Most people have never even heard of GABA, let alone know what it does in the body. However, for those suffering from anxiety or insomnia, this important neurotransmitter can be the key to reducing symptoms.
In fact, many medications that are used to treat these conditions function by boosting the activity of this neurotransmitter in the brain. Benzodiazepines, for example, are a class of anti-anxiety drugs that work by enhancing the activity of GABA receptors to calm the nerves and alleviate anxiety.
Sleeping medications like Ambien also act by increasing the activity of GABA, resulting in a sedative effect that can relieve insomnia.
The significance of this key neurotransmitter has been recognized only in recent years, but it is now suspected to play a role in a multitude of health conditions, including ADHD, insomnia, depression, anxiety, inflammation and premenstrual syndrome.
It may also increase levels of human growth hormone, an important hormone that can reduce the risk of heart disease, increase muscle strength and kick up weight loss.
Fortunately, you can increase your levels of this crucial neurotransmitter naturally by either using a supplement or increasing levels of other natural compounds that directly affect its synthesis.
What Is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, also known as GABA, is a neurotransmitter that helps send messages between the brain and the nervous system.
It is produced in the brain from glutamate. This process is catalyzed by the active form of vitamin B6 and the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase (GAD).
Its main function is to reduce the activity of nerve cells in the nervous system. A good amount of emerging research has found that it could play a role in many conditions, including depression, anxiety and stress.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is thought to have a natural calming effect and is believed to reduce feelings of of anxiety and fear by decreasing neuronal excitability.
It is often used as a natural supplement to promote sleep, improve mood and ease premenstrual symptoms.
GABA Uses and Benefits
Reduces Depression Symptoms
Relieves Symptoms of PMS
Improves Focus in ADHD
Increases Levels of Growth Hormone
1. Relieves Anxiety
One of the main functions of GABA is to reduce nerve excitability, which could be linked to feelings of anxiety and fear. This is because it has a calming effect and is often used as a natural remedy for anxiety. In fact, certain anxiety disorders have even been associated with decreased levels of GABA.
A study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found that those with panic disorder, a type of anxiety disorder characterized by recurring panic attacks, had an impaired GABA response. (1) Another study from the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons’ Department of Psychiatry showed that those with panic disorder and a family history of mood and anxiety disorders had decreased brain concentrations of GABA.
In addition to GABA, there are many other natural remedies for anxiety available, such as meditation, essential oils or valerian root, an herb that helps increase levels of GABA to inhibit nerve activity.
2. Improves Sleep
Insomnia is a condition characterized by difficulty falling asleep that affects an estimated 30 percent of adults worldwide. GABA has a calming, sedative effect and may be able to help naturally induce sleep by reducing nerve excitability.
One 2015 study found that taking GABA helped participants fall asleep quickly, shortening the amount of time it took to fall asleep by an average of five minutes. Additionally, those with insomnia may actually have lower levels of GABA. A 2008 study in the journal Sleep found that patients with insomnia had 30 percent lower levels compared to a control group.
Besides using GABA for sleep, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, limiting your caffeine intake and taking magnesium to help promote GABA function can all also encourage better sleep.
3. Reduces Depression
In addition to preventing anxiety and regulating sleep, the GABA neurotransmitter is also thought to play a central role in depression. Research has found that people with depression tend to have lower levels of GABA than those without depression.
GABA levels may also increase after depression is treated. One study from the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine showed that patients who underwent electroconvulsive therapy for their depression exhibited increased levels of GABA following treatment. Thanks to its antidepressant effect, GABA may be a good alternative to traditional treatments for depression.
Other natural remedies for depression include modifying your diet, getting in plenty of exercise and making sure you’re meeting your vitamin D needs.
4. Relieves Symptoms of PMS
Premenstrual syndrome, or PMS, is a group of symptoms like mood swings, fatigue and food cravings that occur in women between ovulation and the start of menstrual bleeding. Studies show that GABA levels are disrupted by menstruation and may decline across the menstrual cycle.
This neurotransmitter may be able to help provide relief from symptoms of PMS. For example, some studies have suggested that it could act as an a natural pain reliever while others have noted that it could be involved in the mechanism of cramps.
Chasteberry, vitamin B6 and magnesium are also natural remedies for PMS that can help balance hormones and reduce symptoms.