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GABA as a Treatment for ADHD

GABA for ADHD

ADHD is a condition often characterized by over-excitability. This can make it difficult to concentrate and pay attention – particularly for school-age children. GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing excitability throughout the nervous system. What’s more, numerous studies have shown that children with ADHD have lower levels of GABA. This raises the possibility of using supplemental GABA for ADHD – but can it really improve concentration levels?

Article summary:

  • GABA is a neurotransmitter responsible for reducing excitability throughout the nervous system
  • Multiple studies have found children with ADHD to have reduced GABA activity
  • Supplemental GABA may be able to cross the blood-brain barrier in small quantities, potentially making it an effective treatment for ADHD
  • Other supplements – such as B vitamins and glutamic acid – may also stimulate natural GABA production

What is GABA?

GABAGABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in mammals. It binds to receptors and reduces excitability throughout the nervous system.

This has beneficial effects for a number of conditions caused by an over-active nervous system – including insomnia, anxiety and ADHD.

GABA is produced naturally within the body from glutamate using vitamin B6 as a cofactor. X2 NZT+ contains all these ingredients as well as other proven nootropics for increased concentration, focus and mental performance.

The question of whether supplemental GABA actually increases GABA in the brain is a controversial one. This is due to conflicting evidence as to whether dietary GABA is able to cross the blood-brain barrier.

Initial studies reported that GABA was not able to cross this barrier1. This would mean that while supplemental GABA could be absorbed through the intestine into the blood, it wouldn’t be able to get into the brain.

However, more recent studies have found that GABA is able to cross the blood-brain barrier – albeit in small amounts1,2,3.

GABA for ADHD

Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a condition where individuals have greater difficulty concentrating and paying attention.

Though it can affect adults too, ADHD is often associated with school-age children. The demands of the classroom require children to sit still and pay attention for extended periods of time and so ADHD can be particularly problematic in this environment. If left unaddressed, ADHD can negatively impact learning and exam performance.

We saw earlier the ability of GABA to reduce excitability throughout the nervous system.

So it’s perhaps unsurprising that numerous studies have observed that children with ADHD – a condition associated with over-excitement –  have reduced GABA activity.

In this study, GABA levels in 13 children with ADHD were compared with 19 age-matched children without ADHD (TD). Researchers used magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) to compare GABA levels among the two groups:

Reduced GABA concentration in ADHD
Reduced GABA Concentration in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. PMCID: PMC3970207

The researchers report that GABA levels were significantly lower in the ADHD group. And similar observations have been made in at least two other studies1,2.

Given these findings, and the ability of GABA to reduce excitability throughout the nervous system, it seems plausible that increasing GABA levels could potentially increase attention span and concentration in children with ADHD.

“A number of amino acids have been shown to exert direct or indirect effects on the levels of specific neurotransmitters. Thus, they have the potential to be used in treating ADHD. Amino acids, glycine, L-theanine, L-tyrosine, taurine, acetyl-L-carnitine (ALC), GABA, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and s-adenosyl-L-methionine (SAMe), are all considered potential complementary ADHD interventions”

– Natural Product-Derived Treatments for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Safety, Efficacy, and Therapeutic Potential of Combination Therapy. PMCID: PMC4757677

Other effective supplements

As described earlier, GABA is produced within the brain from glutamate and vitamin B6. This provides another potential avenue through which GABA levels may be increased via supplementation.

NZT+ nootropic supplement for concentration and focus
NZT+ Concentration and Focus Formula with GABA, Glutamic Acid and B Vitamins

And since GABA produced from these chemicals is produced within the brain, there is no question of it crossing the blood-brain barrier.

It may also be possible to increase GABA levels by consuming foods high in glutamic acid. These include:

  • Tomatoes
  • Mushrooms
  • Broccoli
  • Walnuts
  • Cured meats
  • Matured cheese

Other supplements – such as DMAE – have been demonstrated to improve concentration in children with ADHD via completely different mechanisms. These may be worth considering also.

Side effects

“They could possibly act at lower doses, with fewer side effects than currently used drugs.”

– GABA mechanisms and sleep. PMID: 11983310

Despite being a potentially effective treatment for ADHD, anxiety and insomnia, GABA supplementation has not been extensively studied.

However, based on the available evidence, it seems that side effects from GABA are extremely rare.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given its nature, the most common adverse effect from GABA appears to be drowsiness. Other reported side effects include itchiness and digestive issues. Again, these are very rare.

But given the limited research into GABA, it is recommended that pregnant and nursing mothers do not take GABA supplements.

Also, potential interactions with other drugs are unknown. So, if you are on prescription medication, consult with your doctor before taking GABA.

In summary

GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter responsible for reducing excitement throughout the nervous system.

It’s still unclear whether supplemental GABA has the same effects as GABA produced within the brain. Some studies suggest it is able to cross the blood-brain barrier while others question whether this is possible.

Either way, though, there is strong evidence to suggest that increasing GABA levels can increase concentration and focus. This may be particularly useful for the treatment of ADHD as the studies discussed here show that levels of this neurotransmitter are reduced in individuals with attention deficit disorders.

GABA is produced within the brain from glutamate and vitamin B6. This provides another potential avenue through which GABA levels can be increased in the brain.

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