L-theanine, Health Benefits and Cognitive Function
This blog has not been approved by your local health department and is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment, or medical advice.
In this article:
- L-theanine and Neuropsychiatric Disorders
- L-theanine, Anxiety and Stress
- L-theanine and Other Psychiatric Disorders
- L-theanine Cerebrovascular Disease and Stroke
The amino acid l-theanine (γ-N-ethylglutamine), occurs naturally in tea leaves and in the edible bay boletes mushroom Xerocomus badius. Green tea and black tea are made from the same plants. Black tea is manufactured through fermentation but green tea is not fermented. Green tea has been a mainstay of Chinese medicine for over 3 millenniums, and is used medicinally both in combination with other herbs and alone in the form of a concentrated liquid for enhancing stamina and concentration. The amount of l-theanine depends on where tea plants are grown, production methods and the time of harvesting. Different species of tea such as Camellia sinensivar have higher concentrations of l-theanine than the more familiar C. sinensis. A synthetic form of L-theanine (Suntheanine™) is also available.
L-theanine is widely used in Asian countries to treat a variety of medical and mental health problems and is rapidly gaining popularity in Western countries. Caffeine, the other major constituent of tea, increases brain levels of acetylcholine and dopamine resulting in improved attention, cognition and mood. Beneficial cognitive effects of caffeine take place more rapidly than those of l-theanine because it is absorbed more rapidly, reaching peak plasma levels after 30 minutes compared to peak plasma levels of l-theanine 50 minutes following consumption. In addition to l-theanine and caffeine, tea leaves contain other constituents that confer a variety of health benefits, including amino acids glutamine, arginine, serine and alanine, and the phenolic compounds epigallocatechin, epicatechin gallate, epicatechin and epigallocatechin-gallate (so-called ‘catechins’). Matcha is a special green tea preparation that contains higher levels of beneficial phytochemicals compared to regular green tea.
Animal and human studies support that L-theanine reduces subjective stress response, enhances cognitive performance, improves sleep quality, and has protective effects against chronic disease, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and the common cold. Different constituents of green tea including l-theanine, caffeine and catechins may help prevent metabolic syndrome and obesity. L-theanine reduces oxidative damage caused by reactive oxygen species (i.e. ‘free radicals’), increases glutathione concentration in the liver enhancing the capacity of liver enzymes such as superoxide dismutase to clear toxins from the blood. Research findings suggest that l-theanine has anti-aging benefits. Catechins from green tea may have beneficial antimicrobial and antiviral activities. In the gastrointestinal tract green tea has been shown to activate intracellular antioxidants and inhibit formation of procarcinogens.
L-theanine has been shown to improve learning, memory and cognitive function, and to enhance selective attention during mental tasks. Epidemiological studies support that regular consumption of tea made from the leaves of Camellia sinensis, is associated with decreased incidence of cognitive decline, improved mood and enhanced capacity to cope with stress. L-theanine is a promising augmentation therapy for schizophrenia, and may have beneficial effects on mood disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as panic disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder.
Placebo-controlled studies have investigated the effects of L-theanine alone or in combination with caffeine on mood and cognitive performance, with the finding that cognitive functioning is enhanced in response to combined treatment but not in response to l-theanine alone. Two meta-analyses of human interventions on acute psychoactive effects of tea constituents on mood and cognitive performance found evidence that l-theanine improves self-reported relaxation, reduces subjective feelings of tension, and that caffeine improves performance on demanding cognitive tasks and enhances alertness and vigor.
Animal studies support that L-theanine rapidly crosses the blood brain barrier, increases brain levels of serotonin, GABA and dopamine, binds to glutamate and NMDA receptors, and may increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). Long-term consumption of l-theanine (i.e. over 3 to 4 weeks) may have general neuroprotective benefits mediated by increased synthesis of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the hippocampus an area of the brain that plays a central role in memory consolidation. All of these effects are believed to result in anxiety reduction.
As L-theanine is typically ingested together with caffeine and other bioactive constituents of tea, most studies have investigated the combined effects of l-theanine and caffeine on mood and cognition.
