Dr. Rawls is a licensed medical doctor in North Carolina and a leading expert in integrative health. He has extensive training in alternative therapies, and is the Medical Director of Vital Plan, a holistic health and herbal supplement company in Raleigh, NC.
GABA is a dietary supplement often used to promote sleep, relaxation, and stress reduction by interacting with the calming GABA neuroreceptors in the human body.
GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the primary neurotransmitter in the central nervous system associated with inhibiting neuron signaling, effectively calming the body by turning down the dial on incoming messages and stimuli. GABA levels in the body affect how stressed and tense we feel in response to various triggers and how well we sleep at night. GABA is produced naturally in the body, found in certain foods, and may also be taken as a supplement.
GABA, the dietary supplement, should not be confused with pharmaceutical drugs that are structurally similar to GABA such as gabapentin or drugs that affect GABA receptors such as Valium, Xanax, and gabazine. All of these drugs have potent effects and serious potential negative side effects and should only be used under the direction of a healthcare provider.
GABA as a supplement was first synthesized in 1883 and is identical in chemical structure to the amino-acid that is found in a wide variety of organisms including plants, animals and microorganisms. As the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammals, it’s estimated that at least ⅓ of all central nervous system neurons use GABA as their primary neurotransmitter.1
Because of GABA’s wide reaching effects in the nervous system, it has been studied for a variety of benefits ranging from relieving anxiety, to elevating mood, and supporting sleep.
In one randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled trial, 40 patients with occasional sleeplessness took GABA daily for 4 weeks. The results suggested that GABA helped the patients fall asleep faster and stay asleep for more of the night when compared to the control group who had taken the placebo.2
In an animal study, a mixture of GABA and L-theanine had a positive synergistic effect in decreasing the time it took to fall asleep as well as the sleep duration.3
In the past, it was thought that GABA does not cross the blood-brain barrier but more recent research has confirmed that at least small amounts pass into the brain and even a little can have an effect. Furthermore, GABA and GABA receptors are also found throughout the enteric nervous system in the gut which can produces effects in the body and may stimulate internal production of GABA across the blood-brain barrier.1
While there are no officially established dosing recommendations for GABA, research and wide clinical experience suggest that 100-300 mg, 1-2 times per day is reasonable and effective general dosing range.
GABA may be taken during the day for it’s stress and tension relieving qualities, but for sleep, it’s best taken leading up to bedtime.
Some clinical studies have shown that consuming GABA can cause a modest drop in blood pressure so it theoretically could interact with blood pressure medications.
Always check with your healthcare practitioner before use if you are taking medications. For more general education on potential interactions between herbs and medications, check out Dr. Bill Rawls’ article: Is it Safe to Take Herbs with My Medications?
There is no available data regarding the safety of GABA while pregnant or breastfeeding so it’s recommended to use caution since GABA affects neurotransmitters and the endocrine system.1
This information is intended only as general education and should not be substituted for professional health advice. Any mentioned general dosage option, safety notices, or possible interactions with prescription drugs are for educational purposes only and must be considered in the context of each individual’s health situation. Use this information only as a reference in conjunction with the guidance of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
1. Oketch-Rabah HA, Madden EF, Roe AL, Betz JM. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Safety Review of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). Nutrients. 2021;13(8):2742. doi:10.3390/nu13082742
2. Shin YY, Byun J-I, Chung S-E, et al. Effect of Low and High-Dose GABA from Unpolished Rice-Germ on Timing and Quality of Sleep: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Trial. J Sleep Med. 2016;13(2):60-66. doi:10.13078/jsm.16011
3. Kim S, Jo K, Hong K-B, Han SH, Suh HJ. GABA and l-theanine mixture decreases sleep latency and improves NREM sleep. Pharm Biol. 2019;57(1):65. doi:10.1080/13880209.2018.1557698