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Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA)

What is gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)?

GABA is a nonessential amino acid, which can be produced in your body from glutamate, so you do not need to get it from foods in order to be healthy [1].

GABA Functions in the Human Body

GABA is [1]:

  • Synthesized in the brain
  • An inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system, which has a calming effect
  • A nonproteinogenic amino acid–it is not incorporated into proteins

GABA in Foods

GABA is not naturally present in foods in significant amounts.

GABA as a Food Additive

GABA as a food additive may be found in ready-to-drink coffee or tea, fermented milk, rice germ meal, pickles, chewing gum, candies, chocolate [2]. It is produced by fermentation of the amino acid glutamic acid using the non-pathogenic bacteria Lactobacillus hilgardii [2]Producers often claim that GABA enriched foods improve memory and have a relaxing effect, but this is unlikely since orally taken GABA cannot enter the brain [4]. GABA, as a food additive is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [2].

GABA Supplements

Nonprescription synthetic oral GABA supplements are available.

GABA Health Benefits

Orally taken GABA cannot cross the blood-brain barrier in significant amounts, so it does not likely help in conditions related to brain [4].

There is INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE [3] about the effectiveness of GABA supplements in the prevention or treatment of anxiety, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), brain disorder caused by exposure to chemicals, bronchitis, cerebral palsy, Cushing disease, high blood pressure, Huntington’s disease, insomnia, meningitis, motion sickness, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), seizures, or in improving mood, relieving pain or stress, decreasing heat production in hot environment [5], promoting weight loss or stimulating growth hormone release [2] or lean muscle growth.

GABA Safety: Side Effects, Toxicity

GABA supplements in recommended doses for up to 12 months are LIKELY SAFE [2,3].

No serious side effects associated with the use of GABA are known.

Not enough is known about the safety of GABA supplements during pregnancy and breastfeeding, so women in these periods should avoid them [3].

  1. 4-aminobutyric acid  PubChem
  2. GRAS Notice for gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)  US Food and Drug Administration
  3. GABA (gamma-amino butyric acid)  WebMD
  4. Miyazawa T et al, 2012, Oral administration of γ-aminobutyric acid affects heat production in a hot environment in resting humans  PubMed

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