The increasing prevalence and social burden of subclinical anxiety in the western world represents a significant psychosocial and financial cost. Consumers are favouring a more natural and nonpharmacological approach for alleviating the effects of everyday stress and anxiety. The gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor is the primary mediator of central inhibitory neurotransmission, and GABA-receptor agonists are well known to convey anxiolytic effects. Using an in vitro screening approach to identify naturally occurring phytochemical GABA agonists, we discovered the plant secondary metabolite p-coumaric acid to have significant GABAergic activity, an effect that could be blocked by co-administration of the specific GABA-receptor antagonist, picrotoxin. Oral administration of p-coumaric acid to rodents induced a significant anxiolytic effect in vivo as measured using the elevated plus paradigm, in line with the effects of oral diazepam. Given that p-coumaric acid is reasonably well absorbed following oral consumption in man and is relatively nontoxic, it may be suitable for the formulation of a safe and effective anxiolytic functional food.
Keywords: GABA; anxiety; diazepam; functional food; p-coumaric acid; stress.
Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.