Although it may sound like a new health supplement produced in a laboratory, l-theanine is just a fancy word for something we all know and love. In fact, we likely all have had it at some point throughout our life, if not on a daily basis.
L-theanine is an essential amino-acid found in green and black teas, as well as in a few rare mushrooms. It is not only responsible for the characteristic taste of tea, but it is also plays a key role in some of the pleasing effects tea drinkers experience within their mind and body.
Currently, L-theanine is being researched worldwide for a number of potential benefits, but it already has a large body of evidence available through studies in Asia. Afterall, green tea is a core part of both Chinese and Japanese culture, and has been a part of their tradition for thousands of years. It shouldn’t be a surprise to find out they were interested in learning more about its positive effects.
How does L-Theanine Work?
Prior to exploring the potential medical applications of L-theanine, a quick word on a few recently discovered drawbacks is necessary. For instance, although it has been found to increase serotonin production in some people, l-theanine has also in rare cases been found to reduce serotonin levels. Also, because l-theanine is typically consumed in association with caffeine in either green or black teas, people can also have a variety of reactions to this combination.
For those who are sensitive to caffeine levels, it may negate any benefits of the l-theanine levels. So far the research into both the positive and negative sides of this substance are preliminary, and ongoing. Although many studies have found only positive therapeutic benefits, it’s always important to understand any potential side-effects, however small the risk may be.
Before anyone had thought of condensing l-theanine into a supplement, or making herbal formulations with it, Japanese and Chinese cultures were already experiencing the positive effects on the mind and body that it has when consumed as a tea in its natural form. L-theanine acts as a natural caffeine regulator, counteracting the negative effects caffeine can have without decreasing the associated levels of alertness and energy. Add some MCT oil or ghee, some cinnamon or vanilla powder, and you get one powerful drink that will not only taste delicious but also keep your mind sharp and your energy levels high. Best part is that l-theanine powder doesn’t have any flavor so you can just mix it directly into your coffee.
L-theanine regulates the release of caffeine by increasing serotonin levels and Gamma-Amino-Butyric Acid (GABA) production. GABA is responsible for slowing down or limiting neuron activity, which on the surface sounds counteractive to what tea drinkers are looking for. However, because it slows down neural processes and induces a state of relaxation, it also allows for better focus and attention to detail. It regulates the hyperactivity of the brain which often comes after drinking caffeine.
In combination with caffeine, it has also been shown to increase reaction time and memory. In 2008, a study in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, demonstrated that consumption of 97 milligrams of L-theanine with a smaller dosage of caffeine, 40 milligrams, had positive benefits for participants put through a challenging mental exercise. It allowed them to have faster and more accurate reactions, partially by reducing anxiety and jitters.
A Better Night’s Rest
Probably counterintuitive to what you might associate with drinking tea, l-theanine when consumed as a supplement has actually been shown to help people sleep better. While it doesn’t help people fall asleep more quickly, or lengthen the time they sleep, it does make sleep deeper and increases the overall quality. It can assist in exhaustion recovery in some people and through overall sleep improvements people report waking up feeling more refreshed than before.
L-theanine allows people to feel awake but relaxed as it visibly smoothes out brainwaves captured through an electroencephalography machine. This feeling of waking relaxation can be reached through meditation, when you are awake but eyes are closed and the mind is focused. It can also be reached through consumption of l-theanine.
Although not fully understood, there seems to be a variety of methods through which l-theanine can positively affect mood. As mentioned above, it can help induce a state of waking relaxation which is done by stimulating the brain’s alpha waves. This state, especially when routinely reached, has a prolonged and gentle effect on mood swings.
At a molecular level, stress and anxiety are caused by an increase of hormones called glucocorticoids. These hormones disrupt regular brain chemistry, and ultimately have a very negative relationship with happy hormones such as dopamine and serotonin. An excess of glucocorticoids can also reduce the effectiveness of drugs prescribed to treat depression. L-theanine is one of the few supplements which has been shown to counteract the effect of glucocorticoids on the body. The science behind this effect is not fully understood yet, but the potential of l-theanine to help reduce the negative effects of anxiety and also its potential to increase the effectiveness of prescription mood stabilizers is intriguing.
L-theanine holds promise as a protective shield to nerve and cell damage in a number of areas. This includes protecting the brain from the effects of overstimulation and also damage due to lack of oxygen. Not only does it seem to offer protection, but it stimulates production of a specific protein that is required in cell production so could also repair damaged cells. Some studies seem to suggest that l-theanine could have therapeutic applications for degenerative neurological diseases as Parkinson’s. In small animal trials, l-theanine actually protected the areas of the brain associated with dopamine production from harmful chemicals which are typical in the brains of Parkinson’s patients.
In one of the largest studies around this topic, the risk of stroke was reduced by 40% for those with healthy l-theanine levels. This was a study of 14,000 tea-drinkers in China. High levels of l-theanine within the body seemed to reduce the damage down within the brain at the time of stroke.