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What is GABA?

GABA is the abbreviation for gamma-aminobutyric acid. This is a non-essential amino acid and the principle inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.

It is produced by the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate through the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase. This amino acid can also be recycled into glutamate through the tricarboxylic acid cycle1.

This amino acid helps to support normal brain function. It does this by preventing stress-inducing signals from connecting with receptor sites in the central nervous system.

Without gamma-aminobutyric acid the nerve cells will fire too easily and too frequently. This amino acid reduces feelings of anxiousness. Therefore this amino acid is often marketed in supplement form as a natural treatment of disorders relating to emotional stress.

Health benefits



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Studies have shown that GABA can help to treat alcohol addiction2, 3. Consequently pharmaceutical companies have produced GABA agonists such as acamprosate to prescribe to people suffering from alcohol addition.

These medications aim to reduce cravings and anxiety by stabilising the chemical balance in the brain. The use of these agonists in the treatment of cocaine addiction has also shown promising results4.

Body building

There are been several studies that have shown GABA supplementation can increase concentrations of human growth hormone (HGH)5, 6. With the right exercise regime, this could help to reduce body fat and increase lean muscle mass.

However, the effectiveness of oral supplementation with this amino acid for elevating HGH levels is controversial. Many scientists believe it is ineffective for this purpose.

Tranquilizing effects

The effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid are similar to prescription medications such as Valium. It acts like a tranquiliser and can reduce the activity of nerve cells in the brain. Subsequently, this amino acid has an important role in treating disorders generated by overstimulation of the brain such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)7, epilepsy8, 9 and Parkinson’s disease10.

GABA supplements

Gamma-aminobutyric acid is widely available in powder and capsule form. The normal advised dosage is between 3 and 5 grams.

It is important to follow this recommendation because too much of this amino acid can cause adverse reactions. These adverse effects can include heightened anxiety, numbness, tingling, and shortness of breath. Excess dosages have also induced seizures in some individuals.

A more effective way to increase the potential for gamma-aminobutyric acid production is to ensure adequate levels of glutamine. The body converts glutamine into glutamic acid, and then into gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Find out more about glutamine here

However, many medical researchers do not believe that oral supplements will have an effect on GABA activity. This is because this amino acid cannot cross the blood brain barrier. Instead, the majority of health care applications associated with balancing brain chemistry involve GABA agonists.

GABA deficiency

People who suffer from anxiety disorders have low gamma-aminobutyric acid activity in the brain. Cognitive impairment, addiction, Parkinson’s disease, panic attacks, seizures and many other conditions are also associated with abnormally low gamma-aminobutyric acid activity.

Dietary sources

To naturally increase the availability of gamma-aminobutyric acid a diet rich in glutamic acid and glutamate is important. Foods with high levels of these amino acids include almonds, bananas, beef, brown rice, broccoli, lentils, oats, citric fruits, potato and spinach.


  1. Petroff, O. (2002). GABA and glutamate in the human brain. Neuroscientist. Volume 8, Issue 6, (pp. 562-73.).
  2. Oh, S. et al. (2004). Germinated Brown Rice Extract Shows a Nutraceutical Effect in the Recovery of Chronic Alcohol-Related Symptoms. Journal of Medicinal Food. Volume 6, Issue 2. (pp. 115-21).
  3. Addolorato, G. et al. (2012). Novel therapeutic strategies for alcohol and drug addiction: focus on GABA, ion channels and transcranial magnetic stimulation. Volume 37, Issue 1. (pp. 163-77).
  4. Kampmann, K. et al. (2004). A pilot trial of topiramate for the treatment of cocaine dependency. Drug and Alcohol Dependence. Volume 75, Issue 3, (pp. 233-40)
  5. Powers, M et al. (2008). Growth hormone isoform responses to GABA ingestion at rest and after exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise. Volume 40, Issue 1, (104-10).
  6. Cavagnini F, et al. (1980). Effect of acute and repeated administration of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) on growth hormone and prolactin secretion in man. Acta Endocrinol (Copenh). Volume 93, Issue 2, (pp. 149-54).
  7. Edden, R. et al. (2012). Reduced GABA Concentration in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry. Volume 69, Issue 7, (pp. 750-30.
  8. Treiman, D. (2001). GABAergic mechanisms in epilepsy. Epilepsia. Volume 42, Issue 3, (pp. 8-12).
  9. Snodgrass, S. (1992). GABA and epilepsy: their complex relationship and evolutions of our understanding. Volume 7, Issue 1, (pp. 77-86).
  10. Kleppner, S. and Tobin, A. (2001). GABA signalling: therapeutic targets for epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. Expert Opinion on Therapeutic Targets. Volume 5, Issue 2, (pp. 219-39).