Nutrition

What Is GABA, and What Are Its Health Benefits?

GABA benefits your health and mental functioning. This amino acid may help relieve insomnia, and it works hard to soothe stress.

SUMMARY

What is GABA capable of doing for your health and wellness? A GABA supplement has the power to calm your nervous system. GABA benefits your well-being by reducing stress, and studies show it also supports muscle growth. 

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In today’s stressful, fast-paced world, many of us are looking for tools that will help us calm anxiety and think more clearly. 

GABA – which is an abbreviation for gamma-aminobutyric acid – is one such tool. GABA benefits mental functioning by providing vital brain support, and GABA supplementation can have a calming effect that soothes stress. A GABA supplement has the potential to block certain brain signals and reduce activity in your central nervous system.

So, what is GABA all about, and how exactly does it work to combat stress and anxiety?

In this article, we will:

  • Share some basic facts regarding gamma-aminobutyric acid
  • Discuss the ways GABA benefits your health
  • Offer guidance regarding GABA dosage

What is GABA?

GABA is a neurotransmitter, as well as a naturally occurring amino acid. Neurotransmitters are chemical transmitters that operate in the brain. 

Each neurotransmitter is responsible for relaying, boosting and balancing signals between neurons (also referred to as brain cells) and various target cells located all throughout the body. These cells may be in the glands or in the muscles. They may also be located in other neurons. 

The role of neurotransmitters

So, what is GABA designed to do as a neurotransmitter?

Neurotransmitters work hard to keep our brain functioning at its best. They govern everything from our breathing to our heartbeat, and they impact our ability to learn and concentrate.

They also play a role in various psychological responses. Psychological states such as fear, pleasure and joy are all impacted by neurotransmitters. And neurotransmitters play a powerful role in affecting your mood. 

Types of neurotransmitters

To learn more about how GABA benefits brain functioning, it’s helpful to gain a deeper understanding of the different types of neurotransmitters. 

Each neuron sends a signal via a neurotransmitter. There are three main types of neurotransmitters: excitatory, inhibitory and modulatory. 

  • Excitatory neurotransmitters work to excite the neuron. This transmitter generates a signal called an action potential in the receiving neuron. Glutamate is an example of an excitatory neurotransmitter. Others include acetylcholine, dopamine and histamine. 
  • Inhibitory neurotransmitters have the opposite effect. These have an inhibitory effect and work to decrease the likelihood that a neuron will act on an action potential. Inhibitory neurotransmitters block signals in the brain and reduce overall activity in the body’s nervous system. GABA and serotonin are inhibitory neurotransmitters. 
  • Modulatory neurotransmitters are responsible for regulating groups of neurons. These neurotransmitters are able to impact the effect of other chemical messengers. 

As we’ve mentioned, GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It communicates with each nerve cell and has the power to halt a nerve impulse. 

What is GABA doing within your brain and nervous system? 

Gamma-aminobutyric acid starts by attaching to a protein in your brain that’s known as a GABA receptor. Once this happens, this receptor works with the amino-acid neurotransmitter to ramp up GABA activity. 

This ultimately creates a calming effect. This effect can be extremely helpful if you’re suffering from feelings of anxiety, fear or stress. Additionally, studies show that supplemental GABA benefits your body by helping to reduce the risk of seizures in those who are prone to them. 

Gamma-aminobutyric acid is naturally released by the brain at the end of the day. This is the body’s way of preparing you for sleep. By increasing GABA activity, a GABA supplement has the potential to help improve the quality of your sleep. 

What if brain GABA levels are low? A low GABA level or GABA deficiency has been linked with conditions such as chronic stress, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, memory problems and insomnia. 

GABA benefits

When looking at the big picture, what is GABA doing to support your health? Here are some of the ways in which GABA benefits wellness:

GABA benefit #1: May help sharpen cognition

Many people who take a GABA supplement do so because they believe it sharpens cognition, helping them to function with greater calmness and increased productivity. Much of the evidence in this area has been anecdotal, but there is a small body of research that supports this claim. 

2018 study looked at the effect of GABA supplementation on temporal and spatial attention. The study showed that GABA benefits cognition. Subjects taking a GABA supplement demonstrated improved performance when completing a temporal attention task. 

GABA benefit #2: May help relieve insomnia

If you have a tough time getting a good night’s sleep, you may be wondering: What is GABA capable of doing to help improve sleep? Many people have difficulty falling asleep. This is often the byproduct of high levels of stress and anxiety. 

Research shows that a GABA supplement may offer relief for those who have a hard time getting restful sleep. A 2018 study found that participants who took a GABA supplement (at a dose of 300 mg) fell asleep more quickly than those who took a placebo. Those taking GABA also slept more deeply than those who were taking the placebo. 

All this makes sense when you consider that the body naturally produces some gamma-aminobutyric acid to help us fall asleep.

GABA benefit #3: May help ease stress

For many of us, stress is an unavoidable aspect of modern life. It can diminish our productivity and create a breeding ground for chronic disease. 

According to some research studies, GABA benefits you psychologically by diminishing stress. In a 2009 study, some subjects were given 10 grams of chocolate enriched with 28 milligrams of GABA, and others were given a placebo. Subjects were assigned an arithmetic task, and an electrocardiogram and saliva samples were used to measure stress. The study showed the GABA-enriched chocolate had a stress-reducing effect on those who took it. 

GABA benefit #4: May support muscle building and the production of human growth hormone

What is GABA capable of doing when it comes to your workouts? Research indicates that a GABA supplement may be able to help the body build muscle after a workout. Research also shows that gamma-aminobutyric acid supports the body’s production of human growth hormone (also known as HGH).

In a 2019 study, participants were divided into two groups. One group took a supplement that contained just whey protein, while another took a supplement that contained whey protein and GABA. Both groups performed resistance training twice per week.

Those taking the GABA supplement showed a significant increase in whole-body fat-free mass. They also showed increased levels of human growth hormone. HGH supports healthy bone density and improved muscle growth, and it can help reduce body fat. 

GABA dosage

In his book The Chemistry of Calm, psychiatrist and wellness expert Dr. Henry Emmons recommends GABA dosage of 250-750 milligrams up to three times daily to help the body cope with stress and anxiety. In various studies, a dose of 200 milligrams per day was shown to improve sleep and cognition.

It’s best to start with a low dose and work your way up. GABA can sometimes leave you with feelings of daytime sleepiness. If this happens, reduce your dose. Doses as small as 100 milligrams daily may be beneficial.  

Next steps

So, what is GABA capable of doing for you as you follow your path to wellness? Is a GABA supplement right for you? The best way to find out if supplementing with GABA benefits your well-being in meaningful ways is to give it a try. 

Supplements can provide potent assistance, but don’t forget about the role your diet plays in your overall health journey. If you want to include more nutrient-dense foods in your diet, subscribe to Fresh N’ Lean. We make healthy eating easy by cooking each meal and delivering it to your front door. Our chef-prepared meal plans range from vegan to keto.