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Meet your relaxing chemical GABA: what is it & what are the benefits

Published Jun 10, 2024 | Updated Jun 10, 2024
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People frequently seek relaxation after a tiring day at work. Do you know what actually relaxes you when you take some time for yourself? It’s GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), the primary relaxing brain chemical which plays a crucial role in literally calming down the brain cells and maintaining a balanced state of mind. The discovery of GABA dates back to the 1950s, when two American neuroscientists Eugene Roberts and Sam Frankel identified it in the mammalian brain[1 Trusted Source 2018 - The Journal of Biological Chemistry Evidence review The discovery of GABA in the brain . Since then researchers have been trying to understand GABA - what is it & what’s the best GABA supplement. Here’s what they found. 

 

What are the benefits of taking GABA?

The potential relaxation benefits can occur when you provide your body with enough nutrients that increase your relaxation chemical GABA. Before you get into the benefits, let’s have a look at the processes that connect GABA and the brain

What does GABA do to the brain?

In the brain, your relaxation chemical acts as a key that needs to connect with a specific lock to produce calming effects.

Is GABA a neurotransmitter? Yes, GABA is in fact one of the main brain messengers[2 Trusted Source 2021 - Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia Evidence review The role of GABA neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system, physiology, and pathophysiology . What are the main functions of GABA you ask? The primary GABA function is that it serves as a"brake" on the excessive excitement of the brain cells which promotes a state of calmness and relaxation. Imagine a big office where everyone talks over each other very loudly. Sounds like a lot, right? That’s what happens in your brain when brain cells are active after you’re feeling excited and your thoughts are still racing after a long day. So, where does GABA come into play? Let’s imagine the office again. The manager steps in and all of a sudden, everyone goes quieter and calmer. That’s what GABA does in the brain, calming down your mind and body.  

Exactly how does GABA work? GABA occupies 44% of the brain’s network[3 Trusted Source 2024 - StatPearls Publishing Evidence review Physiology, Neurotransmitters . Similar to a red-light traffic signal, it allows breaks between flows of messages. This relaxing brain chemical is indispensable for maintaining a balance between fast-paced brain activities. Imagine your brain working at a high rate for 24 hours a day without breaks. That’s unsustainable. GABA prevents your brain from burning out by regulating the active state of the brain cells. It ensures that your brain gets a break from sending messages.

Does taking GABA actually work?

The evidence on whether GABA supplements work is mixed as there’s a lack of consensus on whether GABA crosses the blood-brain barrier. While some newer studies showed GABA may be able to enter the brain in very small amounts, results from older studies tell a different story[4 Trusted Source 2018 - McGill Office for Science and Society Blog article Gaba Supplements: Glorious, Gimmicky or Just Garbage? ,[5 Trusted Source 2015 - Frontiers in Psychology Evidence review Neurotransmitters as food supplements: The effects of GABA on brain and behavior . Most importantly, if and how GABA enters the brain has yet to be studied in humans[4 Trusted Source 2018 - McGill Office for Science and Society Blog article Gaba Supplements: Glorious, Gimmicky or Just Garbage? . Although many consumers praise GABA’s benefits, it’s unclear whether these supplements provide benefits beyond a placebo effect[5 Trusted Source 2015 - Frontiers in Psychology Evidence review Neurotransmitters as food supplements: The effects of GABA on brain and behavior . There’s a need for more research and a bigger sample in studies to determine the exact effects and the time it takes to note those effects[6 Trusted Source 2020 - Frontiers in Neuroscience Systematic review and meta-analysis Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review .

 

Which food has the most GABA?

