What Is GABA and What Is It Used For? - Thorne Asia

What Is GABA and What Is It Used For?

PharmaGABA is the trademarked brand of a natural-source form of gamma-aminobutyric acid – GABA – a calming neurotransmitter in the body. What makes GABA unique is that it is made by a beneficial probiotic – Lactobacillus hilgardii, which is the same probiotic used to ferment cabbage, radishes, and other vegetables for the Korean side dish, kimchi.

The resulting material is GABA, along with other nutrients of fermentation, including nucleic and amino acids.

Natural-sourced versus synthetic GABA

Evidence points to benefits of the natural form of GABA over synthetic GABA. In an unpublished, double-blind comparison trial, natural-source PharmaGABA, but not synthetic GABA, was shown to produce relaxation.*

Measures of relaxation included brain wave patterns, diameter of the pupil, and heart rate, as well as reduction of the stress markers salivary cortisol and chromogranin A (a marker of adrenal stress).1

PharmaGABA supports calming alpha-brain waves*

A small pilot study conducted at the University of Shizuoka in Japan enrolled 13 healthy volunteers, seven males and six females, ages 21-35.

Brain wave tracings (EEGs) were recorded before and after each of three interventions: (1) 200 milliliters of distilled water; (2) distilled water containing 100 mg PharmaGABA; and (3) distilled water containing 200 mg L-theanine (an amino acid from green tea known to increase alpha-brain waves).2

Tests of these three substances were separated by 7-day intervals. EEG recordings were made before taking the tested substance, then at 0, 30, and 60 minutes after each administration for 5-minute recording sessions.

PharmaGABA produced significant effects on both increasing alpha waves and decreasing beta waves, resulting in a highly significant increase in the alpha-to-beta wave ratio.*

Increasing alpha waves, while decreasing stress-associated beta waves, can result in a relaxed but focused state of mind.*

Anti-stress effects of PharmaGABA supported by salivary tests*

Additional clinical studies of PharmaGABA yield further evidence of its anti-stress activity.2* Secretory IgA (sIgA) is an important antibody in saliva that supports immune function. Typically during times of stress, salivary sIgA levels will drop.

In one study, subjects with acrophobia (fear of heights) traversed a long, walking suspension bridge spanning a 150-foot high canyon.

Salivary sIgA levels decreased when participants were given a placebo; however, when they were given PharmaGABA, their salivary sIgA levels were maintained half-way across the bridge and actually increased on completion of the crossing, indicating that PharmaGABA helps prevent stress-induced decrease in immune function.*

A second study, which used the same suspension bridge but different subjects (n=13), produced additional support for GABA’s ability to reduce markers of stress.*

Participants who were given 200 mg of natural-source GABA (PharmaGABA) experienced a 20% decrease in salivary levels of the adrenal stress marker chromogranin A at the halfway point across the bridge compared to starting values; whereas, the placebo group had a 20% increase in chromogranin A.1

PharmaGABA can promote restful sleep*

Natural-source GABA has been shown to promote restful sleep.* In a 2016 randomized, placebo-controlled trial, a small group of poor sleepers were given either 100 mg of PharmaGABA or a placebo for one week 30 minutes before bedtime.3

After a one-week washout period, the substance protocol was reversed – those who previously took placebo received PharmaGABA and vice versa. As measured by EEG, there was a significant decrease in the time it took to fall asleep in the group taking PharmaGABA compared to when they took the placebo.*

PharmaGABA plus whey protein supports lean muscle mass*

In a recent study on the effect of nutrient supplementation on muscle mass, 21 males (average age, 39.5 years) who did not exercise regularly were given a daily dose of 10 grams of whey protein or 10 grams of whey protein plus 100 mg of PharmaGABA for 12 weeks.

Either supplement was taken within 15 minutes of completing exercise training or before bedtime on non-exercise days. Both groups participated in twice-weekly, 60-minute strength training sessions consisting of leg presses, leg extensions, leg curls, chest presses, and pull-downs.

The total body lean muscle mass increased significantly in the whey protein plus PharmaGABA group compared to the whey-only group.*4


  1. Unpublished data provided by Pharma Foods International LTD., Kyoto, Japan.
  2. Abdou A, Higashiguchi S, Horie K, et al. Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of γ-amino­butyric acid (GABA) administration in humans. BioFactors 2006;26:201-208.
  3. Yamatsu A, Yamashita Y, Pandharipande T, et al. Effect of oral γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) adminis­tration on sleep and its absorption in humans. Food Sci Biotechnol 2016;25:547-551.
  4. Sakashita M, Nakamura U, Maru I, et al. Combined oral intake of GABA with whey protein improves lean mass in resistance-trained men. Med Sci Sports Exerc 2016;48(5 Suppl 1):54.
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