Researchers think that GABA might be the brain’s natural calming sign. It’s thought to help individuals get good sleep, relax, and wind down. Continue reading for a deep dive into the science of GABA, its own purpose, receptors, and if GABA supplements are worth the hype.
What is GABA?
GABA is the key inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, which means that it functions as the mind’s brakes. It slows down and stops the firing of brain cells and brings the mind to a state of relaxation and calmness.
GABA counters the major excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. The mind has a wise way to balance activation and comfort, noise and quiet, yin and yang. It does so through glutamate and GABA.
We can think of GABA and glutamate in the brain like on a scale:
As always, balance is essential. On the other hand, studies suggest that too much glutamate can cause mania and seizures. However, an overly stimulated GABA system, like from large doses of drugs like Valium, can lead to extreme sedation and even coma. In fact, some general anesthetics are hypothesized to cause a state of deep unconsciousness by improving GABA.
One theory suggests that when GABA and glutamate are in harmony, the mind can operate optimally.
However, many factors can throw off this equilibrium. Within our modern, urban planet and fast lifestyles, GABA might often take the tollfree.
Some studies indicate that when the mind is continually activated, under stress, or nervous, glutamate increases, GABA levels fall, and thus does stress endurance. Have in mind that these are complex scientific theories, and GABA is just one part of the equation.
Researchers think that GABA lowers the speed at which neurons fire, which is essential for normal, healthy, everyday functioning. But it might be especially important when neurons in certain parts of the brain become overly excited, which has been connected with stress, headaches, muscular tension, chronic pain, and Parkinson’s disease symptoms.
It’s questionable how GABA acts on cognition because it seems to be relaxing, not arousing. On the other hand, we know that individuals can’t focus when stressed and anxious. Inadequate cognition is one of the principal signs of mental health disorders like schizophrenia and stress.
Other scientists believe GABA might be a sort of peace-promoting neurotransmitter since some studies have connected its action with better psychological intelligence, easier socialization, and increased empathy. These hyperlinks are still inconclusive, nevertheless.
“Calming” GABA should be in equilibrium with”exciting” glutamate for optimum brain and mental health, limited studies suggest.
The Way the Brain Produces GABA
Many parts of the brain are naturally high in GABA. The concentrations of GABA in certain brain regions are > 1000 times greater than of different neurotransmitters in any other portion of the brain.
According to the prevailing theory, the most important relaxing neurotransmitter, GABA, is created directly from the primary stimulating neurotransmitter, glutamate. The brain makes GABA in several significant measures:
- It usually starts with sugar, although the brain can alternatively utilize amino acids such as pyruvate
Glucose is transformed into glutamate
- Glutamate is only then altered to GABA
- Glutamate decarboxylase (GAD) is the main enzyme required to earn GABA from glutamate. It Requires vitamin B6 to function
After GABA is made, it is released to achieve its consequences. Afterward, neurons immediately take GABA back indoors to be stored and used again next time. Neurons seem to selfishly store GABA, where its amounts are 200x higher than outside the cells, in the brain’s blood.
Some research indicates that GABA is especially high at the amygdala, the brain’s gateway for creating fear in response to danger. In anxiety, the fear response is increased with no actual threat. In line with this theory, GABA may reduce the anxiety response in the amygdala and reduce stress.
GABA is higher in certain brain regions than in others. It seems to be concentrated in the amygdala, which can be activated in response to perceived danger.
GABA needs to bind to receptors in the brain in order to accomplish an effect. It may act on two receptors in the brain called:
What is the difference between them and why does this matter?
Researchers suspect that GABA-A stimulation does not have the same effects as GABA-B activation in the mind. GABA-enhancing drugs often target one receptor subtype longer — such as to cause rapid relaxation and sleepiness (GABA-A).
Recently, GABA-C receptors were also discovered. Some researchers believe GABA-C might be particularly vital for healing, slow-wave sleep.
Studies reveal GABA-A receptors act quickly in response to GABA. They quickly block enthusiastic neurons and Might result in:
- Comfort and Comfort
- Sedation or unconsciousness in surplus
- Reduced anxiety
- Euphoria and pleasure, from stimulating the reward system
- Enriched and relaxed breathing
- May hamper memory (from medications)
Examples of substances that trigger GABA-A are alcohol, benzodiazepines such as Valium, general anesthetics, and kava.
GABA-A receptors are fast-acting and likely to induce relaxation and sleep.
GABA-B is slow-acting and more complicated. When triggered, the wakefulness-boosting cAMP stops being generated. Some scientists surmised that this might be a reason GABA may help with sleep in the long-term.
Depending on the available research, GABA-B actions may be important for:
- Reducing stress
- Reducing social and general stress
- Increasing socialness and empathy
- Improving depression
- Boosting cognition
- Relaxing tense muscles
- Reducing chronic inflammation and pain
- Enhancing psychological and chronic fatigue (maybe)
Some researchers feel that GABA-B stimulation may be less sedative and not as hypnotic. They hypothesize it may be helpful for cognition and memory, since some drugs that trigger GABA-B such as Phenibut are nootropics, but more high-quality human studies are needed.
Baclofen and Phenibut both activate GABA-B. They’re being investigated for muscle spasms, anxiety, and addictions. Phenibut isn’t approved in the US.
GABA-B receptors are slow-acting. Scientists hypothesize that they may relax stressed muscles, alleviate pain, and improve compassion.
GABA Supplements: Do They Work?
