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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
GABA taken by mouth has been shown to promote growth hormone (GH) levels in humans. More information is needed in this area.
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.
GABA has been studied for the treatment of Huntington's disease. Further research is needed before a firm conclusion can be made.
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.
* Key to grades
A: Strong scientific evidence for this use B: Good scientific evidence for this use C: Unclear scientific evidence for this use D: Fair scientific evidence for this use (it may not work) F: Strong scientific evidence against this use (it likley does not work)
Tradition / Theory
The below uses are based on tradition, scientific theories, or limited research. They often have not been thoroughly tested in humans, and 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 may be other proposed uses that are not listed below.
General: Doses of GABA should not exceed 750 milligrams, as higher amounts may cause anxiety and insomnia.
For autonomic dysfunction, 0.5 grams of Aminalon have been taken by mouth three times daily with other therapies for two months.
For brain injury, 1.5-2 grams Aminalon or Gammalon have been taken by mouth daily for three weeks to one and a half months.
For bronchitis, 1.5-3 grams of GABA have been taken by mouth daily for 20 days in addition to conventional treatment.
For chronic pain, 250-500 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth three times daily.
For endocrine disorders (Cushing's disease), a single 1 gram dose of Aminalon, or 2-3 grams of Aminalon have been taken by mouth daily for one month.
For epilepsy, 250-500 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth three times daily in combination with phosphatidylserine (PS). Doses of 1,500-3,000 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth daily with 300-500 milligrams of PS for 3-8 months.
For fibromyalgia, 250-500 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth three times daily.
For growth hormone stimulation, 1-5 grams of GABA have been taken by mouth, sometimes dissolved in 150 milliliters of tap water. A single dose of 3 grams of GABA has been taken by mouth followed by rest or resistance exercise sessions.
For Huntington's disease, unspecified high doses of GABA have been taken by mouth with the anti-seizure agent dipropylacetic acid (DPA).
For high blood pressure, 2.5 grams of GABA have been taken by mouth daily for 15 days then decreased to 1.5 grams daily if effective, for a total treatment duration of 15-80 days.
For meningitis, Aminalon has been taken by mouth at an unknown dose.
For motion sickness, 0.5 grams of GABA in the form of Aminolon have been taken by mouth once 40-50 minutes before activity. A dose of 0.5 grams of GABA has been taken by mouth three times daily for four days before activity.
For relaxation/stress/anxiety, 750 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth daily in up to three divided doses. A single dose of 100 milligrams of Pharma-GABAT has been taken in 200 milliliters of distilled water. A dose of 10 grams of chocolate enriched with 28 milligrams of GABA has been taken by mouth.
For sleep enhancement, 100-1,000 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth before sleep.
For tobacco dependence, 250 milligrams of GABA have been taken by mouth three times daily or 750 milligrams at bedtime.
For dementia caused by blocked or reduced blood flow, a 2 percent GABA solution has been given through an electrical current of 0.3-0.7 milliamperes in the nose for 10-30 minutes daily for a total of 10-15 procedures.
Children (under 18 years old)
General: GABA doses for children should be adjusted from adult doses according to body weight.
For ADHD, 750 milligram capsules (up to 6 capsules maximum) have been taken by mouth three times daily. A dose ranging from 250 milligrams to 2 grams of Aminalon has been taken by mouth daily for 2-2.5 months.
For autonomic dysfunction, 0.25 grams of Aminalon, 0.25 grams of phenibut, or 0.1 grams of picamilon have been taken by mouth 20 minutes after exercise warm-up for four weeks.
For cerebral palsy, Gammalon has been taken by mouth daily for two months, with the dose based on the child's age.
For meningitis, the following doses of Animalon were taken by mouth daily in 2-3 divided doses for a month with vitamins: 0.5 grams in children under three, 0.75 grams in children ages four to seven, and 1-1.5g grams in children ages eight to 16.
For movement disorders, doses up to 533 milligrams per kilogram of GABA have been injected into the vein daily for three weeks.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not strictly regulate herbs and supplements. There is no guarantee of strength, purity or safety of products, and effects may vary. You should always read product labels. If you have a medical condition, or are taking other drugs, herbs, or supplements, you should speak with a qualified healthcare provider before starting a new therapy. Consult a healthcare provider immediately if you experience side effects.
