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Do you suffer from insomnia and have heard that GABA helps? Or you just want to find out what GABA is exactly? Then you’ve come to the right place.
We are glad that you have found your way to our big GABA test 2023. We will provide you with all the information you need about GABA. Not only will you learn what GABA is and how you can take it, but we will also show you how GABA works with the help of studies.
- GABA stands for gamma amino butyric acid and has a slowing effect on the stimuli that reach your nervous system. Your body is therefore relaxed.
- GABA is used for stress, ADHD, PMS and insomnia, among other things
- You can take GABA in the form of capsules, powder or tea
The best GABA: Our Picks
Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying GABA
What is GABA?
Chemically, GABA belongs to the non-proteinogenic amino acids. Amino acids are essential for your body to be able to form protein.
In order for neurons to communicate with each other and with other cells, they need neurotransmitters as chemical messengers. There are two types of neurotransmitters: inhibitory and excitatory. Inhibitory neurotransmitters have a calming effect, while excitatory neurotransmitters have an excitatory effect, which means they stimulate your brain.
How does GABA work?
GABA does not have a calming effect per se, it slows down the stimulus that enters your nervous system. Your body is relaxed because the stimulus reaches your nerves more slowly.
If you are exposed to stress for a long period of time and cannot relax, it will have a negative effect on your GABA levels.
The effects of GABA include:
We will now introduce you to a few of the effects of GABA and have also provided you with studies to back them up:
Insomnia is widespread. Around 30% of adults worldwide suffer from some form of insomnia. Insomnia, as it is called, includes not only problems falling asleep, but also frequent waking up, waking up too early or restless sleep (1).
As mentioned above, GABA has a calming effect and reduces the excitability of the nerves. Therefore, it can naturally help you fall asleep. A study conducted in 2008 explored the connection between insomnia and GABA levels. The researchers found that GABA levels were significantly lower in people who had insomnia. The levels were about 30 % lower compared to people without insomnia (2).
In addition to taking GABA, it is helpful to establish a sleep ritual and try to go to bed at the same time every night.
When your body is confronted with many different stimuli over a long period of time, your brain is flooded with stress hormones from the excitatory neurotransmitters.
Exercise in particular has a positive influence on your mood and can help with stress. In 2010, researchers therefore investigated how the concentration of GABA in the brain changes during two different types of exercise and how they affect mood (3).
They found that the GABA concentration decreased by about 18% compared to the neutral state without stress. However, the functional significance and the molecular mechanism of this reduced inhibitory effect are not yet clearly understood and need to be further researched.
GABA and glutamate are the two central neurotransmitters in our nervous system. GABA has a calming effect, whereas glutamate has an excitatory effect. Although they act differently, both have the same biological pathway.
Normally, glutamate and GABA activity is in balance. However, glutamate activity increases, for example, when there is increased immune activity or inflammation, i.e. under stressful conditions. To compensate for this excitement and restore balance, GABA activity increases. Of course, only when the nervous system is functioning properly.
An increase in glutamate levels, should always result in an increase in GABA levels. This is also called the “allostatic mechanism”. Your body tries to restore the balance, the homeostasis.
If your system is unbalanced, i.e. your glutamate level is higher than your GABA level, it can lead to symptoms such as sensory overload, sleep and concentration problems or anxiety.
GABA is responsible for lowering the excitability of synapses. In most cases, such arousal is expressed in the form of emotions such as fear, tension or inner restlessness. This state is quite normal and correct in a real dangerous situation, because it puts the body on alert and improves the reflexes to react more quickly accordingly.
However, constantly persistent and irrational fears lead to panic attacks. Naturally, this puts a strain on the psyche and the body. Such disorders are grouped together under the collective term anxiety disorders. It is precisely here that GABA and GABA-analogue active substances have long proven their worth due to their calming effect.
In 2006, a study investigated the effect of orally administered GABA in people with a fear of heights. As a fear trigger, they had to cross a suspension bridge. The group that had taken GABA showed reduced beta waves and increased alpha waves after only one hour. This is an indication that they were more relaxed (4).
