GABA Benefits for Mood, Sleep and Depression
Mental calm is necessary for current days. There are many different supplements for this purpose, and GABA is one of them. Read this article to find out what features it has.
Most people do not know what GABA is and have no idea how its deficiency affects a human body. We could hardly imagine that ordinary feelings of anxiety and insomnia are associated with low GABA levels produced by our brain.
In fact, this amino acid plays a significant role for our overall health, being responsible for a number of chronic diseases. To reduce the symptoms of these diseases, we should control the amount of GABA in our body and timely replenish its low level.
GABA and its supplements produce a calming effect for the central nervous system (CNS). This important neurotransmitter offers various benefits, producing a relaxating effect for our mind and body. In addition, by enhancing the serotonin level, it positively affects our mood. By replacing average antidepressants and sedative meds with GABA supplements or consuming it from natural sources, people can get rid of their diseases with no harm to their health.
What Is GABA?
GABA is an acronym for gamma-aminobutyric acid, a key amino acid that is generated by the human body and helps to transmit impulses between the brain and the CNS. It counterbalances the level of excitement in human neurons caused by an excessive amount of glutamate, an excitatory brain chemical. As a result, a person doesn’t become anxious or over-stimulated.
GABA effectively reduces the activity of nerve cells and shows positive results in treating stress, depression, and anxiety. Its calming effects are beneficial for mood disorders; they calm the mind and improve the sleeping process. It is a proven method to ease premenstrual symptoms and to cope with depression. People usually buy GABA supplements over-the-counter to regulate muscle tone in bodybuilding and to handle various nerve-related conditions.
Gabapentin and GABA are not the same. These substances have a similar meaning, still there are some differences. Gabapentin was developed to imitate GABA effects, but it doesn’t affect the same brain receptors. It was created to treat epilepsy and help with neuropathic pain. Another definition for gabapentin is Neurontin. It is not transformed into GABA and is not bound with the GABA amount in the brain. It works as an anticonvulsant with some analgesic properties. Gabapentin is used to treat seizure disorders and specific kinds of pain. It can cause mild side effects like fatigue, suicidal thoughts, hallucinations, weight gain, or behavioral changes.
The things that GABA and gabapentin have in common are their structure and ability to reduce excitability, but they serve different purposes.
In 1883, when gamma-aminobutyric acid was primarily synthesized, it was recognized only as a herbal plant and a microbe metabolic product. In recent years, it has become famous and gained great significance. In 1910, the substance was first found in the tissues. In 1950, it was discovered in the brain of mammals and soon gained great popularity due to its characteristics vital for human health.
Initially, scientists believed that GABA should be categorized as a depressant and that it did not meet the requirements to be referred to as a neurotransmitter. Only in 1968 did researchers get enough proof to classify GABA as a neurotransmitter. Nowadays, we are only in the very beginning of trying to uncover all the potential effects and benefits of this important element. Its full potential still remains to be determined.
How GABA Works
The major role of gamma-aminobutyric acid as an average neurotransmitter within the brain is to carry impulses from one neuron to another. As a rule, each neurotransmitter works as both inhibitory and excitatory. GABA differs from all known neurotransmitters by its unique function to act as a calming agent and a primary inhibitor. It can be referred to as a natural sedative agent, which provides optimal brain function and balances brain chemicals.
By the low GABA level, the brain doesn’t work properly. Neurotransmitters that are too excitatory fire too rapidly with no inhibition. High GABA levels help to maintain the balance by blocking brain signals that result in over-excitement.
In fact, GABA is formed due to glutamate synthesis paired with a sufficient amount of vitamin B6.
GABA-transaminase deficiency (or encephalopathy) is a mental illness that begins in childhood. This disease is described by uncontrolled movements, seizures, excessive sleepiness, and weak muscle tone. Kids with this deficiency have impaired development. As a rule, most of them do not survive longer than the first 2 years of life.
GABA-transaminase is targeted by various analgesic and antiepileptic meds, also known as GABA-transaminase inhibitors. The inhibition of GABA-transaminase produces a considerable increased level of GABA in nerve cells, because it metabolizes and reduces GABA. Another way to increase GABA is to inhibit GABA aminotransferase, one more enzyme that decreases GABA concentrations and leads to seizures.
