Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an amino acid that is essential in brain metabolism and it aids in proper brain function. It is produced in your body from the amino acid glutamic acid. Kava kava is not an amino acid, and it is not made in your body. It is an herb obtained from the Piper methysticum plant, which is native to the Hawaiian islands. Both GABA and kava kava are sold as dietary supplements, and are used for a variety of health-promoting purposes. Both supplements may cause side effects and interact with certain medications, and you should talk to your health-care practitioner before supplementing with GABA or kava kava.
You can encourage the production of GABA by eating foods such as fish, wheat bran and almonds, which are high in the GABA precursor glutamic acid. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit nerve signals in your body and play a role in regulating your mood, and GABA functions as a neurotransmitter. The main function of GABA is to decrease neuron activity in the brain and inhibit nerve cells from overfiring. Due to this effect, GABA supplements are often taken to relieve anxiety, promote relaxation and treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder.
GABA is also used to elevate mood, relieve premenstrual syndrome and relieve pain. In addition, GABA is used by athletes and people who want to obtain a healthy body mass. It is purported to promote muscle growth, burn fat, improve exercise tolerance and to increase lean body weight. “Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database” warns, however, that there is insufficient reliable information available about the effectiveness of GABA for these purposes.
Kava Kava Information
Kava kava is an herb that has been used medicinally for centuries. GABA is a neurotransmitter itself, whereas the consumption of kava kava alters levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. The main active ingredient in kava kava is kavalactones. According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the kavalactones found in kava kava appear to alter levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin in your brain, which are two chemicals that promote a happy mood and feelings of pleasure. As such, kava kava is used in folk medicine as a natural antidepressant, however MSKCC warns that more research needs to be done to confirm the effectiveness of kava kava for the treatment of depression.
Kava Kava Uses
Similar to GABA, kava kava is used in alternative medicine as a pain reliever, to reduce anxiety and stress, to promote mental and physical relaxation, to treat attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and to help reduce premenstrual pain. It is also used to help treat urinary tract infections, edema, epilepsy, psychosis, headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, common cold and other respiratory tract infections, tuberculosis, bladder cancer and venereal disease. Although preliminary studies indicate that GABA is useful for the treatment of anxiety, the rest of its purported uses are based primarily on anecdotal reports and not scientific evidence.
- Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database”; Therapeutic Research Faculty; 2011
- "Prescription for Nutritional Healing"; Phyllis A Balch, CNC, and James F. Balch, MD; 2003.
- Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center: Kava