Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid that does not get incorporated into proteins, but instead plays an important
role in regulating the activity of nerve cells. It is the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system and in the retina, and can also be excitatory under some circumstances.
GABA is closely related to another biomolecule called GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate); GABA and GHB are interconvertible in the
brain. GHB was a very useful and inexpensive supplement for promoting relaxation and sleep until it was foolishly banned in
the U.S. and other countries as part of the fiasco known as the ‘War-On-Drugs’. GHB, unlike GABA, readily crosses the blood-brain
barrier; once in the brain, GHB is converted into GABA which then calms over-excited nerves. Since GABA crosses the blood-brain
barrier less easily than GHB, larger doses are required to achieve the same goals.
The Wikipedia offers a good overview of GABA and its actions in the body. A less technical review from IronMagazine is also useful despite its uncritical acceptance of government-spawned propaganda about GHB.
What we can’t tell you
In the U.S. and some other industrialized countries, government agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
have adopted censorship as a method for intensifying their control over the supplement industry and its customers.
Thus, FDA regulations prohibit us from telling you that any of our products are effective as medical treatments,
even if they are, in fact, effective.
Accordingly, we will limit our discussion of GABA to a brief summary of relevant research,
and let you draw your own conclusions about what medical conditions it may be effective in treating.
As a supplement, GABA has received less attention from medical researchers than it deserves. The handful of scientifically
conducted clinical trials that have been conducted since 1980 have reported positive results with certain usages of GABA,
but many interesting applications have never been investigated scientifically.
GABA supplementation has been shown to be effective for:
- stimulating the pituitary gland to secrete more Human Growth Hormone
- Increasing protein synthesis in brain, muscle, and liver
- inducing relaxation
- reducing anxiety
- enhancing immunity during stress
- reducing high blood pressure
- increasing blood insulin levels
In addition to the directly demonstrated actions listed above, the following actions are suggested by indirect scientific
- improve schizophrenic symptoms
- promote loss of excess body fat
- build muscle
And then there are the GABA usages that have never been properly investigated scientifically. For these we have to rely on
- making users feel youthful and energetic
- improving the skin
- darkening hair
- inducing sleep
- improving the quality of sleep
- causing more interesting, vivid dreaming
- diminishing arthritis pain and lower back pain
- reducing symptoms of alcohol withdrawal
- controlling hypoglycemia
- suppressing appetite
- reducing premenstrual symptoms
- alleviating some types of depression
Let us briefly look at the evidence for several of the above applications of GABA.
Growth hormone production
Growth hormone levels have a positive impact on mood, energy, tissue repair, and muscle growth. Declines in the body’s production
of growth hormone are associated with declines in the body’s health, youth, and vigor. Conversely, increases in growth hormone
production can often improve the one’s mental and physical condition.
A clinical trial in 1980 showed that a single 5-gram oral dose of GABA caused a five-fold increase in blood levels of growth
hormone. Increasing the dose to 18 g/day for several days, however, resulted in a smaller effect. According to a 1994 study, a similar situation occurs in sheep given intravenous injections of GABA: a 10-mg dose produces
a significant rise in growth hormone levels, but a 100-mg dose actually inhibits the release of growth hormone.
In a study in 2006, acrophobic subjects (who fear heights) were asked to cross a suspended bridge as a stressful stimulus.
Those who had been given GABA an hour prior to the test showed a marked increase in immunoglobin-A levels in their saliva
(an indicator of mental relaxation), compared to those who had been given a placebo.
Anecdotal reports give the impression that for some people GABA works well to reduce anxiety, while for others it does not.
The only way to find out if it will work for you is to try it.
Lowering blood pressure
In a 2003 clinical trial, 39 ‘mildly hypertensive’ patients were given a GABA-fortified milk product. After 2-4 weeks, a decrease
of about 17 mmHg systolic and 7 mmHg diastolic blood pressure occurred and was maintained throughout the 12-week study.
A clinical study in 1982 examined insulin levels in the blood of subjects given a single oral dose of GABA. A dosage of 5
g caused a significant rise in blood insulin levels.
Are GABA supplements useful for the conditions and purposes mentioned above?
We aren’t allowed to tell you, so you should take a look at some of the references cited here,
and then decide for yourself.