The most common question I get about GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) is the one about the blood-brain barrier and does it even work (it certainly does – read here for information on this one).
The next most common question I get about GABA is this one:
How much GABA should I use and which GABA product is best?
This exact question was actually asked of me a number of times last week after I published: Herbal therapy is equivalent to rifaximin for the treatment of small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO). In this blog I share about my trials of using sublingual GABA for the visceral pain and muscle tension in my gut caused by the bloating symptoms of SIBO.
There is no simple answer! It requires a blog post to provide a good answer because we are all unique, have different needs and these needs can even differ at different times depending on the issue and what is going on in our lives at the moment.
Let’s first do a quick recap of GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid) in case this is new to you. GABA is a calming amino acid that can be used as a supplement to raise GABA levels (GABA is also a neurotransmitter. It’s one of the amino acids I use most frequently with my anxious clients (together with tryptophan). GABA helps with the physical anxiety and tension, as well as panic attacks. New research shows it also helps with inhibition of unwanted thoughts and may also offer gut protection after alcohol consumption. It also helps with stiff and tense muscles and muscle pain and spasms.
How I have benefited from GABA
Here is a quick summary of how I’ve benefited from GABA supplements. I use this information to inform my use of GABA to help with the visceral pain I now experience due to my SIBO (more on that below).
If you have never used GABA or if you’ve used it once or twice, reading this should give you a clue as to why there is no one answer and how we need to use a trial approach to figure out what is best for each situation.
This also illustrates that there is no one size fits all for everyone and even for the same person under different situations.
- The anxiety and panic attacks I experienced 15 years ago:
- I used 1-2 GABA Calm three times a day and a combination GABA product at night. GABA Calm contains 125mg GABA and the GABA product contains 200mg GABA. My anxiety eased and my panic attacks stopped in a few days, giving me immediate relief and hope while I started to address all the other root causes like gluten sensitivity, adrenal issues, low zinc, gut health, low vitamin B6 and more
- The doses of GABA I used for my anxiety and panic attacks are typical amounts my clients benefit from and I would not have someone start on 500mg.
- If someone is a “pixie-dust” person and very sensitive I’d have them start with a pinch/dab or ¼ of 125 mg GABA Calm.
- The “ice-pick” headaches on the top of the skull that I discovered were caused by neck spasms:
- Physical therapy, high doses of GABA and high doses of magnesium were essential.
- Because of the low doses of GABA I had used for my anxiety years before this, I started with low doses of GABA increasing slowly from 200mg up to 1000mg GABA. This higher amount worked for me at this time for this injury.
- Throat spasms and the loss of my voice due to vagus nerve issues caused by a terrifying plane ride:
- Based on my prior ice-pick headache experience I now knew I could tolerate higher doses and started with 500mg GABA and used more as needed.
- I must have been really low in GABA because I was actually able to use upwards of 5 (and sometime more) doses of 500mg a day and not feel too wiped out, even during the day.
- That’s a lot of GABA for me – as I mentioned above 125mg to 250mg used to be enough for the anxiety I experienced 15 years ago.
- I write more about all this here: Vagus nerve rehab with GABA, breathing, humming, gargling and key nutrients (with videos to demonstrate immediate effects when using GABA sublingually)
- Rectal spasms/proctalgia fugax. These seem to be related to SIBO/IBS and I still experience these from time to time.
- I have found that 250mg to 500mg GABA opened onto my tongue works best for me for this particular muscle spasm.
- Again, it eases the spasms and pain in a few minutes. I write more about this here: How GABA eases agonizing rectal pain and spasms in under 2 minutes
- A back injury in August causing severe muscle spasms and pain.
- Again, based on my previous experiences using GABA, right after my fall I started taking 1000mg of GABA powder every few hours (held in my mouth for 1-2 minutes) and then reduced it to 2 or 3 times a day as needed.
- I share more in this blog: Acupuncture boosts GABA to reduce back pain and oral GABA further reduces the pain
- In the above blog you can also read some research about the mechanism of how GABA supplements ease inflammation and tracheal spasms associated with asthma.
- Visceral pain caused by SIBO.
- My SIBO is really well-controlled with diet but I’ve been having pain, bloating and insomnia while doing this herbal SIBO protocol. I suspect the cellulose in one of the herbal products is causing this bloating and pain after dinner. It was getting so bad it was keeping me awake (this is typical when I am accidently exposed to problematic foods and get a flare-up).
- SIBO patients can have visceral hypersensitivity where their pain can be due to the pressure of the gas that is produced and the muscles in the digestive system actually contracting against this pressure.
- It got me thinking about how effective GABA is for relieving muscle tension and how much it’s helped me in the past. I also use GABA with my clients all the time for relief of their physical anxiety and stiff and tense muscles. There are GABA receptors all over the gut and I recently discovered that GABA is important for motility.
- Over the last 2 weeks I’ve trialed 300mg GABA (opened on to the tongue) a few times to ease the pain and pressure and it’s been amazing at how much it’s helped and how quickly it’s eased the pain. I’ve used it as soon as I notice the bloating starting and it GABA helps me sleep too (as does the tryptophan I’ve also added). I suspect I could safely double this dose in the evening and may do this if the lower dose isn’t enough some evenings. I’ve also used it some days the next morning when I wake with the bloated ache in my belly.
How much should I use and which GABA product is best?
I have a blog post listing the products I use with clients: The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements
Always read the precautions (there is a link on the above blog) and do the amino acid questionnaire (the link is also on the above blog) before starting a trial. I also recommend reading the amino acids chapter in my book The Antianxiety Food Solution so you are a well-informed savvy consumer.
If you’re doing a trial for anxiety and panic attacks:
- If you can use tyrosine the Source Naturals GABA Calm product is the one I use with most of my anxious clients.
- The other GABA products listed on the supplements blog need to be opened onto the tongue and started with a low dose (100-200mg is a good starting dose) and increase based on symptom relief. More can often be used at night, especially if sleep is also an issue – sometimes up to 500mg.
If you have SIBO/IBS and are doing a trial for visceral pain:
- I’d suggest NOT starting with the Source Naturals GABA Calm because the sugar alcohols can be problematic for some individuals. Or if you do, be aware that it may not help and may make things worse in the short-term. Personally, I have not found this product to be an issue with my SIBO and I have very few clients report an issue.
- The other GABA products listed on the supplements blog need to be opened onto the tongue and started with a low dose and increased based on symptom relief.
- For a client totally new to GABA I’d start with 100-200mg in the evening and also increase slowly over a few weeks based on symptom relief, up to 500-1000mg.
- For early morning belly pain I’d start a client on 100-200mg because too much in the day can make you feel tired.
If you have other pain issues:
- For a client totally new to GABA I’d start with 100-200mg in the evening and increase slowly over a few weeks based on symptom relief, up to 500-1000mg. Depending on the pain more may often be needed and higher doses can often be tolerated during the day.
- Keep in mind that pain can have any many root causes and it may be more than low just GABA or may not be due to low GABA at all. Other factors to consider include but are not limited to: low serotonin, low magnesium, low endorphins, inflammation, structural damage, low omega-3s, gluten issues, Lyme disease etc. Physical therapy and acupuncture are wonderful approaches to include too.
As you can see from my experiences above it’s a matter of doing trials to find the ideal amount for you for your particular situation.
If you’ve used GABA supplements for anxiety, visceral pain or other muscles spasms I’d love to hear from you.
This GABA-pain connection is not well recognized and I’d love to have more people know about this as a possible option. The more we share our experiences the more we all learn.
If you plan a trial similar to any of the above I’d also love to hear your questions and feedback.