Why GABA is one of the Best Supplements for Anxiety and Sleep (Updated: 2018)

By Roy Krebs

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Are you feeling stressed, anxious, or fearful for no reason?

Have you been unable to fall asleep or enjoy a good night’s rest?

Then I need to tell you about GABA. GABA is one of the main neurotransmitters in our brains which is responsible for regulating anxiety.

Rather than getting caught in the trap of dependence-producing alcohol or drugs, I recommend GABA supplements as a natural solution for anxiety, depression, insomnia and more.

GABA supplements are becoming very popular. You'll find tons of options at your local supplement store, but there's one thing that the products will never tell you...

You should never take a GABA supplement on its own! It actually won't work!

Today I'm going to explain everything you need to know about GABA — what it is, how it works, its benefits, and how it interacts with other substances in the brain.  

Finally, I’ll teach you how to use GABA supplements and how to recognize which products will work for you.

What is GABA?

Whenever I talk about GABA, most people ask: “What on earth is GABA?" 

It's strange that more people don't know about this neurotransmitter, since it's the  most common one in our central nervous systems!

Billions of neurons in our brains are transmitting messages daily through trillions of connections called synapses. 

Our neurons “talk” to each other via these synapses using chemical messengers called neurotransmitters.

These neurotransmitters are sent from one neuron to another, where they bind to  receptor proteins on a neighbouring neuron, enabling them to “hear” the message.

Once the neurotransmitter binds to the receiving cell, it sets off chemical reactions which either inhibit or stimulate the electrical signal passed on through the neuron.

GABA is abundant in the brains and spinal cords of humans and other vertebrates and more than 40% of our neurons have GABA receptors. 

These receptors are also found in the peripheral nervous system as well in other tissues and body fluids. 

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) was first discovered in the 1950’s. Since then, research has shown that it’s the most important inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.

It counteracts the neurotransmitters which excite our brains, and in the process slows down our constantly “on-the-go" minds.

When you have  a “fight or flight response” — your heart beats faster and your stomach knots up — GABA is what allows your brain to calm down again afterwards.

It actually plays a major role in allowing all of your systems to get back to a normal state where they can function properly. 

This is because GABA is responsible for putting the brakes on messages passing between our neurons, telling them not to fire, and thereby blocking stress response messages from being passed along to the rest of the body.

This explains why low levels of GABA or disruption of GABA receptors is associated with some forms of epilepsy and various other physical and mental disorders characterized by excitability.

GABA and Glutamate

GABA has an opposite, glutamate, which is the main excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.

Both have a similar type of simple receptor where the response is quick and direct. Other neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine, are neuromodulators which work indirectly.

Glutamate is also necessary for normal brain function, but too much of it causes excitability. This can lead to agitation and anxiety and, at extreme levels, brain damage and epilepsy. 

Every day and night, neurotransmitters in your brain are busy carrying out a finely-tuned balancing act.

Levels are constantly being adjusted according to your built-in sleep-wake cycle.

Release and re-uptake of these chemicals also occurs in response to every event and experience that you encounter as you go about you day. 

The main juggling act is that of maintaining just the right amount of excitement and inhibition — in other words, balancing GABA and glutamate.

For example, to help us sleep, GABA works harder and blocks some of the effects of other neurotransmitters. But in the day, the brain rebalances itself to give the brain its "get-up-and-go" energy. 

But GABA never stops working. It continues to inhibit excessive firing of the neurons and helps us by, for instance, allowing only the most relevant information from our environments to pass through.

When we're chronically stressed more glutamate  than normal is released. It might also not be cleared away from the synapses effectively when it’s no longer needed. 

This type of build up can affect our thinking and memory.

GABA is manufactured in the central nervous system via glutamate. When broken down, it can also be reverse-transformed back into glutamate.

The amount of GABA and glutamate present in the brain is very tightly controlled; neither one crosses the blood brain barrier (BBB) easily from the outside.

As Eugene Roberts, the world’s most prominent researcher on GABA, explains:

“The properties of the simple GABA molecule itself, and of the machinery built to support its function, make it eminently suitable to guide the brain in a “civilized” manner. The yin-yang relationship between the glutamatergic excitatory and GABAergic inhibitory systems is played out on the tightrope of a delicate balance, and imbalances between them lead to serious disorders.” [1]

How GABA Receptors Work

 

Neurotransmitters are stored in synaptic vesicles at the ends of pre-synaptic neurons. 