In the brain of a healthy average person, GABA counts 40% of all neurotransmitters present in a body, getting a name of the “brake pedal of the brain.”
Glutamatergic synapses amount to 85% of all synaptic contacts of an ordinary human brain. Recent researches record that people who experience depression or have schizophrenia or other mental diseases have a high level of glutamate in their body. Modern antidepressants act by decreasing the glutamate amount in the plasma and ensuring their balance.
Benefits of GABA
In the United States, GABA is sold only as a dietary supplement, because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t approve this substance as a drug capable to treat or to prevent any health malfunctions.
Still, a lot of correlations have been established between individuals who have troubles with brain-related disorders and a low GABA level. By increasing its level, people with depression, panic attacks, anxiety disorders, inability to focus, and alcohol and drug addictions experience significant improvements from the described symptoms. GABA helps our brain to produce endorphins, which are chemicals that make people feel happier and amplify general well-being.
GABA agonists count numerous benefits that can be briefly described as follows:
- for anxiety;
- for panic attacks;
- for stress control;
- for weight loss by obesity;
- for motion sickness;
- for ADHD;
- for epilepsy;
- for opiate withdrawal;
- for sleep disruption and insomnia;
- for lower blood pressure;
- for nerve pain;
- for lack of muscle tone;
- for premenstrual syndrome and pain release;
- for mood swings;
- for libido improvement;
- for focus and concentration, etc.
An increased GABA level gives users a sense of tranquility and decreases depressive symptoms and other health dysfunctions. Its soothing effects contribute to an overall health condition. From GABA consumption, users achieve the same advantages in a natural way with no risks from taking pharmaceutical drugs. It has a huge potential to treat many serious and chronic health states with fewer adverse effects. Along with its powerful influence for the CNS, GABA shows a 400% increase of growth hormone production.
GABA benefits are versatile and record a history of positive reviews by the treatment of other systems and organs in the human body aside from brain-related conditions. It appears to be useful for the respiratory tract, liver, stomach, urinary bladder, intestines, kidneys, lungs, eyes, etc. The explanation is simple, because GABA-based mechanisms are found in all these systems. Moreover, most medications prescribed to treat these organs function by enhancing the activity of this neurotransmitter, while all antidepressants work by boosting GABA receptors for a sedative effect. Fortunately, we can increase the level of this crucial substance using GABA supplements.
GABA for Sleep
Sleep is an important factor that fortifies our immune system and helps us to maintain proper health. During the night, a human being undergoes several stages of sleep with the most essential “deep sleep” (or “delta sleep”) stage, when a body consolidates memory on its immunological and psychological level. In other words, a human body and mind are both reinforced during this sleep cycle. GABA acts as a powerful sleep aid and protects our body from any disturbance during the cycle.
Almost every fifth individual suffers from insomnia, with a growing number of those who are affected each year. Insomnia is described as a difficulty falling asleep. People with this disorder have recorded low GABA levels. Besides, constant sleep deprivation leads to various health ailments. Most participants in human trials report they fall asleep quicker after having taken GABA. The time they need to sleep decreases to five minutes. This substance provides a sedative effect by limiting nervous excitability and inducing sleep. GABA helps to regulate our sleep schedule. We can also encourage better sleep by taking magnesium and reducing caffeine consumption.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Panic and anxiety are caused by particular systems in the brain that become unbalanced. Scientists prove that this health state is referred to brain issue, while its genuine reasons remain unknown. Those with a low GABA level feel overwhelmed and stressed. They experience feelings of fear and worry, while their muscles are stiff and tense. People with this problem desire to drink or eat sugary things that bring a feeling of relaxation. Sometimes they turn to less wholesome things like alcohol or tranquilizers. In fact, relaxation really takes place due to enhancement of GABA levels in the brain.
Most health care professionals recommend GABA to patients as a natural remedy to cope with anxiety. This disorder triggers unwarranted states of physical and mental stress. The majority of prescribed medicines used for anxiety affect GABA receptors in the brain, which in turn produce a tremendous impact on anxiety.
Patients with panic dysfunction and a family history of anxiety disorders have a decreased level of GABA concentration in the brain. In combination with a valerian root extract and meditation, GABA effectively manages with panic and anxiety balancing an over-excitement.
