Stress and anxiety suppresses immunity and so does poor sleep. One root cause of anxiety and poor sleep can be low GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) levels. When you boost low levels of GABA (the neurotransmitter) with the amino acid GABA (it has the same name as the neurotransmitter) or theanine (another amino acid), you feel calmer and you sleep better, and you indirectly support your immune function too. We also have research that directly supports the role that GABA and theanine may play when it comes to improving immune function.
This paper, Psychological Stress, Immunity, and the Effects on Indigenous Microflora, describes the field of PsychoNeuroImmunology which
has clearly demonstrated that the physiological response to psychological stressors can dramatically impact the functioning of the immune system, thus identifying one way in which susceptibility to or severity of diseases are exacerbated during stressful periods.
It’s important that we keep all this in mind as we deal with the coronavirus pandemic and during other times when we may be exposed to infections.
The authors also share that psychological stressors impact the microbiome contributing to increases in markers of inflammation even when there is no infection. As you may recall from the recent Anxiety Summit 5: Gut-Brain Axis there is a bidirectional communication between the gut and the brain, with poor gut health having a direct impact on anxiety levels.
The sleep-immunity connection
Here is some of the research supporting the sleep and immunity connection:
Sleep is considered an important modulator of the immune response. Thus, a lack of sleep can weaken immunity, increasing organism susceptibility to infection.
Sleep abnormalities affect immune function in a reciprocal manner, leading to changes in proinflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor, interleukins 1 and 6, and C-reactive protein. The multitude of systems that react to sleep loss suggest effects beyond the central nervous system and include total body functioning.
The GABA and theanine anxiety-immunity connection
Here is some of the research supporting the more direct role GABA and theanine may play when it comes to immune function (and act as a relaxant and anti-stress nutrient at the same time):
- Relaxation and immunity enhancement effects of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) administration in humans
GABA could work effectively as a natural relaxant and its effects could be seen within 1 hour of its administration to induce relaxation and diminish anxiety. Moreover, GABA administration could enhance immunity under stress conditions.
A number of recent studies have suggested that theanine administration can improve the body’s immune system….one particular study highlighted the use of theanine as an intervention to decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms via enhancing gamma and delta T-lymphocyte function.
The authors cite one study where “administration of 200 mg theanine was found to have an “anti-stress” effect on pharmacy students” and “regulate dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain through the release of the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA.”
The low GABA type of anxiety
When you have the low GABA type of anxiety you’ll feel physically tense and overwhelmed, fearful and not be sleeping well. You may lie in bed stiff and tense and may also have unwanted thoughts and experience monkey-mind. It’s common to self-medicate with alcohol to stay calm or you may also use carbs to relax. When you use the amino acid supplement GABA, you get quick and very effective relief – when it’s used sublingually.
Already using GABA/theanine or have used it in the past?
If you are already using GABA or theanine you may find you need extra during this time of added stress. You don’t want to make the mistake of thinking “This is serious, I need to double-up.” The best approach is to monitor your low GABA symptoms and consider using an extra dose during the day or possibly more at night or possibly more at each dose. Use the trial method to monitor your response.
Someone in my facebook community said she was conserving her GABA and noticed her anxiety was creeping back up. Now is not the time to cut back on GABA.
If you’ve found benefit from GABA or theanine in the past but are not currently using it you may very likely feel the need for the additional support right now.
New to low GABA anxiety symptoms and using GABA/theanine?
If you suspect low GABA symptoms and are new to using the amino acids and do not have my book I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in to taking supplements: The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings. (get it out of the library if you’re watching your expenses.)
There is a complete chapter on the amino acids and one for pyroluria, plus information on real whole food, sugar and blood sugar, gluten, digestion and much more. If you’re not a reader there is now also an audible version.
Here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution and additional information on Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary
Please also read and follow these Amino Acid Precautions.
This lists The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
In summary, anxiety and sleep deprivation are not good for your immunity, and theanine and GABA can ease anxiety, improve sleep AND enhance immunity. With the expected surge in coronavirus cases, I do hope this has helped you to connect the dots.
From our garden to you … a little “bouquet of hope” as you navigate this awful time. I’m thinking of you self-isolating and sheltering-in-place and appreciating you if you are working in a hospital or doing other essential work!
Please share your experiences with GABA and theanine and feel free to ask questions. Let us know if you were aware of the connections to immune function and if you’ve noticed your immune system is stronger when using GABA or theanine?