We hear so much about the jitter-inducing effects of caffeine. Sure, you may feel alert, but after that initial jolt, do you also feel anxious, tense, or even a bit shaky?
Trust us—we’ve been there, too. That’s why it was a “no brainer” to formulate Patch with l-theanine, a powerful amino acid that’s been used for centuries as a balancing companion to caffeine. In recent years, science has helped confirm what prior generations long hypothesized: l-theanine does indeed help offset the jittery, anxiety-inducing effects of caffeine, instead promoting relaxation and even supporting memory and cognitive clarity.
Whoa! Those are some pretty lofty claims. We agree. And that’s why we’re here to help walk you through the science that supports them. So let’s dive in!
What is L-theanine?
L-theanine is so well studied because we’ve known about it for over half a century. This water-soluble amino acid was first identified in tea leaves by the Japanese way back in the late 1940s—in fact, the presence of l-theanine is likely one of the reasons why people around the world find sipping tea relaxing (and perhaps why tea is the second most consumed beverage worldwide). And indeed, it’s from tea leaves that Patch derives its l-theanine.
How does L-theanine work?
At a fundamental level, l-theanine’s benefits rely on its ability to affect chemical changes in the brain that promote relaxation.
So how exactly does l-theanine promote relaxation? It has the ability to elevate levels of the neurotransmitters known as serotonin and dopamine, both of which are essential to regulating mood and the brain’s pleasure and rewards system. Increased levels of these neurochemicals promote the sensation of relaxation.
L-theanine has also been shown to inhibit a major “excitatory” brain chemical—glutamate—that is linked to stress and anxiety. Low levels of glutamate can result in brain fog and negatively affect memory, while high levels may actually kill neurons and lead to impaired brain function. In other words, stress can quite literally kill brain cells.
The natural counterbalance to excess glutamate is the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid. That’s a mouthful, but rest assured, you can just refer to it as GABA. Many mental health conditions such as depression, OCD, and Alzheimers are characterized by low levels of GABA. But because l-theanine so closely resembles glutamate, it can actually bond to the brain’s glutamate receptors, allowing it to mimic the effects of GABA and produce a calming effect. Pretty remarkable, right?
L-theanine has also been shown to trigger alpha brain waves (α), which are associated with a state of “wakeful relaxation.” In one study involving electroencephalography (EEG), human subjects were given 50 mg of l-theanine (a typical cup of tea has anywhere between 5-25 mg) and tested for α-wave activity under both rested conditions and while engaging in passive activity. Compared to the placebo group, the l-theanine group experienced significant increases in the patterns of intensity of α-wave production and subjects reported a heightened state of mental alertness. Essentially, l-theanine helped promote relaxation without the usual sedative effects! This is especially meaningful for those of us who like to meditate, tap into our creative flow, or simply just focus.
Okay, time for a restorative breather. That was a lot of information we just threw at you, so let’s break it down in terms of real life implications.
Mental Wellness Benefits:
The three most evident benefits of l-Theanine are—anxiety and stress relief; improved focus and memory; and better quality sleep. Let’s zoom in.
#1: Anxiety and Stress Relief
L-theanine is a categorical anxiolytic. That means it helps reduce anxiety. But unlike other common anxiolytics such as hops and valerian root, it does not act as a sedative. Instead, it promotes a state of calm and attentive wakefulness: essentially relaxed but not sleepy.
In a 2016 human study involving 104 participants, consumption of l-theanine supplements over an 8-week period resulted in significant reductions in stress and anxiety compared to a placebo group. (When it comes to supporting mental well-being, these are the promising kinds of outcomes that get the Patch Team all jazzed up)!
L-theanine consumption has also been shown to affect the physical symptoms of stress by inhibiting cortical neuron excitation via its ability to block glutamate receptors and by lowering the heart rate and reducing blood pressure. This is a long way of saying that l-theanine can block brain signals that increase heart rate and blood pressure when you feel stressed.
