GABA gimmick in a can

Jones GABA a slickly advertised new energy drink that contains the neurotransmitter GABA, described as enhancing “focus + clarity” and putting you “in the zone”. It is backed by ‘one of the world’s leading authorities on natural medicine’ Dr Michael Murray, who seems completely unaware that GABA doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier and so drinking it is unlikely to have any effect.

The active ingredient in the drink is called ‘Pharma GABA’, which, despite the ‘Pharma’ prefix is just powdered GABA, commercially sold, normally as a ‘nutritional supplement’.

This has actually been subject to research, albeit in a poorly controlled trial of 13 people in one experiment, and two groups of four people in another. It used surrogate outcomes (measuring saliva and EEG) rather than actually measuring stress or focus and was completed by the company that sells the product.

But even without this experimmercial, we can be pretty sure that swallowing GABA doesn’t work, because, despite various experiments that have investigated the neurotransmitter, it has never been found to cross the blood-brain barrier in any significant way.

However, this isn’t the first junk food product to include neurotransmitters as a gimmick. We found some Japanese GABA sweets for sale last year.

I have to say, I love the geekiness of having neurotransmitter junk food, but it would be infinitely better if it wasn’t packaged with junk science.

It would also be infinitely better if it was highly caffeinated, but that’s just a personal opinion.

Link to GABA in a can spoilt by the pseudoscience (thanks Sara!)


  1. Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I “tweeted” this last week.

  2. Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    But what is supposed to do a gaba-drink? Inhibit myself? Is not the purpose of the mayority of energy refreshment drinks to excite, to empower…

  3. Posted March 4, 2009 at 6:22 pm | Permalink

    Isn’t Alcohol a GABA agonist? Lucky that GABA can’t cross the blood brain barrier really…

  4. metropolitan
    Posted March 4, 2009 at 8:43 pm | Permalink

    uhm.. i can’t be too sure about GABA not crossing the blood brain barrier. the link you give has a very vague statement about it “GABA does not effectively cross the blood-brain barrier” (well vague for a scientific paper). wikipedia also has a vague entry regarding the subject: “it is unknown whether GABA can pass the blood-brain barrier.”
    but the reason i put doubts on the issue is that i’ve taken GABA as a nutritional supplement before and you do feel it. in your head. undoubtedly. it’s not that expensive to try it yourself and you’ll see what i mean.

  5. Posted March 4, 2009 at 9:09 pm | Permalink

    Who says it ISN’T highly caffienated? Most energy drinks are, even those who tout “Taurine” or “Ginseng” as ingredients, so I doubt GABA would be different.

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