Mood and Focus
Premenstrual syndrome (or PMS) in women is a common condition that usually occurs between the time for ovulation and the beginning of a menstrual bleeding. During this period, most women may experience such symptoms like fatigue, mood swings, and food cravings. As numerous studies show, the GABA level is disrupted and significantly declines due to a menstrual cycle. As a natural means for relieving pain, GABA balances hormones in the female body, reduces unpleasant symptoms, and stabilizes mood. For a better result, women should involve magnesium and vitamin B6 into their daily diet.
Along with mood improvement, GABA helps to increase focus in people who are unable to concentrate. Its effects are similar to those achieved during meditation or prayer, when a person acquires a relaxed but focused state. Charge your brain with this calming agent if you feel scattered and disoriented or if you suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Increased GABA in your hippocampus helps to suppress unwanted thoughts and bad memories.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (further ADHD) is known as a condition which affects both adults and children. This dysfunction is manifested by such symptoms as impulsivity, limited attention, and hyperactivity. In human trials, GABA has been used to reduce the mentioned symptoms and improve focus in individuals with ADHD.
According to scientific research, people with this disorder have a decreased concentration of GABA in the brain. Consumption of GABA supplements along with a traditional therapy helps to lessen ADHD symptoms and result in less impulsivity. These natural remedies are proven rather effective and cause no harm for a patient’s health.
Human Growth Hormone Stimulation
Human growth hormone (further HGH) is produced by our pituitary gland in its anterior regions. It is released in a form of short-lived “bursts” during the day. It is too hard to measure its level, because these “bursts” are quickly utilized by a body. Still, scientists get the required data by means of an insulin-like growth factor (or IGF). The level of IGF is affected by HGH and can be easily measured.
HGH offers such benefits as a lower risk of heart diseases, stronger bones, amplified muscle strength, and improved body composition. Its deficiency leads to slower growth in kids, delayed puberty as well as to an increased risk of obtaining heart diseases by adults, sexual disorders, depression and insulin resistance.
GABA supplementation increases the amount of human growth hormone in the body and demonstrates benefits for bodybuilders.
Bodybuilding and Sport
As mentioned above, consumption of gamma-aminobutyric acid helps to increase the HGH level in human trials as compared to the effects in a group of participants with a placebo agent intake. As studies show, three grams of daily GABA improve HGH synthesis. GABA extract was taken by those individuals in a period of rest and pre-workout. The trials comprised different sets of exercise sessions performed up to the moment of muscle failure.
Researchers examined blood samples of the participants before and after the training sessions. Taken before a workout, GABA created an anabolic state that was maintained even after the exercises. It increased the level of immune-functional growth factor and serum HGH – important bioactive forms of HGH. The recovery time between exercises was strongly improved.
GABA usage for bodybuilding also increases glucose synthesis and its utilization. It affects the pancreas and causes it to secrete an extra amount of insulin, thus improving the absorption of glucose into the body’s cells. In turn, an increased insulin level amplifies athletic performance. GABA serves as a means for a better control over the blood glucose circulation.
To increase the desired level of growth hormone, GABA can be taken by bodybuilders with other supplements like L-arginine and L-glutamine.
GABA and Depression
Numerous studies report that people with a decreased GABA level are more inclined to get depression, while a higher level helps to prevent this disorder and regulate sleep. Patients who undergo a successful depression therapy show an increased amount of GABA in their body. Due to its beneficial antidepressant effects, GABA can be an effective analogue to a traditional depression treatment.
Taking only GABA supplements will not be sufficient to get rid of depression symptoms. The level of serotonin and melatonin production should be also taken into consideration as they are considered natural mood enhancers. Most therapists advise using selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) to cope with depression. Serotonin therapy increases GABA levels, so serotonin acts as a blocker to prevent its reabsorption so more of it remains active.
Alternative remedies for depression require you to get more exercise, modify your diet, quit smoking, and meet daily vitamin D needs (sun exposure). To boost your body’s ability to produce GABA, take magnesium, vitamin B complex, and L-theanine. It will allow GABA to pass the blood-barrier easier.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid stimulates the pituitary gland for human growth hormone production. HGH is known to promote muscle growth and decrease body fat. In fact, HGH tends to have a natural decline with age. When we get older, it becomes harder to lose weight. That is why GABA is so popular for its ability to have fat metabolism and muscle-building effects. It plays a major role in energy balance and helps those who want to shed extra pounds.
