: Natural Form of GABA Receives Stronger Health Claims in Japan: New Study Shows
By Michael T. Murray, ND
Japan has a very interesting and practical regulatory system for food ingredients. If a food or food ingredient has sufficient clinical evidence of safety and effectiveness, it may be registered as a Food for Specified Health Use or FOSHU by the Japanese equivalent of the FDA. One of the stars of the FOSHU status in Japan is the natural form of the amino acid GABA, known in the United States as PharmaGABA.
I was recently in Japan to participate in a major media event and conference celebrating the expanded FOSHU status of PharmaGABA for the relief of stress and anxiety. The conference highlighted some of the recent clinical studies on PharmaGABA including one that I previously highlighted showing its ability to improve sleep quality.
In addition, a new study was presented showing a rather remarkable effect in promoting muscle growth when combined with whey protein and resistance training. The results showed PharmaGABA produced a dramatic increase compared to those subjects who simply took whey protein and participated in resistance training. These results are discussed more fully below.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a major neurotransmitter that is abundantly and widely distributed throughout the central nervous system (CNS). Low levels or decreased GABA function in the brain is associated with several psychiatric and neurological disorders, but primarily anxiety, depression, insomnia and epilepsy.
PharmaGABA is manufactured via a fermentation process that utilizes the probiotic Lactobacillus hilgardii. This natural form has been shown to produce effects not achieved by the synthetic form of GABA, which is produced from pyrrolidinone -- an industrial solvent. PharmaGABA has been shown to produce relaxation as evidenced by:
- Increasing the alpha to beta brain wave ratio.
- Preserving salivary antibody production during stress.
- Reducing markers of stress including cortisol levels.
- Improve sleep quality as noted by an ability to decrease the time required to go to sleep, promote proper sleep rhythm, and increase the time spent in both deep sleep stages and REM sleep.
Once ingested, it is absorbed easily and binds to GABA receptors outside the brain that ultimately lead to activation of the parasympathetic nervous system. This arm of the autonomic nervous system is responsible for producing what is referred to as the "relaxation response," a physiological response that is in direct contrast to the stress or "fight or flight" response. This activation of the parasympathetic nervous system by PharmaGABA is measurable within 5 to 30 minutes after ingestion.
There is evidence that PharmaGABA may increase growth hormone (GH) secretion in response to weight lifting exercise. Since GH is an important regulator of body composition including muscle protein synthesis, GABA may enhance the muscle building effects of protein ingestion after weight lifting exercise.
To test this hypothesis in a double-blind clinical trial conducted in Japan, 26 healthy male volunteers were divided into two groups: whey protein 10 g/day (WP group), or whey protein 10 g/day + GABA 100 mg/day (WP+G) group.
After 12 weeks, change in whole body lean mass was significantly higher in
WP+G group compared to that in WP group. The difference in whole body lean mass in the WP+G compared to WP alone is substantial.
The study also looked at resting GH levels throughout the study and results confirmed a positive effect with PharmaGABA on GH levels. At the 4 week checkup the GH concentation in the WP+G was 689 compared to 387 in the WP group. These results have significant ramifications for not just athletes trying to maximize performance, but also aging baby boomers seeking to preserve or perhaps even build muscle mass.
There is another explanation to the benefits to PharmaGABA in supporting exercise-induced muscle growth besides raising GH levels. Poor sleep quality is a big problem in athletes and may inhibit some of the muscle-building benefits of weight training. As PharmaGABA definitely improves sleep quality, this effect may turn out to be the major factor for the observed effect of increased muscle mass in response to weight training exercise.
For stress relief, PharmaGABA can be taken at a dosage of 100 to 200 mg up to three times daily. To promote a better night’s sleep take 100 to 200 mg at bedtime. PharmaGABA is completely safe and without any known adverse drug interaction. As a general guideline, it is recommended to take no more than 600 mg within a 6 hour period and no more than 1,200 mg within a 24 hour period.
The key to getting results with GABA is to utilize the natural form, like PharmaGABA. The synthetic form derived from a chemical solvent has not been shown to produce the same benefit.
Dr. Michael T. Murray is one of the world's leading authorities on natural medicine and the author of more than 30 bestselling books, including The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.
He is a graduate and former faculty member, and serves on the Board of Regents, of Bastyr University in Seattle, Washington. Please click here to take a quiz and find out your #1 Blood Sugar Challenge.