Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is the main signaling chemical in the central nervous system of mammals. Many agents, including alcohol and drugs that alter brain function, may have anxiety-reducing, pain-relieving, anti-seizure, and sedative effects by acting on the activity of GABA.
Many dietary supplements that are used widely for insomnia and memory may work by affecting GABA inside the body. These supplements include 5-HTP, hops, kava, lemon balm, passion flower, skullcap, and valerian.
Much research has been conducted on the effects of GABA inside the body, as well as drugs, herbs, and supplements that may increase these effects. In the 1970s and 1980s, manmade GABA (called Aminalon in Russia and Gammalon in Japan) was studied for nervous system and heart disorders. Since then, few studies have used GABA as a treatment or supplement. This is partly because GABA taken as a supplement does not enter the brain efficiently.
GABA is commonly taken to aid in sleep and relaxation. Although GABA inside the body is known to help relaxation, GABA that is taken as a supplement may not be as effective as GABA produced by the body since it does not enter the brain.
GABA taken by mouth may increase growth hormone levels in humans, which is why it is a popular bodybuilding supplement. However, there is a lack of evidence to support this use of GABA.
GABA may interact with numerous foods, herbs, or supplements.
4-Amino butyric acid, Aminalon, FMG, GABA, GABA transporter (GAT), GABA(A) receptors, GABA(B) receptors, Gabadone™, GABA-enriched defatted rice germ, GABA-enriched fermented milk product (FMG), GABA-enriched soybean, GABA-enriched tempeh-like fermented soybean (GABA-tempeh), GABA-transaminase (GABA-T), gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA), gammalon, glutamate, glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD), Lactobacillus brevis GABA100, Pharma-GABA™, picamilon (nicotinyl-g-aminobutyric acid), pikamilon, pikamilone, pycamilon, succinic semialdehyde dehydrogenase (SSADH).
Note: Not to be confused with gamma-hydroxybutyric acid (GHB), a form of GABA that acts as a signaling chemical in the brain. While it may be used to treat alcohol addiction, GHB may carry the risk of abuse. GHB is used as a recreational drug and is commonly known as the "date rape" drug. GABA is also not to be confused with picamilon (nicotinoyl-GABA), a combination of niacin and GABA that may enter the brain. Picamilon was developed in Russia, where it has been studied for numerous conditions.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
There is limited evidence that GABA is effective for treating attention deficit disorder (ADD). More research is needed in this area.
There is limited evidence that GABA may treat brain injuries. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
There is limited evidence that GABA is effective for treating bronchitis. Early study lacks clear results. Further research is needed in this field.
Central nervous system disorders
There is limited evidence that GABA may treat dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system, which controls processes such as heart rate and blood pressure. More research is needed in this area.
Cerebral palsy (brain disorder affecting movement and thinking)
There is limited evidence that GABA may treat children with cerebral palsy, a disorder of brain function. Further study is needed before a conclusion can be made.
Dementia (caused by blocked or reduced blood flow)
GABA given through an electric current in the nose may benefit people who have cerebral atherosclerosis (hardened arteries in the brain) or vascular dementia (a type of dementia caused by blocked or reduced blood flow to the brain). More research is needed in this area.
Endocrine disorders (Cushing's disease)
There is limited evidence that GABA may treat Cushing's disease, which is caused by high levels of the hormone cortisol. Further study is needed.
Although not well studied in humans, a combination of GABA and phosphatidylserine (PS) has been researched for seizures associated with epilepsy. Further study is needed.
Growth hormone stimulation
GABA taken by mouth has been shown to promote growth hormone (GH) levels in humans. More information is needed in this area.
High blood pressure
Early studies show that GABA-enriched food products may reduce blood pressure in people with mildly high blood pressure. The manmade GABA product Aminalon has been suggested as a blood pressure-lowering agent since the 1970s. Early research reports that a GABA-mebutamate combination treatment may reduce blood pressure. Further research is needed on the potential effects of GABA alone.
Huntington's disease (genetic disorder affecting muscle control)
GABA has been studied for the treatment of Huntington's disease. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
Meningitis (infection causing nervous system inflammation)
There is limited research on the use of GABA for treating meningitis. More studies are needed before conclusions can be made.
There is limited evidence that GABA may prevent or treat motion sickness. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
There is some evidence that large doses of GABA injected into the vein may treat uncontrolled movements caused by problems with GABA in the body. Further study is needed in this area.
GABA taken by mouth may decrease alertness, and GABA-enriched chocolate may reduce stress. However, GABA injected into the vein has been found to promote anxiety, emotional distress, and mood disturbance. Further study is needed before firm conclusions can be made on the use of GABA for relaxation and anxiety.
Many sedative agents used to treat insomnia, such as zolpidem (Ambien®), act on GABA in the body. These agents may promote sleep and affect the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that is associated with sleep. Evidence is limited on the use of GABA itself for enhancing or promoting sleep. More research is needed in this area.