When needed, they’re released into the synapse from where they bind to specialized receptors on the outside of the receiving neuron.

Both GABA and glutamate receptors operate like to a key opening a lock: when the neurotransmitter binds to its receptor, it causes a channel to open up.

This allows either positive or negative ions to enter, thereby either inhibiting or stimulating the neuron to fire its electrical charge. [2]

In the case of GABA and glutamate the channels produce results within microseconds. The neurotransmitter is removed quickly from the receptor from where it is reabsorbed and recycled.  

The fact that almost half of our neurons have one or another type of GABA receptor gives the impression that we have a highly-restrained nervous system. [3]

There are three types of GABA receptors: GABAa, GABAb, and GABAc receptors.

GABAa and GABAc receptors allow negatively charged chloride ions to enter the channel, and GABAb receptors allow positively charged potassium ions to flow out of a neuron.

Both of these actions inhibit the firing action of the neuron, effectively acting as a chemical voltage clamp in the brain.

GABAa receptors have five protein subunits, but only some of them are binding sites for GABA. Other substances that affect, or modulate, the action of GABA, bind to the remaining sites.  

This is important to understand in relation to the action of other neurotransmitters as well as mind-altering and dependence producing substances. 

These modulators can either increase or decrease the action of GABA but have no effect if there isn’t any GABA around.

The link Between GABA and Other Neurotransmitters: Serotonin, Dopamine, Norepinephrine and Acetylcholine 

GABA and glutamate are the main neurotransmitters in the nervous system, the one stimulating and the other inhibiting.

But where do the other neurotransmitters fit in?

We’ve seen that GABA and glutamate are widely distributed throughout the brain, where they work mainly through a simple on-off function. 

They work quickly and are rapidly broken down and manufactured as needed.

Other neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine) mostly modulate. 

Each of these neurotransmitters is responsible for regulating very specific cognitive, emotional, physiological and metabolic functions.  

Researchers are discovering that their actions depend on GABA and glutamate.

Their job is to fine-tune our brain activity, but their actions are indirect and involve more steps. Thus, they don't affect us in the same sort of immediate way as GABA does. 

Serotonin

Serotonin is a brain stabilizer which affects mood, sleep and wakefulness, appetite, circadian rhythms, body temperature and the release of hormones.  

Serotonin acts throughout the body and most of it is manufactured in the digestive system, from where it is distributed to parts of the nervous system outside the brain.

Related: How I Fixed My Serotonin Imbalance 

Inside the brain serotonin’s control over GABA and glutamate is very complex. It involves many different types of specialized receptors and a great variety of effects.

Serotonin also interacts with dopamine and norepinephrine.

Dopamine, norepinephrine and acetylcholine are stimulatory neurotransmitters. When there is too much of any of these in the brain, something is needed to press the stop button — it seems that this is when a release of GABA kicks in.

Dopamine

You might have heard that dopamine referred to as the pleasure neurotransmitter. It is produced by only a small number of cells found in hubs within the midbrain. 

However, their neuronal projections reach into many areas of the brain.

Dopamine is associated with feelings of reward and pleasure. It motivates you to get moving towards your goals, and is also released when once you achieve them.

Norepinephrine

You probably know that the norepinephrine is involved in the “fight or flight” response. It acts in both the body and the brain to mobilize you for action, especially in response to challenges and threats.

There is also a continuous slow release of norepinephrine without which you would feel flat, unmotivated and tired all the time.

Acetylcholine

Like Dopamine, acetylcholine is found in collections of cells in specific areas of the brain from where it is sent to nearly every part of the brain. 

Acetylcholine is the key to mental processes like paying attention, learning and memory — it gives the brain speed for processing information and retrieving stored information.

In the rest of the body it is the main chemical involved in signalling between your nerves and muscles.

A Complex Balancing Act

The finely-tuned balancing act between the neurotransmitters is infinitely complex.

When I look at the research it seems like a huge puzzle where only some of the pieces have been found so far — and even fewer of them have actually been slotted into place.