Avoid in people with known allergy or sensitivity to GABA or compounds similar to GABA.
Side Effects and Warnings
GABA is likely safe when taken by mouth in amounts found in plant foods, such as fava beans, tomatoes, sunflower, soybeans, and GABA-enriched rice.
GABA is possibly safe when taken by mouth short-term in recommended doses.
GABA may cause anxiety, breathlessness, changes in cell growth, changes in heart rate, changes in liver enzyme levels, changes in the menstrual cycle, changes in mood, constipation, decreased appetite, feelings of unease or unhappiness, flushing, hyperexcitability (caused by GABA withdrawal), increased growth hormone levels, muscle weakness, nausea, nervous system defects (in babies), numbness, restlessness, seizures, stomach problems, throat burning, tingling, tiredness, wheezing, and worsened brain function due to liver problems.
Drowsiness or sedation may occur. Use caution if driving or operating heavy machinery.
Use cautiously for long-term treatment or in high doses, due to a lack of safety information.
Use cautiously in newborn babies or in people who have cancer.
Use cautiously in people taking 5-HTP, coffee, L-arginine, magnesium, tea (including green, black, and oolong), vitamin B6, zinc, or other herbs and supplements that may affect, contain, or interact with GABA (including hops, kava, lemon balm, passion flower, skullcap, and valerian).
Use cautiously with fermented foods such as cabbage (kimchi), fermented milk, and fermented fruit juice, as GABA may be present in these products.
GABA may affect the risk of bleeding. Avoid in people who have bleeding or clotting disorders or those taking drugs that may affect the risk of bleeding.
Avoid using with agents related to or affected by dopamine, agents that block GABA transporter and anti-epileptic/anti-seizure agents (such as tiagabine), alcohol, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, beta-carbolines, chloride channel blockers (such as Picrotoxin), GABA receptor antagonists (such as bicuculline), and neuroactive steroids.
Avoid injecting GABA into the vein in people who have mood disorders (including bipolar disorder). Avoid sudden interruptions in taking GABA.
Avoid in people who have endocrine disorders, fatigue, heart disorders, liver failure, lung disorders, menstrual disorders, nervous system disorders, and stomach disorders.
Avoid in people with known allergy or sensitivity to GABA or compounds similar to GABA.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
There is a lack of scientific evidence on the use of GABA during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
GABA may affect the risk of bleeding when taken with drugs that affect the risk of bleeding. Some examples include aspirin, anticoagulants ("blood thinners") such as warfarin (Coumadin®) or heparin, anti-platelet drugs such as clopidogrel (Plavix®), and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®) or naproxen (Naprosyn®, Aleve®).
GABA may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking drugs that lower blood pressure.
GABA may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some drugs. Examples include benzodiazepines such as lorazepam (Ativan®) or diazepam (Valium®), barbiturates such as phenobarbital, narcotics such as codeine, some antidepressants, and alcohol. Caution is advised while driving or operating machinery.
GABA may also interact with agents related to or affected by dopamine; agents that block GABA transporter; agents that may affect, contain, or interact with GABA; alcohol; anticancer agents; anti-seizure agents; beta-carbolines; chloride channel blockers; GABA receptor antagonists; liver agents; neuroactive steroids; picrotoxin; and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Interactions with Herbs and Dietary Supplements
GABA may affect the risk of bleeding when taken with herbs and supplements that are believed to affect the risk of bleeding. Multiple cases of bleeding have been reported with the use of Ginkgo biloba, and fewer cases with garlic and saw palmetto. Numerous other agents may theoretically increase the risk of bleeding, although this has not been proven in most cases.
GABA may cause low blood pressure. Caution is advised in people taking herbs or supplements that lower blood pressure.
GABA may increase the amount of drowsiness caused by some herbs or supplements.
GABA may also interact with 5-HTP; anticancer herbs and supplements; anti-seizure herbs and supplements; coffee; herbs and supplements that may affect, contain, or interact with GABA; herbs and supplements used for the liver; L-arginine; magnesium; phosphatidylserine; selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs); tea; valerian; vitamin B6; and zinc.
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The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.