What is GABA? What are its effects? Can it really help with sleep?

GABA plays a significant role in brain metabolism and has been found in numerous clinical studies to have effects such as stress reduction and mood improvement. In addition to these effects, it also includes functions like anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-allergic properties.

What is GABA?

GABA, short for Gamma-aminobutyric acid, is widely distributed in plants, animals, and microorganisms. Natural GABA was initially discovered in potatoes and first synthesized in 1883. Due to its health benefits, modern society has started to incorporate GABA into products such as tea, chocolate, and soy-based items to achieve specific health benefits.

In the United States, GABA can be sold as a dietary supplement. It’s estimated that by the end of 2026, the global market size for GABA dietary supplements will increase significantly from $38 million in 2019 to $50 million[1].


What are the effects of GABA?

Research has shown that GABA is a major inhibitory neurotransmitter in the central nervous system of mammals[1]. It plays a crucial role in brain metabolism and has been found in various clinical studies to have stress-reducing and mood-improving effects. It’s widely used to aid in sleep as well[2]. Additionally, GABA is believed to have various other benefits such as anti-hypertensive, anti-diabetic, anti-cancer, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-allergic effects[3].


Help with Sleep

Shortens Time to Fall Asleep: GABA promotes relaxation and helps improve sleep quality.

Clinical research results have shown that GABA can help with rapid sleep onset and increase sleep quality. No serious side effects have been found, indicating the safety of GABA supplementation.

💡Insomnia patients supplemented with GABA (300 mg per day extracted from brown rice germ) for four weeks showed significantly shortened time to fall asleep and improved sleep efficiency[4].

💡Drinking tea rich in GABA (181 mg/100g) before bedtime (250 ml) can alleviate insomnia symptoms, improve sleep efficiency, and reduce time to fall asleep[5].

💡Ingesting 100 mg of GABA significantly shortened the time to fall asleep by 5.3 minutes, demonstrating GABA’s ability to promote quick sleep onset[6].


Improves Anxiety and Stress

Research indicates that GABA has a positive impact on stress, anxiety, and depression.

💡In a clinical study, subjects who consumed GABA-rich tea showed a significant decrease in immediate stress scores and improved heart rate variability (HRV) ten minutes after consumption. This suggests an enhancement in anxiety regulation for individuals under acute stress[7].

💡A retrospective study exploring the relationship between GABA levels in blood and severe depression in PTSD patients found that individuals with higher average blood GABA concentrations were less likely to be classified as PTSD cases at 6 weeks and 1 year. This suggests that blood GABA concentration higher than 0.20 mmol/ml can predict prevention of chronic PTSD and be used as an indicator of significant trauma recovery[8].


Regulates Depressive Mood

The concentration of GABA in the body and abnormalities in GABA signaling are associated with depression. Clinical evidence suggests that GABA receptors are one of the therapeutic targets for depression and anxiety[9].

💡Analytical studies have found that blood GABA concentration in patients with mood disorders is significantly lower than that in healthy individuals[10].

💡A retrospective study indicated that blood GABA concentration in individuals with severe depression is significantly lower than in those without depression[11].


Improves Blood Pressure

GABA participates in regulating various neural transmissions and physiological functions and has antihypertensive properties and cardiovascular regulation.

💡In a clinical study, hypertensive patients supplemented with GABA (20 mg) twice daily for 12 weeks experienced a significant decrease in blood pressure without adverse reactions[12].

💡In another clinical trial, hypertensive patients who consumed GABA-enriched dairy products for 12 weeks showed a significant reduction in blood pressure within 2 to 4 weeks. After 12 weeks, their average systolic blood pressure decreased by 17.4 mmHg, and average diastolic blood pressure decreased by 7.2 mmHg, both significantly lower than the control group[13].


Which Foods Contain GABA?

Natural Sources: GABA found in plants primarily originates from the conversion of glutamic acid. It is discovered in plants such as brown rice germ, germinated beans, oats, wheat, barley, spinach, and other vegetables[14]. GABA levels in plants significantly increase after exposure to environmental and other stressors[15].

