How Can GABA Be Used for Social Anxiety?

GABA Supplements May Help Anxiety SymptomsBut Evidence is Limited

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Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid in the body that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. It limits nerve transmission, inhibiting nervous activity. Without the right levels of GABA, nerve cells are activated too often, worsening mental illnesses like social anxiety disorder (SAD), depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Low GABA activity has been shown to cause more severe symptoms, while proper levels of GABA may help calm symptoms and make them more manageable. 

GABA and Social Anxiety

Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million Americans each year. Unlike normal anxiety triggered by a major event or other stressor, social anxiety is long-lasting and may get worse without treatment. Without appropriate GABA activity, social anxiety may be exacerbated. 

While research is limited, some researchers believe that GABA supplements can help manage social anxiety symptoms. GABA is naturally produced in the body from glutamic acid with the help of vitamin B6 and when encapsulated as a pill, can potentially calm and soothe symptoms. 

GABA Research

GABA has been thoroughly researched in both humans and animals. The majority of the research focuses on the mechanic of GABA and its role in anxiety disorders. Only a very small amount of studies exist that have actually researched the benefits of GABA as a supplement. This may be because a number of scientists believe that GABA from pills or tablets cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. If GABA cannot reach the brain, it cannot have any effect on symptoms of social anxiety. Some scientists believe that higher doses of GABA may be beneficial, but there has been no definitive proof. The amount may be dependent upon your age, physical size and status and your activity level. 

There is little evidence of GABA's efficacy, except in purely anecdotal studies. Scientists Braverman and Pfeiffer noted a case of a forty-year-old woman with anxiety who took 800 mg of GABA each day. While they did find that her symptoms were lessened, she was also given an undisclosed amount of inositol, which has been proven to treat other disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder. Because of the presence of inositol, it cannot be determined if it was the GABA supplement that managed the anxiety or the inositol. 

What to Know Before You Try GABA 

Some people have reported positive results with GABA to treat social anxiety but the evidence is purely anecdotal and not scientifically proven. Many supplements are available over the counter. But while many people think supplements are all-natural and safe, supplements can have many poor side effects and can negatively affect you.

Some common side effects include fatigue or sleepiness. You should not drive or operate machinery if you are taking GABA supplements. You may experience a tingling or jittery feeling after taking GABA tablets and they should not be used by you if you are pregnant or may become pregnant, are breastfeeding or have kidney or liver diseases. GABA supplements should not be taken by children. 

Before you start taking GABA supplements, it's important to talk to your doctor or therapist to see if it's a good choice for you. Some supplements can harm your treatment and health, particularly if you are on other medications. If your doctor feels GABA supplements may help you, he can help you determine the appropriate dosage. 

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Article Sources
  • Lydiard B. The Role of Gaba in Anxiety Disorders. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 21-7, 2003.