#2: Improved Focus and Memory
Let’s start with an explanation of what happens to your body when you get stressed. When stressed, the adrenal gland releases the hormones cortisol and adrenaline, increasing blood sugar, heart rate, and blood flow to the muscles in order to prepare the body to respond to the source of the stress (think: fight or flight). When stress hormones remain elevated, cognitive function and memory recollection can suffer. A common real world example would be when your mind goes blank while taking a test. No bueno!
A 2019 study on the stress to perform demonstrates how stress and anxiety erode our ability to focus. Under stress, students’ performance suffered as they fixated on negative thoughts rather than on the task at hand. L-theanine can help combat that stress.
Now onto caffeine. Whether it be an energy drink or your favorite espresso, that heart racing anxiety inducing state of over caffeination can actually be remedied with l-theanine. When combined with caffeine, l-theanine has been shown to enhance cognitive skills while preventing the anxiety and high heart rate that many experience with caffeine consumption. Caffeine is a vasoconstrictor meaning that it temporarily raises blood pressure by reducing the size of blood vessels. When l-theanine was introduced into the equation, the vasoconstrictive effects of caffeine were eliminated.
In addition, a 2012 study showed improved attention span and focus when participants consumed l-theanine and caffeine simultaneously compared to a placebo group that produced a higher rate of errors. A similar study found that the l-theanine and caffeine combo also improved accuracy when switching tasks and self reported alertness of participants.
#3: Improved Sleep
We sometimes like to pretend that sleep isn’t that important when we’re burning the midnight oil or enjoying a late night winning streak, but sleep is absolutely essential to healthy living. Over the last decade as research on the topic has evolved, we’ve seen that quality sleep can lead to better mood regulation, lower risk of diabetes and cardiovascular conditions, and an overall higher quality of life.
The good news is that l-theanine offers a unique benefit for improving sleep quality. More specifically, it’s been shown to boost the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which then converts to melatonin in the brain's pineal gland. This leads to better sleep since melatonin helps regulate your circadian rhythm.
Thanks to this boost, l-theanine can help people fall asleep faster and improve the quality of their sleep. A 2018 study of 46 participants tested the effects of l-theanine on sleep over a 10-week consumption period. The group taking the supplements reported an experience of higher quality sleep than did the placebo group.
The anxiolytic effects of l-theanine—in other words, its ability to reduce anxiety—are what truly set it apart from the pack. Unlike other sleep aids that rely on sedative effects, and which can be addictive, l-Theanine has the potential to still a racing mind and create a sense of calm to help with sleep.
Like with most things in life, there isn’t a one size fits all approach to how much l-theanine is optimal for each individual. The studies above vary in the amount of l-theanine needed to experience the benefits. Effectiveness in treating different conditions was observed in doses as low as 50 mg and as high as 400 mg. We formulated Patch with 150 mg of l-Theanine because studies revealed improved “relaxed alertness” at 50 mg and improved antioxidant activity (i.e. decreased inflammation) post-stress at 150 mg.
Caffeine dependence is no joke. Between drip coffee, energy drinks, caffeinated gum, and everything in between, the average person consumes 200-400 mg of caffeine a day. Consider the amount of caffeine per beverage below:
- 8 oz Drip Coffee: 95 mg
- Espresso shot: 65 mg
- Energy drink that gives you wings: 111 mg
- Caffeinated seltzer: 100 mg
- Energy gum: 60-100 mg
When combined with caffeine, studies show a 3:2 ratio of l-theanine to caffeine to be effective in improving focus. Considering average daily caffeine consumption to be 200-400 mg, the l-theanine content of 1-2 doses of Patch pairs well.
Natural Sources of L-Theanine
Outside of supplements, there are few dietary sources of L-theanine—Black, green, and white tea leaves are the most common. Consider the potential L-theanine content in a 7 oz cup of tea:
- Green tea: 5-9 mg
- Black Tea: 20-25 mg
- Matcha: 40-46 mg
So, while tea can certainly help, the high levels of caffeine (and stress) encountered in our modern lifestyles suggest that supplementing with l-theanine can help improve mental well-being. And that’s why, whether you’re a tea drinker or not, we formulated Patch to provide a truly meaningful serving of l-theanine.