Mental health issues are on the rise in Canada, and so is the demand for supplements that calm and lift the mood. If you’re looking for a natural way to relieve mild depression and feelings of anxiety, you should know about Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid or GABA.
GABA is one of the most reputable “mood” supplements, with significant benefits for mental health.
In this article, you’ll learn what GABA is, what happens when your body doesn’t have enough GABA, and some things to think about if you are considering taking a GABA supplement.
We’ll also point you to a GABA supplement in Canada.
How GABA Works in the Brain
GABA is an amino acid synthesized from glutamate.
It’s also the primary “inhibitory neurotransmitter” in the central nervous system. Let’s break down what that means.
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry information between nerve cells or from nerve cells to other parts of the body. Neurons transmit these messages in the brain.
“Inhibitory” neurotransmitters inhibit or stop neurons from transmitting messages. They block certain impulses between nerve cells in the brain and decrease some types of activity in your nervous system.
While “inhibitory” sounds negative, it can be to our benefit. For example, when we’re triggered to feel anxiety, that anxious response could fire through our nervous system unimpeded without neurotransmitters like GABA.
Inhibitory neurotransmitters essentially dampen a response — much like throwing a wet blanket on a fire.
It works like this:
- Chemical messages, also called “action potentials,” are received by a neuron
- The first neuron passes the message on to other neurons
- Inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA or serotonin block the action of the neuron and lower the likelihood that the neuron will fire off a message
The blocking activity takes only a few milliseconds, but it can significantly affect the mind and body. GABA can calm your nerves, lower anxiety levels, and make it easier for you to process and organize the information coming in from your senses.
Can Natural GABA Levels Be Too Low?
Yes, GABA levels in the brain can be lower than “normal.”
“What causes low GABA levels? While it’s not entirely known, it may be that a combination of factors like genetics, prolonged stress, not having time to exercise, a lack of certain nutrients, and poor gut health contribute to decreased levels of GABA.”
From ObjectiveWellness.com, How to Increase GABA: 5 Ways to Boost Your Brain’s Calming Chemical
Low Levels of GABA? Here’s What Happens
Research has linked low levels of GABA (and problems with GABA signaling) to several mental and physical disorders.
If your body doesn’t release GABA properly, it can affect mental health. Low GABA contributes to disorders of the nervous system and brain. Insufficient GABA activity may play a role in:
- Autism Spectrum Disorder
- Tourette’s syndrome
- Anxiety Disorders
- Major Depression
Problems with GABA activity (either too much or too little) can contribute to physical disorders like:
- Parkison’s disease (PD): Too much GABA activity may block messages in the brain’s movement centers, causing problems with motor function.
- Huntington’s disease: People with Huntington’s have reduced levels of GABA, which can contribute to dysregulation of the areas of the brain that regulate voluntary movement.
- Epilepsy: GABA’s inhibitory effects counterbalance brain excitation – so when that balance is upset by GABA activity problems, it can lead to seizures.
- Insomnia or chronic sleep disorders
Can You Get GABA From Your Diet?
There are some foods that contain GABA, but scientists are still debating whether GABA you ingest can cross the blood-brain barrier. Here are a few of the foods that contain GABA:
- Sprouted whole grains (particularly brown rice)
- Fish and shellfish
- Noni fruit
- Black, green, and oolong teas
Additionally, there are some foods you can eat that support the production of GABA in your brain.
Your brain produces GABA from glutamate, an amino acid. These foods contain a high concentration of glutamate:
- Slow-cooked poultry meats and poultry
- Bone broth
- Aged, preserved, and cured foods, including meats and cheeses
Vitamin B6 also helps your brain synthesize GABA, so you can increase your intake of vitamin B by taking a supplement or eating more of these foods:
- Brussels sprouts
Drugs that Target GABA
A great deal of drug manufacturing research targets GABA and GABA receptors. After all, GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.
Medications that activate GABA receptors or increase receptor sensitivity to GABA can decrease abnormally high excitement levels in the brain. This group of drugs includes common tranquilizers like Ativan, Xanax, and Valium and sedatives like Quaaludes and barbital.
GABA analogs like Lyrica and Gabapentin, which are structurally similar to GABA, are prescribed to treat neuropathic pain and migraines, calm anxiety disorders, and lower the risk of seizures.
There are also GABA drugs, including Gabapentin and Xanax.
Prescription medications to regulate GABA may be necessary for anyone diagnosed with a mental health disorder. We are grateful that medications are available for these conditions.
However, every medication comes with risks and side effects, and not everyone is a candidate for a GABA-related drug.
For example, if you have mild anxiety or occasional depression, together with your doctor, you may decide to look for natural alternatives to GABA drugs.
A GABA supplement may be enough to boost your mood and downgrade anxiety.
Ask your doctor whether a supplement is a better option for you before trying a prescription GABA drug. Many MDs are very open to non-pharmaceutical therapies, and your doctor can help you determine whether a supplement is right for you.
Should You Take a GABA Supplement?
Researchers previously thought that ingested GABA supplements could not cross the blood-brain barrier, making GABA supplements ineffective for treating GABA-related disorders.
But new research suggests that GABA may be able to cross this important barrier, after all.
GABA supplements do show some early promise in small initial studies. And although we do need more evidence, there are several potential benefits of taking GABA as a supplement.
GABA supplements may:
- Relieve anxiety
- Improve sleep
- Alleviate the symptoms of premenstrual symptoms (PMS)
- Improve mood
- Treat ADHD
- Relieve chronic pain
- Lower blood pressure and slowing down the heart rate
GABA supplements are primarily sold in capsule and pill forms, but you may also see GABA sold as a powder.
If you are generally healthy and not on any medications, you can follow the dosing on the label.
There are no guidelines on the appropriate dosage of GABA for specific conditions, like anxiety or depression. As always, you should talk to your doctor before starting any supplement for the treatment or prevention of specific health concerns.
GABA Side Effects and Interactions
Scientists still need to research the potential side effects of GABA, so there is a lot we don’t know right now.
However, side effects of a GABA supplement can include:
- Muscle weakness
Most likely, these side effects occur with too much GABA. Keep your dose within the recommended range.
You shouldn’t drive or operate heavy machinery after taking GABA until you know how it affects you. We recommend taking GABA at night before bed, which is why we included it in our nighttime formula, Calm Sleep.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid taking GABA, as there is not enough information about whether it is a safe supplement for them.
It is not clear from current research whether GABA interacts with any medications – so if you want to try GABA, talk to your doctor first. Since GABA can affect blood pressure, you should use particular caution if you take a blood pressure medication.
Choosing a GABA Supplement in Canada: Try Calm Sleep
As you may know, magnesium is a calming mineral that helps with anxiety, depression, stress, sleep, and many other common health issues.
Magnesium is active in the nervous system, and one of its “actions” is to stimulate GABA receptors in the brain.
By taking magnesium with GABA, you could get the benefits of GABA at a lower dose.
Natural Calm has thousands of 5-star reviews from customers, and it is a top-selling magnesium supplement not only in Canada but worldwide.
Natural Calm Sleep can promote feelings of relaxation, increase total sleep time, reset the body’s sleep-wake cycle, reduce the time it takes to fall asleep, and increase magnesium levels for optimum health.
Note: This content is for informational use only, and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or professional diagnosis. Please discuss the use of GABA or other supplements with your physician.