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The Rollin' RN's

GABA Supplements

Today’s article came to be when a member of our peer support group asked about GABA supplements (not to be confused with the medication Gabapentin) and if it might help with leg spasms. There seems to be a lot of interest in this subject since so many of us with spinal cord injuries (SCI) deal with ongoing spasms. So, we checked it out and want to share our findings with all of you.

What is GABA? Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter produced naturally in the brain. Its role is to reduce the activity of nerve cells in the brain and central nervous system. It’s kind of like the brakes on a car whereby it slows down certain neurological activities of the body into a lower gear. This in turn has a broad range of effects on the body and mind. GABA facilitates sleep, reduces mental and physical stress, lowers anxiety, and creates a calmness of mood. It also plays an important role in regulating muscle tone. (Think about how that might affect spasms!)

On the other hand, low GABA activity in the body can result in: • Anxiety. • Chronic stress. • Depression. • Difficulty concentrating and memory problems. • Muscle pain and headaches. • Insomnia and other sleep problems.

GABA has become a popular supplement in recent years partly because it isn’t available from many food sources. Foods that contain GABA are fermented ones, such as kimchi, miso, and tempeh. And then there are foods that contain flavonoid substances that can influence how GABA works in the brain. They include fruits, vegetables, teas, and red wine.

So, what does a GABA supplement have to offer?

GABA’s natural calming effect on the brain has led to countless claims about the use of GABA supplements to reduce stress. Too much stress is linked to poor sleep, a weaker immune system, and a higher risk of depression, among other things. Also, people with certain medical conditions may have lower levels of GABA so they take the supplement to help manage their symptoms.

Some of these conditions include: • seizure disorders • movement disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder • anxiety • panic disorder • mood disorders, such as depression

And, while this makes sense in theory, there hasn’t been much evidence to suggest that GABA supplements can help with these conditions, aside from anxiety. That said, it appears there’s no clear indicator that it works to calm leg spasticity.

Something else to consider is that GABA supplements are taken by mouth and need to be digested. For that reason, there is some concern about how effectively it moves from the bloodstream into the nervous system. Possibly the most important area to consider when it comes to GABA supplements is the potential for interactions with medications, herbs, and other supplements, especially those for high blood pressure, antidepressants, and those that affect brain activity.

It’s been said that there is not enough research out there to have a sufficient understanding of how GABA supplements might affect stress, mood, and sleep, or other ways GABA as a supplement may benefit emotional, cognitive, and physical health.

And be aware of this: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does regulate dietary supplements; however, it treats them like foods rather than medications. Unlike drug manufacturers, the makers of supplements don’t have to show their products are safe or effective before selling them on the market.

The effects of natural GABA in the body can go a long way in helping those of us with brain or central nervous system hyperactivity.

But it’s really important to discuss GABA supplements with your trusted healthcare provider to see if it’s right for you and your situation when it comes to the medications, supplements, and herbs that you already take.

And remember, every SCI is unique and so is the response you get from your medications, supplements, and herbs. Just because something works for one person is not a guarantee it will work for you!

It’s all good, so keep on rollin’.

Roberta, RN and Patty, BSN, RNC The Rollin’ RNs ™


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