GABA, short for gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is a chemical that functions as a neurotransmitter in your brain.
It plays a key role in regulating your mood, and as a result, taking it as a supplement appears to be able to create a calming effect on your state of mind.
It can be used to decrease fatigue and stress levels, increase relaxation, and treat chronic pain, ADHD, and insomnia.
If you want to incorporate this powerful neurotransmitter into your supplemental routine, you want something that’s high quality and effective.
That’s why our researchers have ranked the ten best GABA supplements according to their efficacy.
1. NOW GABA
NOW makes a pretty straightforward and simple GABA supplement that delivers 500 mg of GABA alongside 2 mg of vitamin B6 for better brain function and energy levels.
The supplement design is pretty clean, and you get 200 vegetarian capsules per bottle, making it a great choice for regular GABA supplementation.
2. Pure Encapsulations GABA
With 700 mg per capsule, Pure Encapsulations has a higher-dose GABA supplement that’s pretty clean and straightforward.
It uses vegetable cellulose for its capsule, and the only additional ingredient, other than GABA, is a vitamin C derivative to keep this supplement shelf-stable.
Thanks to its minimalist design and high dosage, it’s an excellent product if you want to do a short-term, high-dose GABA supplementation routine.
3. Olly Goodbye Stress Gummies
Olly Goodbye Stress Gummies come in a convenient pocket-sized container for stress relief on the go. Each gummie has 50 mg of GABA, 25 mg of L-theanine, and 37 mg of lemon balm extract.
These three ingredients work synergistically to calm your nervous system and reduce your stress levels. They are also flavored and colored only with natural derivatives from fruits and vegetables, which is nice to see.
Each gummy has only one gram of sugar, making it easy to recommend even to people trying to keep their sugar intake low.
4. Amazing Formulas GABA
Amazing Formulas has a high-dose GABA supplement with 750 mg of GABA per capsule and not much in the way of additional ingredients, binders, or additives.
It’s a solid choice, though most clinical trials use doses that are lower, so unless you specifically want a high dose, this might be overkill.
5. Thorne Research PharmaGABA
Thorne Research makes a GABA supplement that it claims is sourced from natural plant materials instead of synthetic processes, but the evidence that this form of GABA is superior is somewhat lacking.
On the other hand, the supplement design is pretty clean, and this 250 mg GABA capsule is one of the few options if you want a lower dosage more in line with what’s used in clinical trials, so on that front, it’s a great choice.
6. Source Naturals Serene Science GABA Calm Mind
Source Naturals makes a high-dose GABA formulation that delivers 750 mg per capsule, along with a few binders to hold the gelatin capsule together.
It’s a good choice if you are looking for a larger dose of GABA, and don’t mind the animal product derived gelatin versus the vegetarian capsules found in some other products.
7. Solgar GABA
Solgar makes a pretty standard GABA supplement with 500 mg per capsule. Compared to some of its competition, however, it has more in the way of binders and additives, so purists might not like the excessive ingredients.
8. Natural Stacks GABA Brain Food
Natural Stacks has a combined supplement that includes GABA alongside a few other supplements for optimal brain functions.
These additional ingredients are L-citrulline, grape seed extract, and rosemary leaf extract. There’s less research to support these ingredients than GABA, so you’ll have to trust the nutritionists at Natural Stacks when it comes to the efficacy of this GABA supplement.
9. NutriSuppz Anxiety Formula
NutriSuppz makes a supplement blend designed to reduce anxiety, and while it incorporates GABA, it’s mixed into a proprietary blend, so direct comparisons of its GABA content aren’t possible.
This supplement has high doses of B-complex vitamins and zinc, plus a slew of herbal supplements designed to decrease your stress levels. While many people report success, it’s hard to disentangle the benefits of the GABA content from the rest of the ingredients.
It might be a good solution specifically for anxiety, but getting the additional benefits of GABA might be difficult with this supplement.
10. Tranquilene Total Calm
Tranquilene Total Calm uses GABA in conjunction with a wide range of vitamins and herbal ingredients. The vitamin content is solid, with a range of B complex ingredients, but the herbal content is all over the board.
On top of that, the GABA is part of this proprietary blend of herbs, so evaluating how much GABA is actually in this supplement isn’t possible.
Who should buy GABA?
GABA is a supplement that’s in the same family of compounds as 5-HTP, choline, acetylcholine, and other potentially neurologically active compounds. GABA’s benefits are experienced primarily by your brain: it’s often used to alleviate anxiety and nervousness, and it’s also a popular ingredient in sleep aids.
GABA has been found in scientific research to promote feelings of relaxation and to diminish negative emotions, so while it’s not quite the same as brain-overclocking nootropics such as caffeine, it’s definitely a useful tool to have at your disposal from a supplementation perspective if you care about your mental state.
