L-Theanine (r-glutamylethylamide) is a non-dietary amino acid found in green tea (camellia sinensis), and the mushroom Xerocomus badius. Structurally, L-Theanine is similar to the neurotransmitters l-glutamate and l-glutamine.
L-Theanine easily crosses the blood-brain barrier. And taken as a supplement or by drinking green tea, reaches your brain within 30-45 minutes.
- Brain Waves. L-Theanine boosts alpha brain waves (8-12Hz) promoting alert relaxation.[i] And theta brain waves associated with creativity and relief from trauma.
- Neurotransmitters. L-Theanine increases GABA, serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain. Producing an energizing and calming effect. And improving cognition and memory.
- Neuroprotection. L-Theanine is an antagonist of NMDA receptors and can inhibit synaptic release of glutamate. Protecting your brain from over-stimulation caused by glutamate, and possible glutamate toxicity.
L-Theanine (r-glutamylethylamide) is a non-dietary amino acid found in tea. And especially high levels in green tea (camellia sinensis). L-Theanine was first isolated from green tea in Japan by Sakato in 1949.
L-Theanine is one of the very few nootropics known to modulate brain waves. It affects alpha brain waves which are associated with relaxation. Providing an alert calmness, L-Theanine helps in promoting super-learning, flow states and joy.
L-Theanine is known for helping to relieve stress, improve cognition, boost mood and cognitive function.
How does L-Theanine work in the Brain?
L-Theanine boosts brain health and function in several ways. But two in particular stand out.
- L-Theanine reduces physical and mental stress. L- Theanine helps increase alpha brain waves which are associated with mental relaxation and concentration.
One study in South Korea worked with 20 healthy male volunteers aged 18 – 30 years. One group was given L-Theanine tablets, and the other group a placebo daily for 7 days.
Brain waves were measured 40 minutes after administration of the tablets. The researchers analyzed alpha wave power values. And concluded that L-Theanine tablets promoted the release of alpha brain waves related to mental relaxation and concentration.[iii]
In May 2016, researchers at Simon Fraser University in Canada developed a technology to clinically measure brain wave patterns. With this technology, we’re now able to detect cognitive dysfunction before it happens. Imagine the implications of this new technology when applied to the nootropics world.[iv]
- L-Theanine increases neurotransmitters. Research shows that L-Theanine increases dopamine, serotonin, and GABA in your brain.[v] And it reduces the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate which is associated with stress, tension and agitation.[vi]
A study done in Japan worked with 12 people who underwent 4 separate trials. One in which they took L-Theanine at the start of the experiment. One in which they took it half-way through. And two control trials in which they took either a placebo or nothing.
The results showed that L-Theanine resulted in a reduction in heart rate and s-IgA associated with acute stress. The researchers concluded that L-Theanine could cause anti-stress effects via the inhibition of cortical neuron excitation.[vii]
How things go bad:
As we get older, our brain chemistry and energy metabolism changes.
↓ Neurotransmitter levels decline
↑ Glutamate levels increase
↑ Stress levels increase
↓ Long-term memory and mood decline
↓ Quality of sleep declines
All of these changes can happen at any age once we reach adulthood. And are contributing factors to the neurodegenerative diseases of aging, and quality of life.
L-Theanine to the rescue
L-Theanine energizes without draining, calms without putting you to sleep, and motivates without causing a jagged edge.
You can actually see L-Theanine’s effect in your brain using an EEG. Brain waves are smoothed out rather than flattened out.[viii] So your body is relaxed, your mind is calmed, but you don’t get sleepy. And L-Theanine, once it crosses the blood-brain barrier, raises levels of serotonin and dopamine.[ix]
L-Theanine even improves your quality of sleep. Researchers in Japan gave volunteers 200 mg of L-Theanine daily and recorded their sleep patterns. Sleep quality, recovery from exhaustion, and feeling refreshed were all enhanced by L-Theanine.[x]
And L-Theanine puts you in a better mood. Once it crosses your blood-brain barrier, L-Theanine changes levels of amino acids affecting serotonin, dopamine, and GABA. Having a modulating effect on mood.[xi]
How does L-Theanine feel?
Most neurohackers report a calming effect within 30 – 45 minutes of taking L-Theanine. Cognition gets a boost, and energy levels rise without the jitteriness caused by stimulants like caffeine.
Some report L-Theanine has stopped their anxiety and panic attacks. Just don’t combine it with anti-anxiety meds like Xanax.
Most report an overall improvement in the sense of well-being and quality of life. And nearly all remark on better quality sleep.
Green Tea reduces incidence of stroke
Research has found that if L-Theanine is present in the body at the time stroke occurs, brain damage will be significantly reduced.
In this monster study done in China, researchers selected 14,212 subjects from 12 provinces. Ages ranged from 35 – 60 years old. The study looked at tea drinking status, dose and type of teas.
This study concluded there was a 40% decreased risk of stroke in those who drank green, black or jasmine teas.[xii]
L-Theanine improves memory
In this double-blind, placebo-controlled study, the effect of L-Theanine on memory and attention was investigated.
91 subjects with mild cognitive impairment were enrolled in this study. One group received 1,680 mg of L-Theanine daily for 16 weeks. And the control group received a placebo.
