GABA, or gamma aminobutyric acid, is a naturally occurring amino acid that helps to facilitate normal operation of the central nervous system, the control center for a host of normal everyday functions. Doctors commonly prescribe GABA supplementation for patients who exhibit symptoms of deficiency. Such patients include children, who receive GABA, albeit at reduced dosages, to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, and other nervous system disorders.
GABA acts as a moderating force within the nervous system, inhibiting excited neuronal activity that may be stimulated by a variety of mental and/or physiological stressors. In an article that appeared in the September 2010 issue of "Better Nutrition," Dr. Michael T. Murray reports that multiple studies indicate that enhancing GABA activity in children may help treat ADHD, while also promoting improved brain function and optimal mental health.
Murray cites in particular a study conducted at Japan's Kyorin University Medical School. Researchers assembled 60 sixth-grade students and divided them into two groups. One group received daily doses of 100 mg of a GABA supplement, while the other was given a placebo. At the conclusion of the testing period, students in both groups took math tests and also were evaluated for signs of stress. Students who had received GABA responded correctly 20 percent more often than those who received the placebo, and showed fewer symptoms of stress. Researchers concluded that GABA supplementation helped children to focus mentally and to deal with routine stress more effectively.
Links to Autism
Researchers in Minneapolis investigated the relationship between the development of autism and dysfunction in the way the brain handles GABA. In findings published in the February 2009 issue of the "Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders," researchers explain that the brain's GABA receptors are responsible for inhibiting abnormally rapid brain activity. These same receptors are also the sites affected by the clinical action of such medications as benzodiazepines, anesthetics and barbiturates. They claim that their study was the first to demonstrate systematic changes in GABA handling by receptors in the superior front cortex, parietal cortex and cerebellum of brains in subjects with autism.
GABA Levels and Seizures
Optimal levels and the proper functioning of GABA help to prevent seizures, both those associated with fever and those related to epilepsy. Although its precise mechanism of action is not fully understood, gabapentin, a widely prescribed anticonvulsant, optimizes the brain's utilization of GABA, according to Epilepsy.com.
Two researchers at UCLA's Brain Research Institute investigated the relationship between interruptions in GABA signaling and such neurodegenerative diseases as temporal lobe epilepsy, Huntington's disease and Parkinson's disease. Sofie R. Kleppner and Allan J. Tobin found that despite individual differences, each of these disorders is linked to some form of disruption in normal GABA neurotransmission. While epileptic seizures stem from excess neural excitation, possibly traceable to local inhibitory circuit dysfunction, both Parkinson's and Huntington's disease interfere with the normal function of GABAergic neurones. In their findings, published in the April 2001 issue of "Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets," Kleppner and Tobin call for research on additional drugs and devices to facilitate GABA synthesis, release and binding.