What is Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the human cortex — the outermost layer of the brain. It is an amino acid that occurs naturally in the body. Neurotransmitters are often referred to as the body’s chemical messengers. They work to transport messages from the nervous system throughout the body. However, the function of GABA is to act as a neurotransmitter inhibitor, working to block the nervous system from firing off too many messages. When the nervous system overfires, it can cause feelings of anxiety, nervousness, breathlessness, or lead to insomnia. The GABA amino acid works by attaching itself to a protein in the brain. Subsequently, this inhibits excess neurotransmissions which then decreases the activity of the nervous system and causes a calming effect.
GABA is not only responsible for creating a sense of calm for the body. In addition to boosting our mood, studies show it has other positive neurological effects, such as improved memory and spatial awareness.
In a world with an aging baby-boomer population, doctors wanted to find ways to prevent cognitive decline. Two separate but coordinated studies were recently conducted in Japan. Each had 60 healthy adults over age 40. In one study, each participant took either a placebo or 100 mg of GABA per day. In the second study, each participant took either a placebo or 200 mg of GABA per day.
After 12 weeks, compared to the placebo and the start of the study, those taking 100 mg of GABA could better identify and analyze space, visual forms within it, and the relationship between the two. Delayed memory, which is the ability to recall information after a period of time, also improved. In addition to these benefits, the 200 mg group saw improvements in non-verbal reasoning. Non-verbal reasoning is the capacity to understand music and math and to identify objects through touch.
Quality of life also improved in both GABA groups, including better physical function, self-reported vitality, and feelings of mental well-being. Lastly, those taking 200 mg of GABA had increased levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which enters the brain, activating brain function, and which doctors believe may contribute to GABA’s positive mechanism of action.
Reference: Japanese Pharmacology and Therapeutics; 2020, Vol. 48, No. 3, 461-74