Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid and natural chemical in your brain, as well as a neurotransmitter, or chemical messenger. However, GABA is considered to be an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it blocks certain brain signals, therefore, decreasing nervous system activity.
GABA produces a calming effect when it attaches to a GABA receptor in the brain. Due to the calming effect, GABA supplements have become popular in recent years. While amino acids can often be found in foods, GABA is only found in certain foods including tea, tomato, soybeans, and fermented foods like kimchi, miso, and tempeh.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved GABA for us as supplements as well as a food additive. It may be found in candies, gum, sports drinks, and snack bars. Supplements come in the form of a pill, capsule, or sometimes a powder that can be mixed into shakes and drinks.
There have been studies done to understand the effectiveness but only with natural GABA that is present in food or biosynthetic GABA that is produced through fermentation. There is also not yet a daily recommended dose of GABA, so a medical professional should be consulted before starting any GABA supplements.
What are GABA Supplements Used For?
Stress is a common factor in daily life but it’s been steadily increasing year after year. According to The American Institute of Stress, approximately 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress. Additionally, 77 percent of people say stress affects their physical health, 73 percent say stress affects their mental health, and 48 percent say they experience difficulty sleeping because of stress.
GABA supplements can help reduce stress, anxiety, and insomnia due to its calming effect. People with medical conditions such as anxiety, panic disorder, depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, seizure disorder, and Parkinson’s disease might have lower levels of GABA.
The effectiveness of GABA supplements is still unclear, however, there is research being done on some of GABA’s uses. Popular uses include anxiety, high blood pressure, insomnia, stress, and fatigue.
A 2012 study on aminobutyric acids involving 63 participants found that taking 100 milligrams (mg) of GABA significantly reduced stress.
In 2015, another aminobutyric acid study was conducted amongst a group of 30 individuals. The study showed that taking 800 mg of GABA enhanced thinking and task-performing abilities, such as prioritization.
Potential GABA Side Effects
More research will have to be done to say for certain what the potential side effects of GABA supplements are.
Some people have reported the following side effects:
- Muscle weakness
- Upset stomach
Supplements affect everyone differently so if you and your medical provider decide that GABA supplements can be of benefit to you, it’s important to pay attention to any side effects you experience. Your doctor will also be able to help determine if GABA supplements interact with any other supplements or medications that you may be taking.
Are GABA Supplements Right for You?
Before beginning the use of GABA supplements, you’ll want to consult with your doctor for medical advice. Together, you can determine if adding a GABA supplement will benefit you and then you can create an action plan.
For more information on supplements, and other medications potentially associated with addiction, please contact the admissions team at DreamLife Recovery today.
- Steenbergen, L., Sellaro, R., Stock, AK. et al. γ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration improves action selection processes: a randomised controlled trial. Sci Rep 5, 12770 (2015)
- Yoto, A., Murao, S., Motoki, M. et al. Oral intake of γ-aminobutyric acid affects mood and activities of central nervous system during stressed condition induced by mental tasks. Amino Acids 43, 1331–1337 (2012)
- “Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior” – Evert Boonstra, Roy de Kleijn, Lorenza S. Colzato, Anneke Alkemade, Birte U. Forstmann, Sander Nieuwenhuis Front Psychol. 2015; 6: 1520. Published online 2015 Oct 6
- Hepsomali P, Groeger JA, Nishihira J and Scholey A (2020) Effects of Oral Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Administration on Stress and Sleep in Humans: A Systematic Review. Front. Neurosci. 14:923
- “Medical benefits of increased GABA” – Medical News Today; 30 October 2019
- Ngo D-H, Vo TS. An Updated Review on Pharmaceutical Properties of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid. Molecules. 2019; 24(15):2678
- “The Health Benefits of GABA Supplements” – VeryWell Health; Cathy Wong, Rev. by Meredith Bull, ND; 26 June 2020
- “What is Stress?” – The American Institute of Stress; stress.org