This neurotransmitter is a 'downer' as it regulates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and is a double edged sword as a Nootropic.
It has been studied exhaustively world wide with over 2900 human studies listed on PubMed.
This article is mostly going to focus on decoding what the human studies are saying about GABA and how this squares up with the anecdotal experiences of Biohackers online. For more of my own personal experiences, thoughts and comparisons please see the written and video reviews in the sidebar.
What is GABA?
GABA appears both in the brain and throughout the rest of the body in the central nervous system. Smart drug junkies supplement GABA in their expensive designer Nootropic stacks or slightly less expensive DIY Nootropic mixes as it balances out the runaway train of neuronal excitability that systemic upregulators conduct.
Imagine your state of mind as a tightrope walker, suspended between two extremes; GABA, is tranquility and restfulness inducing and the other, Glutamate is energy, creativity, motivation and stress. To function as dynamic and robust individuals in a complex society we really need both to thrive.
To paraphrase Dr. Fredrick Von Stieff, a board-certified addictionologist who has successfully facilitated over 20,000 detoxifications and author of Brain In Balance: Understanding the Genetics and Neurochemistry Behind Addiction and Sobriety:
"GABA removes the stop signs from our world"
For better or worse it liberates us of our inhibitions, basically GABA is the metaphorical little devil on our shoulders that says "Why not?" and "What's the worst that could happen?"
The Tranquility Molecule
As a stand alone supplement, it's primary benefit is relaxation and onset of tranquility, to quote a 2008 Japanese study of 13 human subjects, Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of [GABA] administration in humans.
"GABA could work effectively as a natural relaxant and its effects could be seen within 1 hour of its administration to induce relaxation and diminish anxiety. Moreover, GABA administration could enhance immunity under stress conditions."
A 2003 University of South Carolina article shared this conclusion;
"Anxiety stems from and perpetuates dysregulation of neurobiological systems, but the exact mechanisms of anxiety disorders are still only partially understood... The article concludes with further support for the role of the GABA system in anxiety by summarizing the current evidence supporting the use of novel GABAergic agents... in the treatment of anxiety disorders."
If you suffer from anxiety or chronic stress, GABA supplementation it's worth split testing with some other anxiolytic Nootropics.
Mechanism of Action
It falls in the chemical family of amino acids. It's is estimated that GABA interacts with as much as 40% neuronal synapses in the brain.
It is absorbed via the GABA receptor, interestingly a lot of natural and unnaturally occurring substances we consume can also bind to the GABA receptor or increase the GABA levels in the brain, we refer to these as GABA agonists, GABAergic drugs and GABA derivatives:
GABA is of especial concern to those dealing with or recovering from alcohol and drug addictions due to a cruel dynamic of neuronal economics; the chemical components of booze and certain drugs, take up GABA receptors creating a scarcity of receptor sites for the naturally occurring GABA to bind to. The result is that we need more GABA or drugs to maintain the baseline, resulting in cravings for alcohol, Benzodiazepines or other unsustainable consumption habits.
It's the "Buddha of the Brain" to quote Dr. Von Stieff. A 2014 Canadian paper, GABA predicts time perception, published in The Journal of neuroscience stated:
"There is emerging evidence that the perceived duration of subsecond intervals is driven by sensory-specific neural activity in human[s], but the mechanisms underlying individual differences in time perception remain elusive...These results demonstrate anatomical, neurochemical, and task specificity and suggest that visual cortex GABA contributes to individual differences in time perception."
While GABA is synthesized in our minds from Glutamate there's a few food sources:
This is popular amongst body builders as it regulates muscle tone and is an essential chemical cog in human growth hormone. Inside the body HGH leads to improvement in muscle growth, body fat gets reduced, helps in improving the mood, reduces pain and stabilizes blood pressure.
To quote a 2008 study done by the Division of Athletic Training at Shenendoah University
"Our data indicate that ingested GABA elevates resting and postexercise irGH and ifGH concentrations. The extent to which irGH/ifGH secretion contributes to skeletal muscle hypertrophy is unknown, although augmenting the post exercise irGH/ifGH response may improve resistance training-induced muscular adaptations."
I've used GABA in various forms for about 4 years; the primary utility I find in it is as a social smart drug or alcohol alternative. It positively impacts...
- Approach anxiety
- Public speaking
- Social anxiety
- Verbal dexterity
My favorite form of GABA is without a doubt Phenibut; this antidepressant of soviet origin has all the upsides of alcohol with almost none of it's downsides. It consistently releases the charming social animal in me and banishes the bashful awkward Jonathan for about 3-4 hours.
Several Nootropics have a Gabaergic mechanism of action