Some prescription drugs can mimic the effects of GABA, an important neurotransmitter.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is a neurotransmitter that sends chemical messages through the brain and the nervous system, and is involved in regulating communication between brain cells.
The role of GABA is to inhibit or reduce the activity of the neurons or nerve cells.
GABA plays an important role in behavior, cognition, and the body's response to stress.
Research suggests that GABA helps to control fear and anxiety when neurons become overexcited.
Lower-than-normal levels of GABA in the brain have been linked to schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and sleep disorders.
GABA receptors on nerve cells receive the chemical messages that help to inhibit or reduce nerve impulses.
Prescription medications called benzodiazepines bind to the same receptors as GABA. They mimic GABA's natural calming effects.
Diazepam (Valium) and lorazepam (Ativan), are among the most widely prescribed benzodiazepinesfor insomnia and anxiety disorders. They slow down the body's central nervous system and cause sleepiness.
Benzodiazepines should be used only as prescribed. Taking too much can lead to shallow breathing, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak pulse, coma, and death.
Medications used to treat insomnia, including zolpidem (Ambien) and eszopiclone (Lunesta), work by improving the ability of GABA to bind to GABA receptors in the brain.
GABA supplements, taken alone or in combination with other ingredients, are marketed widely for use in treating depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
While a few small studies have suggested that GABA supplements may help to lower anxiety levels, there is little scientific evidence to support these overall claims.
GABA supplements may increase levels of the chemical circulating in the blood, but there is little evidence to suggest that circulating GABA can pass through the blood-brain barrier and increase GABA levels in the brain.
Talk to your doctor or a qualified healthcare professional before taking GABA supplements (or any other supplements).
Editorial Sources and Fact-Checking
- GABA and benzodiazepines, Nature Reviews Drug Discovery
- GABA and anxiety, McGill University
- GABA and depression, Archives of General Psychiatry
- GABA supplements, University of California Berkeley Wellness
- GABA receptors, American Journal of Psychiatry
- GABA receptors, European Journal of Neuroscience