For those of us who like a cup of coffee in the morning, there’s some good news about how to get the most out of it. But what’s with the image header in this article? Did the web admin, perhaps not having had enough coffee, slip up and put the wrong image in?
The real story, as it turns out, is that coffee may be king, but the king is not complete without his queen: l-theanine. Of course, caffeine is a popular stimulant that is generally considered safe and is easily available. Those of us particularly keen to justify our morning coffee may also point to its antioxidant effects exceeding even those of green tea. But what if caffeine could be supported, enhanced, and some of its less desirable effects softened while keeping the benefits? That’d be coffee, super-powered! And here’s where l-theanine comes in. But what actually is it?
This nifty little compound is an amino acid first found in green tea. It’s also found in other kinds of true tea (such as black tea, white tea, etc, but not in herbal preparations often called tea, such as camomile tea, peppermint tea, etc), and also in one particular kind of wild mushroom, but that’s not widely available. Popular supplements are often lab-made, though some higher-end supplements, such as Noobru™ use naturally derived forms.
L-theanine, be it from green tea or elsewhere, reduces caffeine’s effect on the heart, and also inhibits dopamine receptors—dopamine being the brain’s reward-signaling chemical—meaning that dopamine triggered by various rewarding activities (including drinking coffee) will now have a longer gentler effect, instead of a sudden spike followed by an equally sudden slump. It’s not surprising then that in combination with caffeine, l-theanine has been shown in studies to promote better performance in dopamine-dependant tasks. While dopamine’s most well-known for being the brain’s reward-signaling chemical, it is also the neurotransmitter responsible for critical path analysis, working memory, and many linguistic functions, so having it in a stable fashion, rather than just a brief hit followed by a crash, is a real game-changer.
So if you’d benefit from science-backed improvements to activities that require focus and improved attention, such as faster simple reaction time (e.g., hit the button when you see the light), faster numeric working memory reaction time (e.g., think fast: what’s 17+4/2?), and improved sentence verification accuracy (e.g., where’s the typo in the sentence you just read?), then l-theanine is the key that unlocks caffeine’s otherwise untapped potential. And if you take it without caffeine, is it still worth having? Yes, it is.
L-theanine also supports healthy brain function due to its effect on your natural production of serotonin and GABA, and its effects on the dopaminergic system aren’t dependent on caffeine, but rather simply improves such if put together. Taking l-theanine can give you a lift in mood (thanks to the increased serotonin and GABA, and more stable dopamine levels), reduction in stress and anxiety (thanks to the increased serotonin and GABA) and gentler more sustainable wakefulness (thanks to the increased serotonin and more stable dopamine levels) followed by better sleep (thanks to the anti-stress and anti-anxiety effects) when you do decide to call it a night. And as we all know: better sleep, better brain.
So l-theanine with or without coffee gives us quite a different experience to that of coffee alone: coffee alone being a stimulant that works primarily by a combination of vasoconstriction (as in a fight-or-flight response) and tricking adenosine receptors into not reporting your tiredness to you—which is why after staying up with coffee alone, you’ll often find you’re extra-exhausted afterwards; not so with l-theanine to smooth out caffeine’s rougher edges!
And that’s without getting into the other benefits of l-theanine; it’s also known for boosting immunity, promoting alpha brain wave generation (associated with an awake, alert, relaxed state), and glycine production for relaxation and further supporting happiness due to its added support of dopamine levels.
So, how much l-theanine should we have, and how should we take it?
As it’s not an essential nutrient, there’s no recommended daily amount, but 200mg/day is a popular dose that’s been well-backed in studies. You could get that from about 10 cups of black tea, or 40 cups of green tea, or one 200mg supplement. We don’t drink quite that much tea, so we like to supplement ours with Noobru™, especially as a refreshing chaser to a morning coffee.