GABA is an abbreviation for the nonessential amino, Gamma-Amino Butyric Acid. This inhibitory neurotransmitter is formed by the biochemical reaction of glutamic acid by the vitamin pyridoxal; including decarboxylase (GAD). In human physiology, a neurotransmitter is defined as a chemical that fosters communication between nerve cells in the central nervous system (CNS). Along with the amino acids aspartate, glutamate, and glycine; GABA is another amino acid that is critical in brain functioning.
Found in the hippocampus, gamma-aminobutyric acid’s main purpose is to prevent the over-firing of the nerve cells and to decrease overall neuron activities occurring within the CNS. It is also used by the brain to promote calmness and tranquility via brain metabolism. This may prove extremely beneficial due to the addictive potential of many prescribed “tranquilizing” drugs (benzodiazepines), to those suffering from certain forms of restlessness and/or anxiety. It is also equally important in the mediation and of muscle activities, and in the stimulation of certain glands located throughout the body.
Regarding to brain chemistry and brain health, GABA may be among the most important of all nonessential nutrients.
The manufacturing of gamma-aminobutyric-acid is regulated by B-vitamin compounds, particularly B6. Persons should strive for various food sources, high in both protein and vitamin B6. This will ensure the fulfillment of nutrients needed to produce this vital amino acid. Due to its many chemical reactions in the brain, GABA is often times overlooked by scientists as an amino acid and more focused on as a neurotransmitter. GABA is found in several food sources, with the highest concentrations being in fish (esp. mackerel) and wheat bran. Due to the many inconsistencies in scientific information (or lack thereof) regarding the presence of GABA in specific foods, a food graph for GABA has been omitted in this section.
There have been many clinical applications conducted on GABA to uncover its therapeutic effects in relation to human physiology. Supplementation with GABA has shown promise in promoting relaxation and sleep. Other studies have highlighted GABA supplementation to aid in chronic pain and even to prevent the occurrence of seizures. This nonessential amino has also been tested for improving exercise tolerance, decreasing body fat, and stabilizing blood pressure.
Many prescribed sleep medications target GABA receptors in the brain. This may be a problem, due to the dependency that may develop as a result of the misuse and abuse of such drugs. Studies suggest that GABA is often recommended by physicians because it has been shown to be non-habit forming. Although GABA does not cause drowsiness by itself, the reduction in anxiety may make it easier for sleep sufferers to rest.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid has also been suggested to provide mood-elevating effects. This may occur in combination with inositol and nicotinamide; producing a blockage of anxiety and stress related impulses (stressors) from getting near the motor centers of the brain.  This is especially important because a continued stress factor may be a main determinant in the development of clinical depression.
In association with stress, chronic pain may also be directly attributed to lower levels of GABA. Because of its natural stress reducing properties, GABA may reduce the intensity of pain and also be fundamental in lessening pain-related nerve impulses.
In a 1994 pilot study, epilepsy was [also] targeted with the administration of GABA. The study highlighted individuals whose seizures were set off by sudden flashes of light. Although more research is needed, a single oral dose of GABA had benefits (when taken over a long duration of time) in persons suffering from epilepsy who did not respond to conventional treatment.  Gamma-aminobutyric acid is able to accomplish this task by inhibiting the firing of different nerve cells in the brain. GABA may ultimately help to compensate for deficiencies in the brain from those individuals suffering from this condition, while tranquilizing persons who have activities of manic behavior and acute agitation.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid supplementation may also benefit individuals suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), PMS in women, and a depressed sex drive in both sexes.  Current findings are promising, but more research is needed.
An RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) has not been established for GABA. Detailed dosage information for specific conditions may include;
|Epilepsy||250-500 mg 3 times a day|
|Fibromyalgia||250-500 mg 3 times a day, as needed|
|Insomnia||500-1,000 mg at bedtime|
|Stress||250 mg 3 times a day or 750 mg once a day|
|Tobacco Dependence||250 mg 3 times a day, or 750 mg at bedtime|
The U.S. National Academy of Sciences recommends that healthy people achieve .36 grams of highly bioavailable protein for each pound of bodyweight - equaling 0.8 grams of protein, per kilogram of bodyweight. Listed below are the Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) for the majority of amino acids.
|Requirement - mg. per kg. of body weight|
|Amino acid||Infant 3-6 mo.||Child 10-12 yr.||Adults|
|Histidine||33||not known||not known|
|S-containing amino acids||45||22||10|
|Aromatic amino acids||132||22||16|
Deficiencies of GABA are extremely rare and its documentation is limited in resource. It is theorized that a deficiency may result in irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. Prolonged deficiencies may result in panic attacks (can also be due to the intake of tranquilizers which increase levels of GABA in the body). Individuals suffering from epilepsy, ADHD, poor diet, environmental toxins, and other factors, may eventually become depleted of this vital nutrient and thus are at an elevated risk for the onset of deficiency. As mentioned, deficient levels of GABA have also been linked to depressive states.
Increased anxiety, shortness of breath, numbness in mouth, and tingling in the extremities are all signs of excess amounts of Gamma-aminobutyric acid being present in the body. n extreme cases, GABA may cause an chemical imbalance in the brain, resulting in produce seizures. Toxicities, however, remain extremely rare.
1. Balch, Phyllis A., James F. “Amino Acids.” Prescription for Nutritional Healing. Ed. Amy C. Tecklenberg. New York, NY: Penguin Putnam Inc., 3rd Ed. 2000. 42-53.
2. WholeHealthMD.com supplements page. “GABA.” (2000)http://www.wholehealthmd.com/refshelf/substances_view/1,1525,10027,00.html
3. Zest for life information page. “RDA of amino acids.” (1999-2003) http://www.pdrhealth.com/drug_info/nmdrugprofiles/herbaldrugs/101840.shtml (14 Sept. 2004).