The anti-anxiety effects of L-theanine are mediated through different mechanisms including enhanced alpha brain wave activity, increased synthesis of GABA, and its role as a weak antagonist of AMPA glutamate receptors. General calming benefits of l-theanine are reflected in increased brain electrical activity in the alpha frequency range (8 to 13 Hz). Changes in brain electrical activity measured by electroencephalography (EEG) are dose-dependent, and are similar to beneficial EEG changes observed in meditation, including increased alpha waves in the occipital and parietal regions. Increased alpha activity has been shown to continue for 60 minutes following administration of a 200mg dose of l-theanine, and this effect was more marked in individuals with higher trait anxiety. Finally, ingestion of green tea with high l-theanine content has been found to decrease adrenal hypertrophy in mice exposed to chronic stress.
Individuals who drink green tea for stress or anxiety may experience greater calming effects than stimulating effects depending on the relative amounts of L-theanine and caffeine in the particular species of tea and how it is prepared. A general calming effect is usually noticed within 30 to 40 minutes after L-theanine is taken at a dose of 50 to 200mg, and typically lasts 8 to 10 hours. Moderate symptoms of anxiety often respond to a regimen of 200mg once or twice daily. More severe anxiety may require doses of 600mg to 800mg daily taken in increments of 100mg to 200mg spaced over the day. Unlike benzodiazepines and other prescription anti-anxiety medications, L-theanine does not cause drowsiness, slow reflexes or impair concentration, there is no risk of developing tolerance or dependence. There are no reports of serious adverse side effects or interactions between l-theanine and psychotropic drugs or other natural products.
Findings of studies on l-theanine for state anxiety are inconsistent. Differences in outcomes are probably related to different patient populations examined, and the fact that some studies investigated caffeine in combination with l-theanine. A placebo-controlled trial that compared l-theanine 200mg/day to the benzodiazepine alprazolam, found evidence for general anxiolytic effects but not for reduction in experimentally induced state anxiety. In contrast, two other studies reported significant reductions in measures of subjective stress such as decreases in heart rate and blood pressure, in response to the same dose of l-theanine. In a 4-week placebo-controlled trial (N=30) adults with no psychiatric illnesses randomized to l-theanine 200m/day experienced significantly greater reductions in state anxiety and improved sleep compared to the placebo group. In a small placebo-controlled trial 16 healthy adult volunteers were randomized to l-theanine 200mg/day vs alprazolam 1mg or a placebo while monitored during a relaxed and an experimentally induced acute anxiety condition. L-theanine had some relaxing effects during the baseline condition but neither alprazolam nor l-theanine had anxiolytic effects greater than placebo during the relaxed state or the experimentally induced anxiety state.
In a 10-week placebo-controlled study (N=46) adults with a DSM-5 diagnosis of Generalized Anxiety Disorder were randomized to receive l-theanine (450 to 900mg/day) vs placebo while continuing on their current medication. The adjunctive l-theanine group did not outperform the placebo group on measures of anxiety reduction or improved sleep quality. In a small placebo-controlled study (N=34) healthy adults aged 18-40 were administered an l-theanine drink vs placebo then subjected to a multitasking cognitive stressor. The l-theanine group reported significantly lower stress response compared to placebo one hour after ingesting the drink. Another study on a nutrient drink containing l-theanine 200mg, phosphatidylserine 1mg, chamomile 10mg, and glycerylphosphorylcholine 25mg, found significantly reduced subjective stress responses 1 hour following ingestion and significantly reduced serum cortisol levels 3 hours following ingestion.
A placebo-controlled study found that l-theanine 100mg twice daily significantly improved sleep quality in boys with ADHD suggesting that l-theanine may be an effective adjunctive therapy in ADHD. L-theanine does not cause drowsiness however taking l-theanine 200mg at bedtime may improve sleep quality by reducing anxiety.
Emerging findings support that l-theanine may have beneficial effects on symptoms of depressed mood and psychosis. In an 8-week open-label study (N=20) adults diagnosed with major depressive disorder treated with l-theanine 250mg/day reported improvements in mood, anxiety and sleep quality.
L-theanine may also have beneficial effects on anxiety related to psychosis. Findings of an 8-week placebo-controlled trial support that l-theanine augmentation in individuals with schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder reduces anxiety levels. Beneficial effects of l-theanine augmentation in this population may be mediated by increases in cortisol and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). A combination treatment containing the neurosteroid pregnenolone and the amino acid L-theanine may have beneficial effects on symptoms of psychosis. In an 8-week double-blind, placebo-controlled trial (N=40) adults with schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder with suboptimal response to antipsychotics, were randomized to pregnenolone (50mg/day) plus l-theanine (400mg/day) vs placebo while continuing on their antipsychotic medication. At study end point the group receiving pregnenolone plus l-theanine had significantly fewer negative symptoms of psychosis such as blunted affect, anhedonia and paucity of speech, significantly reduced anxiety, and greater improvements in general functioning, compared to the placebo group.
