GABA For Anxiety - Does It Work
In fact, many people find that a GABA supplement is the perfect natural remedy for anxiety – though like any other remedy, it does not work for everyone.
Photo credit: sheelamohan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Before you decide to take a GABA supplement, you might want to learn more about GABA and even more, how different types of anxiety might respond differently to a GABA supplement.
- 1 GABA For Anxiety - Does It Work
- 1.1 What is GABA?
- 1.2 How can I boost GABA naturally?
- 1.3 Will a GABA supplement help anxiety?
- 1.4 GABA side-effects and cautions
- 1.5 Recommendations for GABA
What is GABA?
GABA – it's full scientific name is gamma-aminobutyric acid – occurs naturally in your brain, where it functions as a neurotransmitter and helps regulate brain activity. It is also needed in other parts of your body, where its most important function is regulating muscle tone.
Unlike other neurotransmitters, GABA has an inhibitory function – it tends to slow down neuron firing. Other neurotransmitters – adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, dopamine, serotonin, glutamate – have an excitatory function, i.e. they stimulate neuron firing. It's important to remember this difference when you are deciding which is the best supplement to take for anxiety or depression.
Without enough GABA, neurons fire too easily and too often.
Too much, and you can't get moving....
GABA is technically an amino acid, though it's not part of any protein either in the food you eat, or in your body. You can get small amounts from food, but most of it in synthesised in your body from glutamate – something you most likely have plenty of.
Many of the medications and remedies for anxiety that are used today affect the levels of GABA and how it works in your brain.
Benzodiazepines (medications such as valium and xanax) reduce anxiety through the way they interact with the GABA receptors. (On the other hand, coffee inhibits GABA, and so can make you more anxious or buzzed up.)
How can I boost GABA naturally?
Whether or not you decide to try a GABA supplement (see below for more information about GABA supplements), you need to enhance the way GABA works in your brain.
One way to do this is by taking extra Vitamin B6, which is needed for GABA synthesis. Many GABA supplements include B6 – if not, make sure you take a separate B6 supplement.
Magnesium is also essential for GABA activity, enhancing GABA sensitivity on nerve receptors (just one of the many essential functions of magnesium In your body). Magnesium is great as a muscle relaxant, and also has a calming effect - and it's is one of the many minerals that is generally deficient in our modern diet, which goes a long way to explaining the increased levels of anxiety we see today. Low levels of magnesium are associated with a whole range of disorders, including high blood pressure, diabetes and thyroid imbalances as well as anxiety, so a magnesium supplement makes sense if you have any of these conditions.
There are other natural supplements, such as Theanine, which can be highly effective in boosting GABA activity in your brain ... read more about Theanine for Anxiety here.
Will a GABA supplement help anxiety?
We know that low levels of GABA are associated with anxiety. There are many people who find that boosting GABA with a supplement definitely helps relieve anxiety, even though current medical belief is that GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier, i.e. the GABA you take in a supplement might not be the most effective way to boost brain GABA levels. For example, this is one comment about the effectiveness of GABA:
As a pharmacist I know that in theory this stuff shouldn't cross the blood brain barrier and have an effect. But from my personal experience, it DEFINITELY does something after I take it. I feel more calm and relaxed.
Watch this video for a personal review from a girl who found that a GABA supplement really helped her (info starts at 0:48 min into the video):
Many people do find a GABA supplement very helpful to relieve anxiety and stress and induce feelings of calm and tranquillity. Others find it too sedating, at the doses needed to be effective. And others again report absolutely no effect from a GABA supplement.
Why do people get such different results?
It's not just because of the type of anxiety - the results are too unpredictable for that.
But there's another answer that makes sense. According to Peter Smith in his online book Balancing Brain Chemistry, the GABA molecule is too large to cross a healthy blood-brain barrier, and in this case, any extra GABA you take will just find its way into the general pool of amino acids in your body, where it will probably do some good in a general way. But for many of us, the blood-brain barrier is not doing its job properly - it's leaky - and so the GABA molecule is able to find its way into the brain.
Peter describes an easy test you can do with GABA to find out if your blood-brain barrier is leaky. If it is, then that is not a good thing, and you need to heal it. The blood-brain barrier is there to protect the brain - it's not just there to frustrate us by making our supplements unpredictable!
And if taking a GABA supplement doesn't work so well, there are still other ways to boost GABA naturally… read on...
GABA side-effects and cautions
GABA is designated GRAS (Generally Recognised As Safe) by the FDA, and there are no reports of any toxic effects from taking GABA. But there are some cautions in using it:
Be careful if pregnant or breast-feeding
First, as always, be extremely cautious about what you take if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.
Keep to the recommended dose of GABA
It's been reported that high doses can have unexpected effects – some people have found that a high dose actually increases anxiety. High doses can also result in skin flushing, or skin tingling (you probably won't notice this at doses under 1 gm, which is what we recommend).
If your main problem is depression, try a serotonin booster instead
If you are susceptible to serious depression, be careful with GABA as it can trigger a depressive episode.
And if you've been diagnosed with a cyclic disorder (such as BiPolar Affective Disorder - BPAD), or you are prone to seizures (Dr Amen's types 5 or 6) you should be especially careful about what you take (only take supplements on the advice of a qualified health professional who knows your history).
Dr Amen recommends GABA supplementation for those suffering from his Type 1 – “Pure Anxiety”. Refer to the summary on the Natural Anxiety Remedies page, to get an idea of what type of anxiety you might have.
It makes sense that if you are low in energy, mood and concentration (common issues in clinical depression) you should not be trying to boost GABA, but instead, your serotonin, dopamine and nor-adrenaline.
While GABA does tend to enhance serotonin in your brain (mostly a good thing), it also tends to reduce some other neurotransmitters (adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, dopamine).
That is helpful if the levels are too high (as is likely with anxiety), but not if you are depressed!
Recommendations for GABA
If you think you are low in GABA, you could try a GABA supplement for yourself.
In his book, Dr Amen recommends a dose of 100-250 mg, 2-3 times per day. Start with a lower dose and work up - but don't go above his recommended maximum (750 mg per day).
You can buy pure GABA on Amazon or in your local health shop.
But I recommend a supplement that doesn't rely so much on GABA itself. The best choice combines GABA with other GABA enhancing factors such as L-Theanine, magnesium and B6. Not only will that help side-step the inconsistent effects of GABA supplementation, but you will also avoid the plateau effect (finding that it stops working so well after a short time) and get better overall brain balance as a result.
One of the best GABA supplements for anxiety I have come across is called Tranquilene, and it includes not only L-Theanine, magnesium and B6 as well as GABA, but also other herbs and vitamins that help balance your brain and guard against stress.