GABA – or gamma-aminobutyric acid – is a basic amino acid that is naturally present in many species of the animal kingdom, and functions as a neurotransmitter and neuromediator. It is found in large quantities in the human brain, and is arousing great interest in the scientific community. Numerous research projects have already been carried out into its anti-stress, anxiolytic, muscle relaxant and natural antidepressant functions in our bodies. Several studies have focused on people suffering from insomnia or high blood pressure, but also athletes and people who are overweight or obese.
Being a neurotransmitter, it functions as a messenger between neurons, which helps regulate the transmission of nerve impulses. The type of message it transmits can vary from one neurotransmitter to another, based on the differentiation between excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters. GABA is an "inhibitor" that binds to specific receptors called GABA receptors – or GABAergic receptors – in order to transmit its "inhibitor message". When GABA is available in a sufficient quantity, it helps to keep the chemistry balanced in our brain, promoting a general sense of well-being and tranquillity.
Science understands that low levels of GABA have a series of negative repercussions on health, particularly at the neuropsychic level. GABA tends to decrease as we age, but there are also people who naturally produce insufficient levels of this substance, which has been linked to disorders characterised by anxiety and panic attacks. Deficiency symptoms include anxiety, agitation and panic attacks, as well as other problems such as insomnia or depression. Research has shown that those suffering from Parkinson's disease and dementia will tend to produce low levels of GABA. Gamma-aminobutyric deficiency has also been linked to substance abuse and addiction, and sufferers could benefit from using GABA supplements during rehabilitation and recovery.
Maintaining an adequate level of GABA seems to promote greater tranquillity and relaxation, and has a significant positive influence on emotional states due to its relaxing action. It counteracts the daily effects of regular stress situations such as anxiety, pressure at work, managing expectations by obtaining the desired results, exam situations among students, personal emotional issues or intensive preparation for physical sports. Stress triggers, or "stressors", are omnipresent and should not be underestimated. They can trigger problems such as anxiety disorders, depressive states or short-term insomnia with everything that this involves, definable as insomnia with difficulty falling asleep, sleep-maintenance insomnia with incomplete and "restless" nights, or terminal insomnia, resulting in early awakening. Whatever its form, the causes of insomnia can often be traced back to a stressor or anxiety factor. Being a powerful natural anti-stress and anxiolytic agent, GABA can therefore be particularly effective in relaxing the body before sleep, avoiding insomnia and achieving quality, "restful" sleep. This myorelaxant effect – i.e. promoting the relaxation of the muscles and thus also aiding recovery after exertion – is complemented by its ability to promote recovery, which also makes it suitable as an aid for those who do intense physical activity.
Given its "inhibitory", relaxing, and rebalancing properties, it is also used to treat many mental disorders, including anorexia nervosa and bulimia, in addition to the aforementioned states of anxiety or depression. It also finds application in the treatment of bipolar disorder and substance abuse, considering that those suffering from such disorders often have deficiencies of this amino acid. Some research found it potentially interesting as a regulatory adjuvant element in the treatment of arterial pressure or as an antidiabetic agent: some studies show that it could regenerate insulin-producing cells in the context of type-1 diabetes.
Possible side effects are usually few, mild and transient, such as drowsiness, breathing difficulties or alterations in the heart rate, though these reduce quite soon; or a mild tingling, itching, or tickling sensation that typically lasts no more than 20-40 minutes. Insufficient studies have been carried out into its effects during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so it is better to avoid taking them. There are no other significant secondary adverse effects associated with this supplement, and its use is recommended before falling asleep.