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What does gaba do in the brain how to increase gaba naturally How does gaba work Do Gaba supplements work gaba side effects

How to increase GABA naturally? The science of the relaxing brain chemical

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Your relaxing chemical, GABA is important to maintain balance and bring you calm. Thinking of increasing your GABA levels by orally supplementing it? Think again because oral GABA’s entry in the brain is limited.  The great news is there is a nutrient that can easily enter the brain and boost up your GABA levels. 

Your brain functions through millions of messages being sent back and forth every second. Imagine a busy crossroad. To maintain order and ensure a smooth flow of vehicles, traffic lights regulate movement. Similarly, the brain maintains efficient flow of messages by allowing the travel of messages (excitatory/stimulating state) and temporary stopping of message transfer (inhibitory/relaxing state). This is accomplished through brain chemicals. There must be a well-maintained balance between the excitatory state and the inhibitory state for optimal functioning of the brain. One of chemicals that allot brain breaks is GABA. The brain must produce sufficient amounts in house. 

How does the brain maintain balance?

GABA occupies 44% of the brain’s network [1]. Like a red-light traffic signal, it allows breaks between flows of messages. This relaxing brain chemical is indispensable to maintaining balance between the fast-paced brain activities. Imagine working 24 hours a day without breaks- that is unsustainable. In the same way, if your brain is always in the excited state, it will malfunction. So how does GABA work? GABA prevents your brain from burning out by regulating the constant excitatory state. It ensures that your brain cells get a break from sending messages. 

Where can you find GABA?

Your brain produces GABA for its use. GABA is also found in small amounts in food sources like fermented soybean and fish, sourdough, and white tea [2][3]. In some countries like the US, you can buy GABA in supplemental form. The UK has banned its sale as a food supplement. But do GABA supplements work? A few studies show the blood levels of GABA increased after 30 mins of intake, but it is conflicted if oral GABA reaches the brain [3]. Though oral supplementation is safe and well tolerated, some GABA side effects include abdominal discomfort, headache, and drowsiness [5]

What happens when you orally ingest GABA?

The brain has a protective security system that only allows certain substances to enter. This is called the blood-brain barrier. It is made of different cells, much like the security codes in a well-protected entry gate. And like an exclusive building, the brain only allows special guests to enter. The studies about oral GABA being able to enter the brain are conflicted, with some studies suggesting that only a small amount of GABA can cross into the blood brain barrier [4]. 

How to increase GABA in your brain: 2 scientific ways

  • L-theanine- boost up your relaxing brain chemical.

If you constantly feel stressed and need time to relax, you may want to increase GABA levels in your brain. Since oral GABA efficiency is yet to be established, it is worth considering a nutrient from green tea called l-theanine. L-theanine increases the relative concentration of GABA in your brain [7]. L-theanine is a welcome guest in your brain, with easy access through the blood brain barrier. Its effects can be within 30 mins of intake [6]. Got an important project coming up and you need a break without feeling sleepy? Try L-theanine. It will help you relax without drowsiness. Each brain feed’s 250 mg L-theanine capsule is equivalent to 15-20 cups of green tea. L-theanine’s calming benefits is backed by 15 years of research where it was found that regular intake of 200-400mg L-theanine had a stress relieving and calming effect [7]. Browse natural theanine from only £15.99. Additional 15% off your 1st order using code NEW15.


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  • Yoga- meditate your way to more GABA.

Yoga, which translates into unity of mind and body, is a group of meditative exercises. Yoga can help refocus and act as a time-out from stressful activities. This 5000 years-old practice has been extensively studied for many mental and physical health benefits. Those who performed 12 sessions of yoga for 60-70 mins/session reported decrease in stress and improved relaxation [8]. Some studies have also found that yoga can help increase GABA levels. Brain scans of those who practised yoga for 1 hr showed a short-term increase in GABA soon after the sessions [9]. Since yoga efficiency depends on practice, masters in the field had a 27% GABA increase while new learners had a 13% increase post yoga [9].


In a fast-paced life, it is important to ensure a good balance of brain rest. Increasing GABA levels through L-theanine or yoga are two scientific ways of promoting this balance for optimal brain function.


References

  1. Sheffler ZM, Reddy V, Pillarisetty LS. Physiology, Neurotransmitters. [Updated 2023 May 1]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL).
  2. Sahab, N.R.M. et al. (2020). γ-Aminobutyric acid found in fermented foods and beverages: current trends. Heliyon, 6(11), p.e05526.
  3. Zhao, M. et al. (2011). Determination and Comparison of γ-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Content in Pu-erh and Other Types of Chinese Tea. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 59(8), pp.3641–3648.
  4. 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 neuroscience14, 923.
  5. Solomon, T. (2023). GABA Research Analysis. examine.com. [online]
  6. Nobre, A. et al. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, [online] 17(S1), pp.167–168. Available at: https://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/17%20Suppl%201/167.pdf.
  7. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (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, p.104395.
  8. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (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, p.104395.
  9. Streeter, C. C., Whitfield, T. H., Owen, L., Rein, T., Karri, S. K., Yakhkind, A., Perlmutter, R., Prescot, A., Renshaw, P. F., Ciraulo, D. A., & Jensen, J. E. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.)16(11), 1145–1152.

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