Raise your hand if this sounds familiar: You wake up early on a weekday morning after not getting enough sleep. You have to leave your home just after the sun rises so you can make it to work on time, getting stuck in heavy traffic along the way. Then you spend your workday trying to check off everything on your to-do list. During your lunch break, you have to squeeze in a trip to the bookstore to buy some of your kid’s requirements for school, charging the expense to your credit card, which has been getting quite the workout this month. Then you spend a couple of hours in traffic again before getting home exhausted, but still having to meet the demands of home. Then you do it all over again the next day.
This is what life is like for many people in this day and age. Days are filled with stress and anxiety, dealing with responsibilities at work and at home, worrying about money, and suffering from sleepless nights from all the overthinking.
Maybe you’ve come to accept that this is just the way life is, that stress and anxiety are just your constant companions. But what if there was a way to limit the stress and anxiety in your life even if outside factors don’t change? What if there was a way to alter your insides so you can go through life feeling calmer and better able to deal with everything that comes your way? What if there was something you could take to help you chill out?
It sounds too good to be true but there is growing evidence that GABA might be your ticket to less stress, anxiety, and fear.
What Is GABA?
GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid that is naturally produced by your brain. It’s a neurotransmitter, which means it’s a messenger between neurons. In particular, it’s an inhibitory neurotransmitter, essentially signaling cells in the brain and central nervous system to slow down. This reduced activity shifts your body into lower gear, effectively calming you down.
More studies need to be done but research so far suggests that supplementing with GABA has some benefits:
Decreases stress and anxiety. Whether GABA supplements can enter the brain from the bloodstream is still hotly debated but some studies have shown that a supplement, due to its ability to keep neurons from going haywire, can indeed relieve anxiety. One small study showed that GABA relaxed subjects within an hour of taking the supplement; another demonstrated that subjects who ate GABA-infused chocolate alleviated mental stress. A 2017 study published in the journal Nature Communications also suggests that GABA can help suppress unwanted thoughts and memories—which means less overthinking that leads to the anxiety that plagues you or that keeps you up at night.
Promotes better sleep. A study found that insomniacs had up to 30% lower GABA levels than people who didn’t have the sleep disorder. More research needs to be done in the area of GABA supplementation for better sleep but the current small-scale studies look promising.
Reduces blood pressure. Insomnia isn’t just something that leaves you feeling tired and worn; it can also lead to high blood pressure. Stress likewise causes a spike in your BP. One study suggested that supplementing with GABA lowered the blood pressure of subjects with borderline high blood pressure.
Other exciting areas of study include GABA’s potential ability to relieve premenstrual syndromes, decrease inflammation, stimulate the production of growth hormones, and increase focus in those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD.
Where to Get GABA
If you’re looking for natural sources of GABA, you can try green, black, and oolong tea. Fermented foods like yogurt and kimchi are also potential sources. (Interestingly, these fermented foods are known for their probiotics, which are live microorganisms that are good for your gut health; GABA may also be beneficial to gut health.)
Some foods and natural supplements may stimulate GABA production, such as valerian root, passionflower, and American ginseng. You can also add whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, fish, citrus fruits, spinach, and dark chocolate to your diet—these foods are also rich in magnesium, a mineral which also helps keep stress and anxiety at bay.
GABA supplements are also available at Healthy Options. While the side effects and risks have not yet been studied extensively, it is prudent to consult your doctor before taking a GABA supplement, especially if you have any existing conditions or are taking medication. It is also not recommended for expectant and breastfeeding mothers.