A Guide To All Things GABA (Y-Aminobutyric Acid)
5 min

A Guide To All Things GABA (Y-Aminobutyric Acid)

5 min

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter that helps our nervous system shift into a lower gear. GABA supplements are growing in popularity for their possible benefits when it comes to anxiety, stress, insomnia, blood pressure and more. We get into GABA's uses, benefits, and what the research says in our guide to all things GABA.

Have you heard about GABA? This amino acid calms our nervous system and is gaining popularity as a supplement. According to research, GABA supplements could have an impact on symptoms of anxiety, stress, insomnia, high blood pressure, and more.

Wondering if GABA could benefit you? Read on for our guide to all things GABA.

What is GABA?

GABA, also known as gamma-aminobutyric acid, is an amino acid and inhibitory neurotransmitter that decreases stimulation in the brain. The result is a calming effect on the central nervous system.

GABA works to regulate overactive nerve cells that contribute to anxiety, fear, and stress. Medical conditions associated with low levels of GABA include chronic pain, epilepsy, anxiety, and mood disorders.

Some people take GABA in supplement form to improve mood and aid sleep. While the efficacy of GABA supplements is still disputed, preliminary research suggests a number of possible benefits.

Where is GABA found?

Where is GABA found?

GABA is produced naturally by the body. It can also be found in certain foods, such as fermented foods like kimchi, tempeh, and miso as well as green, black, and oolong tea.

GABA is also available as a dietary supplement. However, it's unclear how much GABA from food and oral supplements actually reaches the brain.

How GABA works

GABA works by blocking certain signals in the brain. Together with other neurotransmitters, it helps to regulate the level of activity in the central nervous system.

What are neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers. They carry messages between neurons and other nerve cells, glands, or muscle cells. These messages regulate different physiological functions, from breathing and heartbeat to mood, sleep, and memory.

For example, norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter released as part of our fight or flight response. Two effects of norepinephrine are increased heart rate and blood pressure. There are hundreds of different neurotransmitters, and a balance between them is essential for maintaining proper brain and bodily function.

What is the role of GABA?

GABA is a particular class of neurotransmitter—an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It binds to GABA receptors on nerve cells (like a key into a lock), decreasing the responsiveness of the cell. In other words, GABA reduces the nerve cell's ability to create, send, and receive chemical messages from other neurotransmitters.

Essentially, GABA has a calming effect on the central nervous system, helping the brain and body shift into a lower gear. This is thought to contribute to improved sleep, along with reduced stress and anxiety.

What are the possible benefits of taking GABA?

GABA is being studied for its potential to treat or prevent a number of different conditions, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes

Research posits several possible benefits of taking GABA supplements, including those outlined below.

Promoting sleep

Promoting sleep

Low levels of GABA have been linked to insomnia (Winkelman et al., 2008). GABA supplements may help some people fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer.

In a 2018 study of 40 adults with sleep problems, participants who took GABA supplements an hour before bed showed reduced sleep latency (they were able to fall asleep more quickly). Some participants also reported an improvement in sleep quality (Byun et al.).

GABA may be particularly effective in aiding sleep when combined with other supplements. One study focused on oral intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum leaf extract (Yamatsu et al., 2015), while another looked at the combined effect of GABA and 5-HTP on sleep (Hong et al., 2016). Both studies found that GABA contributed to shortened sleep latency along with increased sleep quality and duration.

So far, the studies looking at GABA's effect on sleep have been limited, and some outcomes have been inconsistent. Though more research is needed, GABA supplements show promise for promoting sleep when taken before bed.

May impact stress and anxiety

May impact stress and anxiety

Multiple studies have looked at GABA as a possible anxiety treatment.

One small clinical trial measured people's brain waves after taking GABA. Within one hour of administration, researchers noted an increase in alpha waves, which are linked to feelings of relaxation and calm (Abdou et al., 2006). Another study recorded that 100mg of GABA taken daily helped to reduce mental stress among participants (Yoto et al., 2012).

A larger 2009 study investigated the effects of GABA on people taking a difficult math test. Participants were given either a placebo or chocolate enriched with GABA. They then took the math test and were monitored for signs of stress, including changes in heart rate. Results indicate that those given the GABA chocolate were able to bounce back more quickly from the stress of the test (Nakamura et al.).

Beneficial to blood pressure

Beneficial to blood pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a widespread problem that can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Preliminary research has sought to determine if supplementing with GABA could help to lower blood pressure in adults with hypertension.

