Have you noticed that when you have a cup of green tea, or black tea, you feel calm, yet focused and alert? This is because green tea contains L-theanine, an amino acid that has many benefits for mental and physical health. Continue reading to learn more about L-theanine and its many benefits.
What is L-theanine?
L-theanine is an amino acid that is extracted from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, commonly referred to as “tea plant.” It can be found in both green and black teas, as well as in bay bolete mushrooms, in small amounts. (14)
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What does L-theanine do?
Research indicates that L-theanine promotes relaxation without inducing sedative effects. It may help promote a relaxed mental state and slightly improve attention. (14)
Boosts levels of calming brain chemicals
L-theanine increases levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. (8)(13) Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transport signals from nerve cells to other cells in the body. These neurotransmitters play a role in regulating appetite, energy, cognitive function, concentration, mood, and sleep. (1)(9)(11)
Enhances alpha brain waves
Alpha brain waves are dominant during relaxation thoughts and in some meditative states. (7) L-theanine appears to promote the emission of alpha brain waves, which aid in overall mental coordination, calmness, alertness, mind/body integration, and learning. (5)
1. Increased relaxation
As previously mentioned, L-theanine may affect alpha waves, which are associated with mental relaxation.
A 2003 study evaluated the effect of L-theanine on the presence of alpha brain waves, a surrogate marker for mental relaxation. The study included males aged 18 to 30 years with high anxiety. The researchers found the males receiving L-theanine supplementation had a higher amount of alpha waves, which the authors associated with increased mental relaxation. (15)
Additionally, L-theanine has been reported to reduce resting heart rate, further highlighting its relaxing properties. (4)
2. Reduced stress and anxiety
L-theanine is believed to possess anxiety reducing properties. L-theanine has positive effects on both the mental and physical symptoms of stress, including reducing heart rate and blood pressure. (4)
A study using a mental arithmetic task as an acute stressor found that participants supplementing with L-theanine had a lower heart rate and reduced sympathetic nervous system activation in response to the task. Authors suggest that L-theanine could produce an anti-stress effect by lowering levels of excitatory brain chemicals, such as glutamate. (4)
3. Increased focus and attention
Research demonstrates that L-theanine can increase attention span and reaction time in people who are prone to anxiety. One study found that individuals with a high anxiety propensity taking L-theanine had a lower heart rate, higher visual attention, and improved reaction time compared to those taking a placebo. (3)
Additionally, when paired with caffeine, L-theanine may also help increase focus and attention. A 2010 study found that L-theanine taken in combination with 40 mg of caffeine improved attention in young adults during a demanding cognitive task. Participants in the study also reported feeling more alert and less tired in general. (2)
4. Improved sleep quality
Several studies have reported that L-theanine may improve sleep quality in both animal and human trials, including individuals with schizophrenia. (16)
Another study suggests that L-theanine may represent a safe and important adjunctive therapy in childhood attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Researchers examined the effects L-theanine daily on a group of eight to 12-year-old boys compared to a placebo. After six weeks, the boys taking L-theanine experienced longer and more restful sleep. However, the authors also note that longer term studies examining the wider therapeutic role of L-theanine are needed before it can be proven safe and effective in children. (10)
5. Blood pressure control
L-theanine may be beneficial for individuals with a tendency for elevated blood pressure during stressful situations.
A 2012 study found that individuals whose blood pressure increased more than average in response to performing a mental task experienced significant reductions in blood pressure following a mental task when taking L-theanine. Authors suggest that L-theanine might be useful to help attenuate elevated blood pressure in adults with a greater stress response. (17)
6. L-theanine side effects
L-theanine is generally well tolerated by healthy adults. Doses of L-theanine up to 400 mg have been safely taken for a period of eight weeks. Mild adverse side effects such as headache and sleepiness have been reported. (6)
7. Special precautions
Precautions should be taken in some special populations, including children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals prone to low blood pressure.
There is not enough reliable information about the safety of L-theanine taken during pregnancy or breastfeeding. For this reason, it is suggested to avoid use. (6)
L-theanine is likely safe for children. Doses of 200 mg have been safely used twice daily for up to six weeks in boys aged 8 to 12 years, however more research is required to make a definitive conclusion and careful consideration is needed prior to administration. (6)
L-theanine might lower blood pressure, therefore, people who are prone to low blood pressure should exert caution. (6)
The bottom line
L- theanine is an amino acid that is commonly found in green and black tea. L- theanine L-theanine increases the production of alpha brain waves and of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine, and GABA, which can help promote relaxation, focus, sleep quality, and lower blood pressure levels. L-theanine may not be safe for some special populations, such as children, pregnant or breastfeeding women, and individuals prone to low blood pressure. Always speak to your healthcare practitioner before taking any new supplements.
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- L-Theanine. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/integrative-medicine/herbs/l-theanine
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