Nootropics are an up-and-coming sector of the health and wellness industry. If you have never heard the term before, nootropics also sometimes are referred to as “smart drugs” or “cognitive enhancers.” Despite what you may think, generally speaking, these substances are mild but effective forms of supplementation. One of the smart drugs seeing a resurgence in popularity is L-theanine. There has been new research into the health benefits of L-theanine, and a new understanding of its potential.
What Is L-Theanine?
L-theanine is a naturally occurring compound found in green tea leaves, and a handful of other plants and fungi, including some bolete mushrooms. It’s an amino acid that works well when used in combination with caffeine.
Once consumed, our body uses this amino acid much like its very own neurotransmitter, glutamate. L-theanine mimics the size and shape of glutamate to fit nicely into the proper receptor. However, unlike glutamate, which is an excitatory neurotransmitter, L-theanine has the exact opposite effect.
Instead of stimulating an overactivity of signaling, leading to stress, anxiety and sometimes fear, L-theanine soothes, calms and relaxes. It does so by binding to the glutamate receptors and thus inhibiting their activity. Unlike more common anti-anxiety medications, the soothing effects come without any drowsiness.
The L-theanine molecule has more than one trick up its sleep for relaxation. On top of its interaction with the glutamate receptors, this amino acid also stimulates the production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This mouthful of a neurotransmitter is responsible for even further stress relief and relaxation. Curiously, evidence also demonstrates GABA promotes relaxation while increasing alertness.
Health Benefits of L-Theanine
“Smart drugs” such as L-theanine are receiving significant media attention because of their positive and safe cognitive stimulation. Unlike pharmaceuticals, which often overstimulate or over-sedate, nootropics typically provide safe, gentle support. L-theanine has no known long-term side effects and no link to any health issues, even in higher doses.
The following seven health benefits of L-theanine are being explored by medical researchers around the world. The results, although preliminary, are extremely interesting for what they could offer the human body. Positive benefits go far beyond merely increasing relaxation.
1. Cognitive Function
More often than not, consumption of L-theanine is in conjunction with caffeine. Historically, this was because L-theanine is found naturally in tea leaves, which also contain caffeine. More recently, it is combined with supplement stacks. Supplement stacks are combinations of natural compounds that work together for a synergistic effect.
Part of the reason L-theanine works so well with caffeine is it has a soothing effect on the jitters and heightened anxiousness some coffee drinkers experience after their morning java. Imagine drinking your morning cup of coffee without becoming distracted and overstimulated from too much caffeine!
One study in particular, from the United Kingdom in 2008, determined caffeine and L-theanine worked together to improve cognitive function. While caffeine led to increased performance in a speed and accuracy test, it also led to an increase in distraction and attention issues. When combined with the amino acid, the study found fewer issues with distraction or attention. A great benefit to all coffee drinkers!
2. Stress and Anxiety
As mentioned in the introduction, L-theanine soothes an overstimulated brain. To reiterate, it helps stimulate the production of a neurotransmitter dedicated to relaxation, GABA. It also plugs up the receptor for glutamate, which inhibits glutamate’s ability to create fear, stress, and anxiety. It relaxes and soothes without putting one to sleep. Much better than most other options on the market.
3. Quality of Sleep
Specifically studied for sleep issues experienced by people with ADHD, L-theanine’s potential to improve sleep for others has not been explored yet. However, the ADHD studies have shown extremely positive results. First, one study found that young children given two daily doses of L-theanine had measurably improved sleep quality. Second, it seemed to stimulate better sleep efficacy. This means the children were able to get more out of their sleep than they had beforehand. Finally, supplementation with L-theanine reduced the number of times the children woke up at night, which led to fuller and more rejuvenating sleep.
4. Feelings of Despair
Targeting many symptoms of despair, L-theanine is a great natural supplement to complement other treatments. Depression often goes hand-in-hand with stress, anxiety, poor sleep, and difficulty focusing. If you’ve been keeping track, we’ve already discussed how L-theanine promotes relaxation through the promotion of certain neurological signals. It also may improve sleep quality. Finally, it improves cognitive function, particularly the ability to focus.
5. Risk of Stroke
An exciting area of research into L-theanine’s health benefits has discovered that it may reduce the risk of stroke. It also may offer some form of neuroprotection if and when a stroke occurs. Scientists believe L-theanine increases communication about blood flow and blood pressure by way of neurotransmission. Considering strokes are caused by a sudden stoppage of blood flow to the brain, this could be one way the supplement decreases the risk of stroke.
6. An Aging Brain
Interestingly, scientists have linked long-term overproduction of glutamate to neurological degeneration. Over time, too much glutamate can lead to stroke and even schizophrenia. One study examining L-theanine supplementation for patients with schizophrenia found positive reductions in fear and anxiety. Fear and anxiety are everyday experiences for people with schizophrenia, and positive changes in these feelings have been confirmed by multiple studies.
In a handful of exploratory studies, green tea and, by association, its L-theanine compounds, have been found to have a dose-dependent antioxidant effect. It also was found to detoxify the liver and increase the liver’s antioxidant capacity. Further research is needed. However, the preliminary evidence seems positive.
There is a reason L-theanine is gaining popularity as a nootropic. For those who keep up to date on health and wellness trends, L-theanine’s benefits will come as no surprise. It is helping people take the edge off, improve sleep quality and better focus their attention throughout the day. It does all this without any particularly measurable side effects. Plus, it is the perfect complementary supplement to take alongside your morning coffee.