GABA is one of the brain’s most important neurotransmitters. Low GABA contributes to high anxiety. In this article, we’re going to cover the different ways GABA benefits the brain.
Then we’ll review the best GABA supplement brands on the market. Not all GABA is created equal. Some companies manufacture theirs cheaply with the use of toxic chemicals. This article will help you steer clear of low-grade GABA so you can find the best GABA supplement for your brain.
GABA Benefits Overview
GABA can reduce inflammation and increase pain tolerance. The calming and sedative effects of GABA can help treat insomnia. For people struggling with mental health, GABA supplementation can greatly reduce symptoms of ADHD, anxiety, and depression.
And the best GABA supplement on the market is....Natural Factors! I’ve tried both natural and synthetic GABA supplements from various companies. Natural Factors was the most effective. I also found out later that it came recommended by my favorite naturopathic doctor at Pharmacopeia in Seattle, WA.
Natural Factor’s chewable GABA was fast-acting and tastes delicious (like fruity candy, hold the sugar). They also happen to be one of the most well-established supplement companies. Natural Factors uses advanced packaging techniques and testing procedures that far exceed the standards set by the FDA.
I’ve also personally had great success with GABA from Thorne, Jarrow, and Pure Encapsulations, which I also review in this article. Next up we’ll discuss how GABA behaves in the brain to reduce nerve excitability.
GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It calms brain activity then excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate get hyperactive. Without enough GABA, glutamate doesn’t know when to stop firing. This can make anxiety symptoms worse. (R)
I’ve dealt with social anxiety myself, and GABA is one of the most important supplements I take. For me (at least with certain brands) I feel calmer within 20-30 mins of taking GABA. Several anti-anxiety supplements act on GABA in the brain. Passionflower, valerian root, and california poppy are available over-the-counter.
GABA makes quick work of chilling me out and quieting my racing mind. This is the case with a lot of people, but not all. Scientists haven’t quite figured out how GABA supplementation works since it doesn't seem to be able to crosses the blood-brain barrier.
One theory about why GABA supplementation works for some is that it acts on peripheral GABA receptors in the body. Other scientists suggest that GABA supplements offer nothing more than a placebo effect. I’ve thrown a lot of supplements at my brain over the years.
Most don’t have a noticeable immediate impact. GABA did for me, and in my opinion, it’s at least worth trying.
If you take GABA and it doesn't work, try taking an l-theanine supplement. It behaves similarly in the brain but can cross the blood-brain barrier.
The theanine in green tea works synergistically with caffeine to improve cognition and promote relaxation.
Pharmaceutical research is expensive, so most early research into a substance is funded by the companies that stand to profit. This is the case with the majority of GABA research.
Out of the four most commonly cited studies, all of them have at least one author that’s connected to a company that produces GABA supplements.
This doesn’t mean that their evidence isn’t valid. It just means that there’s a potential conflict of interest that needs to be addressed.
Pharma-GABA was originally produced for the Asian market, where their supplement supply is overrun with low-grade products. Researchers created Pharma-GABA to guarantee that their product was free of the toxic chemicals used to make synthetic supplements overseas.
PharmaGABA is made by fermenting a strain of lactic acid bacteria. No evidence exists to support pharamGABA as being more effective than synthetic GABA at crossing the blood-brain barrier. T
he main benefit of buying parmaGABA is the peace of mind in knowing that it hasn’t been processed with toxic chemicals. Companies that produce synthetic GABA in FDA-monitored facilities are considered just as safe as any pharmaGABA.
1. Anxiety Relief
2. Helps Treat Depression
3. Relieves Insomnia
4. Increases Growth Hormone Production
5. Helps Manage ADHD
GABA is one of several anxiety remedies that can bring quick relief. Certain anxiety disorders have been linked to low GABA levels in the brain. People who are prone to panic attacks tend to be low in GABA according to a study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (R)
A study from Columbia University supports this claim. It also discovered that participants whose family had a history of mood disorders were more likely to have low GABA concentrations. (R)
GABA’s function is to decrease the hyperactivity in the amygdala that can cause anxiety. The amygdala is the emotional center of the brain.
