What do you do when you’re stressed, anxious, distracted, annoyed, and altogether just feeling a little cranky?
That’s right: You take a chill pill.
If you’re one of the unenlightened, you probably think “chill pill” is some kind of vague metaphor for a “positive attitudinal shift.” When in reality it’s L-Theanine, the calming compound commonly associated with green tea–as well as other tea variants of Camellia sinensis.
If you’re one of the slightly-more-enlightened-but-still-unenlightened, you probably think L-Theanine is only consumable via brewed tea. But I’m here to tell you that, thanks to nootropic supplement technology, L-Theanine is quite literally a chill pill if you take it in supplement pill form.
Which is the way to go if you want those amino alpha brainwave benefits.
How L-Theanine Is Supposed to Work
L-Theanine simply just werk, werk, werk, werk, werks.
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure how it works: Word on the street it promotes alpha brainwaves, which is why stacks like Alpha BRAIN carry L-Theanine as a leading ingredient. Mind Lab Pro going even further with the Suntheanine® branded L-Theanine. I suppose they’re simply happy with the fact that L-Theanine boosts alpha brainwaves.
But I want to know HOW does L-Theanine boost brainwaves??
Especially considering that few other compounds can do this.
I want to know the mechanism behind this mechanism, because, frankly, it’s a pretty damn good mechanism. It’s the reason I prefer green tea over coffee. It’s the reason many teas are awesome in general.
Thanks to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, L-Theanine can achieve nootropic benefits within 30 to 45 minutes. This is great for a fast-acting cognitive boost, yet what many fail to remember (or fail to ever know) is that L-Theanine also provides long-term neuroprotective advantages.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
To get a bigger picture on how L-Theanine works, here are a few of its biomechanisms as I understand them thus far:
Modulating Alpha Brainwaves
That’s right: Brains wave. Through electricity! And the particular brainwave of interest here is the alpha brainwave, a mindstate associated with feelings of alert relaxation & creativity.
How do we know this?
When you add up all of the electrical impulses in the brain, you get a frequency that determines the nature of the brainwave. Different frequencies of impulses induce different brainwaves, measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG) test. The four primary brainwaves include: Alpha, Beta, Delta, & Theta. Of these brainwaves, the alpha state has been observed via EEG to be the predominant frequency following L-Theanine supplementation.
Calming “Excitable” Neuroactivity
Through inhibiting the release of glutamate, L-Theanine damps down “excitable” brain chemicals, thus protecting against mental overstimulation. Stress, Anxiety, Agitation–these are the moods often associated with this type of biopathway. L-Theanine’s engagement (via inhibition) in this pathway essentially explains its mood boosting benefits, particularly when your mood is feeling low. The bioactions involved may have neuroprotective potential as well, countering age-related cognitive decline.
Promoting “Calming” Neurotransmitters
L-Theanine boosts feel-good brain chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, & GABA, while also modulating neuron-neurotransmitter receptors. The latter two chemicals in particular have been associated with positive mood balance. The best part: None of L-Theanine’s calming effects include sedation, which is a focus-killer for obvious reasons.
Few nootropics directly engage brainwaves, making L-Theanine uniquely valuable. The focus on alpha brainwaves in particular sets L-Theanine up as one of my favorite nootropics, and one of the hot topic subjects on Reddit, which ranks this amino acid as one of the premier go-to nootropics for nootropic initiates.
I have to say, even as a nootropic veteran, L-Theanine retains its value.
The big benefit of this nootropic: Relaxed focus.
If you’ve ever drank a lot of green tea, then you now what I’m talking about. The L-Theanine experience is essentially summed up as being tuned in minus all of the jitters commonly associated with focus enhancers. For the most part, L-Theanine’s non-stimulating, non-sedating focus is unmatched by any other compound.
Try L-Theanine + Caffeine
The L-Theanine + Caffeine combo is a nootropic classic for its complementary relaxation + stimulation effect. You can acquire this duo by simply drinking any tea variation of Camellia sinensis–however, to get the true nootropic experience, you’ll need to go for a 2:1, or at least 3:2, L-Theanine to Caffeine ratio. In other words, 150-200 mg L-Theanine per 100 mg Caffeine.
