What is L-theanine and How Can It Help Mental Performance?


There are many “wonder substances” that supposedly work miracles. If you look on the web for health products or supplements you can find a host of natural compounds that reportedly cure cancer or hair loss for example. The actual benefits and usefulness of these items are often unclear or simply unfounded. In this article, we look at a simple chemical compound that does actually provide benefits to the human body. We are not talking about something that can reverse aging, or help you lose 10 stone – but something that can improve your mental performance. The substance in question is L-theanine. In the text below, we look at what this substance is, and how it can actually help your brain.

L-Theanine – amino acid analogue found In fungal and plant varieties

First, let’s look at the chemical compound L-Theanine. Understanding what this substance is and how it interacts with our body is an important part of understanding its benefits. We dissect the properties and natural occurrence of L-Theanine, and how it reacts with our brain and body:

Chemical properties and makeup

L-Theanine is a proteinogenic amino acid from the L-Glutamate group – it is known as an amino acid analog. The following are some basic facts and stats about L-Theanine:

– First discovered in Japan
– Initially isolated from Gyokuro green tea leaves in 1949 / 1950
– Method of administration: Oral

Natural occurrence of L-theanine

This substance is primarily found in different tea varieties. As mentioned above, it was first discovered in Kyoto, Japan. Scientists isolated it from a green tea leaf from the Camellia Sinensis family. It is also found in some fungal species but in much smaller concentrations. The following are tea variants where L-Theanine is present:

– Black tea
– Green tea
– White tea

In terms of actual quantity and concentration, L-Theanine accounts for approximately 1% of the dry weight of tea leaves. The concentration of L-Theanine can actually be increased in tea leaves through a drying process. The leaves are left in shade to improve their flavor – this also boosts Theanine levels.

Interaction with human digestive system

This substance is ingested. As it is a form of glutamate, Theanine is absorbed into our bodies through our small intestine. Moreover, and more importantly, it can also cross our blood-brain barrier. This is important as it means that its pharmacological effects can be directly registered with our brain. When we ingest L-Theanine, its psychoactive qualities are activated, thus allowing the benefits we will discuss below.

Available products containing L-theanine

The main products containing this substance are varieties of tea. Matcha and Gyokuro green tea varieties have the highest content and are drunk throughout Japan. It is estimated for example that the average Japanese citizen ingests 20mg of L-Theanine per day by drinking green tea.

It is also possible to take L-Theanine supplements in the form of pills, drinks or even chewing gum. This type of product is known as a nootropic and is used to boost mental performance. We can see why this type of product is so effective from the benefits L-Theanine provides.

l-theanine in green tea

How can this substance benefit your mental performance?

Now that you understand what L-Theanine is, we can look at the benefits it provides. There are reports that this substance can improve your immune system and improve the effectiveness of certain cancer treatment drugs. The evidence to support these claims, however, is not abundant.

The below benefits are supported by scientific research studies and are widely known, however – more specifically, they deal with improved mental performance:

Reduced anxiety and stress

In today’s modern world we are continually bombarded. Our minds are constantly working. At school, work, or even our home lives we can be subject to high-stress levels. Moreover, this can lead to anxiety and other psychological conditions.

Research studies have shown that L-theanine can actually help reduce stress levels and our resting heart rate. Moreover, it can increase our relaxation and even reduce the effects of anxiety. During exam revision or before a high-powered business meeting, a dose of L-theanine could really help calm those nerves and allow you to perform better.

Improved mental focus

Even if you do not have high-stress levels, you may still struggle to focus. Mental focus helps you concentrate. You may be studying for an exam for example. When studying, you have to summon your mental power to focus on the subject and the task in hand. This is not always easy!

Researchers have performed studies on control groups of students. They were given a dose of approximately 97mg of L-Theanine and tasked with some difficult work. The students reported they were able to focus easier and also felt a greater level of alertness.

Reduced blood pressure

Blood pressure can actually affect mental performance. High blood pressure can also lead to other complications. If you have a higher blood pressure you may struggle to concentrate or you may get headaches for example. Moreover, after completing strenuous tasks, you can be prone to blood pressure spikes.

L-Theanine can reduce these spikes (it actually does a better job than caffeine too). In addition to this, it can help control blood pressure during difficult situations. This means that you can concentrate better, and your blood pressure will not negatively impact your mental capacity.

Hopefully, you now have a clearer understanding of L-theanine and the benefits it can provide. This is by no means a miracle substance. It will not drastically change your life or cure your illnesses. It can however when used in the right amounts, provide a boost to your mental performance. If you need to knuckle down during exam season, or power through a gaming session, this substance could help!

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