I conducted a straightforward test of a supplement that claims to help calm the nervous system. I had high expectations because I had read about the effectiveness of Gaba receptor inhibition but I found that Gaba Dabba no can do.
The supplement I used was Gaba Calm by Serene Science. The “calm” on the label seemed a good start. This product can be found on the web for about $20.
The site selling the supplement says, “GABA Calm combines two of the main inhibitory neurotransmitters, GABA and glycine, with N-acetyl L-tyrosine, which is a precursor to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. In addition, taurine supports the calming effects of GABA.”
Reviews were mostly positive. People claimed it worked well or that it had a mild and pleasant effect.
Would taking GABA increase my morning heart rate variability?
What I Did
I used morning heart rate variability as the measure of calmness. For 21 sessions, based on a randomly generated instruction, I either took GABA Calm or did not. Afterwards, I measured and recorded my heart rate variability (rMSSD). I then compared the effect on my heart rate variability for the two conditions to see if taking GABA changes my heart rate variability or not.
How I Did It
I generated a column of 35 random numbers that were either a “0” or “1.” These would serve as my instructions and control. When I was to determine whether I was to take GABA Calm or not I would consult the sheet. If the next unused number was “0” I did not take GABA Calm at 6:30am. If it was “1” I would take the supplement. Once I completed the session I would put the date next to the number used to show I had used that number.
At approximately 7:00am I used Heartmath EMWave Pro to measure my two-minute heart rate variabilty. During the reading, I used a paced breathing app to ensure my breath rate was similar in each reading. On the spreadsheet, I would record my rMSSD along with the date.
I conducted 21 sessions. When completed I sorted the spreadsheet results into two sets. I then compared them looking at their average and using a Student’s TTest.
What I Learned
The GABA Calm supplement had no impact on my morning heart rate variability. The averages for the two states were close and the p value for the TTest showed that the results may have well been random. A significant result is p under .05. The metrics:
|Avg With GABA||62.1|
|Avg Without GABA||60.7|
This study shows that GABA Calm does not increase heart rate variability 30 minutes after taking it. I use heart rate variability as a proxy for calm because if variability is high, the system is at rest or not stressed. The “calm” is profound enough that your breath raises and lowers your heart rate. If the body is in any state of excitement the variability goes down.
It is likely that the supplement makers at Serene Science would propose a different measure for stress. In their video stress occurs when we feel moody or worrisome. They claim their theanine product allows you to tap into your own calming chemistries. The instructions on the bottle say to take it 3 times a day, forever. That comes out to approximately $20 per month. How you measure the results is unclear other than you might feel less moody.
I am not a fan of taking a supplement forever to hypthetically feel less moody. The approach feels like “treating” for moodiness to create a revenue stream. That said, the idea of targetting a mood state with a single dose is also somewhat artificial. Either way, targeting heart rate variability with GABA Calm is likely not how it was intended to be sold, nor does it work.