L-theanine (also known as theanine) is a non-essential amino acid that can be found mainly in tea leaves and also a rare type of mushroom (Xerocomus badius). (01,02)
L-theanine helps to create focus and calm, while at the same time enhancing alpha brain activity and GABA – which is known to improve cognition abilities and potentially, sporting performance. More on this throughout the article.
The interesting thing about l-theanine is, it’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier. Which means it can be absorbed into the body and mind at an incredibly fast rate.
This makes l-theanine ideal for moments where time is of the essence, such as sitting exams, high pressured work environments, or even sports to name a few.
What Does L-Theanine Do?
One huge benefit to using l-theanine, especially for those we may be consuming large amounts of stimulants, or under high pressured situations, is the reduction of norepinephrine and epinephrine.
Norepinephrine and epinephrine are released by the adrenal glands.
The adrenal glands are two small thumb-like glands located on the top of the kidneys responsible for the rush of blood and adrenaline you feel in fight or flight sensations – often caused by stress.
While this may be important in times where decision making is crucial. Such as in sports, business, work, study, and everyday life where you may need to act ‘on the spot’… overstimulation of these fight or flight chemicals will leave you feeling worn out and fatigued.
That’s where l-theanine can help. By balancing cortisol levels, an increasing the feel-good chemicals such as dopamine.
How does this work?
Reduces Stress Levels
L-theanine also has the ability to increase serotonin release, which regulates your mood, sleep cycles, and your appetite – all of which are important for performance and everyday health. (03)
One of the ways it does this by releasing glutamate, a neurotransmitter that’s known as a ‘principal excitatory neurotransmitter’.
What is a principal excitatory neurotransmitter?
This is a compound that stimulates neuron signaling. Meaning… it allows your brain to work at a much faster rate while preventing ‘over-stimulation’.
Even though glutamate can help further stimulate the mind, providing a balanced increase in energy, it also helps to calm the mind.
This happens as the glutamate transporter inhibits the reuptake of simulating compounds – thus reducing over exciting the brain from stimulatory compounds.
The theory is: as glutamate reduces the neurotransmitters responsible for overstimulation, this also helps to keep stress levels (namely cortisol) under control.
This leads us nicely onto GABA…
Improves Levels Of GABA
GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid), is stimulated by l-theanine, where it plays an important role in improving mood and focus.
“GABA is a neurotransmitter that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain. Low levels of GABA may be linked to, anxiety, mood disorders, or even epilepsy and chronic pain”. (04)
What does this mean exactly?
This means that GABA helps to reduce brain impulses that may be linked to over exciting the mind, which may not allow for adequate amounts of the ‘feel good’ healing chemicals to run their course.
One of these chemicals is dopamine, which is known to provide a sense of well-being and happiness.
GABA has also been shown to elicit an anxiolytic effect (an intervention that inhibits anxiety).
Not only that, l-theanine also decreases levels of norepinephrine, a well-known stress hormone.
In summary: L-theanine has proven to be well versed in its capabilities in reducing stress levels, while also providing a calming effect…. but what else can l-theanine do?
Increases The Sense Of Well-Being
As previously mentioned, the usage of l-theanine has been shown to increase dopamine and serotonin levels, which are neurotransmitters which stimulate a sense of well-being in parts of the brain associated with the feelings of reward and happiness.
It’s been studied, these calming chemicals such as dopamine, help to improve our abilities in the following areas:
- Improvement in test results
- Giving speeches
- Performing complex tasks such as deep learning
- Enhanced skill based movements
- Sports performance
Alpha Brain Waves
If you know anything about alpha brain waves, you’ll know how powerful they can be at enhancing creativeness, calm, intense focus and also the ability to view multiple layered tasks often associated with deep learning.
Alpha brain waves are connected to deep levels of concentration and calmness. Which can be experienced in deep sleep, meditation, and learning new languages to name a few.
The benefit of alpha brain waves is to promote mindfulness, which in turn is connected to a host of benefits. Such as mental health, happiness, and calmness under pressure.
