Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) for Anxiety, Stress and Sleep

GABA for anxiety disorders: Definition, uses, side-effects and benefits

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), is a commonly used supplement for anxiety, stress and sleep. GABA is an amino acid produced your brain but is also a supplement that can be taken with the same effects. GABA for anxiety, sleep and stress will be explored in depth in this article.

Anxiety is a condition where you experience persistent nervousness, fear or worry while also having symptoms like increased heart rate, rapid breathing, butterflies in the stomach, nausea, sweating, weakness and others.

Relief for anxiety improves your quality of life. It makes you to look to tomorrow with optimism rather than a gloomy look that is experienced in anxiety suffering individuals.

What is GABA?

GABA is an amino acid produced in the brain which functions as a neurotransmitter. In scientific terms, GABA is
a key inhibitory neurotransmitter used in the body to offset the glutamate (excitatory neurotransmitter) activity. I always refer to GABA as the brakes of the brain activity.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced in the body which act as messengers in the brain and nervous system. Once GABA binds to the GABA receptor in the brain, some of the brain functions are slowed or inhibited.

This leads to the following effects:

  • Relief from anxiety
  • Reduced stress
  • Getting improved sleep
  • Averting brain injury.

On a normal routine, the brain releases GABA in the evening to promote sleep, relaxation and rest. GABA production reduces stress and anxiety in the body. It also promotes a stable mood while also easing pain.

Drugs, supplements and foods that affect GABA activity

Drugs like barbiturates, anesthetics, benzodiazepines, antidepressants and anti-seizure medications among other drugs affect either GABA or GABA receptors. This changes the brain function and the balance in brain chemicals thus offering relaxation, decreases stress and anxiety, lowers the blood pressure and enhances sleep.

Also, naturally existing supplements alter GABA actions in anxiety and stress relief, mood regulation and improving sleep. Some of the supplements that have an effect on GABA include Valerian root, L-theanine,
Magnesium. Some of other naturally used supplements that may have effects on GABA activity are Kava, Passionflower, L-arginine, some teas, American ginseng.

L-theanine increases GABA, dopamine and serotonin. These chemicals function in the body to reduce stress and anxiety thus giving you calm and well-being.

The teas that have effects on GABA actions include matcha green tea and other green teas, black tea, and oolong tea.

GABA activity may also be affected by fermented foods yogurt, Kefir and tempeh. Other foods that affect GABA activity or production include whole grains, berries, spinach, broccoli, halibut, citrus, fava, lentils, soy, nuts like walnuts, almonds and sunflower seeds, cocoa, fish, shrimps and potatoes.

How does GABA work?

As the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter, GABA slows down the activity of neurons in the nervous system. This lowers excitement, activity and brain function resulting in calm and restful moments.

GABA due to reduced excitation of neurons, slows down the activity in the brain and body resulting to sleep, reduced anxiety, relief from pain, burning fat and lowering of stress. Due to the calm and restful results
of GABA, it also enables growth of lean muscle.

GABA helps in the function of most of the body systems. This includes the immune system, the endocrine system and digestive system.

Low GABA production or activity in the body results in the following:

  • Increase in anxiety
  • Having chronic stress
  • Having problems with concentrating
  • Memory problems
  • Depression
  • Headaches and Pain in the muscles
  • Sleep disorders including insomnia.
  • Misuse of drugs and other substances

Although the benefits of GABA have been well elucidated by most researches, how supplements containing GABA work has not been fully explained. There is a debate among scientists about whether, GABA as taken in supplements or food, can pass the blood-brain barrier.

It has been shown however that supplements containing GABA help in mimicking the GABA activity in the body. This therefore calls for more research to be conducted on the effects of GABA taken through supplements.

Benefits of GABA for anxiety:

GABA being a neurotransmitter that slows brain activity, helps in anxiety prevention and management. GABA helps to slow down both the brain and body activity thus working on most of the symptoms of anxiety such as
fear, sweating, increased heart rate, weakness and others. The effects of taking a GABA supplement can be felt within an hour after taking the supplement.

Even though scientists are still discussing the effectiveness of GABA in stress and anxiety management, several small studies have shown that taking GABA supplements helps in relieving anxiety and stress. It has been shown to boost immune system, slow brain waves thus reducing anxiety and stress, and reducing heart rate in anxiety situations.

Like in motion sickness, where research has proven the effectiveness of GABA, it also acts in reducing anxiety and stress. One of the reasons scientists have concluded that is because GABA slows the onset of motion sickness and symptoms like sweating, chills and paleness. Those motion sickness symptoms are shared with anxiety disorders.