The study concluded that L-Theanine increased brain Theta waves associated with cognitive alertness and creativity. And there were improvements in memory. The results of this study suggested that L-Theanine has potential as an intervention for cognitive improvement.[xiii]
And that is an understatement by any stretch. People spend years meditating. With the goal of reaching consistent access to brain wave states like Theta. In this trial, they did it with a dose of L-Theanine. The same type of dose you could get with a few cups of quality green tea.
L-Theanine reduces stress
Considerable research has been dedicated to L-Theanine and its benefits to stress reduction in both animal and human studies. And we have ample documentation that corticosterone and stress exert negative effects on memory.[xiv]
In this animal study, rats were fed water containing L-Theanine for 3 weeks and put through some stress inducing exercise. The researchers found that corticosterone levels were lower in the rats who used L-Theanine compared to those who had none.
In fact, stress had no effect on the animals who were fed L-Theanine. Memory was not affected. The researchers concluded that L-Theanine modified corticosterone secretion. And L-Theanine is a strong preventive measure in preventing memory loss otherwise induced by stress.[xvi]
Recommended dosage of L-Theanine is 200 – 400 mg once or twice per day. With a maximum of 1,200 mg per day according to the Cleveland Clinic.[xvii]
Labels on quality green tea often only display the amount of green tea leaf available in each bag in milligrams (mg). But not its L-Theanine content. Green tea that’s steeped correctly will offer 1-2% L-Theanine per cup. So 1,500 mg of green tea leaf would be about 30 mg. of L-Theanine (at 2%).
We often say that YMMV, and this is especially applicable to L-Theanine. Find out what works best for you. Start at a lower dose like 100 mg. And work your way up until you achieve the effects you’re looking for.
L-Theanine is a naturally occurring amino acid found in plants like tea or one species of mushroom. So it’s considered non-toxic and very safe.
Theanine seems to decrease blood pressure. So if you’re on meds for high blood pressure, use L-Theanine with caution. Your blood pressure could go too low.
L-Theanine is available in green, black and white teas. Green tea contains the most L-Theanine.
A great side benefit for neurohackers is green tea also contains caffeine. A cup of good quality green tea has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. About 10 mg less.
L-Theanine + Caffeine stack
One study done at Unilever in the UK looked at the combined effects of L-Theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. They compared 50 mg of caffeine with and without 100 mg of L-Theanine.
The research team had 27 volunteers participate. And based measurements on word recognition, rapid visual information processing, critical flicker fusion threshold, attentions switching and mood.
Performance was measured at the beginning, and again 60 minutes and 90 minutes after consumption. Separated by a 7-day washout period.
Caffeine improved alertness at 60 mins. And accuracy on attention-switching at 90 mins. The L-Theanine and caffeine combination improved both speed and accuracy, and reduced susceptibility to distracting information on the memory task.
The research team concluded that, “L-Theanine and caffeine in combination are beneficial for improving performance on cognitively demanding tasks”.[xviii]
And for an added bonus, L-Theanine takes the jittery-edge off of caffeine consumption.
L-Theanine from green tea
Extracting the optimal amount of L-Theanine from green tea is both art and science.
Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia set out to determine optimal conditions for water extraction of L-Theanine from green tea. They examined 4 different extraction methods. And learned that temperature, extraction time, ration of water-to-tea and tea particle size had significant impacts on extraction yield of L-Theanine from green tea.
They concluded, “The optimal conditions for extracting theanine from green tea using water were found to be extraction at 80 °C for 30 min with a water-to-tea ratio of 20:1 mL/g and a tea particle size of 0.5-1 mm.” [xix]
So to get the most nootropic value when using green tea as your L-Theanine source – follow the directions. Just sayin’…
L-Theanine is available in capsule or tablet form from several supplement manufacturers. Japanese company Taiyo is the oldest and most established company in the green tea supplement industry. Taiyo developed and patented a method for L-Theanine extraction from green tea called ‘Suntheanine’.
Suntheanine is included as the L-Theanine source from several large supplement makers. And if it has Suntheanine on the label, you are assured that the amount of L-Theanine listed is the actual amount in each capsule.
Research has shown that some supplement makers using their own extraction method for L-Theanine, contain more than just the “L” form of Theanine. Turns out if it’s not done exactly right, you end up with a “D” form of Theanine.
D-Theanine may have a very different action in your body than L-Theanine. We’re not saying it’s dangerous. You just may not get all the benefit of pure L-Theanine.
So read the labels and reviews by people who have tried the product. With a little experimentation you’ll find a L-Theanine supplement that works for you.
Nootropics Expert Recommendation
L-Theanine 250 – 500 mg per day
We recommend using L-Theanine as a nootropic supplement.
Your body cannot make L-Theanine on its own. It’s a non-dietary amino acid only available from tea (and one little-known mushroom).
L-Theanine affects Alpha and Theta brain waves. This alone will help calm your mind, reduce stress, and help you stay alert. You’ll get even more cognitive benefit by stacking L-Theanine with caffeine.
L-Theanine helps to prevent strokes, and even reduces the damaging effects if you’ve had a stroke.
And L-Theanine has been shown to improve sleep quality.
We suggest starting with a dose of 100 – 250 mg of L-Theanine daily for nootropic use. Using either a quality supplement, or high quality green tea.