GABA stands for gamma-aminobutyric acid. It is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that counters the excitatory compound glutamine. It regulates communication between the brain and nervous system to slow down signals, making them less electrically excitable. This produces calming affects, specifically calming nervous activity.

What does GABA do for you?

GABA plays a central role in your nervous system, affecting behavior, cognition, and response to stress. It is also responsible for controlling mood as well as certain physical functions.

Many people take GABA supplements to try to help:

  • Relieve anxiety
  • Help sleep
  • Ease premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms
  • Increase tolerance to exercise
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Relieve chronic pain or discomfort from injury

What does deficiency in GABA cause?

Decreased levels of GABA has been linked to depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, mood swings, epilepsy, panic and post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, and insomnia.

GABA to help with anxiety

Anxiety disorders as well as panic disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are associated with an imbalance or deficiency in GABA[1].

Nerve excitability has often been associated with feelings of anxiety and fear. GABA offers calming affects that make neurons less excitable, which has a calming effect. This makes it a treatment of choice for those seeking relief from anxiety symptoms.

GABA has also often been found to be low in depressed individuals. Early studies also show that depressed individuals for whom typical antidepressant medication failed to work tended to have the lowest GABA levels[2].

GABA Risks & Side Effects

Since the body regulates GABA uptake, it is generally considered safe for most people and can be used with minimal side effects. However, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should not use GABA supplements as they have not been studied in these individuals. GABA may also have an adverse reaction when taken by individuals who already use medications for depression, anxiety, or insomnia as it may interfere with or alter results from these medications. As with any supplement regimen, it is wise to talk to your doctor before starting any supplements.

Individuals who have taken extremely high doses of GABA have reported an increase in anxiety or depressive episodes, or have experienced skin tingling or flushing.

[1] Depress Anxiety. 2014 Feb;31(2):115-23. doi: 10.1002/da.22155. Epub 2013 Jul 16.

[2] Biol Psychiatry. 2009 May 1;65(9):792-800. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2008.10.025. Epub 2008 Dec 5.