GABA(γ-Aminobutyric acid): Health Benefits,Function, Is it safe to take?

What is it?

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (chemical formula C4H9NO2) or GABA is an organic substance that is synthesized by the body and is present in all areas of the brain. It is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system, that  slows down the transmission of nerve impulses, and competes with glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter, affecting approximately 30-40% of synaptic connections. In nature, this substance is present in some plants, such as valerian or green tea.

Neurotransmitters influence our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. An imbalance between the main neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, GABA, and acetylcholine) can manifest itself in various psychological disorders.

GABA Receptor
GABA Receptor

What does it do?

The main task of GABA is to block unnecessary information flows to create parity between the processes of excitation and inhibition in our brain, providing functions such as attention, and motor and emotional control. GABA receptors are found in high concentrations in the cerebellum, thalamus, and spinal cord. Moreover, recent studies have shown that GABA molecules are also present in the walls of the uterus, spermatozoa, retina, lungs, and airways, as well as in the insulin-producing beta cells of the pancreas.

A Bit of History

The presence of GABA in the brain became known in 1950, when the American scientist Eugene Roberts, while studying free amino acids, came across a compound whose migration on paper chromatograms did not correspond to any compound containing known amino acids. He drew attention to the presence of this substance in various tissues of the central nervous system: the brain, cerebellum and spinal cord of vertebrates and suggested a direct or indirect connection with the conduction of nerve signals. 7 years later, researchers in Canada reported that the unknown compound with neuronal inhibitory activity was GABA. A number of subsequent discoveries have determined its role in our brain.

How does GABA work?

GABA is an amino acid that occurs as a result of processes occurring in different cells and, above all, in nerve cells. The “chemistry” of the brain is such that the main brake for the mediator – gamma-aminobutyric acid is a product of the main excitatory neurotransmitter – glutamate, which produces it under the action of the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD), and vitamin B6 acts as a cofactor. It all happens in a part of the brain called the hippocampus. Maintaining a balance between these two neurotransmitters is a key condition for physical and mental health, as well as good mood. A low level of GABA leads to the development of anxiety, depression, impairs concentration, attention, and some cognitive functions.


To understand the role of GABA, it is important to know how it interacts with its receptor. When GABA binds to the GABA receptor, the latter changes shape slightly, allowing ions to pass through its central channel. This leads to a decrease in the excitability of the neuron, which is why GABA is called an inhibitory neurotransmitter.

Getting into the brain from food, supplements or drugs, GABA becomes not just an additional inhibitory neurotransmitter, but also food for neurons, as it is captured by mitochondria. In neurons, it performs two tasks: about 1% of the substance works as a neurotransmitter, and 99% provides energy exchange in mitochondria during ATP synthesis and glucose breakdown. This substance stimulates metabolism, saturates the brain with oxygen and improves blood circulation throughout the body.

What are the benefits of GABA?

The main function of gamma-aminobutyric acid is to reduce the neural activity of the neurons to which it attaches. It prevents long-term activation of neurons and also plays a neurotrophic role by promoting the growth of certain neurons.

Main functions of GABA:

  • Motor activity regulation
  • Ensuring the processes of memory and thinking
  • Anticonvulsant action
  • Blood supply to the brain
  • Activation of energy processes
  • Increased respiratory activity
  • Acceleration of glucose utilization
  • Removal of toxic metabolic products.

The inhibitory effects of GABA serve to counteract the excitatory (activator) effects of glutamate. Indeed, when the brain is overexcited, it can contribute to feelings of restlessness, irritability, and even insomnia. Taking GABA helps to correct the imbalance associated with anxiety, has a relaxing and sedative effect. It is also associated with better sleep quality, allowing you to switch off, helping you fall asleep faster.

GABA plays a stabilizing role on a mental and physical level, helping to restore balance and maintain a normal mood. This substance is involved in certain stages of memory and can be used to relax, control fear or anxiety, which manifests itself in overexcitation.

Scientifically proven that GABA significantly stimulates the secretion of growth hormone (HGH = Human Growth Hormone) in the early stages of deep sleep. Growth hormone is one of the muscle growth hormones in the human body. It helps to reduce body fat and stimulates muscle growth. GABA acts on certain chains of neurons that stimulate the hypothalamus so that more growth hormones are released. This ability is highly valued by athletes.

