Most of us have been there, the clock strikes 2:00 pm and you begin to crash. Your concentration and productivity fade faster than a Tesla Model S in insanity mode, and every little distraction begins to take over.
When this happens, you most likely head to your nearest convenience store or coffee shop in search of a quick caffeine fix. And you're not alone. In fact, every day, a whopping 90% of all adults in the world consume caffeine in some form.
More recently, however, productivity hackers and creatives alike are starting to rely on the increasingly popular “smart drug,” L-Theanine, to keep them alert and focused throughout the day.
Almost all of us know what caffeine is, but what about L-Theanine? For starters, it’s a powerful amino acid, which research indicates relaxes the mind, while simultaneously enhancing concentration, productivity, mood, cognitive function, and mental stamina.
But as you’ll see below, it’s so much more…
The History of L-Theanine
You may have already seen L-Theanine starting to pop up on the labels of different supplements and beverages, and being touted by wellness brands as the hottest new brain nootropic on the market. But the hottest “new” thing, isn't actually all that new!
The substance has been around for thousands of years, hidden in plain sight within the chemical makeup of green and black tea, as well as in certain varieties of mushrooms. It was first identified as a natural component in green tea leaves by a Japanese scientist in 1949, and extracted for the first time a year later from Gyokuro. (Gyokuro is a particular type of Japanese green tea that also includes catechins). It features a structure that's very similar to glutamic acid.
In 1964 it was approved in Japan for essentially unlimited use as an ingredient in all foods and beverages, with the exception of infant foods, and L-Theanine supplements became popular. In the early 2000s it was granted GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status by the FDA, and is steadily growing in popularity in the US as a safe and effective supplement with a remarkably wide range of uses and several decades worth of scientific research and clinical trials to back up the claims.
How Does L-Theanine Work?
The work-life balance (or lack, thereof) in the modern era is downright exhausting. While there are plenty of drinks, shots, and supplements out there to help you combat tiredness and power you through your work day, there are very few that simultaneously help you to zen out and relax while also increasing cognitive performance. It can even reduce physiological stress responses.
L-Theanine, however, is one of the rare substances that checks both boxes.
This unique “wonder drug” acts on a variety of neurochemicals in your brain to provide incredible contradictory benefits: heightened alertness, concentration, and focus, yet extremely calm, relaxed mental states — similar to what scientists would observe during deep REM sleep, or focused Zen meditation. This is due to the inhibition of cortical neurotransmitters and the release of alpha brain waves.
If you don’t want to take our word for it, just check out these brain scans published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
This neuropharmacology study used electroencephalograph (EEG) to measure brain alertness over different periods of time after participants were either given L-Theanine or a water placebo, and told to relax with their eyes closed.
As you can see from the scans, the participants who received the L-Theanine displayed considerably more brain cognition activity compared to the participants who did not. It may also stimulate the activation of glutamate receptors, which may promote glutamine metabolism and provide neuroprotective effects.
The study also noted that the L-Theanine was able to exert its effects directly on participants’ brains within just 30 minutes — great news for those of us that are looking for a quick pick-me-up!
In addition to fast-acting brain alertness, L-Theanine is also known to enhance the processes responsible for sustaining attention. Its effects can prove to be especially beneficial when you’re trying to concentrate on work, a long drive, learning, or even on being more attentive during meaningful conversations with family and friends.
Many people also report it to work wonders for preventing or curing hangovers from too much alcohol. This is because it increases glutathione levels; arguably the body’s most important antioxidant molecule that is known to help with liver health and detox.
Some research even suggests that L-Theanine may improve the function of the body’s immune system: this study published in the journal Beverages found that it could help decrease the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections.
L-Theanine, Anxiety & ADHD
US doctors write an estimated 48 million prescriptions for Xanax each year, and approximately 50 million prescriptions for stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin. (There’s probably even more people that use these OTC medications without a prescription that aren’t included in these stats.)
Because of L-Theanine's ability to increase focus while calming the mind without sedation or side effects, healthcare researchers are currently exploring whether it could act as a natural alternative to Adderall and Xanax for people with anxiety and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It may act as an anxiolytic.