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a disorder that can affect both children and adults. Symptoms include hyperactivity, impulsivity or a limited attention span.
A study was conducted at John Hopkins University School of Medicine in 2012 that compared the concentration of GABA in children with and without ADHD and found that the concentration of GABA in the brain was lower in children with ADHD (5).
It also found that low levels of GABA were associated with less inhibition and more impulsivity. This was investigated in a study using in vivo concentrations of GABA in adolescents of pubertal age (6).
Premenstrual syndrome occurs in connection with the female menstrual cycle. It is characterised by various symptoms:
- Ravenous appetite
- Mood swings
- Stomach and abdominal cramps
Researchers compared the concentration of GABA in the occipital cortex of women with PMS and those without symptoms during the menstrual cycle. They found that GABA levels can be disturbed by menstruation and decrease during the menstrual cycle (7).
In industrialised countries, depression is one of the most common mental health complaints.
People who suffer from depression often have a lower concentration of GABA in the brain. Researchers therefore assume that the neurotransmitter GABA plays a direct or indirect role as a factor in depression (8).
On the other hand, another study at the Department of Psychiatry at Yale University School of Medicine has shown that GABA levels can increase after treatment for depression. Patients had increased GABA levels after treatment of their depression with electroconvulsive therapy (9).
When is it a good idea to take GABA?
As with any supplement, pregnant and breastfeeding women should discuss taking it with their doctor beforehand. During this time, your body simply reacts differently to certain vital substances. People who suffer from kidney or liver problems are also advised not to take GABA.
In addition, the effect of GABA can be intensified by traquillants. If you now take GABA in combination with alcohol or cannabis, you can get memory lapses.
How can I measure my GABA level?
GABA levels in the brain are usually measured using sophisticated MRI methods.
What are the side effects of taking or overdosing on GABA?
- slowed thinking
- Propensity to violence
- Respiratory infections
- Weight gain
- pronounced dry mouth
If you stimulate your GABA-A receptors with GABA-A receptor antagonists for a longer period of time, this leads to a downregulation of your GABA-A receptors (10). There is therefore an increased risk of addiction with prolonged use of barbiturates, benzodiazepines or alcohol. In addition, prolonged contact on GABA receptors with alcohol and benzodiazepines, has the same effect as prolonged chronic stress (11).
The production of GABA and cortisol is increased during stress. When the prolonged elevated levels meet, irreversible cognitive damage occurs (12).
However, side effects usually only occur in connection with an overdose of GABA.
Decision: What types of GABA are there and which is right for me?
Once you have decided to buy GABA, you can choose between three alternatives:
Each of the three products has advantages and disadvantages. Depending on where your preferences lie, a different type may be suitable for you.
What distinguishes GABA tea and what are its advantages and disadvantages?
GABA or Gabaron/Gabalong tea is usually sold in loose form, so you will need some basic tea equipment to prepare it. The type of tea that naturally contains GABA is called oolong and comes from Asian countries. Most teas are organically grown. You can also make several infusions from one serving of tea.
The disadvantage of tea is that you do not feel the GABA contained in it as strongly as with powder or capsules, for example, which is due to the fact that the naturally contained GABA is not present in high doses in the plant. In addition, you have to follow the preparation instructions exactly and allow time for preparation.
What are the characteristics of GABA powder and what are its advantages and disadvantages?
GABA in powder form is easy to dissolve in drinks or simply in water. You can also dose it individually according to your needs. GABA powder is also always vegan. You can also buy the powder in storage packs of up to 1 kg.
The disadvantage of powder is that there is a risk of overdosing due to the individual dosage.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of GABA capsules?
GABA capsules are easy, quick and uncomplicated to take. In addition, there is less risk of overdosing because the GABA dose is smaller. In addition, you can take the capsules with you wherever you go and you only need a sip of water to take them.
Vegans and vegetarians need to make sure that the capsule shell is not made of gelatine. However, everyone needs a different amount of GABA, which is why individual dosage is more difficult with capsules.
Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate GABA supplements
In the following, we will show you which aspects you can use to decide between the many possible GABA products.
The criteria you can use to compare creatine products include:
In the following paragraphs, we will explain what is important in each of the criteria.
The correct dosage depends on many factors. First of all, it should be said that taking GABA cannot replace medication prescribed by a doctor.
Recommendations for the correct dosage of GABA should only be taken as a guideline, as each person has an individual brain chemistry. Therefore, take only small amounts at first and carefully test out how much you need.
GABA is often used for sleep disorders, so it is recommended that you take GABA just before going to bed. If you are generally tired from taking GABA, but are taking it for other conditions, it may be better to take it in the evening.
For panic attacks or anxiety, you can also take GABA in several doses throughout the day. Please note here too:
Since GABA has an inhibitory effect, you should monitor your body closely during the first few days and, if in doubt, refrain from driving or operating heavy machinery.
Trivia: Interesting facts about GABA
What foods does GABA occur naturally in?
GABA is rarely found in natural foods, so you cannot directly consume GABA in the form of food.
You can, however, stimulate your body to produce GABA by taking the three building blocks serotonin, glutamate and tryptophan.
They are found in these foods, for example:
- Nuts (hazelnuts, walnuts, almonds)
- Whole grain products
- Brown rice
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Roth, Thomas. (2007). Insomnia: definition, prevalence, etiology, and consequences. Journal of clinical sleep medicine JCSM Vol. 3(5), S. 7.
Winkelman, John W., et al. (2008). Reduced brain GABA in primary insomnia: preliminary data from 4T proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). Sleep Vol. 31(11), S. 1499-1506.
Streeter, Chris C., et al. (2010). Effects of yoga versus walking on mood, anxiety, and brain GABA levels: a randomized controlled MRS study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol. 16(11), S. 1145-1152.
Abdou, Adham M., et al. (2006). Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. Biofactors Vol.26 (3), S. 201-208.
Edden, Richard AE, et al. (2012). Reduced GABA concentration in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of general psychiatry Vol. 69 (7), S. 750-753.
Silveri, Marisa M., et al. (2013). Frontal lobe γ-aminobutyric acid levels during adolescence: associations with impulsivity and response inhibition. Biological psychiatry Vol. 74 (4), S. 296-304.
Epperson, C. Neill, et al. (2002). Cortical γ-aminobutyric acid levels across the menstrual cycle in healthy women and those with premenstrual dysphoric disorder: a proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. Archives of general psychiatry Vol. 59 (9), S. 851-858.
Gerner, Robert H., and Theodore A. Hare. (1981). CSF GABA in normal subjects and patients with depression, schizophrenia, mania, and anorexia nervosa. The American journal of psychiatry Vol.138 (8), S. 1098-1101.
Sanacora, Gerard, et al. (2003). Increased cortical GABA concentrations in depressed patients receiving ECT. American Journal of Psychiatry Vol.160 (3), S. 577-579.
Bäckstrom, Birzniece, Fernandez, Johansson, Kask, Lindblad, Lundgren, Hyberg, Ragagnin, Sundström-Poromaa, Strömberg, Turkman, Wang, von Boekhoven, van Wingen: Neuroactive Seorids: Effects on Cognitive Functions; in: Weizman (Herausgeber) (2008): Neuroactive Steroids in Brain Function, Behavior and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Novel Strategies for Research and Treatment; Chapter 5, S. 103 ff.
Bäckstrom, Birzniece, Fernandez, Johansson, Kask, Lindblad, Lundgren, Hyberg, Ragagnin, Sundström-Poromaa, Strömberg, Turkman, Wang, von Boekhoven, van Wingen: Neuroactive Steroids: Effects on Cognitive Functions; in: Weizman (Herausgeber) (2008): Neuroactive Steroids in Brain Function, Behavior and Neuropsychiatric Disorders: Novel Strategies for Research and Treatment; Chapter 5, S. 103 ff.