Findings of animal studies suggest that l-theanine may help prevent cerebrovascular disease and mitigate the impact of cerebrovascular accidents (i.e. stroke). Neuroprotective effects of l-theanine following transient cerebral ischemia may be related to its action as an antagonist of AMPA glutamate receptors. Rats treated with l-theanine (0.3 to 1mg/kg) before being subjected to repeated episodes of experimentally induced cerebral ischemia showed significantly less impairment in spatial memory and significantly less neuronal cell death.
- Bond, A.; Lader, M. The use of analogue scales in rating subjective feelings. Br. J. Med. Psychol. 1974, 47, 211–218.
- Boros, K., N. Jedlinszki and D. Csupor, 2016. Theanine and caffeine content of infusions prepared from commercial tea samples.Theanine and caffeine content of infusions prepared from commercial tea samples. Pharmacog. Mag., 12: 75-79.
- Camfield DA, Stough C, Farrimond J, Scholey AB. (2014) Acute effects of tea constituents L-theanine, caffeine, and epigallocatechin gallate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutr Rev.;72(8):507-22.
- Chu, D.C., 1997. Green Tea-Its Cultivation, Processing of the Leaves for Drinking Materials and Kinds of Green Tea. In: Chemistry and Applications of Green Tea, Yamamoto, T., J.R. Lekh, D.C. Chu and M. Kim (Eds.)., CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp: 1-11.
- Culetu, A., B. Fernandez-Gomez, M. Ullate, M.D. del Castillo and W. Andlauer, 2016. Effect of theanine and polyphenols enriched fractions from decaffeinated tea dust on the formation of Maillard reaction products and sensory attributes of breads. Food Chem., 197: 14-23.
- Dietz C, Dekker M. (2017) Effect of Green Tea Phytochemicals on Mood and Cognition. Curr Pharm Des. 2017;23(19):2876-2905.
- Egashira N, Ishigami N, Pu F, Mishima K, Iwasaki K, Orito K, Oishi R, Fujiwara M. (2008) Theanine prevents memory impairment induced by repeated cerebral ischemia in rats. Phytother Res. 2008 Jan;22(1):65-8.
- Einöther SJ, Giesbrecht T. (2013) Caffeine as an attention enhancer: reviewing existing assumptions. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013 Jan;225(2):251-74.
- Einother, S.J.; Martens, V.E. Acute effects of tea consumption on attention and mood. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 2013, 98, 1700S–1708S.
- Gong, Y., Y. Luo, J.A. Huang, J. Zhang, Y. Peng, Z. Liu and Z. Baolu, (2012). Theanine improves stress resistance in Caenorhabditis elegans. J. Funct. Foods, 4: 988-993.
- Haskell, C.F.; Dodd, F.L.; Wightman, E.L.; Kennedy, D.O. (2013) Behavioural effects of compounds co-consumed in dietary forms of caffeinated plants. Nutr. Res. Rev., 26, 49–70.
- Haskell, C.F.; Kennedy, D.O.; Milne, A.L.; Wesnes, K.A.; Scholey, A.B. (2008) The effects of L-theanine, caffeine and their combination on cognition and mood. Biol. Psychol. 2008, 77, 113–122.
- Heiss, M.L. and R.J. Heiss, 2008. The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide. Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, CA/Toronto, Canada.
- Hidese S, Ota M, Wakabayashi C, Noda T, Ozawa H, Okubo T, Kunugi H. Effects of chronic l-theanine administration in patients with major depressive disorder: an open-label study. Acta Neuropsychiatr. 2017 Apr;29(2):72-79.
- Higashiyama A, Htay HH, Ozeki M, et al. (2011) Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response. J Funct Foods.;3:171–178.
- Higashiyama, A., H.H. Htay, M. Ozeki, L.R. Juneja and M.P. Kapoor, 2011. Effects of L-theanine on attention and reaction time response. J. Funct. Foods, 3: 171-178.
- Hintikka J, Tolmunen T, Honkalampi K, et al. (2005) Daily tea drinking is associated with a low level of depressive symptoms in the Finnish general population. Eur J Epidemiol.;20:359–363.
