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What is GABA? Why do we need it?

GABA is short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, an amino acid produced naturally in the brain. It is manufactured from the amino acid glutamine and functions as a neurotransmitter, helping to foster communication between nerve cells and reduce stress.

Previous research has shown that individuals with low GABA levels may be susceptible to irritability, anxiety and depression. Studies using GABA supplements have shown that it can promote relaxation, reduce stress, and improve the quality of one's sleep. In addition, there is anecdotal evidence that GABA can improve concentration in people diagnosed with attention deficit disorder and treat some types of epilepsy, but further research is needed to validate these claims.

How much GABA should I take?

The amount of GABA to be taken depends on the condition being treated. For insomnia, some practitioners recommend between 500 and 1,000 milligrams of a GABA supplement taken approximately one hour before bedtime. For stress, pain and epilepsy, the dose may vary between 250 milligrams and 500 milligrams, two to three times per day.

What forms of GABA are available?

GABA is produced naturally in the body. Some evidence suggests that certain herbs, such as valerian and kava, may increase GABA levels in the brain. As a supplement, GABA is available as a tablet, powder or capsule.

What can happen if I take too much GABA? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because it is a naturally occurring substance, recommended daily allowance levels and maximum intake levels for GABA have yet to be established. GABA appears to be safe when taken at recommended doses; however, high doses may cause stomach pain and nausea, and may actually increase the incidence of anxiety and insomnia in some individuals. Because of GABA's sedative effects, patients should not drive or operate heavy machinery after taking it.

GABA may cause excessive drowsiness when used with a variety of medications, including acetaminophen, baclofen, diazepam, and oxycodone. Patients taking these and other types of medications should never alter their medication intake or begin using GABA without consulting a doctor first. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking GABA or any other dietary supplement or herbal remedy.


  • Cavagnini F, Invitti C, Pinto M. Effect of acute and repeated administration of gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) on growth hormone and prolactin secretion in man. Acta Endocrinol 1980;93:149-54.
  • Raja SN, Haythornthwaite JA. Combination therapy for neuropathic pain - which drugs, which combination, which patients? N Engl J Med Mar 31, 2005 Mar 31;352(13):1373-5.
  • Rhodes ME, Frye CA. Actions at GABA(A) receptors in the hippocampus may mediate some antiseizure effects of progestins. Epilepsy Behav May 2005;6(3):320-7.
  • Vyazovskiy VV, Kopp C, Bosch G, et al. The GABA(A) receptor agonist THIP alters the EEG in waking and sleep of mice. Neuropharmacology Apr 2005;48(5):617-26.
  • Waagepetersen HS, Sonnewald U, Schousboe A. The GABA paradox: multiple roles as metabolite, neurotransmitter, and neurodifferentiative agent. J Neurochem 1999;73:1335-42.
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