Furthermore, GABA content is significantly higher in some fermented foods. Traditional Korean kimchi, Japanese green tea leaves, and other lactic acid fermented foods like cured meats and cheese contain substantial amounts of GABA[16].

There are primarily three commercial sources of GABA: (1) Microbial Fermentation, (2) Enzymatic Catalysis, and (3) Chemical Synthesis. The steps involved in enzymatic catalysis and chemical synthesis of GABA are often costly, yield unwanted byproducts, and require the use of solvents, making chemical synthesis less favorable for commercial use[17].

Currently available GABA nutritional supplements on the market are mostly derived from microbial fermentation. Sources include gluten-free amino acid fermentation and rice fermentation, among others.

Further Reading: A Comparison of 7 Sleep-Enhancing Sesamin and GABA Supplements on the Market (Sesamin is not the First Choice!)


Nutrients Suitable for GABA Combination

  1. Vitamin B6: B6 is involved in the synthesis of GABA. It is also an important vitamin for maintaining nerve health, found in whole grains and meats.
  2. L-Tryptophan: Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin and melatonin, both of which play crucial roles in regulating the body’s biological clock and mood. If you want to regulate sleep and emotional stability, tryptophan can work alongside GABA.
  3. Minerals Calcium and Magnesium: Calcium and magnesium are essential for stabilizing nerve transmission and muscle relaxation. Additionally, magnesium can act on GABA receptors, promoting calming effects and stabilizing sleep.
  4. Sesamin: Sesamin has strong antioxidant properties and research indicates it assists in liver repair and combating fatigue.
  5. Chamomile and Asparagus: These also have mild relaxing and calming effects.

Further Reading: Sesamin for Liver Protection and Sleep Improvement – Experts Reveal 5 Additional Benefits of Sesamin


Who is GABA Suitable For?

For individuals who cannot effectively regulate mood and sleep through dietary adjustments, supplementing with GABA can be considered.

  1. Sleep Disorders: Those who have difficulty falling asleep or poor sleep quality.
  2. Emotional Distress: Individuals frequently experiencing feelings of sadness or depression, and who are prone to nervousness.
  3. High-Stress Individuals: Those needing relaxation, stress relief, improved focus, and attention.
  4. Hypertension: Although the relationship between blood pressure and GABA requires more research, current studies show significant blood pressure reduction from GABA supplementation.


When to Take GABA

It is recommended to take GABA 2 hours before bedtime or after dinner. This can help relax your mood for better rest and sleep.


GABA Dosage and Side Effects

In recent years, GABA is available as a health supplement in many countries, with slightly varying recommended dosages. Here are some safe GABA intake amounts for reference:

  • United States: Clinical evaluations from the United States Pharmacopeia suggest supplementing up to 120 milligrams of GABA daily for 12 weeks, with no severe adverse events reported[4].
  • Canada: The Natural and Non-prescription Health Products Directorate (NNHPD) recommends a daily intake of 50–3000 milligrams of GABA for cognitive function products, with each dose not exceeding 750 milligrams. There is no issue with overdosing[18].
  • Taiwan: The Ministry of Health and Welfare recommends a maximum daily intake limit of 500 milligrams of GABA. Different specifications apply to each GABA source.

Although no significant adverse reactions have been reported from GABA supplementation, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using it.


GABA Selection Criteria

  • GABA Dosage: Daily supplementation of 300-500 milligrams of GABA is recommended for a noticeable effect. Currently, most experimental GABA sources come from lactic acid fermentation. Consumers can choose products based on ingredient labels.
  • Combination with Complex Ingredients: Emotional stability and sleep regulation are not governed by a single component. Research shows that multiple nutrients are involved in the process. When choosing GABA products, consider those with a combination of calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, L-tryptophan, sesamin, chamomile, etc. This combination approach enhances nutrient synergy and makes it easier to achieve desired health benefits.


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