Last update: June 11, 2024

4 minute read

What is GABA?

Explore GABA, your brain's relaxation superstar. Learn how diet and lifestyle can boost GABA naturally for better mental well-being.

Stephanie Wright

By Stephanie Wright, RN, BSN

Edited by Dr. Jacquie Leone, NMD, HN

Learn more about our editorial standards

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a chemical released by the nerves to exchange messages or signals between the brain and other parts of the body. They are also known as neurotransmitters. Today, we’re going to dive deep into its functions, its effects on the human body, and how diet and lifestyle changes can influence its levels.

Key takeaways

  • GABA is an neurotransmitter that slows your brain’s function to promote relaxation and counter anxiety
  • 40% of the neuro connections in the human brain are compatible with GABA
  • GABA imbalance can result in anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, and insomnia

    What is GABA?

    What is GABA? It's a neurotransmitter that works depending upon what system it’s working in and is seen in many different processes throughout the body.

    Essentially, GABA serves as an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning it reduces (or inhibits) brain activity. As a result, GABA can trigger actions like relaxation, reduce anxiety, and slow your respiratory rate.

    What role does GABA play in the brain?

    Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is very significant to your body. It’s produced from glutamate, the most abudnant neurotransmitters in your brain.

    Glutamate fires up the brain activity, while GABA calms it down. Many medications act on the GABA receptor from drugs treating pain and sleep disorders to anesthesia and mood stabilizers.

    GABA’s roles include:

    • Promoting relaxation
    • Reducing anxiety
    • Counteracting excessive neuronal activity
    • Playing a role in sleep

    What are the symptoms of GABA imbalance?

    GABA can lead to many disorders and symptoms. Overproduction of GABA can lead to excessive sleepiness or shallow breathing because the nervous system becomes overly relaxed. On the other hand, insufficient production results in anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, and sometimes even seizure activity.

    What foods enhance GABA production?

    The nutrients required in GABA production often come from the foods you eat. The main building blocks include:

    • Fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt
    • Peas
    • Tomatoes
    • Spinach
    • Mushrooms
    • Buckwheat
    • Potatoes and sweet potatoes
    • Chestnut
    • Rice
    • Oat, wheat, and barley
    VitaRx Tip

    Vitamin B6 also plays a critical role in producing GABA. You can find it in many foods like chickpeas, tuna, and chicken breast.

    What medications increase GABA?

    Some medications boost GABA levels by acting on GABA receptors. Drugs like Neurontin or Gabapentin are used to treat conditions like epilepsy and fibromyalgia-related pain effectively.

    Benzodiazepines and barbiturates can also act as GABAergic drugs. While medications provide a quick solution, don't forget to focus on dietary and lifestyle changes to naturally balance your GABA levels. Remember, knowledge is power, so be mindful of your diet and well-being.

    Dos and don’ts of managing GABA levels

    When it comes to managing your GABA levels, whether it's through dietary changes or medication, it's crucial to understand the dos and don’ts to ensure a balanced and healthy brain functioning.


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      Include B6 vitamins in your diet

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      Eat fermented foods like sauerkraut and yogurt

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      Include inositol sources in your diet like green leafy vegetables, nuts, and beans

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      Get professional advice if symptoms persist


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      Overcook the vegetables, as it can reduce nutrient content

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      Overuse GABAergic drugs without medical supervision

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      Ignore persistent symptoms of GABA imbalance

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      Rely soley on medications for GABA enhancement

    Advantages and disadvantages of GABA enhancement

    While enhancing GABA in your system can do wonders for relaxation and anxiety reduction, it's important to understand the advantages and disadvantages to make informed health decisions.

    Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

    Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about GABA.

    Final thoughts

    Balancing your GABA levels is key to a healthy lifestyle. Whether through your diet or supplements, even small steps offer big benefits. If you're changing your diet or using supplements, be an informed consumer and consult professionals. Your health is an investment, and every step matters.

    Sources and references

    1. Physiology, GABA - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf
    2. Glutamate: The Master Neurotransmitter and Its Implications in Chronic Stress and Mood Disorders - PMC
    3. Autonomic regulation during sleep and wakefulness: a review with implications for defining the pathophysiology of neurological disorders - PMC
    4. GABA Receptor - StatPearls - NCBI Bookshelf
    5. Dietary Neurotransmitters: A Narrative Review on Current Knowledge - PMC
    6. Vitamin B6: A new approach to lowering anxiety, and depression? - PMC
    7. Association Between Consumption of Fermented Food and Food-Derived Prebiotics With Cognitive Performance, Depressive, and Anxiety Symptoms in Psychiatrically Healthy Medical Students Under Psychological Stress: A Prospective Cohort Study - PMC
    8. Dietary Sources and Bioactivities of Melatonin - PMC


    Stephanie Wright avatar

    Stephanie brings over 13 years of diverse nursing experience to the table, having honed her expertise in critical care, mental health, and utilization management. Her journey as a registered nurse across these various healthcare sectors underscores her adaptability and deep commitment to patient care.

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     Dr. Jacquie Leone avatar

    Dr. Leone holds a BA in Psychology, a Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine, and board certification in holistic nutrition. In addition to practicing medicine, Dr. Leone has developed and currently teaches science and nutrition courses for a nationally accredited institution. She specializes in chronic illness, gastrointestinal dysregulation, inflammatory conditions, and mental health. Her unique approach combines the wisdom of Eastern medicine with the technology and science of Western medicine, offering an integrative approach heavily focused on functional medicine.

    At VitaRx, we're not just passionate about our work — we take immense pride in it. Our dedicated team of writers diligently follows strict editorial standards, ensuring that every piece of content we publish is accurate, current, and highly valuable. We don't just strive for quality; we aim for excellence.

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