While it’s beyond the bounds of possibility to ingest GABA foods that would be abundant in your relaxation chemical, you can ingest nutrients that increase GABA levels. Wondering how to increase GABA naturally? A nutrient found in tea leaves called l-theanine increases the levels of GABA in your brain around 30 minutes after ingestion[7 Trusted Source 2019 - Pharmacological Research Systematic review and meta-analysis Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia . Drinking green tea is one way you can up your theanine intake, although you’d need to drink loads of it to get the relaxation benefits. This would cause serious digestive issues as tea contains additional compounds that may also be toxic at a high dose. Alternatively, brain feed’s l-theanine is naturally extracted from green tea and provides 250mg of l-theanine in a single capsule. That’s the same amount of theanine you’d found in 15 to 20 cups of green tea, providing you with a safe, side-effects-free option. 


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Additionally, in very small amounts, theanine is also found in Bay bolete mushrooms. Studies examining this, however, only provide evidence of theanine being extracted from the mushrooms rather than supporting the notion of being able to ingest theanine by eating Bay bolete mushrooms[8 Trusted Source 2008 - LWT - Food Science and Technology Study of chemical properties Production of theanine by Xerocomus badius (mushroom) using submerged fermentation


Benefits of your relaxation chemical GABA

Reviewing studies and literature reviews on the relaxation chemical GABA benefits spanning across 22 years, brain feed found several that suggest your brain chemical GABA has multiple potential health benefits. Keep reading to find out what can boost its levels. While relaxation is the main benefit, what else does the clinical evidence say?

How long does GABA take to work for anxiety?

While studies are yet to focus on how long the calming process of the brain chemical GABA for anxiety takes, some did show evidence that implicates GABA in the regulation of anxiety and fear responses. Because of that many researchers investigated the levels of GABA in anxiety disorders[9 Trusted Source 2004 - The American Journal of Psychiatry Human clinical study Impaired GABA neuronal response to acute benzodiazepine administration in panic disorder ,[10 Trusted Source 2002 - Biological Psychiatry Evidence review Molecular targets in the treatment of anxiety . A study on 10 patients with a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks, found that the participants had an impaired GABA response[9 Trusted Source 2004 - The American Journal of Psychiatry Human clinical study Impaired GABA neuronal response to acute benzodiazepine administration in panic disorder . Furthermore, a literature review on the treatment of anxiety revealed that individuals with a panic disorder and a family history of mood and anxiety disorders exhibited lower levels of GABA[10 Trusted Source 2002 - Biological Psychiatry Evidence review Molecular targets in the treatment of anxiety .

Additionally, alcohol increases the levels of GABA and decreases the levels of a chemical called glutamate which is responsible for activating brain cells The balance between GABA and glutamate gets disrupted and the next morning when alcohol levels drop, the brain tries to normalize the imbalance by increasing glutamate production by over 200%[11 Trusted Source 2012 - Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire) Human clinical study Alteration of glutamate/GABA balance during acute alcohol withdrawal in emergency department: A prospective analysis . GABA release is therefore decreased and this imbalance is known to induce anxiety behaviour, supporting the notion of hangxiety which you can read more about[11 Trusted Source 2012 - Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire) Human clinical study Alteration of glutamate/GABA balance during acute alcohol withdrawal in emergency department: A prospective analysis ,[12 Trusted Source 2019 - Personality and Individual Differences Human study Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers .

Does GABA really work for sleep?

GABA is usually recognized as the chemical that provides you with relaxation without sedation, however, a study on 16 people with insomnia highlighted the potential role of GABA for sleep[13 Trusted Source 2008 - Sleep Human clinical study Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: Preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) . While their findings are far from an implication that GABA promotes sleep, it may have a regulatory role in the sleep-wake cycle as they found people with insomnia have 30% lower GABA levels. More research is needed before anyone can hang their hat on the effects of the relaxation brain chemical on sleep.

Does low GABA cause ADHD?

Another potential role of GABA was hypothesised when it comes to ADHD. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University compared the levels of GABA in children with and without ADHD[14 Trusted Source 2012 - Archives of General Psychiatry Human study Reduced GABA concentration in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder . They found that children with ADHD had reduced levels of GABA in the brain. Another study on 30 adolescents and 20 adults showed that lower levels of GABA were associated with more impulsivity and less inhibition[15]. Even though these two studies confirmed a link between ADHD and GABA, the exact mechanism of action is unknown. 

