L-Theanine: a 4000 Year Old Brain Secret
For thousands of years monks have been drinking tea in order to remain in a state of “mindful alertness” during their long periods of meditation. Over the past few years I’ve been researching different ways that help improve the brain and was curious about how monks do it without any of the drugs that many doctor’s now prescribe.
After researching this, I came across many studies that shed light on why tea has this effect on the mind. The two elements in tea that help bring this “mindful alertness” are both caffeine and L-theanine. It’s the combination of these two elements that make tea unique from any other drink.
What can L-theanine and Caffeine do for the Mind?
- Promote a mindful state of relaxation
- Increase our ability to multi-task, and multi-task well
- Increase speed of perception
- Increase performance under stress
- Improve learning ability and concentration
- Decrease anxiety
- Reduce task-induced fatigue
L-theanine is an amino acid that is responsible for increasing alpha brain wave activities, which has been found to promote relaxation. When L-theanine is used with caffeine, as is the case with tea, it induces a feeling of increased concentration over a longer period of time, compared to caffeine alone. Some people will tell you that tea releases its caffeine into your body slower than coffee releases the caffeine, but in reality L-theanine is what slows down the distribution of caffeine.
Recent studies have shown that tea “. . . taken throughout the day can significantly benefit speed of perception and more consistent levels of simple task performance. L-theanine appears to antagonize the stimulatory effects of caffeine by decreasing seratonin levels that have been artifically elevated by caffeine” . As a result of this, your body sustains a feeling of alertness that cannot be obtained by the caffeine in coffee or soda.
L-theanine is not normally found anywhere in nature other than tea and in a single species of mushroom. It is synthesized in the roots and concentrates in the leaves of tea which sunlight then converts the L-theanine into polyphenols. When tea leaves are stuck in the shade too much, such as shade-grown teas, they have higher concentrations of L-theanine because the amino acid is not converted into polyphenols as much as when the tea leaves are exposed to full sun
In the end…
Due to the unique combination of L-theanine and caffeine found in tea, there are many reasons as to why this can be another alternative to coffee and soda, especially when looking for a jump-start to the day, or a way to maintain concentration for hours of coding and/or studying. It is best to experiment with different teas and find out how each tea affects you. A good starting point to discover different and appealing teas is the “Hacker’s Guide to Tea.“