Stress affects all of us in our lives — for some of us, we face ongoing stress for years! Stress is a major contributor to chronic disease and inflammation. Reducing stress not only improves our mental health but also improves our physical health. One of the most effective ways to cope with stress is to use amino acids for stress, relaxation, and anxiety management.
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Gamma-Aminobutyric acid, usually called GABA, is an amino acid that acts as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the nervous system. Inhibitory is the opposite of “excitatory”- while some substances, such as glutamate, excite the nervous system, causing more signals to fire, GABA prevents neurons from firing. Some people find taking GABA leaves them calmer and less stressed.
Although GABA is a calming substance in the brain, most forms of GABA taken as a supplement do not cross the blood-brain barrier, so they do not have the same effect that your body’s own naturally produced GABA will have. However, phenyl-GABA is a form of GABA that has an attached phenyl group and can better penetrate the blood-brain barrier.
Gabatrol and GABA-Max are two products that contain phenyl-GABA, as well as some of the other amino acids in this list. Some people find those products to be more effective than other GABA supplements for maintaining a healthy, calm stress response.
L-Theanine is an amino acid that naturally occurs in green tea. While green tea has some caffeine in it, the L-theanine helps balance it out, making green tea an ideal drink for calm, focused energy. Unfortunately, the dose of theanine in one cup of tea is hard to predict. It can range from 5 to 46 mg of L-theanine per cup. Some people do not want the caffeine in a cup of tea.
Luckily, L-theanine is also available as a supplement that can be taken when someone wants to relax without the stimulation of caffeine. Studies have shown that L-theanine can reduce both physical markers and subjective perceptions of stress. It may also help cognition, as it can improve focus on a task and reduce focus on distractions. They typically do studies on 200 mg doses of L-theanine, which can be taken at once or as divided doses.
DL-Phenylalanine, often called DLPA, is sometimes used for pain. Since they closely linked chronic pain and stress for many people, breaking either part of the cycle could cause a major improvement in quality of life. There are anecdotal stories of people happily using DLPA for pain reduction, but there is not significant scientific evidence to support this use.
L-Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, one neurotransmitter that contributes to happiness and well-being. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid, meaning the body cannot synthesize it; We must get it from an external source, like food. Taking tryptophan as a supplement will give the body a concentrated amount that can be converted into serotonin, instead of being used for something else, like repairing damaged tissue in the body, or one of the many other functions of amino acids throughout the body.
Studies have shown that tryptophan increases agreeableness, reduces aggression, and generally makes people nicer! For some, tryptophan can even reduce cortisol levels when people are under stress.