In a 2009 study, participants were given various amounts of GABA and had their blood pressure monitored over the course of eight weeks. Those taking the highest dosage of GABA—80mg per day—displayed a significant decrease in blood pressure (Shimada et al.).

In a separate study, a fermented milk product containing GABA was found to impact blood pressure in people with mild hypertension. Results were measured after two to four weeks of daily consumption (Inoue et al., 2003).

May impact obesity and diabetes

May impact obesity and diabetes

GABA may impact high blood pressure in another way—by affecting obesity risk. Obesity is a risk factor for hypertension, type 2 diabetes, and osteoarthritis.

Researchers are exploring GABA's potential to lower the chance of developing obesity. Participants in a 2022 study abstained from exercise for eight weeks; those who received GABA supplements saw an increase in lean muscle mass alongside a reduction in body fat and triglyceride levels (Lee et al.).

A 2015 study suggests that GABA's effects on the endocrine system hold possible benefits for diabetes prevention and treatment. The same study found that oral GABA is rapidly absorbed and well-tolerated in humans (Li et al.).

Building muscle

Building muscle

In addition to fat loss, recent research indicates that adding GABA to your workout routine may help to build muscle faster.

A 2019 study was performed on men aged 21–48 engaged in a programme of intensive resistance training. Researchers looked at whether supplementing whey protein with GABA was more effective than whey protein alone. They found that the addition of GABA increased levels of growth hormone. The study concluded that GABA supplements might aid in muscle protein synthesis (Sakashita et al.). However, due to the limited nature of the study, more research is needed.

How can you increase your levels of GABA?

How can you increase your levels of GABA?

Certain prescription medications are known to boost GABA. Outside of that, there are many more natural approaches you can try, including:

  • Meditation and yoga
  • Exercise
  • Eating GABA-rich foods, such as brown rice, spinach, and green tea
  • Taking supplements

Certain natural supplements can impact GABA activity in the brain. These include valerian, passionflower, and L-theanine. You can also take supplements that contain a direct dose of GABA itself.

So, how do GABA supplements work?

GABA supplements and the brain

It's still unconfirmed whether ingesting GABA as a dietary supplement raises levels of GABA in the brain. That's because of something called the blood–brain barrier (BBB). The blood–brain barrier is a membrane separating our blood from the fluid that surrounds our brain and spinal cord; it's one of our body's protective mechanisms. Certain substances traverse this barrier more freely than others (for example, water vs bacteria).

While questions remain about whether GABA can cross the blood–brain barrier, the issue has never actually been studied in humans. We do know that the human BBB contains transporters for GABA, which implies that GABA can cross the BBB via these channels.

GABA supplements and the gut

Another way GABA supplements may take effect is via the enteric nervous system (ENS). The enteric nervous system is a network of neurons controlling our gastrointestinal system. It's like a second brain in our gut, and contains many GABA receptors.

The ENS connects to our brain through the vagus nerve. Researchers posit that this connection may allow GABA from supplements to reach the brain without needing to cross the blood–brain barrier (Boonstra et al., 2015).

Is GABA safe to use?

Is GABA safe to use?

Oral GABA supplements are generally considered safe for healthy adults. According to clinical studies, taking up to 120mg of GABA a day for 12 weeks is unlikely to result in adverse effects (Oketch-Rabah et al., 2021).

Are there any side effects associated with GABA?]

While uncommon, some people may experience side effects from GABA supplements, including:

  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Constipation or gastric discomfort
  • Fatigue and drowsiness

However, these side effects are rare, and most people tolerate GABA very well.

GABA interactions

If you are on other medications or supplements, check with your doctor or pharmacist before adding GABA to your regimen. In particular, exercise caution if you take any of the following:

  • Antidepressants
  • Medications that affect the central nervous system
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Other herbs and supplements that may lower blood pressure

GABA supplements are perfectly legal to use in the majority of countries. However, we always recommend verifying its legal status in your particular jurisdiction.

Get into GABA today

Get into GABA today

Several studies show that GABA may have potential in the realms of mental stress, blood pressure, obesity risk, sleep, and muscle tone. Combined with anecdotal evidence, the data highlights fruitful avenues for further research.

Although dietary GABA is available through certain foods, supplements provide a convenient and easy way to introduce GABA into your daily life. If you think you might benefit from adding GABA to your regimen, consider purchasing GABA supplements from the Zamnesia Healthshop today!