The Blood-Brain Barrier Issue
GABA supplements are widely available and found in large health and grocery stores. But, GABA supplementation probably does not have an effect on GABA levels in the brain because GABA can not cross the adrenal gland barrier.
In theory, these supplements may impact GABA from the gut, circulation, and nerves, but these effects have not been demonstrated and little is understood about how quickly GABA is metabolized.
What About Pharma-GABA?
Many men and women are claiming to have used Pharma-GABA and skilled beneficial effects.
Asian producers claim that this kind of GABA, produced through a fermentation process using a breed of lactic acid germs, is superior to other GABA supplements. They say that pharma-GABA is”pure” and that it can cross the blood-brain barrier.
Pharma-GABA has been accepted by the FDA as a food component –less a dietary supplement and it’s fairly pricey.
But no evidence exists to show that Pharma-GABA (or any other GABA) may cross into the brain.
Studies with brain imaging would have to ascertain this, and none have been completed to this date. Theoretically, PharmaGABA might have indirect consequences — through the gut and nerves across the gut-brain axis — but this has not been shown either.
Despite popular claims, there is no evidence to suggest any GABA-containing supplements may permeate the blood-brain barrier.
When to See a Doctor
If your target is to increase GABA to improve your stress-related problems — including those of sleeplessness or anxiety — it’s important to speak with your physician, especially your mental health is significantly affecting your everyday life.
Your physician should diagnose and care for the illness-causing your symptoms.
Bear in mind that the present evidence does not suggest that low brain GABA causes cognitive or psychological health issues. Complex disorders like anxiety always involve multiple potential factors — such as brain chemistry, environment, health condition, and genetics — that may vary from 1 person to another.
There is not any way to exactly measure GABA levels within the body. This is only because GABA is concentrated in specific regions in the mind, within the cells. Only brain imaging research may gauge GABA levels in the brain, but these approaches aren’t available to the general public.
Furthermore, changes in brain chemistry aren’t something that people can change by themselves using all the approaches listed in this article. Instead, the factors listed here are meant to reduce daily stress and support overall emotional health and well-being.
Therefore, you may try out the additional strategies listed below should you and your physician determine that they could be appropriate. Read through the approaches outlined here and talk about them with your doctor before trying them out. None of these strategies should ever be done rather than what your physician prescribes or recommends.
You might also need to read through this post that focuses just on variables that may increase GABA.
If stress, anxiety, or other issues are significantly impacting your life, it’s important to talk to a health care provider. GABA supplements should never replace approved medical treatments.
Other Factors that May Increase GABA
No clinical evidence supports the approaches listed below to increase brain GABA.
Below is a list of the present creature and cell-based research, which should guide further investigational efforts. On the other hand, the research listed below shouldn’t be interpreted as encouraging of any health effect.
Supplements & Diet
- Magnolia Bark
- Lemon Balm
- Black seed oil
- Theanine from green tea
- Apigenin from feverfew and chamomile (possibly)
- Kava tea, however with caution because kava can have unwanted effects
- Eating more fermented foods Full of great bacteria
- Vitamin B6
- Normal zinc levels (lack or surplus will reduce GABA)
- Red sage
- GABA from fermented rice (possibly)
Make sure to talk with your doctor before taking any supplements. Let them know about any over-the-counter or prescription drugs you may be taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements.
Remember that dietary supplements haven’t been accepted by the FDA for clinical use. Supplements generally lack strong clinical research. Regulations set manufacturing standards for them but do not ensure that they’re safe or effective.
Herbs like magnolia bark and valerian are suggested to increase GABA based on animal experiments, however, human data are lacking.
Synthetic GABA Drugs
Two or three synthetic drugs are made by modifying GABA and enabling it to cross the blood-brain barrier. They should only be used with a prescription in states where they have been approved.
- Phenibut is made by modifying GABA using a phenyl group (beta-phenyl-GABA). In the US it is classified as a supplement.
- Picamilon is made from GABA and vitamin B3 (niacin). It is not accepted in the US but a few companies still sell it.
- GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate), an illegal and harmful drug of abuse.
- Vagus nerve stimulation
- Meditation and yoga
- Breathing exercises
- Exercise, in the long term
- Binaural beats (theoretically, since listening to alpha or gamma wave beats can enhance alpha and gamma brainwaves, that are connected to relaxation and meditative states of mind)
Limitations and Caveats
New brain imaging technology recently made it possible to measure neurotransmitter levels in the mind. But this technology is new and more studies will need to explain each of the situations where GABA levels are low and the brain areas involved.
This article centered on GABA receptors, their role, and the issues promoted GABA supplements confront. Aside from the research outlined in this post, other studies focused on how changes in brain GABA may impact health.
Two or three clinical trials with GABA supplements have also been completed, but those are infrequent. There is insufficient evidence to recommend GABA supplements for any health issue.
GABA acts as the mind’s main calming neurotransmitter. Like yin and yang, GABA is always in harmony with glutamate. GABA relaxes and glutamate arouses cells. According to a theory, a balance of both of these neurotransmitters contributes to mental health and emotional balance.
GABA acts through its own receptors: GABA-A and GABA-B. The former are fast-acting and likely responsible for relaxation, although the latter may ease muscle tension and make individuals more empathic.
Though GABA supplements have become increasingly more popular, the evidence is lacking to indicate any form of GABA can cross into the brain. Until proper clinical trials to come out, the use of those supplements remains unproven.