 

Is it okay to take GABA every day?

As well as being a neurotransmitter, GABA can also be a term describing GABA supplements which frequently get scrutinized because of safety concerns. What is the downside of taking GABA? Side effects like nausea, vomiting and fatigue are very common when taking a GABA supplement[15 Trusted Source 2013 - Biological Psychiatry Human clinical study Frontal lobe γ-aminobutyric acid levels during adolescence: Associations with impulsivity and response inhibition . Even though a systematic review of 108 articles concluded that GABA dosages of up to 18 g/d for 4 days and in longer studies at intakes of 120 mg/d for 12 weeks were without adverse effects, they also report on the side effects found in a few of the same studies[16 Trusted Source 2021 - Nutrients Systematic review and meta-analysis United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Safety Review of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) . This makes people question whether is GABA safe. Let’s see what the science and governments say.


Alternative to choosing to buy GABA UK, EU & US

Since there’s a lot of contradicting evidence for GABA, different governments have different laws in play when it comes to a GABA supplement. UK, for example, considers it as a medication, similar to Canada[17 Trusted Source 2012 - GOV UK Legislation Governmental authority The Human Medicines Regulations 2012 No. 1916 .

What is the supplement GABA good for?

While it can help calm down your nervous system, it can also cause a lot of side effects. How does taking GABA make you feel? You may experience its effects as feelings of relaxation, however, it may also cause unpleasant feelings of dizziness. What is the best brand for GABA supplement? Because the safety of GABA is yet to be globally established, all brands are under the same scrutiny making it impossible to define the best GABA supplement

Do Holland and Barrett sell GABA? The UK considers GABA supplements as a medication and is therefore not sold over the counter as GABA in Holland and Barrett. The only GABA medication you can get in the UK is Gabapentin which doctors prescribe if you’re suffering from epilepsy. 

What is the best form of GABA to take? Instead of opting for a GABA supplement you may want to try a natural GABA booster. Read about GABA vs l-theanine to learn more about which is the better relaxation option. 

Is l-theanine better than GABA?

Since oral GABA safety is yet to be established, it’s worth opting for a green tea nutrient called l-theanine. L-theanine increases the concentration of GABA in your brain[18 Trusted Source 2019 - Pharmacological Research Systematic review and meta-analysis Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia . As it easily crosses from the bloodstream to the brain, you can feel its effects within 30 minutes of intake[19 Trusted Source 2008 - Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition Evidence review L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state . Got an important project coming up and want to feel calmer about it? Try l-theanine. It’ll help you relax without causing drowsiness. L-theanine benefits are backed by 15 years of research where it was found that a regular intake of 200 to 400 mg of l-theanine had a stress-relieving and calming effect[18 Trusted Source 2019 - Pharmacological Research Systematic review and meta-analysis Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia .

brain feed’s l-theanine is naturally extracted from green tea and provides 250mg of l-theanine in a single capsule which is the same as the amount of l-theanine found in 15 to 20 cups of green tea.


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Size

896 in stock


All in all, theanine is a safe and natural way to boost your relaxation chemical GABA which calms you down and keeps you present.

 

References

[1] Spiering, M. J. (2018). The discovery of GABA in the brain. The Journal of Biological Chemistry, 293(49), 19159–19160. https://doi.org/10.1074/jbc.CL118.006591

[2] Ochoa-de la Paz, L. D., Gulias-Cañizo, R., Ruíz-Leyja, E. D., Sánchez-Castillo, H., & Parodí, J. (2021). The role of GABA neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system, physiology, and pathophysiology. Revista Mexicana de Neurociencia, 22(2), 67–76. https://doi.org/10.24875/rmn.20000050

[3] Sheffler, Z. M., Reddy, V., & Pillarisetty, L. S. (2024). Physiology, Neurotransmitters. In StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK539894/

