Theanine – A Nutrient for Relaxation
Friday, December 07, 2012
Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
Theanine is the active component of green tea responsible not only for its taste but also for its relaxing effects. In 1999, a method for concentrating a purified form of theanine into a dietary supplement was perfected (Suntheanine1). Brain cells are known to generate electrical pulses, called brain waves, from their cell surfaces. It was demonstrated in humans that 40 minutes after taking theanine (50 mg to 200 mg), relaxing alpha waves were generated in various brain regions, an effect that may last up to 12 hours.
Theanine is a derivative of glutamic acid, a neurotransmitter naturally found in your brain. It has been shown to influence the formation of the relaxing neurotransmitter called GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid). Research on theanine has continued over the years, and an impressive body of science shows both the safety and effectiveness of this nutrient.
Theanine Supports Cognitive Performance and Focus
It has been shown that theanine’s influence of the alpha band of brain wave2 activity produces a relaxed, yet non-drowsy state of mind. This has recently been shown in the ability to improve focus3 on a given task over a period of time; the opposite of being attention deficit.
The ability to sustain mental focus is partly due to brain activation or stimulation, and partly due to the activation that occurs when adequate “relaxed mental reserves” are in place. Many nutrients, such as B vitamins, support brain activation. Caffeine is a commonly used brain activator in our society, and the combination of a small amount of caffeine (50 mg per ½ cup of coffee) combined with theanine4 has been shown to improve performance on cognitively demanding tasks. In the absence of adequate relaxed mental reserves, focus is replaced by distraction, irritability, or mental fatigue.
Furthermore, an animal study demonstrated that theanine enhances learning and memory5. A cell study shows that theanine was able to protect nerve cells from the powerful rotenone toxin6. Another animal study confirms that theanine reduces oxidative stress7 in brain cells, helping the brain to offset free radical damage.
Collectively, these studies indicate that theanine is helpful for maintaining a more relaxed, yet focused state of awareness that is conducive to learning. At the same time, the nutrient helps protect against factors that cause brain stress.
Theanine and Weight Management
I have pointed out the importance of having a baseline of relaxation to support weight loss (offsetting excess cortisol), which includes getting adequate quality sleep. Stress, agitation, and irritation are known to throw a monkey wrench into metabolic function and proper calorie burning. Many people think that if they just go faster they will burn more calories. Anyone living on caffeine knows that this is not the case.
One animal study supports that theanine may be helpful as part of a weight management program8. Another animal study showed that theanine supported healthy triglyceride metabolism9 in the liver, which is of course very important for enhanced calorie metabolism and leptin function.
Theanine and Sleep
Theanine does not make you drowsy, sleepy or tired when taken during the day. However, part of preparing your mind to go into deeper sleep is first getting into a more relaxed state, which theanine clearly supports. Once you are relaxed, you are more likely to enter brain wave states associated with deeper sleep.
Various stressors tend to wind up your nerves and keep you up even when you may be physically tired. The wear and tear of such stress tends to deplete the “relaxed reserves” in your nervous system.
Taking theanine during the day may help you be more relaxed at bedtime, and taking some before bedtime may also help you to relax so that you find it easier to get to sleep and stay asleep.
A preliminary human sleep study with theanine10 found improved quality of sleep as subjects reported an absence of feeling exhausted, and a reduced need for sleep.
Our Sleep Helper supplement, which may be used during the day to help relax or at night to assist sleep, contains 100 mg of Suntheanine per capsule with other synergistic nutrients for relaxation.
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