by Kristin Henningsen
Many of us are guilty of needing an extra boost when our energy levels tank mid-afternoon. Want to hear a secret to optimizing your afternoon energy boost? It’s a typically unknown amino acid called L-theanine.
We’ve all heard of the benefits of caffeine for energy and focus. However, L-theanine is quickly becoming the latest and greatest productivity powerhouse. Found naturally in high amounts in tea and some mushrooms, this little amino acid can go a long way in building better health.
What Is It?
First identified in 1949 by Japanese scientists, L-theanine is a water-soluble amino acid found in the leaves of Camellia sinensis, aka green or black tea. It’s thought to be responsible for some of their more delightful savory notes. As a non-protein amino acid, it can quickly cross the blood-brain barrier to exert its nootropic — or cognitive-enhancing — effects. But aside from research pointing to the brain-boosting power of L-theanine, there are also studies that have shown it’s antioxidant and relaxant potential.
So just how does this amino acid help one both relax and increase focus? According to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Center, it’s calming effects are likely due to the modulation of serotonin and dopamine in the brain. These cognitive improvements have been linked to changes in alpha brain wave activity that increases selective attention in mental tasks. This ability to relax the mind without inducing drowsiness has been shown to be attainable both by changing up your diet and by taking L-theanine as a supplement. As an added bonus, when L-theanine is combined with the neurotransmitter GABA, the synergistic effect leads to higher sleep quality and duration, as well.
Consider the coffee or tea debate over. When caffeine and L-theanine are combined, research shows that along with the increased energy and focus, there is also a pronounced relaxation effect. Essentially, you get all of the to-do list busting benefits of increased mental focus and mood boost, without the coffee jitters. That alert calmness acts to reduce anxiety and help keep you on task.
Curious about trying this dynamic duo? The research shows that you can certainly take a caffeine tablet together with an L-theanine supplement at a ratio of about 1:2 (e.g., 100 mg caffeine to 200 mg L-theanine). However, the more accessible and realistic route is to simply take an L-theanine supplement like FOCL Day along with your cup of coffee. Due to its solubility, it will absorb quite readily to give you the desired effect without sacrificing your morning ritual.
Kristin Henningsen MS, RH (AHG), RYT, is a clinical herbalist and educator who first fell in love with plants in the Desert Southwest. She’s passionate about bringing plant medicine back to the people and integrating Western herbalism, TCM and Ayurvedic practices to empower folks in their healthcare. She maintains a private clinical practice and serves as faculty for several university programs.