Researchers Have Suggested L-Theanine Might:
Promote Relaxed “Mental Alertness” without Drowsiness
In this study on the “realistic dietary levels” of L-Theanine (i.e. L-Theanine consumed via tea), EEG was measured on healthy, young participants after administration of either 50 mg L-Theanine or placebo. For the L-Theanine group, alpha brainwave activity showed a greater increase. Due to the association between alpha brain activity and attention, as well as later trials that observed L-Theanine’s ability to relax the mind without inducing drowsiness, the researchers were able to conclude that L-Theanine has a “significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal.”
Reduce Psychological & Physiological Stress
This double-blind study is a small one, observing only 12 subjects who were given either L-Theanine or placebo to assess the amino acid’s effect on acute mental stress spurned by math problems (that is stressful!). Administration of L-Theanine or placebo took place prior to and midway through the experimental trials, after which the researchers compiled results on heart rate & salivary stress levels. The lower heart rate & stress level measures associated with L-Theanine administration lead to the conclusion that L-Theanine seemed to “cause anti-stress effects via the inhibition of cortical neuron excitation.”
Possess Neuroprotective Effects on Cognitive Dysfunction
Operating on the basis that L-Theanine can pass through the blood-brain barrier and affect neurotransmitters glutamate & glutamine, the researchers of this study supplied 47 mg/day L-Theanine (as powdered green tea) to elderly volunteers to see how the amino might affect age-related cognitive dysfunction. When compared to the placebo group, L-Theanine administration was found to “significantly lower decline in cognitive function,” suggesting that L-Theanine might possess neuroprotective benefits for elderly users.
Support Sleep Quality & Recovery
Interestingly, although L-Theanine doesn’t demonstrate sedative effects, this study observed the administration of 200 mg L-Theanine before bed in relation to a number of sleep quality measures, finding that the amino acid qualified as a “safe, natural sleep aid.” The improvement in sleep quality wasn’t linked to sedation but rather to the calming, anxiolytic effects of L-Theanine. With that in mind, the researchers noted that L-Theanine makes for a unique sleep aid in that it may be useful at any time of day for its non-drowsy calming benefits.
How to Take L-Theanine
- On average a 200 ml cup of green tea contains 7.9 mg L-Theanine.
- For black tea, that number bumps up to 24.2 mg L-Theanine.
- The longer the tea is brewed, the higher the L-Theanine concentration.
- For nootropic purposes, L-Theanine supplementation ranges from 100 mg – 200 mg dosages. Splitting that right down the middle to 150 mg seems like an appropriate serving size, with 400 mg being an acceptable daily intake.
My Experience with L-Theanine
As much as I am a nootropic geek, I’m also a major tea geek. Irish Breakfast Black Tea. Monkey Picked Oolong. Sencha Gojiberry. You effin’ name it, I’m effin’ on it.
And no matter if I’m supplementing L-Theanine or not, I’m still drinking those teas.
Yet, I’m not under the illusion that drinking a cup of green tea equals the nootropic power of, say, a 200 mg dosage of L-Theanine. I’d have to a lot of heavily brewed green tea in quick succession to achieve this effect, and I’m not sure if that’s worth it. However, there’s a lot of healthy antioxidant action happening there not accomplished by straight L-Theanine supplementation.
Even so, if cognitive enhancement is my goal, I opt for the L-Theanine supplement for quicker, more potent focus benefits. Occasionally, I toss in a caffeine supplement as well–however, I’m more inclined to mix my L-Theanine with coffee.
Let’s just say I like the taste.
My experience parallels that described by the science: I’m tuned in, but not bouncing off the walls. I’m relaxed, but not falling out of my chair. Creative insights engage my thought process in easy, voluble conversation. Put simply: I feel good.
On L-Theanine, I can get my work done, then immediately celebrate with a nap. Both actions being supported by this groovy nootropic.
Is L-Theanine a Good Nootropic?
L-Theanine is one of those rare nootropics that delivers a nearly universal experience. Both scientific & anecdotal reports agree on this amino acid: L-Theanine supports focus & relaxation without any stimulation or sedation.
For nootropic-minded coffee drinkers, it’s practically a must-have for its complementary effects on caffeine. For nootropic-minded people in general, L-Theanine is almost a necessary addition to any stack since there isn’t anything else quite like it.
Other awesome nootropics may affect cognition by enhancing brain chemicals, circulation, stimulation, etc., but L-Theanine is one of the rare brainwave modulators. The result being a positive mindset & brain health state otherwise accomplished only through meditation.
If you’re a tea drinker, you’re already somewhat familiar with L-Theanine’s benefits.
But if you want to get the full effect, I recommend trying an L-Theanine supplement.
Overall L-Theanine Nootropic Power Rating