This is why I suggest that you keep in mind that your symptoms related to brain function could be the result of an oversupply or deficiency in any one or more of the neurotransmitters.

In one person a sleep disturbance could be due to a shortage of GABA, while in another, serotonin could be lacking or an oversupply of glutamate might be to blame.

The Benefits of GABA

I like to call GABA the “chill” neurotransmitter because it’s the body’s natural tranquilizer and mood stabilizer.

Everything that we encounter, think and do all day long is a trigger that stimulates our nervous system. If this was left unchecked our brains would be under continuous stress. 

We would suffer from constant internal tension.    

An easy way to understand what this would feel like is to think about your reaction when you’ve had too much caffeine. Caffeine inhibits the release of GABA. 

You feel jittery, restless, hyperactive and battle to fall asleep.

GABA is involved in an infinite variety of neural processes in many parts of the nervous system. Researchers are still discovering new information all the time. 

GABA allows us to calm down, unwind and relax, both physically and mentally.

As I said before, it stops neurons from transmitting all the thousands of messages from our environment, allowing only those that are important and necessary to pass through.

When we face a highly stressful situation — one which evokes the “flight and fight” response — GABA is released to help us to return to a state of “rest and digest.”

Here's an example of GABA at work:

  • You have to take a huge test at 12pm and are feeling super anxious.
  • Your brain will recognize this and try to balance out the effects by sending signals to your GABA Receptors.
  • GABA inhibits the anxiety and you start to feel calmer and ready to take the exam.

Current research is adding to the benefits of GABA all the time. Dr Axe lists them as follows:

  • Relieves Anxiety
  • Improves Sleep
  • Reduces symptoms of depression
  • Relieves Symptoms of PMS
  • Decreases Inflammation
  • Improves Focus in ADHD
  • Increases Levels of Growth Hormone 

GABA and Sleep

Having enough GABA at the end of the day is important for turning down brain activity and preparing us for sleep.

While asleep, GABA actively turns off many areas of the brain to allow for rest and recovery.

When too little GABA is available, this can lead to insomnia, light sleep and restlessness.

Insomniacs have been found to have up to 30% lower levels of GABA.

In contrast, narcolepsy, a condition where people fall asleep randomly during the day, is associated with an oversupply of GABA.

To understand how GABA influences a person’s sleeping patterns, it’s important to know about the natural cycle that the brain undergoes each night during sleep.

The following is an overview of the different sleep stages. 

  • Stage 1: When you’re getting sleepy and are ready to drift off.
  • Stage 2: Your brainwave activity quickens and follows a steadier rhythm, and your core temperature and heart rate decrease.
  • Stage 3: Deeper, slower brain waves. Here, you switch from light sleep to deep sleep.
  • Stage 4: The deep sleep stage, also known as delta sleep. This is a vitally important stage because it’s where the highest-quality of sleep occurs.
  • Stage 5: The REM (rapid-eye movement) stage, where most dreams occur.

Optimizing the five stages of sleep is crucial for getting the all the benefits of sleep for your mind and body.  You want to wake up with a sense of well-being, without grogginess or mental fatigue and full of energy.

And GABA is the key neurotransmitter that "kicks off" each stage. 

Being low on GABA can prevent you from reaching sleep stages 3, 4, and 5, when  the most important restorative processes take place. [4] 

For example, during stages 3 and 4, an increase in GABA is responsible for slow-wave sleep by reducing the firing rate of neurons in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is the part of our brains which controls the autonomous nervous system — all the unconscious activities of our body.

This includes our daily sleep-wake cycle known as the circadian rhythm. During deep sleep the circadian rhythm, is rebalanced. Furthermore, the levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) and inflammation in the body are reduced and the immune system grows stronger. [5]

Many people turn to sleeping tablets to manage their insomnia. 

The most popular drugs are benzodiazepines which are widely prescribed to improve sleep. 

These drugs work well because they are neuromodulators that increase the availability of GABA in the brain. Unfortunately they have many side effects, and are also addictive. 

I don’t believe that they’re a good solution for long term use.

This is why I recommend increasing your levels of GABA naturally. 

Can GABA work for anxiety and stress?

We know that high levels of stress in modern living can cause a constant cascade of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin.

Often these stress responses are so intense that the body is unable to regulate itself naturally.  