Zamnesia is an otherworldly expert in all things cannabis and psychedelic. Combining that specialist knowledge with hours of scrupulous research, Zamnesia creates outstanding content around the clock. Thanks to their divine personality, we're proud to say Zamnesia has become our ear-to-the-ground for everything to do with mind-altering substances.
  • Abdou, A. M., Higashiguchi, S., Horie, K., Kim, M., Hatta, H., & Yokogoshi, H. (2006). Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans -
  • Atsushi YAMATSU, Yusuke YAMASHITA, Isafumi MARU, Jinwei YANG, Jin TATSUZAKI, & Mujo KIM. (2015). The Improvement of Sleep by Oral Intake of GABA and Apocynum venetum Leaf Extract -
  • Boonstra, Evert, de Kleijn, Roy, Colzato, Lorenza S., Alkemade, Anneke, Forstmann, Birte U., Nieuwenhuis, & Sander. (2015/10/06). Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior -
  • Byun, Jung-Ick, Shin, Yu Yong, Chung, Sung-Eun, Shin, & Won Chul. (2018/07/01). Safety and Efficacy of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid from Fermented Rice Germ in Patients with Insomnia Symptoms: A Randomized, Double-Blind Trial -
  • Hong, K.-B., Park, Y., & Suh, H. J. (2016/09/01). Sleep-promoting effects of the GABA/5-HTP mixture in vertebrate models -
  • Inoue, K, Shirai, T, Ochiai, H, Kasao, M, Hayakawa, K, Kimura, M, Sansawa, & H. (2003, March). Blood-pressure-lowering effect of a novel fermented milk containing γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in mild hypertensives -
  • Lee, Hwa-Young, Lee, Geum-Hwa, Hoang, The-Hiep, Kim, Yu-Mi, Jang, Gi-Hyun, Seok, Chang-Hwan, Gwak, Yun-Geum-Sang, Lim, Junghyun, Kim, Junghyun, Chae, & Han-Jung. (2022/1). GABA and Fermented Curcuma longa L. Extract Enriched with GABA Ameliorate Obesity through Nox4-IRE1α Sulfonation-RIDD-SIRT1 Decay Axis in High-Fat Diet-Induced Obese Mice -
  • Li, Junfeng, Zhang, Zhaoyun, Liu, Xiaoxia, Wang, Yi, Mao, Fei, Mao, Junjun, Lu, Xiaolan, Jiang, Dongdong, Wan, Yun, Lv, Jia-Ying, Cao, Guoying, Zhang, Jing, Zhao, Naiqing, Atkinson, Mark, Greiner, Dale L., Prud'homme, Gerald J., Jiao, Zheng, Li, Yiming, & Wa. (2015/11/10). Study of GABA in Healthy Volunteers: Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics -
  • Maya Sakashita, Utano Nakamura, Noriko Horie, Yasuhiro Yokoyama, Mujo Kim, & Satoshi Fujita. (2019/05/10). Oral Supplementation Using Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid and Whey Protein Improves Whole Body Fat-Free Mass in Men After Resistance Training -
  • Nakamura, H., Takishima, T., Kometani, T., & Yokogoshi, H. . (2009). Psychological stress-reducing effect of chocolate enriched with γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in humans: Assessment of stress using heart rate variability and salivary chromogranin A -
  • Oketch-Rabah, Hellen A., Madden, Emily F., Roe, Amy L., Betz, & Joseph M. (2021/8). United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Safety Review of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) -
  • Shimada, M., Hasegawa, T., Nishimura, C., Kan, H., Kanno, T., Nakamura, T., & Matsubayashi, T. (2009). Anti-Hypertensive Effect of γ-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)-Rich Chlorella on High-Normal Blood Pressure and Borderline Hypertension in Placebo-Controlled Double Blind Study -
  • Winkelman, John W., Buxton, Orfeu M., Jensen, J. Eric, Benson, Kathleen L., O'Connor, Shawn P., Wang, Wei, Renshaw, & Perry F. (2008/11/01). Reduced Brain GABA in Primary Insomnia: Preliminary Data from 4T Proton Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy (1H-MRS) -
  • Yoto, A., Murao, S., Motoki, M., Yokoyama, Y., Horie, N., Takeshima, K., Masuda, K., Kim, M., Yokogoshi, & H. (2012, September). Oral intake of γ-aminobutyric acid affects mood and activities of central nervous system during stressed condition induced by mental tasks -
Healthshop Products
Search in categories