Since the debate about whether GABA can enter the brain through the blood-brain barrier, researchers have focused their attention onto whether supplemental GABA can reduce anxiety in any other way. One of the ways
GABA may reduce anxiety includes through GABA receptors in the gut. GABA actions in the gut may be in inflammation and motility, the healing properties may help in anxiety and stress reduction.

Other benefits of GABA

  • GABA for Sleep: GABA is an important neurotransmitter for sleep. Due to the brain reduced activity and functions in calming you down, reducing anxiety and stress, GABA enables you to sleep.
GABA for anxiety: can GABA help me  to sleep?

GABA is naturally produced at the end of the day to aid in relaxation and sleep. Research has shown that low GABA
production or activity can cause insomnia and other sleep disorders. Some studies have revealed that in insomnia patients, GABA production and activity is 30% less than in normal people.

Insomnia is having on a regular manner late onset of sleep, having sleepless moments during the night or not having sleep at all. Insomnia medication like Zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta) target the GABA effects hence working to induce sleep. These medications however can cause hallucinations.

  • GABA for high blood pressure: GABA containing foods and supplements work in lowering blood pressure in people with high blood pressure. Research shows that GABA supplements or food containing such as chlorella helps to reduce blood pressure.

A normal blood pressure enhances sleep and reduces anxiety. In most cases, sleep, anxiety and high blood
pressure are interrelated.

  • Motion sickness: According to research on motion sickness, GABA works to slow the onset of motion sickness. To achieve this, GABA inhibits receptors in the brain responsible for dizziness, vomiting, chills, sweating and pale skin. The result is reduced motion sickness symptoms.
  • Other benefits which have not been adequately proven include:
    • Cerebral palsy: Research on GABA effects on cerebral palsy in children is promising. The results show promise in improvement of language, mental progress, learning and the body function.
    • Stress and other mental disorders
    • Relief from premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
    • Management of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Dosage for GABA supplements

According to research, dosage of gamma-aminobutyric acid dosage depends on the condition being treated, age and your health. I would recommend that you start with the lowest dosage suggested and raise the dosage if the effects are not optimal.

For anxiety, a GABA dose of 100-200 mg is recommended. However, a higher dose may be taken in consultation with your doctor. The same dose can be used for sleep and stress.

GABA dose of 10-20 mg is the recommended dose for high blood pressure.

Research show that orally taken GABA is likely safe for periods of up to 12 weeks. Research has however not elucidated the possible effects of long-term use.

Possible side effects

In most people, Oral GABA supplements are likely safe to use in adults. The research so far points to a period not exceeding 12 weeks. However, the safety in pregnancy and breast-feeding is not well known. I recommend that
pregnant and lactating women should keep away from GABA to be absolutely safe.

In some cases, GABA oral supplements may produce the following side effects:

  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Constipation
  • Burning throat
  • Drowsiness, muscle weakness and fatigue
  • In high doses some people experience shortness of breath.

GABA interactions

Due to the mode of action of GABA in the body, supplements containing GABA should only be taken if you are not taking the following medications. It should also be noted that incase you are taking any other medication, it is important to consult your doctor or pharmacist before taking GABA supplements.

GABA interacts with the following medications:

GABA may also interact with other supplements and herbs including:

  • Supplements and herbs that are used to lower high blood pressure. There are several supplements and herbs that lower blood pressure. The commonly used herbs include folic acid, vitamin D, cocoa, cod
    liver oil, magnesium, potassium, Coenzyme Q10, acetyl-L-carnitine, garlic, alpha linolenic acid, L-arginine, fiber like psyllium, melatonin, omega-3 supplements, anthocyanins and French maritime bark extracts.

GABA analogues

GABA analogues are molecules that are either a derivative or has similarities to GABA. The similarities are in structure, but the target of action may be different. The analogues act as anticonvulsants, sedatives and anxiolytics (anxiety medication). The commonly known GABA analogues are Lyrica and Gabapentin.

The two are prescribed mainly as anxiolytics, anticonvulsants and to treat neuropathic pain in addition to treatment of migraines.

There are over 100 GABA derivatives which are known with different uses in the medical sphere.

The bottom line

GABA is a very important chemical in your body. It regulates some of the basic functions in your body. Taking GABA supplements may help in treatment of anxiety, insomnia, stress and other medical conditions discussed
in this article.

However, always consult your doctor or a pharmacist before taking GABA supplements. This is because there could be other underlying issues that may cause damaging side effects. Kindly use this information to form a
basis of discussion about GABA supplement use.