Related: How To Lower Your Cortisol Levels and Reduce Stress

High stress levels contribute to mental conditions such as anxiety, panic attacks, and depression.

Stress has also been linked to many chronic conditions such as adrenal fatigue, fibromyalgia, diabetes, hypertension, heart attacks and strokes.

I’ve explained that GABA is the neurotransmitter responsible for calming down the nervous system.

So why doesn’t it work all the time?

Under normal conditions, the excitatory and inhibitory systems work in harmony to keep the nervous system in balance.

But when faced with chronic stress and fatigue, the neurotransmitters can get out of synch.

The body’s natural stress response overpowers the amount of GABA that the body can produce to compensate.

When we don't have enough GABA, we can't relax.

Studies have found that when the action of GABA in the brain is compromised there could also be heightened physiological responses.

These include high blood pressure, sweating, increased secretion of gastric acid and activity of the large intestine. 

We commonly associate these symptoms with too much stress.

I’m sure that you will agree that the obvious approach to stress and anxiety would be to increase the amount of GABA in the brain.

Early research has shown that GABA supplementation reduces stress, tension, anxiety, depression, and possibly even blood pressure. [6]  

Signs and Symptoms of GABA Deficiency

You may have been reading this and thinking, “Well, I certainly know that anxious feeling and I definitely have trouble relaxing.” 

Or you may be struggling to get a proper night’s sleep, either having trouble falling asleep, or waking up repeatedly.

If you experience this regularly, you could have a GABA deficiency. 

We all have surpluses and deficiencies in key neurotransmitters due to genetics, diet, stress, childhood trauma, or even medications. 

Understanding what we are low on, and why, can help us live happier and healthier lives.

A GABA deficiency can be minor. But a large deficiency can cause serious medical problems — conditions which are all associated with neurons firing too easily and too often.  

I find it interesting that the effects of medications used to treat some of these conditions led to many of the discoveries about GABA and its receptors.

Medical problems associated with a GABA deficiency include:

  • Anxiety disorders and panic attacks
  • Post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Drug and alcohol dependence
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Certain types of epilepsy
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Schizophrenia

But maybe you have a GABA deficiency that just causes you to feel “not quite right”? 

Can one identify the problem before it escalates to a serious medical condition? 

Fortunately there are a number of signs and symptoms linked to low GABA levels.

Physical signs include:

  • Shakiness and trembling
  • Too much energy, unable to relax normally
  • Cold and sweaty hands
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle pains
  • Blurry vision
  • Difficulty remembering, focusing and thinking
  • An abnormal craving for carbohydrates
  • Difficulty in falling asleep
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Headaches
  • Tinnitus
  • Severe pre-menstrual syndrome.

Mental and emotional signs include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Tendency to lose your cool easily
  • Feelings of despair
  • Irrational fears, including phobias that weren’t there before. [7]

What causes a GABA deficiency?

You can imagine that, with GABA being one of the most important neurotransmitters in our brains, there would be a lot of ways in which things could go wrong.

First of all, we are not all born the same. Our genes could determine whether we are naturally high or low on GABA.

In some people this could be the cause of serious conditions such as either epilepsy or narcolepsy.

We’ve already discussed that chronic stress affects the body’s ability to keep up with producing enough GABA. 

(When I say stress here, I'm talking about severe, chronic stress caused by things like emotional trauma, a lack of sleep, or chronic pain.) 

Anything that puts pressure on the brain and body consistently over a period of time.

A GABA deficiency can happen if the body is unable to produce enough of it.

Many steps are involved in GABA production, and a shortage of any of the nutrients along the way can lead to a shortage.

Here's how GABA production happens: 

First, GABA is derived from glucose metabolism. Any issue with glucose or blood sugar such as low blood sugar, insulin resistance and diabetes can affect the levels of GABA in your brain.
    Next up the body needs iron, Vitamin B3, magnesium and manganese — all of which you get from a healthy diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. 

      Inside the brain glutamate is made from Vitamin B6 and magnesium. Vitamin B6 is so important that a deficiency can lead to seizures.

      (I feel I also need to mention stress here again because it can be one of the main causes of magnesium depletion in your body.)