GABA is less well-researched than other neurologically active supplements, in part due to controversy over whether it can cross the blood brain barrier. For a long time researchers believed that GABA in your stomach couldn’t make its way into your brain; however, new research has called this finding into question.
Moreover, GABA may have indirect effects on the functioning of your brain chemistry. It’s an exciting time to be learning about GABA since much of the research on its benefits is quite new. While it’s not as well-established as some of the other mainstay cognitive supplements, GABA is a potentially useful way to relax, sleep better, and improve your cognitive functioning.
How we ranked
Our rankings of GABA supplements followed our standard protocols of analyzing supplements based on dosage, efficacy, purity, and quality. First off, we only considered supplements that provided GABA as its primary ingredients.
While we still considered supplements that used additional ingredients (such as vitamin B12) in an attempt to increase the efficacy of GABA, the primary focus was the functional abilities of the GABA content of the supplements under consideration.
While there is less clinical research on GABA than for some other more popular supplements, we still had a number of studies to refer to in order to determine the dosage level that seems to be most effective for getting the benefits of GABA supplementation.
We looked specifically for supplements that provided doses that were more or less in line with what is used in the clinical research, so people who were interested in mimicking the protocol used for a particular application (for example, taking GABA for relaxation) could copy the protocols used in research as closely as possible.
Because of this consideration, supplements that provided pure GABA, like NOW GABA, scored higher than combination supplements such as NutriSuppz Anxiety Formula.
We also looked at the overall purity of the supplement and its ingredient design. High-scoring supplements had few or no ingredients that only served as binders or fillers, whereas GABA supplement products that had a lot of extraneous ingredients scored lower or were dropped from consideration completely.
GABA functions as a neurotransmitter in your brain, helping to regulate your mood and state of mind.
When taken in supplement form, there is evidence it can exert a calming, stress-relieving effect, and could be used to treat conditions like ADHD, pain, and insomnia, thanks to its calm and relaxation-inducing effects.
We’ll take a look at some of the evidence behind the benefits of GABA when it is taken in supplemental form.
GABA can relieve fatigue and improve problem-solving ability. One of the problems with being in a stressed and anxious state is that it induces anxiety and impedes your cognitive performance.
Fortunately, research conducted in Japan suggests that supplemental GABA might be able to correct this (1). In a study published in 2011 in the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology, a team of researchers split up 30 volunteers into three groups.
The first group received a placebo drink, while the second and third groups received a drink with either 25 or 50 mg of GABA. The subjects then had to solve an arithmetic task.
The results showed that the group that took the higher dose GABA drink scored better on the arithmetic task than the control group, and this same group also rated their mental and physical fatigue lower compared to the control group.
This suggests that GABA mediates how your brain perceives your fatigue and energy levels. Additionally, because of its performance-boosting effects on the arithmetic, GABA could also be considered as a nootropic supplement.
A GABA supplement can induce relaxation. A study published in the journal BioFactors by another group of Japanese researchers investigated whether they could detect objective changes in brain function due to a GABA supplement (2).
They conducted two different experiments to investigate how GABA mediates fear and relaxation. In the first experiment, the researchers took 13 people and measured their brain waves after administering three different solutions: pure water, a GABA solution, and an L-theanine solution.
After analyzing this first experiment, the researchers found that the GABA supplement increased a type of brain wave called alpha waves and decreased a type of brain wave called beta waves, compared to the placebo and the L-theanine condition.
These changes are consistent with mental states characterized by reduced stress and increased feelings of relaxation.
GABA can reduce fear and anxiety. In their second experiment, the researchers used a clever design to test whether GABA can actively reduce fear and anxiety.
They took eight subjects who were afraid of heights and gave half of them a placebo, and half of them a GABA supplement. Following administration of the supplement, the subjects had to cross a tall, suspended bridge.
During this bridge crossing the researchers took a sample of saliva from all the subjects and tested them for immunoglobulin A, a reliable biomarker for stress.
According to previous work published by researchers at Osaka University School of Medicine, immunoglobulin A levels in the saliva are a reliable and objective indicator of stress levels (3).
After the bridge crossing, the subjects who received the GABA supplement had significantly lower levels of this stress biomarker, which suggests that GABA could be a very useful reliever of stress and anxiety.
The authors also point out that immunoglobulin A is a biomarker for immune function as well, which means that GABA could boost the performance of the immune system under stressful conditions.
People with ADHD might benefit from GABA. GABA’s calming effects might also extend to the treatment of attention deficit disorders.
A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry examined a group of children with ADHD to test their GABA levels compared to healthy children without ADHD (4). The researchers found that GABA levels were lower in the group with ADHD.