These benefits may be important for sports professionals under pressure, or even high pressured work situations where accurate decision making is crucial.
People who pair l-theanine with caffeine (also known as smart caffeine) report calming effects with their ability to focus and retain new information at a much faster rate.
This is thought to be a positive effect in the way l-theanine calms the mind, reducing stress, but also improving stimulation to enhance brain neurons connected to learning and retaining new information.
Ability to work on complex tasks
L-Theanine (when mixed with caffeine) has been shown to enhance the ability to focus on tasks for up to 60 minutes while switching to other tasks at 90 minutes with the reduction of distractions throughout the duration. (05)
Positive attitude ´winning mindset`
As l-theanine helps to improve the sense a well-being and calming effect, supporting the ‘reward‘ feeling we’d normally get when we do something positive such as passing a test, winning a race, or helping someone in need, l-theanine can help to replicate this feeling, putting you into a ‘winning‘ mood. (06)
Reduced anxiety and stress
Those who may be suffering from anxiety and stress, where l-theanine have been shown to reduce the effects of cortisol, which is the main hormone that’s released when under stress. Lowering cortisol will help you feel full of energy each day, waking up feeling refreshed while also assisting in lowering anxieties – whether they are social or otherwise.
According to psychologytoday.com;
“Moderately severe anxiety symptoms may respond to l-theanine taken at a dose of 200 mg twice daily however more severe anxiety may require doses up to 600 to 800 mg per day divided into 200-mg increments every 3 to 4 hours.” (07)
What does this type of dosage tell us?
This tells us that for the most part, whether it’s stress reduction or the enhancement of focus, anywhere between 200 and 800 mg per day is acceptable.
For those who may be experiencing more stress and wish to reclaim calm and focused, it may be a good idea to reduce caffeine intake (if so required) while supplementing with x 2, 200 mg of l-theanine per day. This way you’ll be able to judge if the dosage works for your current state and needs.
Like with all new supplements you may be trying for the first time, it’s always advisable to speak with your healthcare professional to determine if l-theanine is right for you.
No side effects have yet been reported with the consumption of l-theanine due to it being a natural substance found in tea and some rare mushrooms – making it safe for the most part.
Therefore, if you have ever drunk green tea before, and you didn’t feel any side effects, then chances are you´ll tolerate l-theanine quite well.
If you are concerned, then begin with a lower dosage of 100 – 200 mg per day with food to assess your tolerance. In the unlikelihood that side effects should appear, these may come in the form of headaches, nervousness, lightheadedness, or confusion.
However, as these side effects are a rare occurrence, and all minor effect such as these are easily mitigated by staying within the dosage guidelines, then it’s safe to say l-theanine could work great for your calming, and cognitive enhancement needs listed throughout the article.
If you are looking for a way to increase energy levels without the nasty crash that comes with stimulants such as coffee, l-theanine could be what you’re looking for.
It’s been shown to provide balanced energy, while also assisting in the regulation of stress levels. Sounds impossible but its true.
This is thanks to the increase of GABA, alpha brain waves, and also glutamate. All of which have a positive effect on mood, well-being, and focus.
Starting with doses of 200 – 500 mg per day at two intervals should be enough to feel great results almost immediately.
This is just one of the many benefits that come from using l-theanine, as it’s able to cross the blood-brain barrier – getting into the bloodstream at an incredibly fast rate.
If you are looking for additional focus, and longer levels of concentration, pairing l-theanine with caffeine is yet another way you can increase your mental/physical performance and productivity.
(01) Wikipedia – L-Theanine (source)
(02) Wikipedia – Imleria badia (source)
(03) Inhibition by cortisol of human natural killer (NK) cell activity. (source)
(04) Breakthrough research suggests potential treatment for autism, intellectual disability. (source)
(05) Effects of L-theanine or caffeine intake on changes in blood pressure under physical and psychological stresses. (source)
(06) Improving College Exam Performance with L-theanine and Caffeine. (source)
(07) L-Theanine for Generalized Anxiety. (source)