How to Be Fully Alert and Present, Without Being Anxious and Jittery?
Let’s say that you have a cup of coffee, and a cup of tea – one cup each – and each cup contains exactly the same level of caffeine: 70mg; not a huge amount. That’s about one-third the amount of caffeine that you might find in one of those “energy” drinks. And is a pretty typical amount of caffeine for your average home-brewed coffee or strong cup of tea.
It’s not too far-fetched: Perhaps you started with a very dark roast (contains less caffeine than lighter roasts); you used a fairly coarse grind (transfers less caffeine load); and relatively cool water (the cooler the brew, the lower the caffeine transfer); perhaps you even brewed some (wonderful) cool-brew coffee. So now you have a cup of coffee with the same medium level of caffeine as a strong cup of black tea.
Given that the two cups contain the same caffeine level, here’s the question:
- Which one will leave you feeling chill, mellow, yet alert?
- Which one will leave you feeling alert, but maybe a bit anxious? Maybe jittery? Jumpy?
- And, for bonus points, why? That is, what’s the difference?
The answer is that the TEA will elevate your level of consciousness – your “alertness” – yet not make you jittery or anxious.
On the other hand, the coffee, containing nothing to counteract or balance the caffeine, may cause you to be a bit anxious.
The WHY is that the tea contains theanine; the coffee does not.
Theanine Caffeine Synergy
Theanine is an amino acid, present in tea (but not in coffee), that actually reduces psychological and physiological stress! Theanine has been shown to boost cognition and memory (similar to caffeine).
But unlike caffeine alone – which increases “subjective alertness” (that feeling of being a bit hyper or anxious) – the combination of caffeine and theanine gives you a boost in alertness and faster response times, a boost in cognition and memory, without increasing subjective anxiety.
Theanine-caffeine synergy: alert, mellow, not jittery.
In other words, alert, yet … chill.
How cool is that?!
How do we know that theanine makes you chill?
One thing we know is that theanine elevates alpha waves in your EEG. Alpha waves indicate wakeful relaxation. In other words, theanine helps place your brain in a state of awake, alert, restfulness. Alpha waves are what your brain does during meditation.
Master Po: What do you hear?
Caine: I hear the grasshopper.
So when I say “chill,” think of the Shaolin monk, Kwai Chang Caine, played by David Carradine in the series, Kung Fu.
Alert. Present. Focused. Yet chill.
Think theanine …
The theanine-caffeine synergy is responsible for that rare state of alertness combined with chillness. Theanine occurs naturally, along with a moderate amount of caffeine, in tea. Especially Green Tea. Just one more reason to add green tea to your life. Those Shaolin monks and many other Asian cultures have known this for centuries.
Theanine as a Supplement
Also consider adding theanine to your daily regimen as a nutritional supplement.
As a supplement, theanine has been shown to help reduce anxiety, reduce stress and depression. And, for those of us (including me) who are always concerned about what we consume (including supplements): the “therapeutic index” of theanine is HUGE. That means the difference between the dose that achieves a beneficial effect and the toxic dose is very wide. In fact, the “toxic dose” has never been reached in humans; and the toxic dose in rats is ridiculously huge. Take a look at the very first link under Resources, below, for structure and dosing information.
Every evening after supper, I set up my batch of cool-brew coffee for the following day. And after grinding the beans (organic, shade-grown C. arabica, of course) and adding them to my French Press, I always add a small scoop of powder theanine (about 200mg) to the grinds. I’ve noticed that the theanine in my coffee helps keep things mellow: alert, present, focused, yet chill. Here is the theanine that I use every day:
In short: theanine helps mellow us without dulling our senses. Perfect!
So add some theanine to your life.
Who knows? You may hear the grasshopper.
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- The toxic dose of theanine has yet to be reached in humans! For structure, uses, and dosing (from Thorne Research), published in Alternative Medicine Review, 2005:http://www.thorne.com/altmedrev/.fulltext/10/2/136.pdf
- Sun, et al. (2013). Beneficial synergistic effects of concurrent treatment with theanine and caffeine against cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury in rats. Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacologyhttp://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/cjpp-2012-0309#.Un01vPmTh8F
- Unno, et al. (2013) Anti-stress effect of theanine on students during pharmacy practice: Positive correlation among salivary alpha-amylase activity, trait anxiety, and subjective stress. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behaviorhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305713002207
- Lardner (2013) Europe PubMed Central: Neurobiological effects of the green tea constituent theanine and its potential role in the treatment of psychiatric and neur0degenerative disorders.http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/23883567/reload=0;jsessionid=tjbzyjKUgBtsolFMTWwT.52
- Arab, Khan, Lam. (2013) Epidemiologic evidence of a relationship between tea, coffee, or caffeine consumption and cognitive decline. Advances in Nutritionhttp://advances.nutrition.org/content/4/1/115.short The authors reviewed studies of tea and coffee consumption. They noted that “cognitive decline” was lower in those who drink tea and/or coffee!
- Tamano, et al. (2013) Preventive effect of theanine intake on stress-induced impairments of hippocampal long-term potentiation and recognition memory. Brain Research Bulletinhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0361923013000397
- Tian, et al. (2013) Protective effect of L-theanine on chronic restraint stress-induced cognitive impairments in mice. Brain Researchhttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0006899313001856
- Kimura, et al. (2007) L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biological Psychology 74: 39-45.
- Park, et al. (2011). A combination of green tea extract and L-theanine improves memory and attention in subjects with mild cognitive impairment: A double-blind placebo-controlled study. Journal of Medicinal Food 14: 334-343.
- Haskell, et al. (2008). The effects of l-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biological Psychology 77 (2): 113–22.
- Einöther, et al. (2010). L-Theanine and caffeine improve task switching but not intersensory attention or subjective alertness. Appetite 54 (2): 406–409.
- Giesbrecht, et al. (2010). The combination of L-theanine and caffeine improves cognitive performance and increases subjective alertness. Nutritional Neuroscience 13 (6): 283–290.
- Kelly, et al. (2008). L-theanine and caffeine in combination affect human cognition as evidenced by oscillatory alpha-band activity and attention task performance. The Journal of Nutrition 138 (8): 1572S–1577S
- Unno, et al. (2013) Ingestion of theanine, an amino acid in tea, suppresses psychosocial stress in mice. Experimental Physiology98 (1), 290-303.
- Zarse, Jabin, Ristow (2012) L-Theanine extends lifespan of adult C. elegans. European Journal of Nutrition51, 765-768.
- Description of Theanine on wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theanine