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L-Theanine Caffeine & Matcha Green Tea

Matcha's benefits in mind and soul

(Photo credit to nathanjamesjohnston)

A quick search for health benefits of matcha and one of the first things you’ll read about is the presence of L-theanine in green tea, and how it can help improve your well being. It’s said to increase energy, help you relax, and improve your mood and concentration. But what is L-theanine and what is the difference between L-theanine, theanine and the lesser known D-theanine?

Let’s find out! Following is the infographic and the detailed article about the health benefits of the synergy of L-theanine and caffeine.

Infographic of L-theanine health benefits

 

What is L-Theanine?

L-theanine structure

Theanine is an amino-acid that is found in green tea leaves and some fungal species. The “L” prefix in L-theanine implies the L-enantiomer, or in layman’s terms (because if you’re like me, you’re still struggling to pronounce enantiomer), the direction in which its chemical chain spirals. D-enantiomer spirals the other way. The use of the word theanine without any prefix is presumed to refer to L-theanine.

“Ok, got it. But what’s this got to do with anything?” you ask.

Good question. Firstly, L-theanine (or theanine) is a naturally occurring compound found in green tea leaves and some mushrooms. In 1964, it was approved for unlimited use in foods including chocolate, soft drinks and herbal teas with the exception of infant foods.

D-theanine on the other hand, doesn’t occur naturally in foods and is mostly found in chemical preparations and some theanine supplements.

Secondly, L-theanine boasts a number of health benefits including increasing your energy, promoting relaxation, improving your mood and helping you concentrate. It is even said to have cancer prevention properties, though limited scientific evidence is available.

Lastly - and most importantly - L-theanine is abundant in matcha tea!

Health Benefits of L-Theanine

Consumption of L-theanine increases levels of Ɣ-Aminobutyric acid (GABA) which acts as a calming neurotransmitter, reducing excitability throughout the nervous system and promoting relaxation in the body. The increased levels of GABA results in a number of health benefits including:

1. Reduction of physical stress

Stress-free with matcha

GABA is directly responsible for the regulation of muscle tone. In turn, muscle tone influences the amount of physical stress experienced in your body. Having high muscle tone (hypertonia) results in stiffness in the body, making it increasingly difficult to move both passively and actively. Hypotonia (low muscle tone) results in lack of postural stability and inability to generate force. Muscle tone regulation is important and effective in managing (and reducing) mental and physical stress in our bodies.

2. Management of blood pressure

Matcha healthy heart and blood pressure

A survey conducted by the Heart Foundation in 2010 found that about one third of Australians aged 30-65 suffer from high blood pressure (also known as hypertension).  That’s almost 3.5 million people! High blood pressure is difficult to detect, and combined with other factors such as smoking, high cholesterol, being overweight and having diabetes, can result in life threatening situations. In 2012, a study found that L-theanine not only reduces anxiety but also stemmed the increase of high blood pressure.

On a side note, matcha also helps boost metabolism and burn fat, which directly influences the risk of high blood pressure.

3. Improvement in cognition

In 2008, a study compared mental alertness and cognition in subjects who consumed caffeine versus those who consumed caffeine with added L-theanine. It found that those who consumed a combination of caffeine and L-theanine had improved performance on cognitively demanding tasks as compared to those who only consumed caffeine.

4. Improves mood (makes you happy!)

Matcha makes you happy

(Photo credit to Nina)

L-theanine enhances the production of serotonin in our bodies, which helps improve our mood. Serotonin is commonly recognised as the connection between food and mood. Although it’s a neurotransmitter (the word ‘neuro’ leading us to believe it’s a chemical found in the brain), 80-90% of the serotonin in a human body is found in our gut. Sufficient levels of serotonin is required for our daily function - both neurologically and physiologically. The higher the level of serotonin, the happier we feel!  Luckily, serotonin is available in a number of everyday food sources such as fruit, and the quantity of serotonin in our body is further boosted by the L-theanine in matcha.

5. Sharpens concentration and memory

Matcha improves memory

L-theanine also increases our dopamine levels, which enhances memory and refines our ability to concentrate. Dopamine is a highly effective chemical in our brain that influences reward, cognitive control, reinforcement, motivation, arousal and motor control, as well as a number of physical functions, such as lactation. Of these, the most well known effect of dopamine is pleasure and reward, and interestingly, addictive drugs such as cocaine contain extremely high levels of dopamine. However, the most useful effect of dopamine is its ability to influence cognitive control through sharpening our concentration and memory and eliminating temptation and distraction.

6. Increase in energy

The energy boost experienced after consuming matcha tea is largely due to its caffeine content (about twice as much as a regular green tea) as well as a number of other nutrients, including L-theanine. Although matcha contains more caffeine than regular green tea, the L-theanine counteracts the usual effects of stimulants such as nervousness and wakefulness.

Speaking of L-theanine and caffeine, let’s take a look at why this pairing is so popular.

L-Theanine and Caffeine - What’s the Fuss?

Many articles have been written about the synergies between L-theanine and caffeine and in fact entire product lines are available in the market, such as supplements that contain substantial amounts of both L-theanine and caffeine. But why the fuss? What makes this coupling so special?

Caffeine structure

Well, as mentioned above, consumption of L-theanine increases levels of GABA in the brain, amongst other chemicals, and GABA acts as a calming neurotransmitter, reducing excitability throughout the nervous system and promoting relaxation in the body. Caffeine, on the other hand, is a stimulant that triggers mental alertness and on the far end of the scale, causes nervousness and anxiety. When the two are combined, the resulting effect is a clear state of mental alertness derived from the caffeine, but without the jitters, thanks to the calming effect of L-theanine. In fact, the combined effect of L-theanine and caffeine improves performance on cognitively demanding tasks better than each stimulant on its own.

And what makes this partnership particularly special is that both L-theanine and caffeine can be found in abundance in a simple cup of matcha green tea.

Cup of matcha tea

(Photo credit to Abbie)

So instead of popping L-theanine and caffeine supplements, why not really synergise and reach for a comforting cup of matcha tea instead? Not only will you reap all the benefits of L-theanine and caffeine, you’ll also be looking after your overall well being by relaxing with a hot cuppa.

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Catherine Lee
Catherine Lee

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