The Yin to Coffee's Yang
Though you may not feel like you know much about L-theanine, you may be more familiar with it than you think.
We all know caffeine. The stuff in coffee that gives you a burst of energy by binding with adenosine receptors in the oh god just give it to me I need my morning coffee! Right? That's the stuff. America's favorite stimulant.
If you know coffee, you're at least familiar with tea. Or maybe you're already a tea drinker. If so, good for you! Stick around for some smug self satisfaction, because we're about to dive into the critical difference between coffee and tea, and why you tea drinkers don't seem as high-stress as we coffee addicts.
So you've likely heard that tea is better for you than coffee. Your doctor may have advised a switch to green tea. You might have noticed Starbucks adding matcha green tea beverages to the menu.
You're familiar. But you're not sure why. What's the big deal? Why is tea any different than coffee?
L-Theanine in Tea
As a film lover, I have a great respect for filmmakers, who have to work long days while juggling lots of responsibilities. In film alertness and attentiveness is key. One would think coffee would be widely used in this community to make it through twelve or more hour days, but I recently discovered that many of the greats prefer tea to coffee. Spielberg claims to have never had a cup of coffee in his life, but rather drinks "at least a dozen cups of mint tea a day." Joss Whedon says he can "swill [tea] all day." Christopher Nolan drank so much coffee that he "was forced to give it up and take up tea" (source).
The likely reason for this is L-theanine. L-theanine is an amino acid which has had a range of uses based around its structural similarity to glutamate, which is a naturally occurring amino acid in the body. It has psychoactive effects due to its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier, and these effects are numerous.
L-theanine has been reported to reduce physical and mental stress, improve cognition, and increase serotonin and dopamine levels, both of which are responsible for improving mood. These effects add up to a relaxed state, without feelings of drowsiness. This means that it can be used to reduce stress without putting you to sleep. Very handy.
L-Theanine and Caffeine: Love at First Sight
L-theanine's combination with caffeine has become increasingly popular in recent years, as more is learned about L-theanine and its effects. This is because caffeine, while inarguably beneficial, still has some negative side effects. Most of these relate to stress responses. Higher blood pressure, anxiety, and the eventual crash.
Can you see where this is going?
Nearly all the negative side effects of caffeine seem as though they could be mitigated by something that can reduce the increased stress response. That's L-theanine. That's the reason tea is seen as not only healthier than coffee, but also seems to help people with demanding careers maintain focus and attention without crashing or having panic attacks from pounding espressos.
The combination of caffeine and L-theanine is referred to as "The People's Stack" in the nootropic community due to its relative safety and availability. Nootropics, for the uninitiated, are cognitive enhancers: chemicals that improve your mental function.
According to LifeExtension.com "Research shows that L-theanine neutralizes the speedy, jagged, bad effects of caffeine without reducing its mind-energizing, fat-burning features." PillScout.com reports that the two can give you a "calm and lucid focus that is unparalleled by any other mundane drug or energy drink combination", and mentions an increase in alpha brain waves, the type responsible for "flow" state, in which learning and being productive are most effective.
So... Should I stop drinking coffee?
If you're doing just fine with your coffee habit, that's great. Keep on keepin' on. But if you're feeling like you aren't getting the edge you're after, I heartily suggest adding L-theanine to your mix. You can find it in NeuroGum, you can find it in quality tea (emphasis on the quality), or get it in powder or pill form and add it to your coffee if you really can't quite make the switch. For more information check out our science page, and we wish you the best in your pursuit of caffeinated perfection!