Monks have been drinking tea for so many years to keep a state of “mindful alertness” during long times of meditating. But only in the last couple of years have studies shed light on why tea has this effect on the mind. The two elements in charge of this are caffeine and L-theanine, and it is the combination of the two that makes tea unique from any other drink.
Spare Me the Science: What L-theanine and Caffeine can do for the Mind
- Promote a mindful state of relaxation
- Boost our ability to multi-task, and multi-task well
- Increase speed of perception
- Increase performance under stress
- Improve learning ability and concentration
- Get rid of anxiety
- Reduce task-induced fatigue
L-theanine is an amino acid in charge of increasing alpha brain wave activity, which promotes relaxation. In unity with the stimulant caffeine, this lets tea induce a feeling of increased concentration over a longer period of time, compared to caffeine alone. Some tea merchants will explain to you that tea “releases” its caffeine into the body slower than coffee, but actually, the effects of caffeine are being moderated by L-theanine.
Recent research has demonstrated that tea “… taken throughout the day can significantly benefit speed of perception and more consistent levels of simple task performance. L-theanine can antagonize the stimulatory effects of caffeine by bringing down seratonin levels that have been artifically elevated by caffeine”. As an outcome, the bod sustains a feeling of alertness that cannot be obtained by the caffeine in coffee or soda.
Research has also demonstrated that there are added benefits to tea, besides alertness. In a paper by Eschenauer and Sweet, it was found that “increased alpha activity in the brain induced by L-theanine has been associated with increased creativity, increased performance under stress, and improved learning and concentration as well as decreased anxiety.” A 2001 research proposes that the combination of L-theanine and caffeine “improves the ability to multi-task and reduces task-induced fatigue,” which is something we can all benefit from.
L-theanine is rarely found anywhere in nature other than tea, a single species of mushroom, and guayusa which is a holly species normally processed and drunk as a tisane. It is “synthesized in the roots and concentrates in the leaves, where sunlight converts [L-theanine] to polyphenols,” In other words, shade-grown teas like Gyokuro, a Japanese green tea, have higher concentrations of L-theanine because the amino acid is not converted into polyphenols as much as tea leaves that are exposed to full sun.
Due to the unique combination of L-theanine and caffeine existing in tea, there are many reasons as to why this could be another alternative to coffee and soda, especially when looking for a jump-start to the day, or a way to keep focus for hours of coding and/or studying. It is best to experiment with different teas and find out how each tea affects you.