L-theanine is a tea compound that promotes alertness without the jitters.
By Lisa James
One reason the reputation of green tea grew to near-mythic proportions in ancient Asia was its ability to help monks remain alert yet serene during long hours spent in meditation. Of course, the importance of tea’s caffeine content in promoting wakefulness is well-known. But in dissecting the brew’s ability to both soothe and stimulate, scientists have discovered that an amino acid called L-theanine also plays a crucial role. In fact, one tea blogger has called L-theanine a “4,000 year old mind-hack” because of the way it works with caffeine to sharpen focus and improve mental agility while encouraging relaxation.
Modern existence—more hectic than in the times of the ancient monks—requires long-lasting energy without the jitteriness and other unpleasant symptoms that excessive caffeine consumption can cause. Fortunately, researchers have learned how to combine L-theanine with other compounds to help fuel our busy lives.
Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system; scientists believe that it inhibits the effect of adenosine, a neurochemical that encourages sleepiness. On the other hand, L-theanine doesn’t act as a nervous system stimulant. Instead, it promotes the development of alpha waves, brain impulses that produce a sense of deep relaxation with heightened focus.
L-theanine has helped protect against declines in cognitive function and, when combined with caffeine, boosted the ability to multitask (Pharmacology Research 8/11, Nutritional Neuroscience 12/10). Together with green tea catechins, L-theanine has shown an ability to increase disease resistance (BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2/11). Animal studies have shown that L-theanine can also offset the effects of stress (Free Radical Research 8/11).
As most people who have downed a lot of coffee can attest, having too much caffeine in your system can leave you feeling edgy and jumpy instead of energetic and alert. The best way to access caffeine’s energy boost is to use naturally sourced caffeine, such as that found in guarana seed, in conjunction with complementary compounds.
Caffeine is one member of a family called the methylxanthines. Another one of these substances, theobromine, is found in cacao (the plant that chocolate comes from). In addition to its mildly stimulating properties, studies suggest that theobromine helps dilate blood vessels, which reduces blood pressure, and helps the body burn fat. In addition, grapefruit juice inhibits the liver from breaking down caffeine too quickly, allowing it to stay in the bloodstream up to 60% longer.
A number of herbs and nutrients also support a sense of energetic well-being. The B-complex vitamins play crucial roles in energy production, as does coenzyme Q10. Choline, a compound in the B vitamin family, is vital to proper nerve function. DL-phenylalanine (DLPA) is an amino acid the body needs to create the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine, which promote alertness. D-ribose helps the muscles generate energy and recover from fatigue. Useful herbs include rhodiola and eleuthero, which increase stress resistance and improve performance.
Whether you’re meditating, working out or just plain working, remaining calm yet alert can help you achieve your goals. That makes L-theanine, caffeine and other naturally energizing compounds useful tools for a more productive life.