GABA is thought to play a role in depression. Several studies confirm that people with depression have lower levels of GABA. (R)
GABA levels raise after patients recover from depression, according to a study conducted at Yale University. (R)
The same sedative effects that soothe anxiety can also help you sleep. GABA reduces nerve excitability so that your racing mind can calm down. A recent study indicates that people with insomnia have low GABA. Another study found that research participants fell asleep faster with GABA supplementation. (R)
GABA helps me fall asleep without making me feel groggy if I take it in the middle of the day. I also regularly take magnesium supplements and try to eat a a tablespoon or two of raw honey before bed.
Some supplement companies claim that GABA can increase athletic performance. This is a stretch. What they’re referring to is the 2008 study in which GABA was proven to increase growth hormone production. Growth hormone is critical for increasing muscle strength. Participants in the study who took GABA showed an average increase in Growth Hormone of 400%! (R)
Balancing your hormone levels is critical to your overall health. Increasing growth hormone is only one piece of the puzzle. A consistent exercise routine is the biggest weapon you have to getting your hormone levels where they need to be. Exercise ignites the production of BDNF, a protein that's influential in stress reduction as well as overall cognitive health.
Roughly 11% of the US population ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD. Nearly half of these take prescription meds to reduce symptoms and improve focus. ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity and a short attention span. These same symptoms are experienced by people who are low in GABA. A 2012 study documented that patients with ADHD had significantly lower levels of GABA.
The best GABA supplement is never a substitute for the meds prescribed by your doctor, but incorporating GABA into your supplement routine may help improve focus.
2. Third-Party Tested
3. High Quality Standards
4. Understands The Science
With most supplements, I prefer the natural and fermented variety over the synthetic kind. I’ve also had the most success with pharmaGABA compared to synthetic versions. Three of our top picks for best GABA supplement brands use pharmaGABA.
The best GABA supplement companies use third-party testing. It’s hard to confirm a quality product without it. The only alternative is saying, “Hey, this stuff is great! Trust us!” Not quite as convincing as getting the thumbs up from the outside.
Going through the motions of third-party testing isn’t enough. To make our top five list, companies needed to prove that they go above and beyond to ensure purity and produce the best possible GABA supplement.
Anyone can pay a manufacturing company to create synthetic GABA. The same is true with pharamaGABA. Companies have to demonstrate a solid grasp of the science to be part of our list of best GABA supplements.
Natural Factors Hits All The Marks
Out of the five different brands of GABA supplements I’ve tried, Natural Factors has been the most effective at reducing my anxiety. There chewable version was especially fast-acting for me.
PharmaGABA was shown in a recent clinical study to help increase production of alpha brain waves, which are known to help with relaxation and focus.
All of Natural Factor’s facilities are located in either the US or Canada, and they grow their herbs in fertile soil spread across nine different North American farms. As a company, they’re well-established (in business over 50 years) and large enough to afford the most advanced equipment.
Their research continues to push the supplement industry towards a consumer-forward future. Natural Factors has a vast network of academics and retail partners. They like to maintain tight quality control, from development to delivery.
Not all supplement capsules are created equal. With low-grade supplements, the product can become exposed to too much oxygen, increasing its chances of going rancid. This can happen during the manufacturing process, but it can also happen gradually as the product sits on the shelves in bad capsules and leaky packaging.
Natural Factors is one of the few neutraceutical companies based out of North America that has its own, on-site softgel encapsulation facility. In fact, they can also package in two-piece hard-shell encapsulation, multi-ingredient aqueous granulations, and liquid and powder extraction.
What all those fancy words mean is that the raw product spends significantly less time exposed to the air before being sealed. Many companies harvest or manufacture in one location before shipping long distances for packaging. This allows more time for the product to degenerate.
