How Can GABA Be Used for Social Anxiety?

GABA Supplements May Help Anxiety SymptomsBut Evidence is Limited

woman taking pill
caiaimage/Getty Images

Gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) is an amino acid in the body that acts as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. GABA limits nerve transmission, which inhibits (prevents) nervous activity.

Without the right levels of GABA in your body, nerve cells are activated too often, making mental illnesses worse such as social anxiety disorder (SAD), depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Low GABA activity has been shown to cause more severe symptoms, while proper levels of GABA may help calm symptoms and make them more manageable for you in your everyday life.

GABA and Social Anxiety

Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million Americans each year. Unlike normal anxiety triggered by a major event or another stressor, social anxiety is long-lasting and often grows worse without treatment. In addition, if GABA is not working correctly in your body, your social anxiety may be made even worse.

Research on GABA

GABA has been thoroughly researched in both humans and animals. However, most research has looked at the mechanism of GABA and its role in anxiety disorders, while few studies have examined the benefits of GABA as a supplement. At the same time, a 2009 review study that examined various supplements including GABA, theanine, and tryptophan, found that these supplements appeared to boost GABA levels.

The research review concluded that both animal and human research showed support for GABA supplements in managing anxiety.

What to Know Before You Try GABA 

It has not been confirmed that GABA as a supplement can cross the blood-brain barrier. This means that it is possible that taking GABA in supplement form would have no effect on your anxiety. However, there is anecdotal evidence (stories from people) that they have noticed an effect. Still, make sure you talk to your doctor before taking a new supplement. In addition, supplements such as L-theanine do cross the blood-brain barrier and are known to affect GABA, so one of these other supplements might be a better choice.

Before taking a GABA supplement, it's important to talk to your doctor to see if this supplement is a good choice for you. Some supplements can interfere with your treatment and harm your health, particularly if you are taking other medications.

If your doctor feels GABA supplements may help you, he or she can help you determine the appropriate dosage. The correct dose for each person will depend on a number of factors such as your weight and activity level. It may take some time and trial-and-error to find what works best for you.

Side Effects of GABA Supplements

To date, there is insufficient evidence to determine the side effects of GABA supplements. You should not drive or operate machinery if you are taking GABA supplements. You may experience a tingling or jittery feeling after taking GABA tablets and they should not be used if you are pregnant or may become pregnant, are breastfeeding, or have kidney or liver diseases. GABA supplements should not be taken by children. 

In addition, it is important to remember that supplements are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and, therefore, you cannot be sure of the safety or components of any supplement that you purchase.

A Word From Verywell

If you are living with untreated anxiety, the best first step is to approach your doctor for diagnosis and treatment. However, if you have mild anxiety or are looking for a natural alternative to traditional medication, a GABA promoting supplement may be right for you. Be sure to investigate the supplement thoroughly before making your decision and inform your doctor of any supplements that you ultimately choose to try for yourself.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nuss P. Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulationNeuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015;11:165–175. doi:10.2147/NDT.S58841

  2. National Alliance on Mental Illness. Anxiety disorders. Updated December 2017.

  3. Weeks BS. Formulations of dietary supplements and herbal extracts for relaxation and anxiolytic action: RelarianMed Sci Monit. 2009;15(11):RA256–RA262.

  4. Boonstra E, De kleijn R, Colzato LS, Alkemade A, Forstmann BU, Nieuwenhuis S. Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior. Front Psychol. 2015;6:1520. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01520

Additional Reading