GABA SUPPLEMENTS: ARE THEY WORTH THE HYPE?
Updated: Feb 6
By R.K. Goldstein. She hails from Nashville, TN these days. She's also a raving fan of Pure Barre, green smoothies, ginger tea and believes music heals the soul.
Everyday a new supplement hits the market promising to improve our skin, digestive system, overall mood and even our sex lives. Worried about your liver? There's a detox for that too. There are so many offerings it can be overwhelming. One supplement in particular, has developed a raving fan base these days. This newbie on the supplement shelves is called GABA and many people are raving about its benefits. Depending on the company, these products promise everything from better sleep to better cognitive functioning. Many users swear GABA works. It all sounds great, but what exactly is GABA and is there any research to support these claims?
GABA is a naturally produced amino-acid and neurotransmitter, formally known as Gamma - Aminobutyric Acid. It’s our primary calming inhibitor.
While we do have GABA in our brains naturally, it is also readily available on the shelves of most pharmacies in supplement form. When browsing and picking up your vitamins one might wonder- should I be taking GABA too?
Studies have shown that those who suffer from depression, anxiety and stress, have lower levels of natural GABA. We need stable levels of GABA for our brains and nervous system to communicate smoothly. This interaction inhibits nerve cells so your mind can move from alertness to relaxation and then sleep. It is a relaxant, and manufacturers have even referred to it as a “natural form of Valium”. Though it has not been determined if it is a sure-fire way to treat mood disorders, it can’t hurt to ask your doctor if it could be beneficial for you.
There are also a few simple things you can add to your routine that may help modulate your production of GABA:
Research performed in a 2010 study shows any activities that decrease stress and increase serotonin can aid in the production of GABA. Specifically exercises like Yoga or Barre, which encourage a mind-body connection. The effects are almost immediate and lasting for several hours. There is nothing quite like the feeling after a good workout. It’s as though you can take on the world.
Aromatherapy and breathing in natural essential oils such as jasmine, are said to have some GABA boosting power as well. Sounds like there's no downside to this one. A beautiful smelling office or home just makes it feel all the more like your personal sanctuary. That's an automatic stress reducer in our book.
Unlike many other nutrients, improving GABA by changing your diet is a little challenging. That being said, foods like cherry tomatoes, shellfish like shrimp and some fermented foods, such as Kimchi, may increase GABA. Additionally, drinks such as oolong tea and red wine may cause an increase in GABA, as it strengthens and stimulates GABA receptors. Unfortunately, wine also leaves us with many undesirable side effects AKA hangovers. Most of us also know, relying on alcohol as a relaxant is not optimal.
THE LOW DOWN
At the moment, there is not enough research to conclude a GABA supplement can treat anxiety and/or depression directly. Although, some people absolutely swear by the calm-inducing benefits of taking the supplement. With a little extra research on some of our suggestions you might find exercise, food, and perhaps aromatherapy offer just the right amount of natural calm you've been looking for.
If you are experiencing trouble sleeping and mild anxiety, it might be worthwhile to add GABA to your night routine. However, you should always speak with your primary doctor before taking any supplement. Even natural supplements can interact with other medications and supplements.