GABA Supplement Benefits: Should You Go Gaga for GABA?

Your body produces GABA — a neurotransmitter that makes you calm — on its own. Some folks also like to take GABA supplements. However, research is still limited on whether dietary GABA supplements unlock the same perks.

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (aka GABA) is one of the neurotransmitters responsible for keeping you calm under pressure. It’s a worthy opponent against high stress and anxiety.

But does that mean taking GABA supplements benefits your body and mind? Maaaybe.

We’re diving into the science of GABA supplements, including dosage, risks, and whether taking them can help alleviate anxiety and depression.

First, what exactly is GABA?

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which means that it slows down chemical messages in your brain. Basically, it can have a calming effect on stress and anxiety.

One small 2020 study suggested that boosting GABA production might soothe symptoms of depression. However, this study din’t use GABA supplements to actually increase GABA. Science also says that GABA helps dial down stress and improves sleep. Just keep in mind we definitely need more research to show how well it works.

Fun fact: GABA doesn’t work alone. It often collabs with serotonin, another neurotransmitter known as the “happy hormone.”

What to know about GABA supplements benefits

If more GABA = feeling more centered, shouldn’t folks with high stress or mood disorders go gaga for GABA? Not so fast, friends.

Unfortunately, popping a pill in your gullet doesn’t guarantee that the stuff will reach your brain. A 2020 research found pretty limited evidence for the benefits of oral GABA intake.

Here are some *potential* benefits of GABA supplements.

Dialing down anxiety

Because GABA works together with serotonin to block adrenaline and negative responses to stress, some brands tout it as a treatment for anxiety. 

Unfortunately, the science doesn’t really back this up.

In 2015, researchers reported, “There is some evidence in favor of a calming effect of GABA food supplements, but most of this evidence was reported by researchers with a potential conflict of interest.” In other words, the limited proof that GABA supplements quell anxiety comes from the folks who sell the stuff. Ouch.

Bottom line: GABA does boost relaxation, but dietary GABA supplements might not be able to reach your brain and make a real difference. More research on dietary GABA is needed to understand its effect on anxiety.

Combating sleep probs

Here’s better news: In a tiny 2018 study, folks with insomnia who dosed 300 mg of GABA before bedtime fell asleep faster than those who got a placebo pill. The same participants also reported better sleep after 4 weeks of supplementation. 

That said, the study was super small — and a 2020 research review found “very limited evidence” for the sleep perks of GABA supplementation. 

Again, we need more research to know if GABA supplements are a worthwhile sleep aid.

Reducing stress

OK, so if you can’t rely on GABA supplements to squash anxiety or insomnia, can you at least grab GABA for short-term stress relief?

Maybe. Here’s a rundown of the research:

  • 2011 study of 30 people found that those who drank GABA-spiked bevies (25 or 50 mg per drink) reported less mental and physical exhaustion during a math test than those who didn’t. 
  • Another 2011 study with 63 participants found that taking 100 mg of GABA 30 minutes before a mentally taxing activity diminished feelings of stress.

While the jury’s still out on how much GABA supplements impact mental overwhelm — and exactly which dose is best — there’s *some* evidence for its beneficial effect on stress.

How to take GABA supplements

First, always talk to your doctor before taking GABA supplements. That’s especially true if you have clinical depression or anxiety. A doc can help pinpoint the proper dosage and confirm that the supplements won’t interfere with your prescription meds.

Once your doctor gives you the go-ahead, buy a quality GABA supplement from a reputable company (the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t test dietary supplements like drugs, so buyer beware).

Any risks?

Since GABA supplements haven’t been deeply researched, it’s tough to pinpoint the risks and side effects.

One of the main risks of any supplement is that it will interfere with your prescription or over-the-counter meds. For example, it might lead to blood pressure concerns in those who take antihypertensive medications. Moreover, pregnant peeps or those who breastfeed should avoid GABA supplements because it might cause hormonal fluctuations. So if you wanna give GABA or any other supplement a whirl, seriously consider consulting your doctor first.

There’s also the risk of an allergic reaction when trying a new food, supplement, or drug. Get help ASAP if you experience throat swelling, shortness of breath, dizziness, or any other alarming symptoms after taking GABA supplements for the first time. 

What about side effects?

Since GABA supplements aren’t well-studied, the side effects are still pretty unknown. Always start with the lowest dose possible to reduce your chances of unpleasant symptoms.

You might experience common supplement side effects such as:

  • headache
  • upset stomach
  • blood pressure concerns
  • drowsiness (since GABA is meant to induce calm, avoid driving after dosing GABA until you know how it affects your alertness!)

Bottom line

GABA is an essential neurotransmitter that plays a role in sleep, stress relief, and a good old-fashioned sense of calm and clarity. Your body makes it on its own, but some people like to supplement.

Some brands claim their GABA supplements claim that popping these pills will help calm your brain. Unfortunately, research is limited. The evidence of mental health benefits from GABA supplementation is still pretty slim.

If there’s anything GABA supplements might help with, it’s short-term stress management. 

Before popping GABA pills for any reason, talk to your doctor. They alert you to any negative interactions with your current medications or vitamins and help you figure out a safe dose for you.

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