      Related: Magnesium Deficiency – Understanding the Problem

      Part of the production pathway for GABA takes place in the mitochondria in our cells. Stress causes inflammation and oxidative stress and, together with a nutritional imbalance, it affects mitochondrial health.

      Lastly, medication and drugs can influence the production and utilization of GABA, either enhancing or blocking its effects.

      For example, a GABA deficiency is probably in severe alcohol withdrawal.

      Are you experiencing some of the signs and symptoms of a GABA deficiency? 

      If so, I recommend that, first of all, you take a long hard look at whether your lifestyle and diet might be the underlying cause.

      GABA and Mind-Altering Substances

      Since the earliest times, people have consumed substances that have an effect on the brain, including alcohol, nicotine, and plant-based drugs.

      I believe that this is increasing because of the stress of modern living: people are looking for quick-fixes to combat stress.

      The problem is that most of these substances are addictive, and part of addiction is an upset in the delicate balancing act between the neurotransmitters.

      Although the brain adapts to try and keep everything in tune, this sometimes causes the person to consume more of the substance to get the same effect, and thus the imbalance becomes worse and worse. 

      Researchers are discovering various links between GABA and the majority of these substances. 

      They can bind to the GABA receptors and modulate its effects by allowing the ion channels to stay open longer, or they increase or decrease its availability. 

      They may also block GABA’s inhibitory influence on other neurotransmitters.

      The Link Between Alcohol and GABA

      Most people will probably agree that after one or two drinks, we feel more at ease in social situations.

      This is in part because alcohol has an immediate effect on GABA receptors. 

      The ion channels stay open longer with the result that GABA’s inhibitory effect is increased.

      At the same time, alcohol inhibits the glutamate system and increases the release of both serotonin and dopamine.

      This stimulates certain reward centres, which explains the pleasurable effects and sense of well being many feel after a few drinks.

      Alcohol’s influence on GABA also explains its depressant effect — and why drinking too much eventually causes severe sedation and black-outs.

      Chronic overindulgence in alcohol, however, desensitizes GABA receptors. This is because the brain adapts to try and maintain the balance.

      People eventually need to drink more and more to experience the pleasurable effects, which is how alcohol dependence and addiction develop. 

      This also explains alcohol withdrawal symptoms like agitation, and even tremors and seizures.

      Because GABA’s inhibitory effect is permanently reduced, the brain is hyper excitable. 

      Many people get caught up in alcohol to try to counteract imbalances of neurotransmitters in their brains.

      In the case of severe deficiencies, it is almost as though their brains drive them to it in order to counteract feelings of depression, anxiety and even suicidal thoughts. 

      Alcohol is definitely not a healthy long term solution. Beyond natural therapies and addictions counselling, there are other natural ways to sort out the problem.

      Nicotine and GABA

      Researcher Graeme Mason is just one of many who's studies point to a link between GABA and addiction.  

      His recent study showed that while nicotine primarily increases the release of dopamine, it also works against the ability of GABA to inhibit dopamine neurons.

      Another study demonstrated that nicotine intake as well as nicotine seeking behavior are reduced where glutamine is blocked or GABA transmission increases. [8]

      This means that increasing GABA may help when you are trying to stop smoking.

      Cannabis and GABA

      As you probably could have guessed there is also a link between cannabis, GABA and the other neurotransmitters.

      The two main cannabinoids in the cannabis plant are THC and CBD. 

      THC binds to the cannabis receptors in the body and is the substance  that produces the high. 

      It removes GABA inhibition at dopamine sites and activates these neurons.

      CBD, on the other hand, does not bind to the cannabis receptors and has no mind-altering effects. 

      It appears to bind to the GABA receptors and enhances the effects of GABA. 

      This explains why CBD reduces anxiety without causing sedation.

      Benzodiazepines and GABA

      Benzodiazepines (for example Valium, Ativan, Xanax and Rivotril) are commonly prescribed for treating anxiety and insomnia.  

      They are classical GABA modulating drugs. Like alcohol, they bind to the GABA receptors and make a difference only when GABA is present.

      They increase the length of time that the ion channels stay open and in this way increase GABA’s inhibitory effect on the neuron.

      Just like alcohol, these drugs often result in dependence, meaning you need to take more and more to get the same result.

      On top of this, mixing alcohol with benzodiazepines is very dangerous as their effects can be additive.

