Have you ever wondered why tea drinkers always seem so calm? Could L-theanine really be the best-kept secret behind tea drinkers happiness?
Can a cup of tea really make you happy? There are two ingredients in tea that have an extraordinary effect on the brain.
Tea contains a unique combination of caffeine and an amino acid called L-theanine.
By tea, I’m referring to black, green, white and oolong tea which are all made from the tea plant known as Camellia sinensis. This is different from herbal tea which is an infusion made from any other plant in the world, commonly called tisanes.
Of all the thousands of plants to choose from, why is this one tea plant the most popular beverage in the world?
It’s not the caffeine. The coffee plant has more caffeine but worldwide more people drink tea than coffee. Why do we drink billions of cups of tea a day?
All The Right Ingredients
It turns out that there’s something in the tea plant that’s only found in two places in nature, tea, and a rare mushroom called the bay bolete. Scientists identified this rare compound as L-theanine.
What does L-theanine do that has millions of people drinking tea? Researchers sought to answer this very question. A study was performed at the Brain and Cognition Laboratory, Oxford University, in the UK called L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state.
Participants were connected to an electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure their brain wave activity. Human beings basically have four mental states.
Two sleeping states:
- Delta waves are when the entire electrical brain activity is pulsing very slowly at about a wave a second and is only seen in deep sleep.
- Theta waves are found in dream sleep and cycle at about five waves per second.
And two waking states:
- Alpha waves are present in a relaxed, aware and attentive state. Similar to a meditative state.
- Beta waves are dominant during the stimulated hustle and bustle state where we spend most of our waking lives.
But the alpha state is where you want to be – fully alert and calm. How do you get there?
If you relax in a nice peaceful place, after about 90 minutes you can start to see some significant alpha brain activity. Think of a quiet afternoon spent at your favorite beach.
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Meditating Buddhist monks can achieve this state even sooner and maintain it with their eyes open. So you can meditate every day for a few years or just drink some tea.
This is Your Brain on Tea
Participants in the Oxford study were resting with their eyes closed during EEG recordings of their brain wave activity.
This is the amount of theanine that enters your brain after you drink about two cups of tea (L-theanine 50 mg). Take a look at this view of the brain after drinking two cups of L-theanine.
The orange area is the presence of alpha wave activity. See a difference?
Drinking Tea To Reduce Anxiety
This increase in alpha activity supports a role for L-theanine in achieving a relaxed mental state via a direct influence on the central nervous system.
The combination of L-theanine with caffeine makes tea a unique beverage that promotes mental focus, increases energy, yet reduces anxiety and stress.
Studies have shown that L-theanine reduces anxiety and induces calm because it increases the neurotransmitters that balance our moods and controls serotonin and dopamine which makes make us feel good.
Benefits of L-theanine and Tea
Scientific studies suggest that drinking tea containing L-theanine may be beneficial in the following ways:
- Increased cognitive function. It turns out tea may have a role in protecting our brain. Regular tea consumption was associated with lower risks of cognitive impairment and decline. source
- Reduces blood pressure. L-theanine not only reduces anxiety but also lessens the blood-pressure increase in high-stress-response adults. source
- L-theanine in tea has been shown to elevate mood, reduce anxiety and promote relaxation. source
- L-theanine balances the stimulatory effects of caffeine so you stay alert without feeling jittery. source
Why Drink Green Tea Every Day?
Certain teas have higher amounts of L-theanine than others. Green teas that are grown in the shade for three weeks prior to harvest have some of the highest L-theanine levels. The shading increases the plants’ chlorophyll levels and increases the production of L-theanine at the same time.
Shade grown green teas include matcha, gyokuro, and tencha.
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- Drinking green tea reduces anxiety and improves cognition. source
- Green tea may lower weight providing anti-obesity effects. These findings suggest that green tea catechin consumption enhances exercise-induced changes in abdominal fat and serum triglycerides. source
- Green tea is associated with a substantial decrease in the risk of getting ovarian cancer. Green tea is commonly consumed in countries with low ovarian cancer incidence. source
- Green tea may lower blood sugar. Green tea at high concentration has the potential to reduce blood glucose levels. source
How Much L-Theanine In a Cup of Tea
Brewing time is a major factor in the amount of L-theanine extracted. The addition of small amounts of milk and sugar makes no significant difference.
- Black tea: A standard 6-ounce cup of black tea contains 24.2 mg of L-theanine.
- Green tea: A cup of green tea contains the least at 7.9 mg of L-theanine.
- Shade grown green tea: Gyokuro and matcha may have as much as 46mg per cup. source
Drinking green tea may help reduce anxiety due to the calming effects of L-theanine on the brain. You may have heard some tea drinkers call the extreme calm experienced from drinking tea with high concentrations of L-theanine as tea drunkenness or a theanine high.
Reaching that super calm alpha state of mind is what they’re referring to. It doesn’t matter if you drink green tea for anxiety or drink for tea happiness, the positive effects are all the same. There are so many reasons to drink a cup of tea.
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It’s no wonder green tea is used for thousands of years as a restorative beverage in traditional Chinese medicine.