What Are GABA Supplements?

Can GABA supplements decrease anxiety and stress?

Gamma-aminobutyric acid—often referred to as GABA—is an amino acid and a neurotransmitter, a type of chemical responsible for carrying signals from a nerve cell to another cell. Specifically, GABA slows activity in the brain, producing a calming effect.

Produced naturally in the body, GABA is also widely available in supplement form. Manufacturers claim that GABA supplements can help boost the brain's GABA levels. They say GABA supplements can even treat:

Some supplement manufacturers call GABA a "natural form of Valium." In other words, they claim that it reduces stress and improves relaxation and sleep.

Unlike many dietary supplements, GABA cannot be found in ordinary foods. But it's claimed that certain foods containing antioxidants called flavonoids can increase the activity of GABA in your body. These foods include:

However, scientists don't really know if certain foods can affect the way GABA works in the brain.

This article will discuss how GABA may help people deal with stress and anxiety. It will talk about GABA supplements and the evidence for their supposed benefits.

Mature woman in bed sleeping peacefully
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Do GABA Supplements Offer Any Benefits?

Research shows that GABA might play a key role in protecting against depression and anxiety. For instance, a review article published in the journal Neuropharmacology in 2011 concluded that people with anxiety and depression are more likely to have low levels of GABA.

However, there isn't enough research on the health effects of GABA supplements to make any conclusions. What's more, scientists haven't yet figured out if GABA taken as a supplement can actually reach the brain and trigger any beneficial changes.

Natural Ways to Boost GABA Levels

Substances used to help you relax, such as alcohol, stimulate GABA receptors. This leads to feelings of relaxation and sleepiness. The same effect occurs as a result of taking sleep-inducing drugs such as Ambien (zolpidem).

But these approaches are only effective for a short period of time. They can also have undesirable side effects.

Certain herbal supplements (including valerian) may help elevate GABA levels in the brain. One study suggests that breathing in the scent of jasmine (a substance frequently used in aromatherapy) may help enhance the effects of GABA.

Certain mind-body practices may also help boost your brain's levels of GABA. For example, a 2020 study published in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that practicing yoga may lead to higher GABA levels. As a result, you may end up in a better mood and experience less anxiety.

Recap

While alcohol and sleeping pills can increase your GABA levels, they also may cause unpleasant side effects. Some herbal supplements, like valerian, can provide a natural boost in GABA levels. Practicing yoga can also help relax the body and increase the level of GABA in your brain.

Possible Side Effects

GABA supplements are considered likely to be safe when taken by mouth for up to 12 weeks. However, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid GABA as there is not enough information to determine if it is safe or effective for them.

Since there isn't enough research to support its effectiveness, it's too soon to recommend GABA supplements or other herbal supplements said to increase GABA levels for any condition.

If you're considering the use of GABA supplements for the prevention or treatment of a specific health problem, talk to your doctor before starting your supplement regimen.

Dosage and Preparation

Because there is limited information about GABA supplements, there are no guidelines on the appropriate dosage to take for any condition. If you choose to take a GABA supplement, follow the directions on the label.

What to Look For

GABA supplements are sold in pill and capsule form. You may also see the supplement sold as a powder. It's important to check the label if you choose to purchase these products because there may be a variety of ingredients listed on the package.

Before you buy any supplement, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends that you look for a Supplement Facts label. This label provides important health information, including the number of active ingredients per serving. It will also tell you about other added ingredients like fillers, binders, and flavorings.

The NIH also suggests that you look for a product that contains a seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing. These organizations include:

  • U.S. Pharmacopeia
  • ConsumerLab.com
  • NSF International

A seal of approval from one of these organizations does not guarantee the product's safety or effectiveness. But it does provide assurance that:

  • The product was properly manufactured.
  • The product contains the ingredients listed on the label.
  • The product does not contain harmful levels of contaminants.

Summary

GABA is an amino acid that may help improve your mood. Several studies show that increased GABA levels in the brain can help decrease anxiety, stress, and depression. But more research needs to be done to determine if GABA supplements are effective for treating any condition.

Look for supplements that contain a Supplement Facts label so you know what ingredients are inside them. You should also choose a supplement that has the seal of approval from a third-party organization that provides quality testing.

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Article Sources
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