Usually people eat more when they are stressed or nervous, so they cannot control the amount of food they eat. When you have finished a big meal, you always have room for a nice dessert, don’t you? It all depends on our stable brain chemistry and can be balanced by necessary neurotransmitters. We need to support our brain by having the right GABA amount to have calm thoughts and prevent overeating. The psychological causes can be eliminated by reducing anxiety and soothing our mind. As we use food to eat away our stress, GABA will deprive us of this habit by inhibiting appetite-stimulating effects and regulating energy balance.
Patients who suffer from high blood pressure or have a borderline hypertension show positive results from using GABA to stabilize their condition. As studies showed, a group of volunteers that took GABA pills recorded a reduced level of blood pressure.
The reason for this effectiveness is bound with the sedative and relaxing effects that GABA produces for its users. It blocks the brain nerve cells from receiving overly stimulatory effects acting like an inhibitory neurotransmitter, so patients remain relaxed and calm. High stress usually leads to a blood pressure increase. If people are less prone to have stress, they will have a normal blood pressure level.
A human body receives pain impulses through special receptors which are located in internal organs, joints, and the skin. Nerve endings send these signals to the brain where pain is recognized. Our body produces GABA neurotransmitters to calm our CNS. This element inhibits pain actions and signals sent to the brain. From low GABA level production or its poor utilization, anxiety, pain, and tension escalate.
Our spinal cord performs the role of a pain filter. As GABA neurons are located throughout the CNS, most of them are distributed in the spinal cord as an important body part that transmits pain signals to the brain. GABA receptors are known to regulate the information processing here by coordinating perception and response to pain. This neurotransmitter can interfere in the distribution of pain signals.
Gabapentin is often prescribed to ease chronic pain, while GABA supplements are recommended for toning down pain impulses. The uses of GABA in combination with other natural supplements with anti-pain formulas can be rather prolonged and take up to a few months. Patients with nerve impairments report significant improvements in pain duration and intensity.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (further OCD) is manifested by obsessions (repeating unwanted thoughts) and accompanied by recurrent behavior, which facilitates anxiety.
Psychology recounts different types of OCD. All its symptoms are of a senseless nature. The following are few signs that are different for each patient:
- preoccupation with germs or dirt;
- excessive attention to details;
- constant doubts (if the door is locked or not);
- preoccupation with exactness or order;
- extreme need to remember things that are unimportant;
- compulsive behavior (counting objects, following a certain order of actions, etc.).
OCD is a relatively common dysfunction, still its etiology is unknown. Certain genetic factors are believed to be involved, as well as neurotransmitter systems which may be also play a part. OCD can be related to low serotonin or GABA levels or if their adequate utilization is blocked.
The primary treatment step is to modulate an intensity of anxiety as a core symptom of this disorder. GABA supplements are very helpful to decrease anxiety and calm the nerves. GABA and serotonin levels can be increased by other alternatives or by food that promotes their production.
GABA Natural Sources
Supplements with a pure GABA concentration are available in various drugstores and online pharmacies. It can be also found as one of ingredients in numerous stress-reducing stacks and compounds. A lot of natural supplements and foods can effectively amplify GABA increase in the brain.
Valerian roots promote GABA release from the nerve endings and block them from being taken back to the nerve cells. The herb is a good remedy for stress, insomnia, and menstrual cramps. Tomatoes are unique vegetables that contain GABA in them.
Anxiety and insomnia are two typical symptoms of magnesium deficiency. This mineral is also significant for proper GABA functioning. Involving more magnesium into your diet helps to reduce these negative effects, calm nerves, and relax muscles. It can be derived from leafy greens, beans, nuts, dark chocolate, lentils, fish, brown rice, whole grains, etc. Processed food contains less magnesium and is a poor source of this mineral. Magnesium supplements are also a good choice to enrich our food. It is often combined with zinc, because usually active people lack them both.
