Disclaimer: This information is intended as a general reference only and is not a replacement for professional health advice from a physician licensed by the American Medical Association.
Among the health claims being made about tea is a special kind called GABA tea. And that tea, very popular in Japan and other Asian countries, is becoming increasingly known in other parts of the world, partly due to various health claims and partly due to its devotees who swear that the flavor is very different and more pleasant. While in Japan most GABA tea has a green tea base, GABA teas based on oolongs and black teas are more typical elsewhere, especially in the nation of Taiwan. We thought it fitting, therefore, to share a few things to know about GABA tea.
1 – What GABA is
GABA is short for “gamma-Aminobutyric acid.” It’s the chief inhibitory neurotransmitter in mammals. That means that it calms the adult nervous system. However, it also stimulates the younger nervous system and regulates muscle tone. It affects the flow of certain ions in the brain and has beneficial effects on other organs such as the digestive system and pancreas. (More health claims listed in #4.)
2 – Some GABA in tea is natural
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) is one of three bioactive compounds in tea (the other two are caffeine and L-Theanine). While caffeine is a stimulant, GABA and L-Theanine both have properties that calm and mentally relax you. Thus the phrase that tea calms and invigorates. A yin and yang relationship, something coffee doesn’t have.
3 – Some GABA in tea is enhanced/manufactured
About 20+ years ago, researchers in Japan were looking for a different method to preserve food using nitrogen (a well-known stabilizer versus oxygen which destabilizes). The process involves oxidizing the tea leaves in a nitrogen-rich environment after harvest. Producers usually start with a high grade tea that has been shaded for about 10 days before harvest to increase glutamic acid. The leaves are then harvested and placed in large drums where the oxygen is pumped out and nitrogen is pumped in. They are left in the drums for about eight hours and kept at an average temperature of 40°C to assure the highest concentrations of natural GABA. Standards for GABA tea set by the Japanese government have to be met to sell the tea there.
4 – Health claims list for GABA Tea is long
Green and oolong teas marked as “GABA green tea” and “GABA oolong tea” are fairly common these days. And the health claims for GABA tea are many, including the ones named in item #1 above. Helping keep down high blood pressure is another one. The main thing is the enhancement of your natural levels of GABA. Antioxidants that help prevent cancer are a key benefit. The reduced levels of anxiety and stress can help you avoid overeating (which people often do to induce a more relaxed state). Alzheimer’s disease, deafness from senility, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, and other conditions common in aging populations are also relieved.
GABA improves brain functions, mental clarity and neurotransmitter functions. It is said to improve REM sleep and reduce pain from arthritis, lower back pain, and similar chronic conditions. GABA levels in the brain decrease with age, and GABA tea is said to counter this. Women who are pregnant or breast-feeding should take caution, though, since the effects have not been fully studied. There are non-life-threatening side effects usually caused by overconsumption.
5 – The flavor is not quite up to the hype
Taiwanese tea expert Huang Tien Ming claims that the flavor of a GABA tea is similar to black tea but quite different from other teas and surprises many people with the pleasing and refreshing taste. But this claim is not supported by many others who said in blind taste tests that there was no difference and more often than not selected the non-GABA tea as the one they preferred. Most people, especially in Japan, seem to drink the tea for the GABA benefits, though.
As always, we present this information just as something you might find useful and encourage you to consult your physician to learn more and see if GABA tea is right for you.