PharmaGABA® for Natural Support of Stress, Anxiety, and Insomnia
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a major brain chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter in regulating mood and brain activity. Low levels or decreased GABA function in the brain is associated with poor mental function, feelings of anxiety, low mood and poor sleep quality.
GABA has been available as a dietary supplement in the United States for decades. However, there is a form of GABA that is considerably more effective than other forms. PharmaGABA® is naturally manufactured form of GABA produced via a fermentation process that utilizes Lactobacillus hilgardii – the bacteria used to ferment vegetables in the preparation of the traditional Korean dish known as kimchi. In contrast, the synthetic form of GABA is produced from various toxic chemicals including succinimide, piperylurethan and fuming nitric acid, N-(β-bromoethyl) phthalimide and sodiomalonic ester, and γ-chlorobutyronitrile and potassium phthalimide. The GABA content of synthetic GABA is about 99.6%, the remaining amount consisting of contaminants.
In a head-to-head double-blind trial with PharmaGABA, the synthetic GABA was not shown to produce anti-stress effects.1 It is possible that PharmaGABA® differs slightly in its chemical structure from the synthetic form. Regardless of the exact mechanism, the experiential effects of PharmaGABA® are undeniable, while the benefit of synthetic GABA is questionable. The bottom line to getting the best results is to utilize PharmaGABA®
PharmaGABA™ Promotes Feelings of Relaxation with Greater Mental Clarity
In human studies, PharmaGABA® has been shown to produce relaxation. This effect is evidenced by changes in brain wave patterns, diameter of the pupil, and heart rate as well as reduced markers of stress including salivary cortisol and chromagranin A levels.2 These effects are primarily the result of activation of the parasympathetic nervous system via PharmaGABA® activating GABA receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and systemic circulaion. GABA does not transfer across the blood-brain-barrier.3
The parasympathetic system produces the “relaxation response,” which is just the opposite of the “fight or flight response” produced when the sympathetic nervous system is activated by fear, anxiety, or stress.
PharmaGABA® has been approved for use in Japan for decades as a natural aid to conquer feelings of stress and promote feelings of relaxation. It is a very is a popular ingredient in functional foods and beverages as well as dietary supplements designed to produce mental and physical relaxation, without inducing drowsiness. The most popular applications of PharmaGABA® are in chocolates and coffee beverages. It is particularly helpful in counteracting the effects of caffeine.
PharmaGABA: Effects on EEG
The electroencephalogram (EEG) is a well-known machine that measures brain wave activity. The four major brain waves are classified according to their frequency: alpha (less than 8–13 Hz), beta (more than 13 Hz), theta (less than 4–8 Hz), and delta waves (less than 4 Hz). Each wave’s type is associated with a certain mental status. Delta and theta occur during deep sleep and early stages of sleep, respectively. Alpha is generated in relaxed and effortless alertness, while beta is seen in highly stressful situation and where there is difficulty in mental concentration. Therefore, the ratio of alpha to beta waves has been used as indices of relaxation, arousal, anti-stress, and better concentration. The greater the alpha to beta ratio, in general, the more relaxed and alert a person is.
Research has shown that PharmaGABA® quickly (i.e., within 5 minutes) and efficiently increases the alpha to beta brain waves ratio – a state often achieved by meditation and characterized by being relaxed with greater mental focus and mental alertness.2
Additional Anti-stress Effects of PharmaGABA®
Additional clinical studies with PharmaGABA® have yielded further support for an anti-stress agent. For example, one study had subjects with acrophobia (fear of heights) transverse a long walking suspension bridge that spanned a 150 foot canyon. Halfway across the bridge a saliva sample was collected, and blood pressure was determined. What the researchers were looking for in the saliva was the level of secretory IgA (sIgA)– an important antibody in saliva that helps fight infection. Typically, during times of stress saliva levels of sIgA drop, sometimes quite precipitously. This event happened when the test subjects going across the bridge were given a placebo, but when they were given PharmaGABA® the IgA levels in the saliva were maintained halfway across the bridge and actually increased upon completion of the crossing.2
A second study using the same suspension bridge and different subjects produced additional support on PharmaGABA’s ability to reduce markers of stress as the during GABA supplementation subjects experienced a 20% decrease in salivary chromogranin A (a stress marker produced by the adrenal glands) at the halfway point across the bridge compared to starting values while the control group had a 20% increase in chromogranin A.2 In other words, though the subjects were under stress, when they took PharmaGABA® their physiology responded as if it was experiencing a state of relaxation.
PharmaGABA® Improves Sleep Quality
While PharmaGABA® has no sedative effect per se, it has been shown to significantly improve sleep efficiency. Poor sleep quality is a major issue in North America and is associated with many common complaints including fatigue, low mood, muscle aches, and reduced productivity. PharmaGABA® can help patients in fall asleep faster as well as achieve deeper levels of sleep and to stay in this deep sleep for sufficient time. In a small pilot study, PharmaGABA® reduced sleep latency by 20% while increasing the time spent in deep sleep by 20%.2
To more fully evaluate the ability of PharmaGABA® to improve sleep, a placebo-controlled study was conducted by measuring brain waves through electroencephalography (EEG) after subjects took 100 mg of PharmaGABA® or a placebo. The results demonstrated that PharmaGABA® significantly shortened the time required to get to sleep by five minutes and increased the time of quality sleep compared to the placebo. Questionnaires showed that subjects receiving PharmaGABA® had improved sleep as especially noted by their higher energy scores upon awakening.
