Gamma aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a key neurotransmitter that regulates the human body’s response to stress, worry, and fear. Specifically, it is an amino acid protein that binds nerve endings in the brain and produces a calming effect. Recently, a bevy of vitamin supplements has appeared on the market as potential treatments for GABA deficiency. 

Read on for more details about gamma aminobutyric acid, how to increase GABA levels, and GABA supplements. 

What Is GABA Deficiency and What Are Its Effects?

If you have a lack of GABA in your body, your neurotransmitters will get too many signals from your central nervous system. This overstimulation can cause neurological conditions such as seizures or epilepsy in the most severe cases. More mild forms of reduced GABA proteins can cause severe anxiety, nervousness, uncontrollable muscle movements, or depression.

In some adults, reduced GABA levels in the brain leads to an enhanced desire to drink alcohol. Alcohol attaches to the same nerves or receptors as the GABA proteins. As a result, it can have that same calming effect on an overworked nervous system as the natural amino acids typically produced in the human body.

However, if untreated, these low neuro-protein levels can result in alcohol dependency. In certain instances, GABA deficiencies make people susceptible to alcohol and drug addiction. 

Woman With Anxiety

What Are GABA Supplements?

A membrane surrounds and protects the human brain beneath the skull. This membrane is called the blood-brain barrier (BBB) because it helps to keep germs, toxins, and other pathogens away from your brain. Previously, scientists believed that GABA proteins from foods could not pass through the BBB and reach the brain’s receptors.

New research indicates that GABA proteins consumed in medications, supplements, and foods may be able to reach the human brain and provide benefits. That’s why there has been a dramatic increase in over-the-counter and prescription medications designed to increase these neuro-proteins. 

These supplements claim the ability to reduce stress, lower anxiety, and promote a sense of well-being. Similarly, newly formulated drug compounds containing GABA are being tested as ways to mitigate and manage seizures, epilepsy, and other brain conditions in mammals.

Most of the supplements containing GABA get marketed as stress reducers or mood balancers. They typically contain several other ingredients in addition to the GABA proteins. Furthermore, supplement companies often list other roots, herbs, vitamins, and minerals as the primary ingredients above the GABA proteins. For example, several options on the market include valerian root, ginkgo, and other natural herbs known to improve mental clarity and promote calm feelings.

Why Are There Conflicting Results About GABA-Based Treatments?

Studies about medications and supplements containing GABA neuro-proteins have been ongoing since at least the 1950s. Early results were mixed or inconclusive. Some studies have demonstrated decreases in anxiety levels, fears, and worries in patients taking GABA medications compared to a placebo sugar pill. Similar positive effects have been observed in potentially treating some neurotransmitter diseases such as Huntington’s disease, epilepsy, and seizures. 

Even with these advances and encouraging results, many of these studies have had cohorts of patients that were only four to eight people in each group. Furthermore, for every study that shows positive benefits, there are others that show little to no impact from the treatments. As noted above, until recently, many doctors believed that GABA could not cross the BBB.

Part of the reason for the confusion is that different formulations or approximations of GABA molecules have been used in these studies. Natural GABA includes a hydroxide molecule, an oxygen molecule, and H2N, an amino radical known as amidogen. Some laboratory tests on animals used three-hydroxybutyric acid, which has two hydroxide molecules instead of one. That additional molecule may have prevented the GABA proteins from crossing the brain barrier.

Another issue is that scientists have used alternative methods to test the GABA molecules. For example, some studies gave the supplements orally whereas other researchers injected the medication into the subject’s bloodstream. These varying methods of administering the treatment may have impacted where the GABA went in the body and how much was left to cross over into the brain.

Other areas of mammalian bodies also have GABA receptors. For example, these nerve endings are in human stomachs. Therefore, GABA proteins ingested naturally from kimchi or other fermented foods and drinks could bind to the nerves there rather than traveling up to the brain. While reducing signals from these nerve endings could have an overall calming effect on the body, they would likely have a reduced impact on anxiety, fear, and any neurological disorders.

However, the latest research shows that the BBB does have specific mechanisms in place to carry GABA through to the brain. If that is true, then why do we continue to see conflicting results in these experiments and studies? First, natural GABA treatments have not been directly studied on humans yet. All human trials to date have involved synthetic pharmaceutical anxiety medications that contain these amino acid proteins or are designed to increase GABA uptake by the brain’s neurotransmitters.

Most of the testing with GABA-based food additives involves mammals other than humans. It is possible that the human body will react differently to these treatments. We’ll know more once actual human clinical trials take place. 

Are There Natural Sources for GABA?

Natural Sources for GABA

GABA amino acids are present in many foods that humans already eat and drink. Most of these natural options involve fermented items such as alcoholic beverages or kimchi. They are also found in oolong, green, and black teas in smaller quantities. Healthy teas are popular among those trying to find out how to increase GABA levels. If you’re interested in adding GABA amino acids, you can also sign up for a neurotransmitter training course.

Certain vegetables and other foods like beans, tomatoes, spinach, mushrooms, brown rice, and peas may also help boost levels of GABA proteins in the brain. As you can see, these proteins are common in nature. However, the latest scientific research indicates that only a small amount of these proteins is absorbed and transmitted to the brain. Some calculations indicate that GABA leaves the brain 17 times more quickly than it is transported in through the BBB.

Overall, low GABA levels can have numerous negative effects on the human brain and body. Severely low levels can contribute to epilepsy, muscle spasms, and other neurological disorders. Even in mild cases, the lack of this amino acid protein can lead to excessive fears and phobias, anxieties, and other issues. Would you like to learn more about GABA levels in the brain? Contact us today to learn more about how you can improve your health.