If lockdown stress has spiked your anxiety levels and turned your normal sleep routine inside out, then it might be time to take a chill pill… or powder in some cases.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA, is an amino acid. In more technical terms, it is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that works to reduce excitability throughout the nervous system.
Calm your mind
It’s produced naturally in brain cells from glutamic acid and vitamin B6, and binds to nerve receptor cells to stop them from ‘firing’. It is one of the neurotransmitters that caffeine blocks from binding to receptor cells. That’s what gives your morning cup of java its jolt.
Without sufficient GABA, these nerve cells fire too often and too easily, which can lead to anxiety and panic attacks, and other conditions like headaches, Parkinson’s syndrome, and cognitive impairment.
GABA also helps to balance the effects of other stimulatory chemicals such as adrenalin and noradrenalin which, if left unchecked, would otherwise lead to feelings of restlessness, irritability, and insomnia. Accordingly, low levels of GABA are also linked to irregular sleep patterns.
Natural mood enhancer
For these reasons, GABA, in the form of a dietary supplement, is often considered a ‘natural’ means to combat anxiety and depression.
Some research also links it with immune system support – a double benefit for our current circumstances.
A study published in the Journal Biofactors in 2006 looked at the relaxation and immune-enhancing effects of orally-administrated GABA in humans.
The researchers found that “GABA significantly increases alpha waves and decreases beta waves … These findings denote that GABA not only induces relaxation but also reduces anxiety.”
The other aspect of the study looked at GABA’s role as a relaxant and its anxiety-reducing effects in stressed volunteers and how this specifically impacts immunity.
Researchers concluded that GABA effectively induced “relaxation and diminish anxiety. Moreover, GABA administration could enhance immunity under stress conditions.”
Beyond the brain
GABA also supports hormone production, including those that help to build lean muscle. And more lean muscle means a higher metabolic rate, which increases your daily energy expenditure, even at rest, and can help you lose weight and burn fat.
Various studies support claims that oral GABA supplementation can naturally increase human growth hormone (hGH) production. Initial studies conducted almost 30 years ago delivered astounding results, showing up a 500% increase in hGH production with GABA supplementation.
However, a later study found that the GABA supplement had no effect in this regard without adequate exercise as a stimulus.
A study published in the Medical Science in Sports and Exercise journal found that GABA raised immuno-reactive growth hormone (irGH) and immuno-functional GH (ifGH) by 400% at rest and 200% and 175% respectively when combined with resistance exercise, when compared to placebo groups.
Accordingly, there seems to be enough scientific evidence to suggest that GABA is an ideal supplement to add your Covid-19 supplement plan – it can help you build muscle, lose fat, and improve your mood by lowering stress and anxiety, with additional immune-boosting benefits.
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.