While no direct research has tested whether supplemental GABA is clinically useful, other researchers such as Benjamin Schanker at Harvard Medical School have called for more investigation into whether cognitive stimulants like GABA could be a useful adjunctive or replacement therapy for ADHD given its apparent lack of side effects and its efficacy (5).
GABA can reduce your stress levels. Additional research out of Japan used GABA-infused chocolate to test whether this supplemental preparation would reduce stress levels.
The experiment, described in an article in the International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition, involved a group of subjects who took either a placebo or a GABA-infused chocolate supplement (6). The subjects then had to complete a difficult and stressful mathematical test, and while they were doing so, the researchers measured their heart rate variability.
The researchers found that the GABA supplement resulted in a quicker return to normal heart rate variability after completion of the math task, which they interpreted as evidence for GABA reducing stress levels during the difficult and challenging task.
GABA in combination with a diet might be useful for treating diabetes. GABA’s function in the brain isn’t just limited to mood. As anyone who researches diet will know, your brain has a lot to do with your diet.
When you are hungry, and what you are hungry for, is dictated to an enormous extent by levels of neurotransmitters in your brain. New research suggests that GABA supplementation could be a way to modify your brain chemistry to make it easier to change your diet and get better health outcomes.
New research published using a mouse model shows that a restricted calorie diet in combination with GABA supplementation can alleviate type two diabetes, potentially by modifying neurotransmitter chemistry (7).
While this research is a long ways off from being proven in humans who are on a diet to treat type two diabetes, it’s nevertheless an interesting new avenue of research that paves the way for more work on how neurotransmitters like GABA are related to health behaviors like diet.
GABA could interact with your gut microbiome to alter your brain chemistry. For a long time, people thought that GABA taken orally can’t affect your brain chemistry, because it can’t cross the blood brain barrier.
While it may be true that GABA cannot make its way inside your brain from the bloodstream (research on this question is still a bit controversial) that does not mean that GABA cannot alter your brain chemistry.
New research is uncovering an unexpected link between neurotransmitters and your gut microbiome. According to new research published by a team in Italy, GABA and related compounds are produced by probiotic bacteria in your gut, and may serve as an interspecies communication link (8).
This seems like a wild and outlandish idea, but research on probiotics, gut microbiomes, and mental illnesses such as depression bears out the idea that your gut biome affects your brain chemistry and therefore your mental well being (9).
How is GABA supplementation linked to these pathways? Modulation of the production of neurotransmitter chemicals in the gut microbiome might be one possible explanation, and provides at least a plausible pathway for GABA to indirectly affect brain chemistry without actually passing through the blood brain barrier directly.
As with many other frontiers in research on GABA supplementation, there is still much more we do not know about GABA and the gut biome / brain chemistry connection compared to what we do know about it, but research so far is exciting.
So far, no studies on GABA have reported any side effects. In the future, larger clinical trials might uncover side effects that didn’t show up in the smaller pilot studies on the benefits of GABA.
However, people who have medical conditions characterized by excess GABA levels probably should not take a GABA supplement. The prime example of this is schizophrenia—research published in 2010 suggests that people who have schizophrenia, even when it’s been stabilized by medication, have higher levels of GABA than healthy people (10).
People with a history of schizophrenia or related mental health issues, or a family history of schizophrenia, should probably not take a GABA supplement.
Some research on higher doses of GABA in healthy volunteers has turned up some minor side effects. According to a 2015 paper, these side effects include mild dizziness or sore throat, but these tend to be short-lived. This same study noted no serious side effects throughout the duration of the study period (11).
The initial pilot studies using GABA for relaxation, treating anxiety, and reducing stress levels all use fairly low dosages.
It appears that you can get a substantial benefit at doses as low as 50 mg, so the usual 500 mg dose of GABA available in many supplements are more than adequate, and might even be overkill.
Based on the kinetics of GABA absorption, research suggests that you should expect GABA to take about an hour to reach maximal effects as it is absorbed into your bloodstream and makes its way to your brain.
Q: Is a GABA supplement the same thing as gabapentin?
A: No, GABA and gabapentin are very different things. GABA stands for gamma-Aminobutyric acid, and is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that’s used for a diverse range of functions in your brain. GABA is also the molecule that’s supplied in a GABA supplement.
In contrast, gabapentin is an anti-seizure medication and is sometimes used for restless leg syndrome and diabetic neuropathy.
GABA has a similar molecular structure to gabapentin, which accounts for why they have similar names, but their mechanism of action in the body is very different. Not only that, but GABA is available over the counter as a supplement. In contrast, gabapentin is a prescription only medication.
Q: When should you take GABA?