Nootropics based on GABA are the  drugs that improve the higher functions of the human brain. They are widely used in the treatment of strokes, brain injuries, age-related changes, when the performance of the brain is significantly reduced. The advantages of nootropics over other drugs that affect synaptic activity are that they do not cause addiction and dependence, unlike psychomotor stimulants and antipsychotics. And, because GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, it is widely used in the treatment of epilepsy.

Thus, tableted gamma-aminobutyric acid contributes to the overall strengthening of the nervous system, in particular, such brain functions as thinking, perception and attention.

GABA receptors are located, among other things, in the hypothalamus, which controls circadian rhythms and is directly related to sleep. Many insomnia medications, as well as their herbal counterparts, raise GABA levels, thereby improving the quality of sleep.

What are the benefits of GABA?

Thanks to numerous studies, today GABA is officially recognized as an effective cytoprotective antihypoxant and antioxidant for various organs and systems. She is credited with antitumor and anti-inflammatory properties, as well as the ability to positively influence the functioning of the immune system.

The effect of GABA on sleep is especially noticeable. Under its influence, mental excitation decreases, the energy processes of the brain are activated, and the respiratory activity of tissues and glucose utilization improve, which leads to high-quality deep sleep.

The effect of GABA on the body:

  • Promotes calm and relaxation
  • Controls “panic” states associated with anxiety
  • Reduces muscle tone
  • Reduces seizures in epilepsy
  • Relieves muscle spasms
  • Reduces heart rate
  • Normalizes blood pressure
  • Helps control anxiety
  • Promotes quality sleep
  • Reduces blood sugar
  • Enhances overall immunity
  • Speeds up the recovery process after an injury
  • Improves sexual activity

With the help of GABA drugs, mental retardation, cerebral palsy, and post-stroke conditions are treated, and they also restore brain function after injuries. Taking GABA supplements is appropriate for high mental, physical, and psychological stress. They help to normalize the work of the brain, and cope with stress.

GABA For Athletes

Today, many professional athletes recognize the benefits of GABA for athletic performance. The advantage of sports nutrition based on it is high efficiency in the absence of a hormonal component. Acting on the anterior pituitary gland of the brain, GABA stimulates the production of growth hormone, which increases the growth of muscle tissue and reduces the percentage of body fat. This is especially important for bodybuilders and athletes.

Benefits of GABA for athletes:

  • Increases the content of growth hormone by 4-6 times, being a safe alternative to steroids
  • Stimulates the production of somatotropin even after training
  • Participates in the process of fat burning, contributing to faster drying
  • Helps to quickly achieve a beautiful relief body
  • Normalizes the functioning of the nervous system
  • Eliminates insomnia, improves sleep
  • Accelerates recovery after injuries: dislocations and sprains.

GABA supplements are consistently in high demand among professional athletes and amateurs, which is the best confirmation of their high effectiveness. Single negative reviews are associated with the incorrect use of drugs with GAB or a violation of the training process.

It is important to remember that all dietary and sports supplements are taken in a certain dosage, courses, after consulting a doctor.

Symptoms of Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Deficiency

GABA is synthesized naturally by the body. When its level in the body is sufficient, we experience peace and well-being. With a deficiency of GABA, an imbalance occurs between the processes of excitation and inhibition, which leads to disturbances in the functioning of the nervous system: from increased anxiety and irritability to insomnia. Low levels of this neurotransmitter cause difficulty falling asleep despite being tired, as well as restlessness, recurring muscle or neuropathic pain, and a tendency to be irritable. In children, this manifests itself in the form of hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, problems with perseverance and attention.

Here are some of the symptoms that indicate a GABA deficiency:

  • Nervousness and inability to concentrate
  •  Intermittent tremor
  •  Frequent breathing difficulties
  •  Heavy sweating
  •  Fatigue even after a good night’s sleep
  •  Mood swings
  •  Confusion in thought

The most severe case, which is associated with a lack of  γ-aminobutyric acid, is epilepsy. This neurological disease is caused by the fact that as a result of malformations or tumors of the brain, a huge wave of excitation periodically arises in some of its zones (most often in the local one), which leads to an epileptic seizure. Using preparations containing GABA, it is possible to enhance the work of the GABA system by suppressing the activity of the excitatory neurotransmitter.

