection or flat our denying access to dangerous individuals. Your BBB does the same thing for your brain.
GABA is a neurotransmitter and primary inhibitor of your central nervous system (CNS). When GABA levels increase in your brain, excitability decreases and as a result, you become more relaxed.
Curiously though, it does appear to have some stimulating properties in younger individuals (i.e. when the brain is still developing).
The reason for the shift from excitatory neurotransmitter to inhibitory neurotransmitter remains to be explained by research.
GABA is produced in your brain from the conversion of glutamate (the main stimulating neurotransmitter). It enhances the metabolism of serotonin into N-acetylserotonin, which is the precursor to melatonin (a hormone that primarily controls sleep patterns).
Because of this, it is suggested that it plays a role in fighting anxiety and maintaining healthy circadian rhythms, which is how your body regulates your sleeping and eating patterns.
On top of that, it does have actions in your body beyond the central nervous system. For example, GABA is the main amino acid responsible for your muscle tone.
Muscle tone is essentially the state of constant partial contraction that your muscles exhibit, in preparation for any sudden movements or change in position that you make.
Inconsistencies in muscle tone, such as spasticity or stiffness, increased tendon reflexes, and paralysis, are the underlying cause of conditions such as cerebral palsy.
As a result, it is crucial for many body functions that extend beyond just mood and cognitive function.
There are two types of GABA receptors in your brain: GABA(A) and GABA(B) receptors. GABA(A) receptors generally produce feelings of sedation while GABA(B) receptors are responsible for feelings of relaxation and euphoria.
This is particularly useful in the development of pharmaceuticals as medications can be designed to target one specific GABA receptor based on the desired effects!
For example, benzodiazepines, which are commonly prescribed for anxiety, specifically target GABA(A) receptors.
The over-the-counter supplement, phenibut, targets specifically GABA(B) receptors which are why it’s been taken for anxiety because it can relax you without making you drowsy and unmotivated.
Do GABA Supplements Work?
Regardless of oral GABA supplements not being well absorbed into the brain, they do seem to have some positive effects, such as anxiety reduction and enhanced sleep.
As we touched on earlier, GABA enhances the metabolism of serotonin, and both are crucial neurotransmitters for managing anxiety; low levels of GABA and/or serotonin are generally associated with depression and anxiety disorders.
For that reason, over-the-counter GABA supplements have a rather wide range of claimed benefits, with some supporting research to back up these claims.
Most users find that the mood-enhancing properties make it a worthwhile supplement, even if anxiety is not an issue.
There is also interesting evidence that it may increase growth hormone (GH) secretion when used in larger quantities.
GH is a vital peptide hormone you produce naturally throughout the day; GH acts throughout your body to promote growth and repair of tissue as well as mobilize fat tissue so it can be burned as energy.
This could also be why some users find that they feel more well rested and are able to recover quicker from intense exercises and/or workout routines.
While GH isn’t necessarily important for nootropic and anti-anxiety purposes, this may nevertheless be a welcome benefit of GABA supplementation even if you are just concerned with your overall health.
To summarize, the most pertinent research-backed benefits of GABA include:
- Natural anxiety and stress-reducing properties
- May help improve sleep quality (via enhancing melatonin production)
- Promotes calmness/relaxation
- May enhance the immune system (especially when stressed)
- Appears to increase growth hormone (GH) secretion
Taking GABA For Anxiety
Research suggests it can be an effective over-the-counter anti-anxiety supplement. It works by enhancing serotonin usage as well as increased alpha brainwave and decreased beta brainwave production.
Alpha and beta brainwaves are the two most frequent types of waves in the brain.
When you are awake. Beta brainwaves are the most heavily used throughout the day; when you are active or engaged in difficult mental activities your brainwaves are functioning at the beta level.
Beta waves are often linked to active conversations when you have to engage your mental and verbal skills at the same time.
On the other hand, alpha brainwaves are slower but generally higher in amplitude. When you are in a resting state or coming down from a busy set of activities you’re in the alpha brainwave space.
When you meditate you are also functioning in the alpha brain level.
Hence, when your GABA levels increase you generally feel more at peace and restful. Additionally, GABA supplements are nonspecific in terms of which receptors they target.
Recall from earlier that GABA(A) receptors tend to be responsible for sedation and GABA(B) receptors promote relaxation and well-being In turn, GABA use may give you the “best of both worlds,” so to speak.
As always, do not replace any of your current medications with GABA until you’ve consulted with your licensed physician.
Recommended Forms and Dosages
The amount and form of you should use will depend on the purpose for which you want to use it. The dosage suggestions are as follows:
For Reducing Anxiety: 500mg to 750mg taken as needed (effects appear to peak around one hour after ingestion)
For Better Sleep: 750mg to 1000mg taken one hour before bed
For Increased GH Output: 1000mg to 3000mg split into several doses throughout the day (note that taking large doses of it at once are likely to cause drowsiness)
Safety and Potential Side Effects
GABA tends to be a well-tolerated, safe over-the-counter anxiety supplement, primarily because exorbitant amounts would be needed to increase physiological levels of it significantly.
Nevertheless, certain side effects of GABA use may include:
- Hunger pangs
- Gastrointestinal distress
*(may be benefits depending on what you’re using it for)
Most of these side effects will be rather uncommon unless using upwards of 10 grams per day. If you begin to feel undesirable side effects after taking GABA, simply stop further use and they will go away. You can then try using a lower dose and see how you respond.
GABA is one of the most popular over-the-counter anxiety supplements available, with users often reporting significant reductions in anxiety and improved well-being.
It is interesting that despite not being readily absorbed into the brain, it still seems to be useful according to research and anecdotes.
Moreover, it appears to be a solid sleep aid and may enhance GH output for individuals looking for a natural way to increase their GH production.
If you find that GABA supplementation is not effective for you, hop on over to our phenibut guide and see if that nootropic does the trick.