Chilling Out with GABA

GABA, otherwise known as Gamma Amino Butyric Acid, has been popular in food and beverage fortification in Japan for quite some time.  Known as the brain’s calming agent, it is only now starting to catch on with food and beverage manufacturers in the other regions of the world, where the market for cognitive enhancement products supporting such areas as improved mental focus, acuity and memory is wide open.  GABA, a non-essential amino acid, is not found in significant amounts in foods and almost all the body’s source of GABA is synthesized.  
Our lives today are quite different from what they would have been 20 years ago.  On the go-go-go, 24/7… we never slow down!  In our non-stop world, our brains have become over-worked and under-nourished. A hectic and rigid schedule prompts the body with too much pressure and stress. When the body becomes preoccupied with an overabundance of work and other undertakings, the brain is the first organ to suffer as it rapidly depletes its store of energy.  As a result, it’s become relatively common for people with chronic stress, anxiety or anxiety disorders to turn to prescription medications to help them ‘chill out,’  which, in turn, can lead to an increase in mental focus and clarity because they have, for the moment, alleviated their mental fatigue.  But, as consumers continue to educate themselves on the long term advantages of taking their health and wellness into their own hands, many are becoming aware of the potential risks of extended use of prescription medications.  Thus, they are increasingly turning to supplements and fortified foods and beverages to support their wellbeing.  
How does GABA work?
Overstimulation or excitation in the brain needs to be balanced with inhibition.  Too much overstimulation can lead to restlessness, agitation and insomnia – all of which can greatly diminish our mental acuity.  GABA is able to induce relaxation, analgesia, and sleep because it serves as a neurotransmitter that suppresses nerve cell activity in areas of the brain that are associated with anxiety.  It controls the brain’s theta waves and increases endorphins, sometimes referred to as a ‘runners high’, which some people describe as a state of euphoria (Endorphins are any of a group of opiate proteins with pain-relieving properties that are found naturally in the brain).  As endorphins are released, one begins to feel a sense of calm, which is sometimes referred to as the Endorphin Effect.  This action in the brain enables an individual to feel more balanced, both physically and mentally, thus revitalizing the brain and paving the way for enhanced cognitive function in the areas of mental acuity, focus and memory.
Stress and anxiety are part and parcel of everyone’s life, but too much of either can impede the immune system and impact many other health conditions, including heart and digestive health, blood sugar levels, weight management, fatigue and, of course, cognitive function.   Interestingly, however, while GABA can help to support the strength of the immune system through its actions in the brain, it is also thought to be one of the essential components needed by the pituitary gland to produce the Human Growth Hormone. This hormone has been shown to:
  • Slow the aging process
  • Remove abdominal fat
  • Build lean muscle mass 
  • Reduce wrinkles 
  • Improve stamina while exercising
Dosage in Food and Beverage Applications
Although no general recommendation is made for GABA supplementation/fortification, most research has pointed to 200mg/day, and up to 10g/daily.  There are several applications that manufacturers may want to consider to tap into the growing cognitive function market that utilize GABA, as well as a roster of other nutrients that can contribute to enhancing the end product’s effect.  These include antioxidants, carotenoids, iron, choline, ginkgo biloba, ginseng root, B vitamins, melatonin, L-tryptophan, L-theanine, and omega-3 fatty acids, just to name a few.  From bars to beverages to confections, GABA can be incorporated into a premix that can help to differentiate a manufacturer’s product from the competition.
Challenges in Quality Assurance/Control, Product Formulation, Stability and Production
Manufacturers need to understand that consumers are increasingly demanding to know the origin of ingredients in their products.  Given today’s current events surrounding contamination issues as they relate to nutrients, it is important to work with a premix manufacturer whose strong relationships and strict quality assurance and control guidelines with their suppliers ensure quality, traceability and accuracy of the nutrients.  Having this protocol in place guarantees quality nutrients and mitigates any risk with the development of the end product.  All of these results in both short and long term savings for a manufacturer.
We also cannot place enough emphasis on the fact that the key to wide consumer acceptance of any fortified food or beverage product is taste.  No matter how good your product might be from a nutritional point of view, if it does not immediately taste good, then the product is set for failure from the very beginning.  The challenges associated with formulations that incorporate multiple nutrients include the type of finished product as well as the desired taste, flavor and color of the finished product, solubility, bioavailability, pH levels, safety/toxicity, shelf life, interactions, etc.  Additionally, certain ingredients can impart unpleasant tastes or odors.  For example, we know that the long chain fish oils like EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) can be beneficial ingredients in cognitive products.  However, fish oils can be technically difficult to incorporate at functional levels because they can impart an unpleasant ‘fishy’ taste to a product and reduce shelf life by increasing the chances of developing rancidity.  However, these and other technical challenges in product development can be overcome by partnering with premix experts during product development who can help with the appropriate selection of ingredient sources and strategies for employing appropriate taste masking techniques when needed.  
Finally, creating a product that effectively contributes to enhancing mental acuity includes more than just designing the best packaging or picking the right logo or product name, although these aspects of product development are clearly important.  In the end, it’s going to be what’s inside the product that counts.  Repeat purchase will be determined by their full experience with the product, including its taste, smell, mouth feel, stability and overall emotional appeal, as well as their perception of the benefit/functionality of the product ingredients.  To maximize consumer satisfaction, careful consideration of these aspects of the product will be necessary.  This includes choosing the right functional ingredients, delivering them in the proper amounts and ratios, and choosing the best formulation technologies to achieve the desired manufactured product.  To keep up-to-date and to find out more about conditions, nutrients and product applications for a multitude of fortified products log on to
Oleh : Ram Chaudhari, Ph.D., FACN, CNS 
            Sr. Executive Vice President, 
            Chief Scientific Officer, 
            Fortitech, Inc.

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