How are you sleeping nowadays? Are you tossing and turning, finding it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep, or waking up too early? These are common symptoms that accompany perimenopause and menopause, so you’re not alone. Perhaps you need a GABA supplement.
What is GABA?
Gamma-aminobutyric acid is an amino acid that is made naturally in the brain but is also available as a supplement. GABA is a great calming or inhibitory neurotransmitter because it reduces neuron activity in the brain and central nervous system. The result is reduced stress, balanced mood, pain relief, and help with sleep problems.
GABA also plays several other roles. It is involved in endocrine and immune system function; helps regulate muscle tone, metabolism, and appetite, and may have a place in controlling gut health as well.
How does GABA work?
Research continues into how GABA supplements work in the brain and how they may work differently than naturally produced GABA. Some researchers claim supplemental GABA does not permeate the blood-brain barrier effectively, which means it does not have a direct impact on the brain. However, other experts believe the amino acid in supplement form is able to affect the brain.
The use of certain medications (antidepressants, anti-seizure medications, anesthetics, barbiturates) that interact with GABA and its receptors in the brain can improve the benefits already associated with this neurotransmitter. The same is true of various natural supplements, including magnesium, L-theanine, valerian, kava, L-arginine, passionflower, and American ginseng.
Some foods also contain GABA, such as tea (black, green, oolong) and fermented foods including kefir, kimchee, yogurt, and tempeh. In addition, there’s a long list of foods that contain GABA or may increase the body’s production of this amino acid: beans, berries, broccoli, citrus, cacao, fish, lentils, nuts, potatoes, soy, spinach, sunflower seeds, and whole grains.
What are the symptoms of low GABA activity?
You may have low GABA activity if you are experiencing the following symptoms:
- Chronic stress
- Concentration difficulties
- Insomnia and other sleep problems
- Memory problems
- Muscle aches
Use of a GABA supplement, along with including more GABA foods in your diet, may help with these symptoms, especially sleep.
GABA and sleep
Few studies have investigated the benefits of supplemental GABA for sleep. In one study, people who were suffering from insomnia had levels of GABA 30 percent lower than in individuals with no sleep problems.
In a recent (2020) systemic review of 14 studies that looked at both natural and supplemental GABA, the authors found an improvement in sleep disturbance, falling asleep and staying asleep, morning drowsiness, and feelings when waking up after use of supplemental GABA for at least one week. Other studies in the review showed trends toward improvement. The experts concluded that “It may well be the case that prolonged natural GABA use is required to elicit subjective stress and sleep benefits.”
The ability of GABA supplements to help with sleep by reducing stress and anxiety is also under investigation. Even if GABA does not adequately cross the blood-brain barrier, experts note that this supplement may relax the body in other ways, such as through the gut microbiome.
In yet another study, 100 mg of GABA or a placebo was given to adults in a crossover-designed study over two days. The participants were presented with mental stress tasks. The use of GABA resulted in decreased alpha and beta brain waves (more common during wakeful times) when compared with placebo. This indicates that GABA may have reduced stress, and lower stress levels in the brain and can, in turn, facilitate better sleep.
How to take GABA supplements
GABA supplements are often used to help with insomnia and other sleep problems experienced in perimenopause and menopause. For management of sleep problems, stress, and anxiety, the suggested doses are 100 mg to 200 mg of a naturally-sourced, bioidentical GABA supplement. However, your healthcare provider may recommend a higher dose depending on your needs and response.
NOTE: GABA supplements may lower your blood pressure, so be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about any other medications or supplements you are taking that also reduce blood pressure.
GABA supplements may help with insomnia and other sleep disturbances experienced during perimenopause and menopause. This supplement also works to reduce stress and anxiety, a characteristic that also can improve sleep.