A: Because GABA is eliminated from the body relatively quickly, your daily dose of GABA is best taken by splitting into two doses: one taken in the morning and one taken in the evening. By doing this, you’ll help ensure that GABA levels in your body stay elevated throughout the day.
Unfortunately, there’s a dearth of long-term studies on different dosing regimens for GABA, so it’s not clear how much of a benefit comes from twice-daily dosing, but based on the pharmacology data, it’s still a good idea.
Q: Does GABA cross the blood brain barrier?
A: The blood brain barrier is one of the biggest challenges facing any supplement that’s intended to help with brain function, whether it’s a broad-spectrum nootropic or a targeted neurotransmitter like 5-HTP or GABA.
Most supplements can be absorbed relatively easily from your stomach into your blood, but getting compounds from your blood to your brain is trickier. The blood brain barrier exists to protect your brain from toxins and infections in your blood, but can make it difficult for something like GABA to get through as well.
Surprisingly, there’s no direct answer to whether GABA can indeed cross the blood brain barrier. According to an article published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, different studies have reached very different conclusions and the issue is more complex than was previously thought (12).
Even if GABA does not cross the blood brain barrier, it may have some indirect effects which are responsible for the observed benefits that have been demonstrated in research conducted to date.
Q: Can GABA help you sleep?
A: GABA is known to play a pivotal role in the sleep/wake cycle of the body. In the brain, GABA related receptors play a role in when your body falls asleep and when you wake up. Certain anesthetics even modulate GABA activity to put you to sleep.
Some sleep aid supplements either contain GABA directly or contain herbal compounds that modulate GABA levels, like valerian root.
Though GABA plays an important role in sleep, there isn’t much in the way of direct clinical research on the effects of GABA supplementation on sleep duration or sleep quality, like there is with a supplement like melatonin.
Q: Does GABA supplementation cause withdrawal?
A: No evidence suggests that GABA supplements are associated with symptoms of withdrawal, like you might get if you took high doses of caffeine for a long time and then stopped.
However, GABA levels are implicated in withdrawal symptoms from other compounds; specifically alcohol and benzodiazepines.
These drugs are agonists for GABA receptors in your brain, and when you stop taking them, your body is not prepared for the change in GABA.
Despite the connection between GABA and withdrawal, there’s no good research on whether a GABA supplement is a good idea for treating drug withdrawal, especially for dangerous drugs to withdraw from like alcohol or benzodiazepines.
Q: Can taking GABA help anxiety?
A: GABA in the brain play a substantial role in mood regulation, and moreover, some research suggests that taking GABA can help produce feelings of relaxation and decrease feelings of nervousness.
For these reasons, a GABA supplement may be helpful for anxiety. However, the connection appears to be more complex than taking a GABA supplement and getting an increase of GABA levels in the brain.
GABA supplements taken orally seem to have indirect influences on neurotransmitters as well, leading to changes in the brain’s chemistry that are still being researched today.
Q: How long does a GABA supplement stay in your system?
A: After you take a dose of a GABA supplement, it is absorbed very quickly. Levels of GABA in the blood peak within 30 to 60 minutes.
Thereafter, GABA stays in your system for several hours. According to research published in 2015 in the journal Frontiers in Pharmacology, the elimination half-life of GABA is about five hours (13).
This means that, after five hours, the effective dose in your body has dropped by half. After ten hours, you are down to one-quarter of the initial effective dose. This means that GABA will be more or less completely eliminated from your body within a day or so.
This is why it’s important to take GABA consistently if you are on a supplementation routine. While some other compounds will last for several days in your body, and thus missing a dose here or there will not have a big impact, GABA gets broken down relatively quickly.
Q: Is GABA good for athletes?
A: GABA is not a commonly used supplement among top level athletes, but it does find some niche applications among people looking to relax or improve their sleep quality.
According to an article published in the journal Sports Medicine, elite athletes may sometimes use GABA-modulating supplements (either GABA itself or something like valerian root, which is thought to alter GABA levels in the body) as a way to get better sleep (14).
Since high level competition is very stressful, sometimes the best “workout” you can get is a relaxed state of mind before you go to bed. GABA may be able to help with that, though there are no direct studies on GABA’s benefits in athletes.
GABA is a promising supplement for improving your mental function and stabilizing your mood. It can improve cognitive performance, decrease mental and physical fatigue, and decrease your anxiety levels in stressful situations.
On top of this, there is objective evidence that even a moderate dose of GABA exerts measurable changes in brain wave patterns that are consistent with increased relaxation.
An effective dose can be achieved with as little as 50 mg, and maximum effects occur about an hour after taking GABA.
With the right dose and the right timing, you can decrease anxiety, increase relaxation, and improve your cognitive performance with a GABA supplement.
For BodyNutrition‘s #1 GABA recommendation, click here.