The Problem With Taking GABA supplements:

It is worth mentioning that GABA has long been thought to be unable to cross the blood–brain barrier (BBB) (Kuriyama and Sze, 1971; Roberts, 1974), which raises questions about the mechanisms of action behind its health benefits. However, there are various accounts regarding GABA’s BBB permeability. While some researchers argue that only small amounts of GABA cross the BBB (Knudsen et al., 1988; Bassett et al., 1990), with the discovery of GABA-transporter systems in the brain (i.e., passing of solutes by transcytosis, carrier-mediated transport, or simple diffusion of hydrophobic substances), others believe that the substantial amounts of GABA could cross the BBB (Takanaga et al., 2001; Al-Sarraf, 2002; Shyamaladevi et al., 2002). Additionally, as GABA is also present in the enteric nervous system, it has been considered that GABA may act on the peripheral nervous system through the gut-brain axis (Cryan and Dinan, 2012). Although there is some evidence showing that biosynthetic GABA could reach the human brain as evidenced by various EEG responses (Abdou et al., 2006; Yoto et al., 2012), to date, there are no data showing GABA’s BBB permeability in humans. Although it has been shown that the blood GABA levels were elevated 30 min after oral GABA intake (Yamatsu et al., 2016), it’s not known if oral GABA intake would increase brain GABA concentrations or not.

Deficiency cases in which GABA supplementation is recommended:

  • Trouble falling asleep due to nervousness and anxiety
  • Inability to relax
  • Constant feeling of physical tension
  • Mood and behavior disorder due to stress

How to increase the level of GABA?

In a healthy body with a balanced diet and proper lifestyle, the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid is regulated independently, but bad habits, stress and certain diseases can provoke its deficiency. GABA is naturally present in plants, but it is primarily synthesized endogenously by our bodies from glutamic acid.

With the return of GABA balance in the body will help the consumption of food or special supplements containing gamma-aminobutyric acid, as well as glutamine, since GABA is its derivative. This substance is found in animal proteins: eggs, white meat, legumes such as lentils or chickpeas, leafy vegetables such as spinach and parsley. And to turn it into GABA, it is important to take supplements with vitamin B6 and magnesium.

Certain plant extracts can also interfere with GABA production. For example, lemon balm is a transaminase inhibitor and its consumption will increase GABA levels in the brain as it will be less degraded. GABA stimulants include inositol, glutamic acid, melatonin (at night), thiamine (vitamin B1), niacinamide (vitamin B3), pyridoxine, valerian, and passionflower 200–1000 mg.

  • Inositol, a sugar normally synthesized by the body fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, oilseeds
  • Branched-chain amino acids (leucine)  turkey meat, spirulina, beans, pistachios, whey
  • Isoleucine   nuts of all kinds, seeds, lentils, rye, eggs, chicken
  • Valine   peanuts, mushrooms, soybeans, lupins, parmesan, all kinds of seeds
  • Arginine   pumpkin seeds and peanuts
  • Coenzyme Q10   spinach, broccoli and cauliflower
  • Ribose  mushrooms
  • Vitamin C  Brussels sprouts, bell peppers and citrus fruits
  • All B vitamins, including B6.   nuts (especially walnuts), tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, cereals, citrus fruits, berries

How to stimulate GABA production:

  • Good rest
  • Breathing techniques to reduce stress
  • Meditation practice
  • Physical activity

GABA is found naturally in foods such as chestnuts, potatoes, rice, astragalus, fresh leaves of selected teas, from which natural GABA extracts are obtained.

In addition, it is included in drugs and supplements designed to reduce anxiety, anxiety, lower blood pressure and improve sleep, as well as in sports nutrition for athletes and bodybuilders.

Studies have shown that with long-term use of products and preparations with gamma-aminobutyric acid, it is possible to raise its level in the body to the optimum

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