      GABA vs Gabapentin

      I’ve come across a lot of people who think that, because of the name, the drug Gabapentin and GABA are the same thing. 

      Gabapentin, mostly marketed under the brand name Neurontin, is a synthetic medication. 

      Its structure is similar to that of GABA but it’s not completely the same. It doesn’t attach to GABA receptors, it doesn’t affect how GABA is made, nor is it converted to GABA in the body.

      Gabapentin was developed to treat some forms of seizures as well as nerve pain, for example in diabetic neuropathy, neuralgia and fibromyalgia.

      It is also commonly used to treat restless leg syndrome.

      Studies have demonstrated that gabapentin does enhance the effect of GABA.  It’s now being prescribed, off label, to treat anxiety as well as alcohol related disorders.

      Investigations are ongoing into its use for mood stabilizing, sleep disorders, and some psychiatric conditions.

      Gabapentin is seen as safe when used as prescribed. 

      It’s not addictive but withdrawal can trigger anxiety and other mental health problems.

      Recently, however, it has been added to the list of controlled substances in a number of US states.

      The reason is that it can heighten the effect of opioid medications, increasing the risk of a fatal overdose.

      Increasing GABA Naturally

      I believe that the best way to deal with a deficiency of GABA in the long term is to follow a natural approach.

      Making adjustments in your lifestyle and diet won’t only increase GABA but help your brain and body to get all the neurotransmitters back into balance.

      To improve the main symptoms of a GABA deficiency, such as anxiety and poor sleep, find activities that help you to relax.

      Related: How to Sleep Well: The Ultimate Night Routine for Better Sleep

      Exercise like walking and running, meditation, yoga, or even light reading, gardening or creative hobbies can work wonders, even if you only do them for 20 minutes or so a day.

      I shouldn’t even have to mention that a healthy diet will provide all the nutrients you need to manufacture GABA. 

      This includes magnesium, the B-vitamins, manganese, and iron. You can boost the availability of these nutrients by adding supplements as well. 

      While there’s no food that contains GABA, you can certainly eat foods that provide glutamate and glutamic acid, the precursors that your body uses to make GABA.

      Foods with lots of glutamate and glutamic acid include grass-fed meats, eggs, dairy products, fish, sea vegetables, tomatoes and mushrooms.

      Fermented foods like kimchi also have a positive impact on GABA levels. [9]

      Other supplements which have been shown to increase GABA or enhance its function include L-thiamine, the amino acid taurine, and certain herbs including kava, passionflower and lemon balm.

      How should I take a GABA supplement?

      Personally, I am GABA deficient. 

      While I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle, there are times when my life just spins out of control.

      It might be a heavier workload than usual, a lot of travelling, deadlines looming or exams up ahead. During these times, I have difficulty relaxing when I have to work late into the evening or there is just too much on my mind.

      That’s when I use GABA supplements to help me get a good night’s sleep.

      But first and foremost, a GABA supplement has to make it to your brain to be effective. This is easier said than done!

      GABA needs to pass through the blood brain barrier (BBB), a gateway that strictly controls which chemicals are allowed in. There is very tight control over the amount GABA allowed into the brain from outside so that the levels remain more-or-less constant.

      The upside of this is that if there is a high level of GABA in the body it won’t be able to make you depressed or sleepy when you don’t need it to.  

      The downside is that if your brain is producing too little GABA most of what you consume in supplement form won’t make it through the BBB.

      Unfortunately, supplement companies that sell GABA don’t always make note of this important fact.

      The truth is that GABA supplements work best when taken as an enhanced supplement, or in combination with other supplements.

      Since taking GABA on its own won't help, here are a few ways to increase its availability. 

      This way your efforts and dollars aren't wasted.

      Increasing Nitric Oxide

      Nitric oxide makes it easier for chemicals to pass through the BBB. It opens blood vessels so that oxygen, nutrients and other compounds are more easily transported throughout the body.

      Studies have confirmed that high levels of nitric oxide allow more GABA to pass through the BBB.  

      Supplements that improve nitric oxide levels include:

      • L-citrulline which is an amino acid that is converted it into L-arginine. This effectively boosts levels of nitric oxide.
      • Grape Seed, an extract which is another fantastic booster of nitric oxide.