- Hiroshi Kunugi, Shinsuke Hidese, Shintaro Ogawa, Miho Ota, Zenta Yasukawa, and Makoto Ozeki (2019) Effects of Chronic L-theanine on Stress-related Symptoms and Cognitive Function in a Non-clinical Population: A Randomized Controlled Trial (P06-106-19) Curr Dev Nutr. 13;3(Suppl 1). pii: nzz031.P06-106-19.
- Hozawa A, Kuriyama S, Nakaya N, et al. (2009) Green tea consumption is associated with lower psychological distress in a general population: the Ohsaki Cohort 2006 Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009; 90:1390–1396.
- Ikeda, I. (2008) Multifunctional effects of green tea catechins on prevention of the metabolic syndrome. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:273-4.
- Ito, K.; Nagato, Y.; Aoi, N.; Juneja, L.R.; Kim, M.; Yamamoto, H.; Sugimoto, S. (1998) Effects of L-theanine on the release of alpha-brain waves in human volunteers. Nippon N¯ogei Kagakukaishi, 72, 153–157.
- Jang, S.I., M.H. Jun, H.S. Lillehoj, R.A. Dalloul, I.K. Kong, S. Kim and W. Min, 2007. Anticoccidial effect of green tea-based diets against Eimeria maxima. Vet. Parasitol., 144: 172-175.
- Juneja, L. R., Chu, D.-C., Okubo, T., et al. (1999). L-theanine, a unique amino acid of green tea, and its relaxation effect in humans. Trends in Food Science Technology, 10, 199–204.
- Kakuda, T. (2002) Neuroprotective effects of the green tea components theanine and catechins. Biol Pharm Bull. 2002 Dec;25(12):1513-8.
- Kakuda, T. (2011) Neuroprotective effects of theanine and its preventive effects on cognitive dysfunction. Pharmacol Res. 2011 Aug;64(2):162-8.
- Kakuda, T., Nozawa, A., Unno, T., et al. (2000). Inhibiting effects of theanine on caffeine stimulation evaluated by EEG in the rat. Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry, 64, 287–293.
- Kakuda, T.; Nozawa, A.; Sugimoto, A.; Niino, H. (2002) Inhibition by theanine of binding of [3H] AMPA, [3H] kainate, and [3H] MDL 105,519 to glutamate receptors. Biosci. Biotechnol. Biochem., 66, 2683–2686.
- Kardashev A, Ratner Y, Ritsner MS. (2018) Add-On Pregnenolone with L-Theanine to Antipsychotic Therapy Relieves Negative and Anxiety Symptoms of Schizophrenia: An 8-Week, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. Clin Schizophr Relat Psychoses.;12(1):31-41.
- Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, et al. (2007) L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol.;74:39–45.
- Koo, M., Cho, C. (2004) Pharmacological effects of green tea on the gastrointestinal system. Eur J Pharmacol. 2004 Oct 1;500(1-3):177-85.
- Lardner, A., (2014) Neurobiological effects of the green tea constituent theanine and its potential role in the treatment of psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. Nutr Neurosci. 2014 Jul;17(4):145-55.
- Li, G., Y. Ye, J. Kang, X. Yao and Y. Zhang et al.,( 2012). L-Theanine prevents alcoholic liver injury through enhancing the antioxidant capability of hepatocytes. Food Chem. Toxicol., 50: 363-372.
- Li, L., X.R. Wang, Y. Xiong, W.K. Ren and M. Huang et al., 2013. L-theanine: A promising substance in tumor research. J. Food Agric. Environ., 11: 25-27.
- Lu K, Gray MA, Oliver C, Liley DT, Harrison BJ, Bartholomeusz CF, Phan KL, Nathan PJ. (2004) The acute effects of L-theanine in comparison with alprazolam on anticipatory anxiety in humans. Hum Psychopharmacol.;19(7):457-65.
- Lyon MR, Kapoor MP, Juneja LR. (2011) The effects of L-theanine (Suntheanine®) on objective sleep quality in boys with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Altern Med Rev. 2011 Dec;16(4):348-54.
- Mason, R. (2001). 200 mg of Zen: L-theanine boosts alpha waves, promotes alert relaxation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 7, 91–95.
- Miodownik C, Maayan R, Ratner Y, Lerner V, Pintov L, Mar M, Weizman A, Ritsner MS. (2011) Serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor and cortisol to sulfate of dehydroepiandrosterone molar ratio associated with clinical response to L-theanine as augmentation of antipsychotic therapy in schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder patients. Clin Neuropharmacol. 2011 Jul-Aug;34(4):155-60.
