What is GABA & What Does GABA Do? All The Supplement's Benefits

Feb 22, 2022 Sleep Tips Stress

What is GABA & What Does GABA Do? All The Supplement's Benefits

Quick Health Scoop

  • GABA is technically known as gamma aminobutyric acid, a naturally occurring amino acid found throughout the body
  • Called a neurotransmitter, GABA works as a chemical messenger that slows down activity in the brain and central nervous system
  • GABA benefits include its ability to help support relaxation and a calm mental state to prepare you for sleep
  • Magnesium can increase GABA levels in the body

If you’ve read recent articles about the GABA-sleep connection or seen ads for GABA sleep aids, your first thought might be, “What does GABA stand for?” While the scientific name gamma aminobutyric acid might not roll off your tongue, you might know it more commonly as GABA. 

But what is GABA and what is GABA used for? Read on to learn more about GABA health benefits and the connection between GABA and sleep.

What is GABA?

While GABA is found throughout the body, the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta-cells make GABA. [1] What does GABA do in the brain? As an amino acid, GABA works in the brain as a chemical messenger that carries signals throughout the body. What is the main function of GABA? It slows down nerve system activity, inhibits certain brain signals, and plays a key role in helping support a calm & relaxed mental state. [2]

Learn More: Foods to Help You Sleep

What are the Benefits of Taking GABA?

As mentioned above, GABA produces a calming effect in the brain, and therefore may help with feelings of stress and prepare you for sleep. Does GABA make you sleep? GABA helps facilitate sleep by calming and relaxing the mind. Its ability to slow down nervous system activity impacts both the mind and the body. How? It supports relaxation and a calm mental state to prepare you for sleep. [3]

Does GABA help you relax? Yes, GABA does that, too! As noted above, the GABA-stress connection comes from slowing down or blocking neural activity, which helps support a calm mental state. [3] In other words, GABA helps to "put the brakes on" an overactive mind because it inhibits or slows down certain brain signals, producing a calming effect on the brain. Although additional research is needed, several smaller studies showed GABA’s stress-reducing abilities. [5]

What Does Too Little GABA Do?

Low levels of GABA are often associated with undesirable effects. [6] For instance, low GABA levels can lead to difficulty concentrating, headaches, and other sleep problems, memory issues, and muscle pain. [7] Depleted levels of the neurotransmitters glutamate and GABA are commonly associated with some disorders, but these levels return to normal when mental health is improved. [8] 

How Can You Maintain Healthy GABA Levels?

Besides being produced in the body, some foods contain GABA including barley, beans, broccoli, fermented foods (such as yogurt and tempeh), kale, mushrooms, oats, peas, rice, spinach, sweet potatoes, tea, tomatoes, and wheat. [3,4] 

You can also help maintain a healthy GABA level by increasing your magnesium intake, either through food or supplements. Magnesium is involved in hundreds of processes in the body, including helping relax the body to prepare you for sleep. Magnesium can actually raise GABA levels, which promotes relaxation as well as sleep. [9]  Magnesium-rich foods include dairy products (such as yogurt and milk), green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fortified breakfast cereals. [10] Another option? Taking a magnesium supplement

You can also consider taking GABA supplements, depending on what you need it for. If you’re having trouble relaxing your mind before bedtime, consider taking GABA before bed, such as Nature Made’s Back to Sleep or Sleep Longer, which both also contain melatonin to support sleep. If you’re looking for GABA calming support, try Nature Made’s Stress Relief Gummies.

The Bottom Line

As a naturally occurring amino acid, GABA works as a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. Its primary function is to lower activity in the brain and central nervous system. GABA uses include promoting relaxation and a calm mental state to prepare you for sleep. Magnesium can increase GABA in the body, so it helps to eat magnesium-rich foods such as milk, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. 

Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.

Learn More About Stress & Sleep Supplements:

  • How Does Ashwagandha Reduce Stress?
  • Is Melatonin Safe to Take Every Night?
  • Does Melatonin Affect Dreams?
  • This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Consult your healthcare provider for more information. 

    †These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

    References

    1. Stat Pearls Publishing. “Physiology, GABA.” July 26, 2021. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30020683/
    2. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Sleep.” 2022. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/sleep/
    3. Psychology Today. “3 Amazing Benefits of GABA.” January 3, 2019. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201901/3-amazing-benefits-gaba 
    4. Nutrients. “Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge.” May 2018. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986471/ 
    5. Healthline. “What Does Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) Do?” March 7, 2019. Accessed on: January 18, 2022. https://www.healthline.com/health/gamma-aminobutyric-acid#uses 
    6. Boston University. “A Healthy Stretch for Body and Mind.” June 21, 2007. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://www.bu.edu/articles/2007/a-healthy-stretch-for-body-and-mind/ 
    7. The Sleep Doctor. “Understanding GABA.” June 19, 2018. Accessed on: January 18, 2022. https://thesleepdoctor.com/2018/06/19/understanding-gaba/ 
    8. University of California. “This is your brain on exercise.” March 17, 2016. Accessed on: January 18, 2022. https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/news/your-brain-exercise 
    9. Psychology Today. “What You Need to Know About Magnesium and Your Sleep.” May 14, 2018. Accessed on: January 17, 2022. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/sleep-newzzz/201805/what-you-need-know-about-magnesium-and-your-sleep 
    10. National Institutes of Health. “Magnesium: Consumer Fact Sheet.” March 22, 2021. Accessed on: January 18, 2022. https://ods.od.nih.gov/factsheets/Magnesium-Consumer/#h3 

    Authors

    Lisa Beach

    NatureMade Contributor

    Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.

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    Melissa Dorval Pine, RD

    Science and Health Educator

    Melissa is a registered dietitian (RD) and works in our Medical and Scientific Communications department as a Science and Health Educator. She has worked for Pharmavite for over 20 years educating consumers, healthcare practitioners, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Relations department. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Science, from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veterans Affairs Medical Center in East Orange New Jersey.

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