What is GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric Acid)?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (γ-Aminobutyric acid or GABA) is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system. GABA is technically an amino acid, as it has a carboxylic acid function group and a primary amine. However, it is not an alpha-amino acid, as its amino group isn’t bonded to the alpha carbon. As a result, GABA is not incorporated into proteins like typical alpha-amino acids are.
GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter that functions equal and opposite to the excitatory transmitter glutamate. GABA and glutamate work together to control the brain’s excitation levels. GABA is essential for relaxation, as it regulates sedation in the brain. In addition to producing a calming effect, GABA may reduce stress, nervousness, and apprehension. It may also improve sleep.
GABA for Sleep
A human study examined how GABA supplements affected participants’ sleep. The individuals ingested GABA supplements or a placebo one hour before going to bed. The individuals who took the GABA supplements fell asleep faster than those that took the placebo. The GABA group also experienced improved quality of sleep by week four of the study. Animal studies have investigated GABA’s potential mechanism for improving sleep. They found that GABA enhances the breakdown of serotonin into normelatonin, the precursor to the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin.
GABA for Stress
Not getting enough sleep can lead to significant daytime stress. GABA supplements may attenuate this problem by improving sleep quality. However, some studies have examined GABA for direct anxiolytic effects. One study found that GABA mixed into a beverage reduced cortisol and chromogranin A, markers of stress and fatigue. The GABA group also scored higher on mathematic tests. The study concluded that GABA supplements may help reduce physical and mental fatigue while improving the ability to solve tasks.
Another study found that GABA supplements helped lower mental task-induced stress. Another study reported similar findings, indicating GABA is particularly effective at reducing mental stress while problem-solving. GABA may help calm nerves or ease apprehension due to its ability to dampen glutamate.
L-Theanine and GABA
L-Theanine and GABA synergize to promote better sleep. L-Theanine is an amino acid analog, and the primary bioactive compound found in green tea. It is also a GABAA receptor positive allosteric modulator, meaning it increases GABA activity. One study found that these two compounds synergize to improve sleep duration and quality.
GABA and L-Arginine
It is difficult for GABA to cross the blood-brain barrier, which can make effective supplementation a challenge. However, new research shows that nitric oxide production improves GABA’s permeability and absorption. One study used L-Arginine to boost nitric oxide production effectively increased GABA’s penetrability. Another study also examined the effects of taking L-Arginine alongside GABA and came to the same conclusion. L-Citrulline is another popular supplement for boosting nitric oxide. Citrulline Malate can provide this effect as well. PureBulk carries a 2:1 L-Citrulline DL-Malate Powder and a 1:1 L-Citrulline DL-Malate Powder.
GABA Side Effects
GABA may make some individuals feel drowsy. Individuals should avoid driving a vehicle or operating heavy machinery until they know how GABA affects them. GABA research is ongoing, and scientists have thus far uncovered few side effects. Some individuals may experience headaches or an upset stomach. Individuals taking anti-depressant medication or prescription medication that affects brain activity (e.g., seizure medications) should not take GABA supplements without consulting a physician first.
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