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Can GABA Reduce Anxiety?

Updated on September 16, 2012

If you have anxiety or panic attacks, you should see a doctor. These are not normal conditions and can be due to physically problems and serious imbalances in the body. Simply taking GABA supplements may not necessarily help.

The body can affect the mind, just as the mind can affect the body. Anxiety and panic attacks can be caused by a whole range of issues with the body such as imbalances in the gut, problems with certain foods specific to you. It can be due to adrenal dysfunction, and others. It can be due to deficiency in serotonin, magnesium, GABA, or any number of important nutrients or amino acids. There is story of a person who had a panic attack while driving across a bridge due to magnesium deficiency. [page 47-48 of The Magnesium Miracle]

What is GABA?

GABA stands for gamma-Aminobutyric acid. It is an amino acid that is synthesized in the brain.

It is the a chief inhibitory neurotransmitter and acts as brain's calming agent. Think of it as the anti-anxiety neurotransmitter.

Neurotransmitters in the central nervous system are like chemical messengers that enable cells to "talk" to one another.

GABA regulates brain cell activities by inhibiting certain neuronal firings. It puts a brake on too much neurotransmitters epinephrine and norepinephrine. Hence GABA is supposed to reduce anxiety and increase relaxation.

GABA is synthesized in the brain. But depressed patients, for example, are low on GABA levels. Low GABA has also been implicated in anxiety conditions such as panic attacks, seizure disorders, sleeping disorders, headaches, and Parkinsonian-like symptoms.

The UltraMind Solution says ...

"People with anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, seizures, and schizophrenia all have low levels of GABA." [page 108]

GABA Supplements

There are GABA supplements available which manufacturers claim that can reduce anxiety and produce a calming effect. However, there is some debate as to how effective oral GABA supplements are. This is because oral GABA can not easily cross the blood-brain barrier.

Opinions on GABA ranges the full spectrum.

The Denver Naturopathic Clinic does not believe in GABA. It writes ...

"The published research supporting any of these promotional claims is weak. Current medical opinion says that GABA taken as a supplement does not reach the brain and has no effect or benefit aside from being a benign placebo."[1]

Primal Body, Primal Mind writes ...

"For people who crave carbohydrates under stress, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA, an amino acid) or GABA-enhancing compounds such as L-theanine can be helpful." [page 165]

About.com article says in December 2010 about the lack of research ...

"Due to the lack of supporting research, it's too soon to recommend GABA supplements (or herbal supplements said to increase GABA levels) for any condition."[5]

The UltraMind Solution says ...

"Why not just take GABA supplement? Well, thankfully, you can. And you can use other natural substances to boost GABA levels to overcome the anxiety that millions of you experience every day. One study showed that within sixty minutes of taking GABA, alpha brain waves (a sign of relaxation) were increased on EEG test." [page 108]

The book also says that taurine, theanine (from green tea), inositol, various B vitamins, and magnesium can also help boost GABA levels. Taurine is a protein found in many animal foods.

You may have heard or read that kava, valerian, and passion flower may also reduce anxiety by increasing GABA levels. However, kava can be a dangerous supplement and I would not take it. It was listed in Consumer Report September 2010 as twelve supplements you should avoid. Passion flower can also be problematic.

If you do take GABA, take it on empty stomach or without protein for best results.

About Supplements

You should talk with your doctor before starting any supplement regiment. This is because not all supplements are suitable for all individuals or conditions. Certain supplements have adverse drug interactions with other drugs or medications.

Always check for side effects, contra-indications, and drug interactions. This can also be done on WebMd.com.

WebMd.com says this about GABA: "There isn't enough information available to know if GABA is safe for use."[6]

When I see that, I don't take it. I only take it if WebMd specifically says it is "safe" and/or "likely safe" for most people.

For valerian, WebMd.com says "Valerian is LIKELY SAFE for most people when used in medicinal amounts short-term."[6] It does list some side effects and have drug interactions with alcohol, alprazolam, and various sedative medications. And also as with many supplements, it says to avoid if you are pregnant or breast feeding.

For Passion Flower, WebMd.com says "Passionflower is LIKELY SAFE for most people when taken by mouth in amounts normally found in food. It is POSSIBLY SAFE when taken short-term (less than one month) as medicine. It is POSSIBLY UNSAFE when taken by mouth in large amounts."[6] And in this case, it says it is UNSAFE to take it if you are pregnant or breast feeding. It also has drug interactions with sedative medications.

WebMd.com concurs with Consumer Report that kava is POSSIBLY UNSAFE.

Magnesium is the Relaxation Mineral

Personally, I'm more in favor of taking B vitamins and magnesium, rather than GABA.

Magnesium is the "relaxation mineral" which you can read more about here. Kale is a source of magnesium from food.

Increase GABA naturally

But a better way to boost GABA levels is to do mind-body practices that naturally boost GABA levels. Yoga has been shown to boost GABA levels which you can read in the link.

Other similar mind-body practices may also be able to boost GABA.

Note:

Article was written April 2011 and is only opinion at the time of writing. This is not medical advice. Author may receive compensations from the display ads and links within article.

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