- Muhammad Saeed, Mohamed Ezzat Abd El-Hack, Mahmoud Alagawany, et al. (2017) Review Article Phytochemistry, Modes of Action and Beneficial Health Applications of Green Tea (Camellia sinensis) in Humans and Animals, International Journal of Pharmacology 13(7):698-708
- Nathan PJ, Lu K, Gray M, Oliver C. (2006) The neuropharmacology of L-theanine(N-ethyl-L-glutamine): a possible neuroprotective and cognitive enhancing agent. J Herb Pharmacother. 2006;6(2):21-30.
- Rao TP, Ozeki M, Juneja LR. (2015) In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid. J Am Coll Nutr. 2015;34(5):436-47.
- Rogers PJ, Smith JE, Heatherley SV, et al. (2008) Time for tea: mood, blood pressure and cognitive performance effects of caffeine and theanine administered alone and together. Psychopharmacology (Berl).;195:569–577.
- Saito, K., M. Ikeda and H. Kametani, 2011. Theanine in the tea roots attenuates memory deficits in the aged rats. Free Radical Biol. Med., Vol. 51.
- Sarris J, Byrne GJ, Cribb L, Oliver G, Murphy J, Macdonald P, Nazareth S, Karamacoska D, Galea S, Short A, Ee C, Birling Y, Menon R, Ng CH. (2019) L-theanine in the adjunctive treatment of generalized anxiety disorder: A double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled trial, J Psychiatr Res.;110:31-37.
- Shacham, S. (1983) A shortened version of the Profile of Mood States. J. Pers. Assess., 47, 305–306.
- Shen, H., X. Shen, R. Wang and M. Wu, 2011. Effects of theanine on cerebral ischemia-reperfusion injury in rats. J. Hygiene Res., 40: 684-687.
- Song JM, Seong BL. (2007) Tea catechins as a potential alternative anti-infectious agent. Expert Rev Anti Infect Ther. 2007 Jun;5(3):497-506.
- Song, H.J., Y.D. Kim, M.J. Jeong, M.S. Ahn, S.W. Kim, J.R. Liu and M.S. Choi, 2015. Rapid selection of theanine-rich green tea (Camellia sinensis L.) trees and metabolites profiling by Fourier transform near-infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy. Plant Biotechnol. Rep., 9: 55-65.
- Tamano, H.; Fukura, K.; Suzuki, M.; Sakamoto, K.; Yokogoshi, H. (2014) Takeda, A. Advantageous effect of theanine intake on cognition. Nutr. Neurosci., 17, 279–283.
- Thangarajan, S., A. Deivasigamani, S.S. Natarajan, P. Krishnan and S.K. Mohanan, 2014. Neuroprotective activity of L-theanine on 3-nitropropionic acid-induced neurotoxicity in rat striatum. Int. J. Neurosci., 124: 673-684.
- Türközü D, Şanlier N. (2017) L-theanine, unique amino acid of tea, and its metabolism, health effects, and safety. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 24;57(8):1681-1687.
- Unno K, Hara A, Nakagawa A, Iguchi K, Ohshio M, Morita A, Nakamura Y. (2016) Anti-stress effects of drinking green tea with lowered caffeine and enriched theanine, epigallocatechin and arginine on psychosocial stress induced adrenal hypertrophy in mice. Phytomedicine. 2016 Nov 15;23(12):1365-1374.
- Van der Pijl PC, Chen L, Mulder TPJ. (2010) Human disposition of L-theanine in tea or aqueous solution. J Funct Foods.;2:239–244.
- Vuong, Q.V., M.C. Bowyer and P.D. Roach, 2011. L-Theanine: Properties, synthesis and isolation from tea. J. Sci. Food Agric., 91: 1931-1939.
- Wakabayashi, C.; Numakawa, T.; Ninomiya, M.; Chiba, S.; Kunugi, H. (2012) Behavioral and molecular evidence for psychotropic effects in L-theanine. Psychopharmacology 2012, 219, 1099–1109.
- White DJ, de Klerk S, Woods W, Gondalia S, Noonan C, Scholey AB. (2016) Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an L-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients. 2016 Jan 19;8(1). pii: E53.
- Zheng G, Sayama K, Okubo T, Juneja LR, Oguni I. (2004) Anti-obesity effects of three major components of green tea, catechins, caffeine and theanine, in mice. In Vivo.;18(1):55-62.