Two words: Caffeine and L-Theanine.
We all know about caffeine from coffee, so no explanation needed. For those of you who are going to protest that you drink tea with little to no caffeine (i.e. green, white, caffeine-free) and therefore shouldn’t be stimulated by tea, two arguments:
1) Even white, green, and decaffinated tea still contain some caffeine, which explains the alertness and energy spike from drinking tea.
2) The L-Theanine in tea has similar effects as caffeine, albeit it safer, healthier, and more mild. Let’s explore…
What is L-Theanine?
L-Theanine is an amino acid found in tea. It is believed to contribute to the taste and color of tea. Research indicates that it “may modulate aspects of brain function in humans.”
L-Theanine and the Brain
Studies suggest L-Theanine “significantly increases activity in the alpha frequency band which indicates that it relaxes the mind without inducing drowsiness” (qtd from PubMed).
“Alpha activity is known to play an important role in critical aspects of attention.” This may explain why drinking tea in the morning, or when facing the mid-afternoon slump, may improve concentration, and help drinkers be more task-oriented and less easily distracted.
How do caffeine and L-Theanine work to boost alertness, brain activity, and get you through the afternoon stump?
A 2008 studies reveals that the benefits of L-Theanine occur most favorably when combined with caffeine: “faster simple reaction time, faster numeric working memory reaction time and improved sentence verification accuracy” with less ‘mental fatigue’ (qtd from PubMed).
According to Dr. Weil’s website, L-Theanine promotes relaxation while preventing the jitteryness typically caused by caffeine–another reason to choose tea over coffee, since coffee doesn’t contain the L-Theanine. Tony over at WorldofTea, refers to it as “mindful awareness.”
Benefits of L-Theanine
- Mental alertness and acuity
- Increase relaxation to counter caffeine jitters
- Improve concentration and task-orientation
- Ability to ignore distractions and prevent overstimulation (PubMed)
- Improve cognitive ability, reaction time, and performance
- Aid relaxation
- Reduce anxiety
- Quicken and ready the immune response in those exposed to germs (PNAS.org)
How do I get these benefits? A minimum of 50g of L-Theanine was found to be effected at inducing alpha waves in the brain–approximately 3 cups of tea. And choose teas that have some caffeine in them–green, oolong, pu-erh–for the best effects.
Don’t look for L-Theanine extracts/capsules/additives–these haven’t been properly tested and don’t offer the synergistic effects with caffeine. L-Theanine is naturally occurring, only in tea. Drink some tea today!