Anxiety disorders are medical conditions that affect approximately 40 million Americans ages 18 or older, according to National Institute of Mental Health. Unlike the mild, short-term anxiety that is caused by a stressful event, anxiety disorders affect a person long term, and it may become progressively worse if left untreated. Anxiety disorders include diseases such as panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorders and phobias. GABA or gamma-aminobutyric acid is a natural supplement that may benefit individuals suffering from anxiety.
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GABA is a neurotransmitter in the brain, thus it is an essential substance that supports proper brain function. GABA is naturally produced in the body from glutamic acid with the help of vitamin B6. Glutamic acid is an amino acid that helps decrease the activity of brain cells. GABA also works in synergy with other nutrients such as niacine and inositol to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety. Some anti-anxiety drugs such as benzodiazepines stimulate GABA receptors, thus delivering the same relaxing and calming effect as a GABA supplement.
Some alternative health care practitioners recommend GABA supplements for anxiety disorders. According to Dr. James Balch, MD who is co-author of “Prescription for Drug Alternatives," supplementation with GABA for mild to moderate forms of anxiety is recommended due to its calming and mild sedative effects. A variety of supplements are available over the counter some of which contain only GABA while others include other amino acids or vitamins in the formula.
Other medical professionals believe that GABA does not cross the brain-blood barrier and as a result, oral supplements are not effective. Instead, they suggest using L-theanine, an amino acid that increases level of GABA in the body and crosses the blood-brain barrier. Another option is to use supplements such as kava or 5-HTP that also have anti-anxiety effects by stimulating GABA receptors.
The optimal dosage of GABA supplements is controversial. As a general rule, lower doses of GABA are used for anxiety, while higher doses are needed for sleep problems or depression. Dr. Balch recommends 500mg two to three times daily. Some supplements contain as much as 3g per tablet.
Safety & Drug Interactions
GABA supplement is considered safe in daily doses up to 3g. Mild sleepiness is reported as a possible side effect according to Integrative Psychiatry.net, thus one single dose can be taken at bedtime. This supplement does not cause memory problems, dependence or withdrawal effects if discontinued. However, GABA supplements may interact with anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs, as well as some muscle relaxants and prescription painkillers.
GABA supplements do not replace conventional treatment for anxiety. Since GABA may interfere with other drugs and herbs, it is recommended to seek professional advice.