In the US alone almost 50 million prescriptions were written for the anti-anxiety drug Xanax. It is reported that 1 in every 10 Americans is currently taking an antidepressant prescription medication. Some of the side effects of Xanax are drowsiness, memory impairment, anxiety, insomnia, change in appetite, decreased libido, and more. Xanax has a high potential for addiction, which is why it is designed to be prescribed for short-term use only.
Many anxiety sufferers have searched for a safer alternative for mild anxiety. L-theanine, an amino acid that has been receiving a lot of attention for its anxiety and stress blocking abilities, has been on my supplement list for several years.
My Personal Experience with L-Theanine
I first began using this supplement when I realized what I was experiencing was anxiety back in 2013. My doctor at that time had even used L-theanine for public speaking when he had experienced mild anxiety. He recommended it for generalized anxiety disorder and the anti-stress effects it has.
At night, I take a 500 mg capsule to calm my thoughts and help my body lower cortisol levels which also improves my sleep quality.
Update 2021: For a few years I stopped taking L-Theanine because my anxiety was gone. I'd had a stressful few months at the beginning of the year due to a move and some symptoms of menopause. After monitoring my heart rate at night along with my morning cortisol levels, I realized I needed the calming effects of L-Theanine before I go to bed. So, once again, I began taking 500 mg of l-theanine just before sleep. I wasn't experiencing anxiety symptoms, but I'd lost a lot of blood and my heart rate was a bit high even though my blood pressure was low. Within days of starting back on the l-theanine supplements my sleep score had improved and my heart rate was closer to normal. (I also got my iron back under control.)
Benefits of L-Theanine on Anxiety and Nervousness
L-theanine has been widely used for the supplement's ability to produce a calming relaxing effect by reducing anxiety. By blocking glutamate receptors in the brain L-theanine produces anti-anxiety effects that, unlike prescription anti-anxiety drugs, does not impair motor behavior or cause drowsiness. Mood enhancing serotonin levels increase due to the ability of l-theanine to reduce obsessive negative thoughts.
Because L-theanine stimulates the production of the neurotransmitter GABA it can create a calm almost tranquilizing effect. Yet at the same time, it moderately improves attention and alertness. That is because L-theanine has been shown to stimulate alpha waves in our brain as well as increasing the “feel good” neurotransmitter dopamine. L-theanine is not addictive.
Within the last decade, L-theanine has been studied for its potential to reduce the risk of stroke and even limit brain damage in strokes caused by blood clots. Researchers already know that green tea has potential in preventing strokes. (source) In lab tests, L-theanine substantially reduced damage to the brain caused by a stroke when treated within 24 hours. (source) The protective benefits of L-theanine are attributed to multiple mechanisms.
Researchers have studied the protective effects of L-theanine against exposure to toxic chemicals that cause neurodegenerative disorders and even toxicity from aluminum. According to studies L-theanine has the ability to prevent damage to the brain cells caused by aluminum, therefore slowing or even preventing mental decline.
In addition to its role in repairing or preventing damage from stroke and metal toxicity, L-theanine has even been shown to demonstrate significant reductions in general symptoms of schizophrenia. Studies show that when combined with pregnenolone the benefits are increased offering a new option for those suffering from schizophrenia. (source)
Some research has shown that the combination of L-theanine with caffeine improves the ability to process and retain knowledge thus having a positive impact on learning. (source) This combination has been shown to promote a faster reaction time aiding focus and the brain's ability to retain information. What I wished I knew when I was still in school!
L-theanine can reduce stress brought on by coffee, by combatting the vasoconstrictive properties of caffeine. Research shows combining L-theanine with caffeine, at levels and ratios equivalent to one to two cups of tea, eliminated the vasoconstrictive effect and behavioral effects of caffeine.
Because l-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier, its effects on the central nervous system have received attention.
In addition, studies show that young adults with ADHD can benefit from L-theanine due to the supplement's ability to help improve focus and improve sleep. Being able to concentrate and focus on a task can lead to overall better performance. Doctors indicate that those with ADHD often get poor quality sleep. (2) L-theanine can help to improve the quality of sleep; suggesting this might be a good supplement to try before medicating with stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta or Ritalin.
On a side note, the FDA has cited every major drug for false and misleading advertising, some more than once. (source) Pharmaceutical companies have experienced soaring profits, seeing an increase of more than five times in less than a decade. Advertisements tend to target the general public to feel a connection with ADD to the point of self-diagnosis. These stimulants are being advertised to entice adults as well as children. Read more: The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder.
A growing number of teenagers and young adults are abusing prescription stimulants to boost their study performance in an effort to improve their grades in school, and there is a widespread belief that these drugs can improve a person’s ability to learn (“cognitive enhancement”).
Prescription stimulants do promote wakefulness, but studies have found that they do not enhance learning or thinking ability when taken by people who do not actually have ADHD. Also, research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t. (1)
Improved Reaction Time
A double-blind study demonstrated the significantly enhanced attention span and improved reaction time response among high anxiety propensity subjects compared to a placebo.
ALWAYS consult your physician before discontinuing medication for yourself or your child or before starting a new supplement.
If you are trying to cope with mild to moderate anxiety, you might consider talking to your doctor about supplementing with the non-essential amino acid L-theanine. Of course, not all physicians are open using supplements.
In psychiatry, doctors recognize the neuroprotective effects and health benefits of using l-theanine for improved stress response. L-theanine elevates neurotransmitters, the brain chemicals responsible for mood, emotions and other cognitive skills. Handling stress better can lead to lower blood pressure and better general health.
If you are thinking about using a medication to help your young adult in school, maybe consider a dietary change as an alternative to starting medication. The article Natural Remedies for ADHD by Dr Josh Axe has some good suggestions that I would add to my child's L-theanine. (Which I have in 2019.)
If you are considering using this supplement, make sure to look for it listed as Suntheanine as it is said to be the only pure form of this amino acid. Although, I have experienced positive effects of l-theanine on my mental health as well as my physical health.
ALWAYS consult your physician before discontinuing medication for yourself or your child or before starting a new supplement. This post is not medical advice, you should always check with your healthcare provider before supplementation of any kind. Women who are breastfeeding should not use l-theanine unless specifically directed to do so by their personal healthcare provider.
1 – Lakhan, Shaheen E, and Annette Kirchgessner. “Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effects.” Brain and behavior vol. 2,5 (2012): 661-77. doi:10.1002/brb3.78
2 – Hidese, Shinsuke et al. “Effects of L-Theanine Administration on Stress-Related Symptoms and Cognitive Functions in Healthy Adults: A Randomized Controlled Trial.” Nutrients vol. 11,10 2362. 3 Oct. 2019, doi:10.3390/nu11102362
3 – Takeshima, Mika et al. “l-Theanine protects against excess dopamine-induced neurotoxicity in the presence of astrocytes.” Journal of clinical biochemistry and nutrition vol. 59,2 (2016): 93-99. doi:10.3164/jcbn.16-15
4 – Dodd, F L et al. “A double-blind, placebo-controlled study evaluating the effects of caffeine and L-theanine both alone and in combination on cerebral blood flow, cognition and mood.” Psychopharmacology vol. 232,14 (2015): 2563-76. doi:10.1007/s00213-015-3895-0
Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response