L-Theanine: For all you caffeine junkies and stressed-out types

Let’s be honest here: Dunkin’ Donuts slogan “America Runs on Dunkin’” has a great deal of truth behind its claim, if a little conceitedly exaggerated in asserting the sole responsibility of DD for fueling America. C’mon now, Starbucks is at least as popular (and overrated). But coffee here in the US reigns supreme as the quintessential morning / afternoon / evening / late-night-prior-to-report-deadline stimulant of choice.

 

Every morning on workdays, I bear witness to a profound metamorphosis of putrescent creatures, voices screeching and mouths dripping with venom, shambling into my local coffee shop like zombies up to the register counter, only to magically transform into beings largely resembling normal humans (some don’t lose the screechy voice but ah well). Caffeine commands respect and even borderline awe-inspired, cultish worship. Its molecular structure is becoming an increasingly non-blasphemous religious icon resting loftily among the ranks of the Crucifix, the Star of David, and the Crescent.

 

However you prefer to consume your caffeine, whether chugging coffee, energy drinks, mixing or snorting straight powder, it behooves you to know that you’re not reaping the maximum benefit from your cup-of-joe routine. Many who have coffee in copious amounts each day (> 2 cups) report feeling jittery and anxious with their blood pressure and pulse swinging high, sometimes severely. Befitting my role as a blogger, I come bearing good news: now you can have your coffee and drink it too with the wonderfully synergistic addition of one particularly strong supplement: L’Theanine.

 

Just what is L’Theanine, outside of another nutritional dud that this charlatan Bill is attempting to peddle to his more gullible readership? Well, it is the principal amino acid (you know, protein building blocks) found in teas, especially green tea. As an analog to its protein constituent brother L’Glutamine (another amino acid and perhaps the subject of another post) and glutamate (the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain – the chemical mostly responsible for you powering through and acing your final exams), theanine has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and thus exert psychoactive effects on the brain… and boy, what a prolific spectrum of cognitively nurturing effects theanine produces!

 

Its pharmacology is a perfect trifecta of benefits:

1) it acts as a physical and mental stress reliever,

2) it improves your ability to think, and

3) it boosts mood and performance in conjunction with… you guessed it, caffeine!

Throw another synergistic compound in the mix if there actually is one, and now we’re rolling with a goddamn Holy Trinity of American Workplace Whoop-Ass. !@#$ Yeah!

 

Stress reduction tricks and techniques permeate our daily supply of information to a disturbing degree, matched only by health and nutrition articles waging war on each other’s contradictory claims, as well as advertisements for U. of Phoenix online degree programs. Some of these techniques are as cultish as caffeine and downright terrifying (I’m looking at you, Tension Reduction Exercises, or T.R.E. for short – it’s really an exorcise routine rather than an actual exercise. These guys make holy rollers seem like reasonable folks).

 

Theanine, however, is much more convenient, effective, and safe for public areas – it induces alpha wave activity in the brain, which if you’re unaware, is that feeling you get when you’re in the mother!@#$ing zone. While this guy mucks around with whatever the hell lives between your ears, you’re positively cruising, stress-free and highly focused on the task at hand. Another perk: it’s an immune system booster, enabling you to stave off disease better! [1] Oh, and one more thing – did I mention it is stupidly non-toxic, like, on the same echelon of I-can-have-as-much-as-I-freaking-want as good ol’ Mary Jane. [2]

 

See, what we are most concerned with vis-à-vis theanine’s role in improving our health and upgrading our lives is the synergy it has with caffeine. This synergy fortunately is innately built-in to green tea, which contains both chemicals. However, green tea doesn’t contain either in a SuperSizeVentiUltraQuintupleShotFifteenPumpMurica quantity that you and I so desperately crave. Instead, I advocate the supplementation of OTC theanine with your morning cup of coffee. You can purchase it at your nearest GNC, Vitamin Shoppe, or natural foods store.

 

I may be biased, but it is my stalwart belief that people, particularly xanthine hounds like myself, truly suffer from a vitiating theanine deficiency, more so than voluntary theanine supplementation merely unlocking people’s adaptive potential regarding stress. Relaying my personal anecdote, I’ve found that theanine added to my morning joe not only kicks my brain’s volume knob up a notch, it expertly curbs any anxiety I may otherwise feel at that time. Sometimes, if I dose too high relative to my caffeine intake, I’ll be downright stupefied with calm and awe with an idle grin smeared on my face, sitting there looking like I was blazed or something.

 

Your mileage may vary, and probably will. I cannot guarantee the efficacy of theanine on your system since people’s bodies, physiologies and chemistries are like snowflakes, each one unique, mostly water, and fragile as !@#$ when subjected to crushing forces.

 

Next question: how much theanine should I take? The answer is trial and error ultimately, but here’s the rule of thumb: you want a 2:1 ratio of theanine:caffeine if you’re a caffeine person, and probably around 100 mg at most if you’re not. The ratio means that, for example, if you down 2 cups of coffee in the morning (anywhere from 150 – 200 mg total of caffeine depending on the strength) then you should shoot for about 300 – 400 mg of theanine to complement that. The worst that’ll happen if you go a wee bit overboard is you’ll feel buzzed, which hey, if that gets you through your morning at work, then roll with it.

 

Where does all this discussion lead us? Simple: if you want an anxiety-reducing, focus-improving, swift kick to the tuchus pairing with your coffee, look no further than Theanine.

 

Now the usual liability-evasion clauses: Always consult your doctor before making any significant changes to your lifestyle, be it diet or fitness. Don’t take the advice of an exhaustingly world-weary recent master’s graduate in electrical engineering without several grains of salt. Do, however, talk to your doctor about the possibility of incorporating a theanine supplement into your routine. It may possess contraindications for various medications you’re on. Speaketh to thy doctor!

 

References:

[1] Antigens in tea-beverage prime human Vγ2Vδ2 T cells in vitro and in vivo for memory and nonmemory antibacterial cytokine responses. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC156317/

[2] A 13-week dietary toxicity and toxicokinetic study with l-theanine in rats. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691506000949

[3] The Almighty Wikipedia for a ton of stuff (especially the myriad citations for cognition enhancement with caffeine): http://www.wikipedia.org

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