[4] McVean, A. (2018). Gaba Supplements: Glorious, Gimmicky or Just Garbage? McGill Office for Science and Society. https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/health/gaba-supplements-glorious-gimmicky-or-just-garbage

[5] Boonstra, E., de Kleijn, R., Colzato, L. S., Alkemade, A., Forstmann, B. U., & Nieuwenhuis, S. (2015). Neurotransmitters as food supplements: The effects of GABA on brain and behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 1520. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01520

[6] Hepsomali, P., Groeger, J. A., Nishihira, J., & Scholey, A. (2020). Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 14. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnins.2020.00923

[7] Lopes Sakamoto, F., Metzker Pereira Ribeiro, R., Amador Bueno, A., & Oliveira Santos, H. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, 104395. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2019.104395

[8] Li, J., Li, P., & Liu, F. (2008). Production of theanine by Xerocomus badius (mushroom) using submerged fermentation. LWT - Food Science and Technology, 41(5), 883–889. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lwt.2007.05.020

[9] Goddard, A. W., Mason, G. F., Appel, M., Rothman, D. L., Gueorguieva, R., Behar, K. L., & Krystal, J. H. (2004). Impaired GABA neuronal response to acute benzodiazepine administration in panic disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(12), 2186–2193. https://doi.org/10.1176/appi.ajp.161.12.2186

[10] Kent, J. M., Mathew, S. J., & Gorman, J. M. (2002). Molecular targets in the treatment of anxiety. Biological Psychiatry, 52(10), 1008–1030. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0006-3223(02)01672-4

[11] Brousse, G., Arnaud, B., Vorspan, F., Richard, D., Dissard, A., Dubois, M., Pic, D., Geneste, J., Xavier, L., Authier, N., Sapin, V., Llorca, P.-M., De Chazeron, I., Minet-Quinard, R., & Schmidt, J. (2012). Alteration of glutamate/GABA balance during acute alcohol withdrawal in emergency department: A prospective analysis. Alcohol and Alcoholism (Oxford, Oxfordshire), 47(5), 501–508. https://doi.org/10.1093/alcalc/ags078

[12] Marsh, B., Carlyle, M., Carter, E., Hughes, P., McGahey, S., Lawn, W., Stevens, T., McAndrew, A., & Morgan, C. J. A. (2019). Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers. Personality and Individual Differences, 139, 13–18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.10.034

[13] Winkelman, J. W., Buxton, O. M., Jensen, J. E., Benson, K. L., O’Connor, S. P., Wang, W., & Renshaw, P. F. (2008). Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: Preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). Sleep, 31(11), 1499–1506. https://doi.org/10.1093/sleep/31.11.1499

[14] Edden, R. A. E., Crocetti, D., Zhu, H., Gilbert, D. L., & Mostofsky, S. H. (2012). Reduced GABA concentration in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 69(7), 750–753. https://doi.org/10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2011.2280

[15] Silveri, M. M., Sneider, J. T., Crowley, D. J., Covell, M. J., Acharya, D., Rosso, I. M., & Jensen, J. E. (2013). Frontal lobe γ-aminobutyric acid levels during adolescence: Associations with impulsivity and response inhibition. Biological Psychiatry, 74(4), 296–304. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.01.033

[16] Oketch-Rabah, H. A., Madden, E. F., Roe, A. L., & Betz, J. M. (2021). United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Safety Review of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Nutrients, 13(8), 2742. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13082742

[17] The Human Medicines Regulations 2012 No. 1916 (2012). legislation.gov.uk. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5da59ef8ed915d17b129e8e8/Reg_165_Notices.pdf

[18] Lopes Sakamoto, F., Metzker Pereira Ribeiro, R., Amador Bueno, A., & Oliveira Santos, H. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, 104395. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phrs.2019.104395

[19] Nobre, A. C., Rao, A., & Owen, G. N. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 17 Suppl 1, 167–168. https://www.neuroscience.ox.ac.uk/publications/26297

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