Glutamate vs GABA: An Overview

There are similarities and differences between glutamate vs GABA.

Graphic illustrations of neurons

The human body contains several types of neurotransmitters including glutamate vs GABA. There are some similarities and differences between them. Glutamate is a kind of salt and is used in food additives like monosodium glutamate (MSG). Glutamate is important to make sure the signal between nerve cells is at the right level for the central nervous system (CNS) to work effectively. Meanwhile, Gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a different type of neurotransmitter. It blocks signals between the brain’s nerve cells. GABA could be linked to factors related to the central nervous system (CNS) like mood. Low levels might cause effects like anxiety/mood issues and severe pain.

There’s a connection between glutamate and GABA. Glutamine is used to make glutamate, then glutamate is used to make GABA. Glutamine is an amino acid and glutamate is a salt of a different amino acid known as glutamic acid. However, the main difference between these three substances is glutamate and GABA are neurotransmitters while glutamine is an amino acid. But there are certainly some similarities in glutamate and GABA since they’re both related. You don’t have to become a chemist when picking dietary supplements like amino acids. However, it’s good to know the basics to choose wisely.

What Is Glutamate?

The brain has a lot of this neurotransmitter. In fact, it’s the most common one found in the central nervous system (CNS). Glutamate is involved in just about every brain function that involves nerve cells communicating with each other by sending impulses to each other.

|n fact, over 50% of the connections in the brain release this salt of the amino acid glutamic acid. This makes it an important neurotransmitter that involves neurons sending electrical signals between each other.

Another key feature of glutamate is it helps to produce another neurotransmitter known as GABA. This is the main neurotransmitter in the CNS that lowers the chance that neurons they communicate with will fire.

Sometimes glutamate is wrongly referred to as an amino acid. However, it’s technically a salt of the amino acid known as glutamic acid. Due to this fact, there are some similarities between the two substances. However, they’re still two different ones.

Glutamate is sometimes used as a food additive. You’ve probably heard of monosodium glutamate (MSG). This is often added to different Asian dishes. There’s a lot of debate though about the use of this food additive.

How safe is MSG?

It’s greatly based on how it’s used and how much is used in food. Many studies seem to show that high amounts of MSG can cause several health issues like high salt/sodium diets.

In recent years many health experts have argued people should reduce their salt intake. High amounts can cause problems like high blood pressure and a higher risk of strokes/heart attack.

MSG is often used in low-salt diets. It’s able to add flavor to food while allowing people to reduce their salt intake. It’s worth noting that glutamate exists naturally in the protein of foods like meat, dairy, and vegetables.

Glutamate is also important for the human body and brain including brain function and metabolism.

What is GABA?

GABA is one of the human body’s neurotransmitters. It blocks firing between the brain’s neurons. It’s believed GABA is important for causing a mood boost and staying calm. On the other hand, when people have low levels it can cause possible issues related to anxiety, mood, pain, and epilepsy.

GABA is important for nerve cells to send signals to each other. This one is important for relaxing people’s brain activity. When people’s GAB levels are low or they don’t work well it causes problems. For example, it can affect how the muscles contract or make people feel nervous.

There are certain areas of the brain where GABA levels are the highest. The neurotransmitters work like a molecule bridge. This neurotransmitter is very common in the brain’s connections and makes up to 40% of them.

GABA neurotransmitters help to calm people. In fact, when drugs are used to boost GABA this action can treat many mental disorders.

For example, when people have seizures there’s more activity in a certain brain region. Drugs that focus on GABA neurotransmitters are used.

Other GABA-triggering drugs include alcohol. However, caffeine has the opposite effect on GABA and actually balances its effect.

GABA can be used for other functions. They include lowering blood pressure and improving sleep. GABA drugs can also treat anxiety, arthritis, and pain. They can also help to tone muscles. 

Some people have a GABA deficiency. They might be given a type of dietary supplement that boosts a person’s level of the neurotransmitter. The dosage is often 200 mg. They’re available in capsule and tablet form and might be taken 4x a day.

GABA usually doesn’t cross from a person’s blood to the brain. However, it can go between small spaces in the brain. It’s believed GABA in one’s brain might boost hormone growth.

Glutamate vs GABA

There’s an interesting relationship between the salt glutamate and neurotransmitter GABA. In fact, they’re also related to the amino acid glutamine. It’s important to know the basics.

This is especially true if you’re considering MSG as a food additive or dietary supplements. In both situations, you should know the pros and cons of them.

There are different issues to take up. For example, MSG is added to several kinds of foods. Meanwhile, there are 20 amino acids in the human body and about half of them are already produced naturally.

Let’s get to it! Glutamine is an amino acid that the body uses to make another amino acid known as glutamic acid. These are two totally different amino acids but they’re both building blocks of protein.

Meanwhile, glutamate is a salt of glutamic acid. They both trigger signals between nerve cells, which is important for the body’s CNS.

In some situations, glutamate then makes the neurotransmitter GABA. The CNS saves both glutamate/GABA through a chemical reaction.

This is an important process. It allows the body to change GABA back to glutamate. That can then be changed back to glutamine. Then when the body needs extra glutamate the process of making glutamate starts from square one.  

In order to affect your CNS neurotransmitters, focus on certain things in nerve cells known as receptors. They make a reaction within the cell after getting triggered. Each kind of receptor usually just responds to stuff that provides a chemical fit. This is a complex process but very important in the human body.

If you’re considering new amino acid supplements it’s important to talk to your doctor. He/She can help to explain the differences between glutamine and glutamic acid.

You can also get info about whether or not it’s safe to consume more glutamate through MSG so you can choose between glutamate vs GABA.

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