      You should be cautious not to overdo it, since you don’t want to allow any toxins through the BBB.

      Stopping GABA from Breaking Down

      All nutrients and hormones are eventually broken down by our body and absorbed or excreted.

      GABA is broken down by GABA transaminase.

      If you inhibit the action of GABA transaminase, it will prevent your brain from getting rid of the GABA that you might still need by making more of it available for a longer time. [10]

      One supplement thought to be particularly effective at inhibiting this enzyme is rosmarinic extract.

      This is a naturally occurring flavonoid that can be found in herbs like rosemary, sage, mint and basil.

      It’s been used for ages in aromatherapy because it produces relaxing effects through its ingestion and inhalation — probably due to its action as an inhibitor of GABA transaminase. 

      How much GABA should I take?

      Natural GABA is non-toxic and should be  safe for most people when taken at a proper dosage.

      I recommend that you begin with a lower dosage when you start taking a GABA supplement and then increase it gradually until you get the desired effect.

      The following dosages are recommended:

      General stress relief

      650 -800 mg per day

      Divide into three or four doses during the day

      Anxiety

      250 – 650 mg 3x per day

      Maximum dose 1950 mg per day

      Improved sleep

      250 – 650 mg daily

      Take just before sleep

      Insomnia

      500 – 1000 mg

      Take just before sleep. High dose ensures that more crosses the BBB

       

      Does GABA have risks and side effects?

      Natural GABA is effective and doesn’t have any side effects for most people.

      Rare side-effects that have been reported, especially at very high doses are:

      • Skin tingling, flushing or itching
      • Rapid heart rate
      • Difficulty breathing
      • Increase in anxiety and depression

      If you experience any of these side effects decrease our dosage and they should go away. Also consider discussing it with your doctor, especially if the symptoms persist.

      Do not take GABA if: 

      • You are pregnant or breastfeeding
      • You are under the age of 18 (do not give it to children) 
      • You are on any prescribed medication for pain or that has an effect on the nervous system unless you have discussed it with your doctor, including opiates, anti-anxiety medications, sleeping tablets, and anti-depressants.

      GABA vs 5-HTP

      Another natural supplement that has become very popular for improving sleep is 5-Hydroxytryptophan or 5-HTP, an amino-acid which occurs naturally in the body. 

      5-HTP is necessary for manufacturing serotonin and, when taken as a supplement, it increases the levels of serotonin in the brain.

      A recent study on humans showed that a supplement combining both GABA and 5-HTP reduced the time it took to fall asleep, increased the duration of sleep, and improved sleep quality. [11]

      The Healthiest Way to Increase Your GABA

      GABA is the most important neurotransmitter to keep your brain activity in check.

      I recommend a GABA supplement if you:

      • Have a naturally high-strung personality
      • If you’re a go-getter who can’t seem to relax
      • If you are prone to feeling “wired”
      • If you regularly experience anxiety
      • If you have insomnia or otherwise have trouble getting a restful sleep

      The best way to make GABA supplements work for you is to take an advanced supplement with added nutrients to enhance its absorption into the brain.

      Have you tried this? What did you think? Feel free to share your thoughts below! 

      1. Eugene Roberts. GABA in nervous system function - An overview. Research Gate

      2. "Neurotransmitters and receptors." Khan Academy

      3. "Gamma-Aminobutyric acid." Science Direct

      4. "4 GABA Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself." University Health News Daily. JUL 3, 2018.

      5. Gregor Hasler, M.D. "Effect of Acute Psychological Stress on Prefrontal GABA Concentration Determined by Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy." Am J Psychiatry. 2010 Oct; 167(10): 1226–1231.

      6. ibid.

      7. "GABA Deficiency: How Does it Affect You?" gammaaminobutyricacid.orgThe Ultimate Resource for GABA, January 10, 2014.

      8. "Nicotine has significant effects on brain GABA." News Medical Life Sciences. Dec 10 2007.

      9. Manoranjan S. D’Souza and Athina Markou. "The “Stop” and “Go” of Nicotine Dependence: Role of GABA and Glutamate." Cold Spring Harb Perspect Med. 2013 Jun; 3 (6).  

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      11. "5 Science-Based Benefits of 5-HTP." Healthline

       

       

       

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