Using more vitamin B6 will stimulate GABA production. Its high amounts are found in bananas, sunflower seeds, fish, pork, avocados, spinach, beef, starchy vegetables (potatoes), chicken, pistachio nuts, non-citrus fruit, etc.
L-theanine is very beneficial for optimal GABA functioning. It is present in black and green tea. As a perfect dopamine booster, it causes people feel mentally focused. It crosses the blood barrier quickly and boosts GABA production in the brain.
People with an insufficient GABA level should refine their eating habits and include more organic products to stimulate its production. Be careful using medications that decrease GABA level such as Valium, Xanax, etc.
Is GABA Safe?
A considerable advantage of natural supplements and herbs is an almost complete lack of adverse reactions. GABA is no exception, being a very safe substance.
There is no standard advised dosage for GABA usage with exact guidelines. It is quite individual, so users have to establish a personal serving by experimenting from lower to higher doses.
An average secure dose amounts to 250-750 mg taken 2-3 times a day. To treat insomnia, 500-700 mg are taken before bedtime, while for HGH boosting you should take a dose in the morning on an empty stomach. Talk to your primary physician to work out your own pill intake, because the doctor knows the history of your diseases and will advise if gamma-aminobutyric acid is good or bad for you.
Supplementation is not recommended for pregnant and breastfeeding women or for anyone on a long-term use basis. In case of GABA oversupply, mild and minimal side effects are presented by tingling sensations in the face or limbs, skin flushing, shortness of breath, nausea, drowsiness, increased heart rate, etc.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid cannot be combined with other drugs for depression, insomnia, or anxiety. For example, severe forms of depression can be successfully treated by serotonin boosters, while GABA can cause depressive episodes. Patients with bipolar affective disorder may benefit from some other therapy, except GABA treatment. Consultation with a doctor is necessary before people start any cure process.
Top GABA Supplements
When our body doesn’t produce enough gamma-aminobutyric acid, an adequate supplementation can help to cope with anxiety and stress symptoms, as well as promote better sleep. There is some controversy about GABA’s ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, but researchers keep to both opinions. If GABA is taken in a combination with particular elements like L-arginine, it finds its way to the brain easier. Such stacks are available at different supplement trademarks, but only trusted manufacturers can ensure GABA health benefits. Some OTC supplements may contain unlisted components or toxic elements.
GABA is sold in capsules or in powder form. The first step before buying any type of supplements or vitamins is to choose a reliable brand and to try pure forms of the substance. When you have some experience with these supplement forms, you can use stacks or find a less expensive supplier.
Top GABA supplements available for sale are categorized according to the effects produced and dosage: for a better sleep, for positive mood, combined with vitamin B6, with L-theanine, etc.
Do Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid Supplements Work?
The effects of GABA supplements are still debatable, while its nootropic value remains doubtful. As it has been mentioned, GABA molecules are too big and are not able to cross the blood-brain barrier. In other words, if we take the supplement it circulates throughout our blood and can’t reach the brain. There are several hypotheses that prove the opposite and evidence beneficial GABA effects for the human body. Countless positive testimonials can’t be the result of a mere placebo effect.
The thing is that some people have a so-called “leaky blood barrier” that makes it possible for some compounds to get to the brain. Hyperpermeability is a personal difference and requires more scientific studies.
One more hypothesis states that there is no need for GABA supplements to cross the blood barrier and produce effects in a human body. Scientists presume that a network of nerve endings in the gastrointestinal system is connected with the brain and can affect our mental state indirectly.
All these theories need further research and future studies to prove genuine GABA qualities and human body capacities.
To sum up, GABA supplements are considered generally safe with few mild adverse effects. Talk to a doctor to avoid medicine interaction or incompatibility. You may substitute supplements with foods that are GABA precursors or producers. Give your body the materials to generate more GABA, and it will slightly increase its level. Incorporate sports and yoga into your everyday life because regular practice also stimulates GABA production.
To avoid problems with crossing the blood-brain barrier, use two other supplements like L-theanine and lemon balm. They easily reach the brain, producing positive effects for the human mind and body similar to those caused by GABA.
If gamma-aminobutyric acid doesn’t work, replace it with a corresponding supplement that suits you best. Some elements have the ability to deliver GABA to the brain, where it makes an effect, or affect our body to make it increase GABA level.
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