Natural Factors uses in-depth analytic testing to ensure purity and confirm the absence of genetically modified ingredients. To do so, they use what’s called mass spectrometer testing. This is way beyond what the federal government requires. It’s able to detect contaminants at the molecular level.
Of course, Natural Factors knows they can’t just toot there own horn. Third-party testing also confirms that Natural Factors makes the best GABA supplement every time. They contract with the company Isura for third-party testing. Isura uses the most advanced technology to detect GMOs and over 400 heavy metals, pesticides, and solvents.
Thorn Hits All The Marks
Thorne has the highest standards when it comes to catering to food sensitivities, avoiding GMOs (genetically modified organisms), and everything else that the ultra-health minded are concerned about. In addition to all their products being GMO-free, Thorne’s GABA has no artificial flavors, sweeteners, or preservatives.
Their products never contain common food allergens like nuts, wheat, barley, rye, or eggs. Thorne’s GABA is also free of corn, yeast, magnesium stearate, sugar, soy, yeast, and dairy.
They go above and beyond to ensure that no contaminants taint the way your body processes their supplements. As a company, they operate under FDA guidelines and follow current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs). Thorne’s products don’t use any fillers, bindings, coatings, lubricants, or additional binders as these can interfere with the absorption of nutrients.
Jarrow Hits All The Marks
Suntheanine is a proprietary form of L-theanine, an important amino acid that’s known to increase feelings of calm and relaxation. Just like GABA, it’s an analog of glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter that GABA inhibits. Unlike GABA, Suntheanine has no problem crossing the blood-brain barrier. This makes it a powerful addition to Jarrow’s Gaba Soothe.
Ashwagandha extract has been used in Ayurvedic traditions and Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years. It’s most commonly prescribed to treat hypothyroidism and to support the adrenal gland. I swear by Ashwagandha root as one of the herbs that I consistently keep in rotation. I've always been high-stress and very sensitive to caffeine.
After a couple of weeks of supplementing with ashwagandha, I was suddenly able to drink coffee without getting radically high from it. I also used to be prone to getting itchy ears and reduced hearing when I drank coffee. This has gone away completely since supplementing with ashwagandha.
I also want to impress that I’m always careful to keep everything else in my life consistent when experimenting with a new supplement. This way I minimize the chances of symptoms changing due to some unkown factor.
Jarrow uses advanced third-party testing similar to Natural Factors. All of their products are produced in FDA-approved facilities. Purity is evaluated with the highest standards, analyzing for heavy metals, solvents, and pesticides.
Hits All Marks Besides PharmaGABA
Pure Encapsulations has the same ultra-tight allergy sensitivity requirements as Thorne. The only difference is that their GABA is synthetic rather than harvested from fermenting bacteria.
Their products are confirmed to be hypoallergenic, so even the most sensitive can feel safe taking Pure Encapsulation's GABA.
Their supplements are free of artificial sweeteners, magnesium stearate, artificial colors, wheat, gluten, peanuts, egg, and hydrogenated fat. On the rare occasions that common allergens are used, the product is manufactured in a dedicated facility and is clearly labeled. To further reduce the risk of exposure, each piece of equipment is dismantled and sterilized at the beginning of each day.
Hits All The Marks Besides PharmaGABA
Amazing Nutrition doesn't make the best GABA supplement on the market, but they’re still good enough to earn a spot in the top five. The competition is tough in the land of supplements, so this is still a great accomplishment and confirms there dedication to quality.
Their products are made under the regulations of the FDA. They adhere to all the same current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) as the other GABA supplement companies featured in this article. Amazing Nutrition’s GABA is third-party tested and confirmed to be free of stearates, dioxides, sulphates, and laurates, as well as other artificial ingredients.
GABA supplementation doesn't work for everyone, and its mechanism of action is still unknown to scientists. For some, including myself, taking GABA can greatly reduce feelings of anxiety.
The fastest acting, most effective, and highest quality GABA I've taken is Natural Factors. In my opinion, they make the best GABA supplement on the market. Their chewable GABA hits me in 20 minutes and keeps me feeling relaxed for a couple of hours.