GABA: a novel food which raises interest and questions

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in one of the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central mammalian nervous system. It plays a role in helping to reduce mental and physical stress and increase focus, especially during periods of over-excitation. GABA is involved in regulating neuronal excitability throughout the human body, such as the regulation of muscle tone.

It’s well known that GABA’s mechanism of action can be exploited to develop the so called ‘GABAergic drugs’, such as the main anxiolytic drugs, that act as agonist for GABA receptor.

An interesting new trend is to use synthetic GABA also in nutrition, for food supplements or enriched food, as well.  A recent research published in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition and BioFactors shows an example of possible nutritional application of GABA; Mitsubishi International Food Ingredients, the company that carried out the study,  demonstrates that chocolate enriched with GABA had a psychological stress-reducing effect on its test subjects and increased relaxation and immunity while reducing anxiety. It is unclear whether the addiction a substance with effects on the nervous system in chocolate may bring undesirable effects to the consumer, such as excessive consumption of the product.

Currently GABA is considered as a novel food in the European Union (though the interpretation of novel food law is always a complex matter) and cannot be used in food supplements or foods, but the 29 of September 2010 the Italian company Giuliani SpA, requested to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland the place on the market (point 117 of the list). It should be noted that GABA is used in the United States and may be illegally sold in Europe as well.

For the future, the use of GABA in the formulation of products should be evaluated with attention because of its effects on central nervous system. We recommend being careful.

Armando, Sport Nutrition Team-


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