Everyday stress is a normal part of modern living. Job pressures, family responsibilities, financial pressures, traffic, and time management are just a few of the constant stressors most of us face on a daily basis. Sometimes the stress can be overwhelming—as a result nearly 20 percent of adults in the U.S. use a drug like Xanax, Valium, Restoril, Lunesta, or Ambien to help them calm down or sleep, All of these drugs are associated with significant risks, including the fact that they are highly addictive and are very poor candidates for long-term use. Up 35 percent in the last year, prescriptions for these types of drugs are at an all-time high.
A Gentle, Natural Alternative For Relaxation and Stress Reduction
L-theanine, a unique amino acid found almost exclusively in tea (Camellia sinensis), is emerging as the premier natural approach to relieve stress and anxiety. Comprising between 1 to 2 percent of the dry weight of tea leaves, L-theanine has been available in the U.S. as a purified form known as Suntheanine for several years now.
The effects of L-theanine are amazing. Clinical studies have demonstrated that L-theanine reduces stress, improves quality of sleep, diminishes symptoms of premenstrual syndrome, heightens mental acuity, and reduces negative side effects of caffeine. These clinical effects are directly related to L-theanine’s ability to stimulate the production of alpha brain waves (often achieved by meditation and characterized by relaxation with greater mental focus and mental alertness), as well as reduced beta waves (associated with nervousness, scattered thoughts, and hyperactivity).
L-theanine has been approved for use in Japan to conquer stress and promote relaxation. It is a popular ingredient in functional foods and beverages, as well as dietary supplements designed to produce mental and physical relaxation without inducing drowsiness. L-theanine is fast acting. When taken on an empty stomach the effects are felt within the first 30 minutes and have been shown to last 8 to 12 hours. It has also been used with great effectiveness to relief premenstrual syndrome
Clinical studies find L-theanine effective in the range of 50 to 200 mg. For higher stress levels, 100 to 200 mg one to three times daily is recommended. Although L-theanine is completely safe and without any known adverse drug interactions, as a general guideline, take no more than 600 mg within a six-hour period and no more than 1,200 mg within a 24-hour period.
At typical dosages 100 to 200 mg, L-theanine does not act as a sedative but significantly improves sleep quality. It is also an excellent synergist to melatonin and 5-HTP (5~hydroxytryptophan) in promoting sleep. On its own, L-theanine at a dosage of 200 mg was shown in a double-blind trial to produce statistically significant improvements in sleep efficiency.
The Next Supplement Superstar
There are several reasons why L-theanine is going to emerge as a major natural product. It fills a need as a safe alternative to prescription drugs that are highly addictive and have a long list of side effects. The scientific merit of the product has been sufficiently established. In addition, L-theanine is a product that is truly experiential—when you use it, you can feel a difference. However, in the studies showing L-theanine’s ability to produce an increase in alpha waves, the relaxing effect was really only noticeable in people who were experiencing a bit of nervousness. People who were already feeling relaxed and alert did not experience any change with L-theanine. The people who really feel the full effects of L-theanine are only those that truly need it.
Research has demonstrated that in addition to facilitating relaxation, L-theanine may benefit learning performance, mental clarity, concentration, and immunity. And, unlike tranquilizing drugs, it doesn’t interfere with the ability to think. Studies on rodents show just the opposite: theanine enhances the ability to learn and remember. By shutting down the “worry” mode, theanine increases concentration and focuses thought.
Michael Lyon, MD, Director of the Canadian Center for Functional Medicine, in conjunction with the University of British Columbia, is conducting a double-blind, placebo-controlled study in boys diagnosed with attention deficit disorder with hyperactivity. If the results of Dr. Lyon’s study are as impressive as case histories and preliminary studies, L-theanine should emerge as a safe, natural alternative to the drug Ritalin for children with ADHD.