GABA Tea and the Hype around its Health Benefits

What is GABA?
GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. It is a chemical messenger, or neurotransmitter, that naturally occurs in the brain and it helps ensure that information reaching your brain cells moves efficiently and accurately.

What do people say GABA can do?
GABA has been credited with contributing to lower stress levels, improving sleep, and reducing depression and anxiety.

GABA_3D_ball

GABA. By Jynto [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

What does it have to do with tea?
Some teas, such as oolong, have high levels of GABA. Some processors are creating “GABA tea” by oxidizing tea in a high-nitrogen, oxygen-free environment instead of oxygen during oxidation. This process was introduced in Japan in the 1980s when Dr. Tsushida Tojiro discovered that anaerobic conditions encourage the conversion of glutamate to GABA. That country sells many GABA-enriched foods and beverages like rice, soy milk and cookies.

In Japan, to be called GABA tea the beverage must have 150 mg of GABA per 100 grams of tea.

What does the research say about GABA?
GABA as a tool to support better sleep has been well documented by researchers. Data about the work of GABA receptors to help with rest have been used to develop a range of sleep-supporting drugs.

The journal “Biofactors” presented two studies where GABA was introduced to humans to examine how it impacts relaxation.  One examined the effect of GABA on brain waves and the other put the GABA recipients in stressful situations and monitored their immunoglobulin A levels. Together the studies showed that GABA can have a positive impact on reducing anxiety and encouraging relaxation.

Does “GABA tea” have these effects?
While GABA is shown to have great effects on the body, it is not clear that much of it is introduced through the drinking of tea. Researchers at the Langone Medical Center of New York University stated that “when GABA is taken orally, GABA levels in the brain do not increase, presumably because the substance itself cannot pass the blood-brain barrier and enter the central nervous system.”

There are also potential negative effects from too much GABA.

It is interesting to note that the L-theanine that is also present in tea can impact the brain, encouraging the production of more GABA.

For more info on GABA tea, check out this article from Fresh Cup.