Research supports that L-Theanine appears to be effective in reducing the physiological effects of the stress response and experience of anxiety due to cortisol. It does this by increasing the amount of GABA, a neurotransmitter, in the brain, as well as increasing the effectiveness of GABA. (Higher levels of GABA are associated with calmer mental states and lower levels of anxiety.)
There is also some evidence that it can be as effective as Xanax in improving a sense of relaxation, so speak with your doctor for medical advice on this. Add that to the list of health benefits!
Safety and Dosage
Despite the wide range of dosages reported across different studies, L-Theanine has an excellent safety track record.
“A cup of tea ranges from 2 milligrams to 100 milligrams. In L-Theanine studies, the dosages range from 50 milligrams to 400 milligrams. There is no known toxic dosing of L-Theanine, or any reports of harm from the substance”, says Dr. Jack F. Bukowski, a scientist with the Nutritional Science Research Institute, an industry-based nonprofit organization that studies nutritional dietary supplements. So you don't really have to worry about toxicity.
Studies show that the positive effects associated with the smart drug’s use increase with the dosage. Although it is present in most teas, the amount is usually unpredictable, so it's hard to know what the effects of tea will be. For this reason, it can be assumed that supplements containing larger doses of L-Theanine (such as Proper Wild) are more reliable when substantial effects are desired.
Caffeine & L-Theanine: The Power Couple
"When we were creating the formula for Proper Wild, we wanted to make something that really worked well for both focus and energy," says Proper Wild CEO and Co-Founder, Vincent Bradley. The effects of caffeine are widely known for combating drowsiness, increasing reaction time, and enhancing dopamine and serotonin levels, but drinking too much of a stimulant like coffee can often affect sleep quality, blood pressure, and even anxiety symptoms in those who are more sensitive to it.
"We gravitated towards using Organic Caffeine from Green Tea in our shots, because we wanted a science-backed stimulant that really works, but that would also remain stable and durable during our hot-fill manufacturing process,” Bradley explains. “It’s a process that allows us to formulate our shots without using any of those nasty preservatives!”
“Most other quality stimulants, like Ginseng, Rhodiola Root, and Cordyceps Mushrooms, are not stable in low ph, hot fill environments — which means they would get destroyed during our manufacturing process,” says Bradley. “Caffeine, fortunately, is one of the most stable and durable ingredients that exists!”
But what about the side effects?
If you’ve ever had a cup of coffee, an energy drink, or caffeine pills, you’re probably all too familiar with the dark side of caffeine use... (i.e. jitters, anxiety, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, a huge crash, upset stomach & digestive issues, headaches, and more). It can even reduce your objective sleep quality, which can be detrimental to your overall well-being.
"Of course we were concerned about many of the negative side effects we'd experienced with other caffeinated products on the market,” Bradley says, “so we researched and tested a ton of options, and were most excited by the results we experienced with L-Theanine."
To be more specific, it’s the correct dosage of Organic Caffeine & L-Theanine that Proper Wild uses in their formula that makes the shots so powerful.
Bradley explains, “When combined, these ingredients are scientifically proven to boost your energy, focus and productivity, while significantly reducing the negative side effects associated with caffeine use: those unwanted jitters and big crash!" This means that you're getting all the bonuses of caffeine with an added calming effect.
“It’s one of the reasons people drink tea,” says Dr. Bukowski. “The combination of the caffeine and the effects of L-Theanine gives people the same amount of energy as caffeine alone, but less of a jittery-ness.”
In fact, a 2013 study found that, when used in conjunction, the combination of L-Theanine and caffeine helped a group of young adults to focus remarkably better during demanding tasks. The study’s participants also reported feeling more alert and less tired in general.
An additional study also concluded that the combo led to reduced ‘headache’ and ‘tired’ ratings among participants, while their ‘alert’ ratings increased.
The results suggest that the ingestion of beverages containing L-Theanine and Caffeine in combination does have a more significant pharmacological effect compared to those containing caffeine alone. So the next time you’re experiencing a mid-afternoon crash, or in need of a morning pick-me-up, think twice before ordering that coffee!