Several proposed mechanisms were offered to explain the positive effects including the sleep-improving effect of PharmaGABA® may be related to its stimulation of the parasympathetic nervous system and its stress relieving effects. An earlier study demonstrated that it could activate the parasympathetic nervous system to lower core body temperature in humans. Activating the parasympathetic nervous system is an important mechanism in promoting sleep.
The study also measured the blood level of GABA after administration of PharmaGABA®. Results showed that the GABA was quickly absorbed, and the blood level of GABA was the highest 30 minutes after oral administration. The researchers felt that taking GABA 30 minutes before bedtime offers the best effects on promoting a restful sleep.
The study used only 100 mg of PharmaGABA®, in my clinical experience 200 mg at bedtime produces even better results. The key to getting results with GABA is to utilize PharmaGABA® and take at least 200 mg per day in my experience.
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PharmaGABA® Improves Memory and Mental Function
Two recent double-blind clinical studies used doses of 100 and 200 mg of GABA daily to evaluate two separate groups of 60 healthy adult subjects aged over 40. The first study showed that 12 weeks of GABA supplementation at 100 mg per day led to significantly better tests scores for memory and cognitive functions.5 And in the second study, when the dose was increased to 200 mg per day the test subjects experienced an even great boost in memory and cognitive function with the added benefits of improving reasoning and sustained attention.6 In fact, PharmaGABA® is the first ingredient shown to improve logical thinking. Basically, 200 mg per day of PharmaGABA® improved the ability of test subjects to reason and understand visual or abstract information being presented to them. Here we can see the value of the higher dosage.
Previous studies in children showed PharmaGABA® taken before a math test led to higher scores. For example, in a study conducted at Kyorin University Medical School in Japan with 6th graders, 60 students were divided into two groups and received either 100 mg of PharmaGABA® or a placebo.7 The students then took a math test and were also evaluated for signs and feelings of stress. The results were quite dramatic. The average number of answers answered by the PharmaGABA® group was 20% higher than the placebo group and the number answered correctly also increased by 20%. These results indicate that PharmaGABA® helped the kids not only think faster, but also get more answers right.
The study also looked at some important markers of stress. These markers included measuring the amount of a stress related hormone in the saliva as well as how much anxiety the children were experiencing during the study. Both subjective and objective measures of stress indicated the PharmaGABA® group were considerably more relaxed and focused compared to the placebo group.
The bottom line is that PharmaGABA® makes adults and children more relaxed and function smarter!
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PharmaGABA® Promotes Muscle Growth!
There is evidence that PharmaGABA® may increase growth hormone (GH) secretion in response to weightlifting exercise. Since GH is an important regulator of body composition including muscle protein synthesis, GABA may enhance the muscle building effects of protein ingestion after weightlifting exercise. To test this hypothesis in a double-blind clinical trial conducted in Japan, 26 healthy male volunteers were divided into two groups: whey protein 10 g/day (WP group), or whey protein 10 g/day + GABA 100 mg/day (WP+G) group. After 12 weeks, change in whole body lean mass was significantly higher in WP+G group compared to that in WP group. The difference in whole body lean mass gained in the WP+G was 8-times greater compared to WP alone.
The study also looked at resting GH levels throughout the study and results confirmed a positive effect with PharmaGABA® on GH levels. At the 4-week checkup the GH concentration in the WP+G was 689 compared to 387 in the WP group. These results have significant ramifications for not just athletes trying to maximize performance, but also aging baby boomers seeking to preserve or perhaps even build muscle mass.
PharmaGABA™ can be used for situational stress, more pervasive feelings of anxiety or nervousness, as a sleep enhancer, to improve mental function and performance, and to build muscle. The typical dosage for adults is 200 mg up to three times daily. As a sleep aid only, adults can take 200 mg before bedtime. Children 6 to 12 years of age can take a dosage of 100 mg up to three times daily or 100 mg before bedtime. Generally, PharmaGABA™ is not recommended for children under 6 years of age unless recommended by a health care practitioner.
As a general guideline it is recommended to take no more than 600 mg within a 6-hour period and no more than 1,200 mg within a 24-hour period.
- Unpublished data provided by Pharma Foods International LTD., Kyoto, Japan.
- Abdoua AM; Higashiguchia S, Horiea K, et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. BioFactors 2006;26:201–208.
- Kakee A, Takanaga H, Terasaki T, et al. Efflux of a suppressive neurotransmitter, GABA, across the blood-brain barrier. J Neurochem. 2001;79(1):110-8.
- Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Pandharipande T, Maru I, Kim M. Effect of Oral γ-aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Sleep and its Absorption in Humans. Food Sci. Biotechnol. 2016:25(2): 547-551.
- Yamatsu A, Nakamura U, Saddam HM, et al. Improvement of memory and spatial cognitive function by continuous ingestion of 100 mg/day of γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). Jpn Pharmacol Ther 2020;48(3):475-86.
- Yamatsu A, Nakamura U, Saddam HM, et al. Intake of 200 mg / day of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) improves a wide range of cognitive functions. Jpn Pharmacol Ther 2020;48 (3):461‐474
- Konagai C, Nakamura K, Koga Y, et al. Effect of PharmaGABA on reduction of school child’s study stress effect. Japanese Society Nutrition Food Science. 2008;62, 172.
- Sakashita M, Nakamura U, Maru I, et al. Combined oral intake of GABA with whey protein improves lean mass in resistance-trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2016 May;48(5 Suppl 1):54. doi: 10.1249/01.