Ask our Wellness Educators May 2018
Dear NEEDS Wellness Educators,
Q: I've been having mild anxiety attacks, especially when I feel a lot of stress from family and social issues. I've tried taking prescription medications, but I find that they cause me to feel groggy or blah. Is there something natural I can use without side effects?
~ LP from Corning, NY
A: Dear LP,
Yes, there is a great solution to your problem! Theanine is an amino acid derived from green or black tea (Camellia sinensis). It's a compound that can cross the blood-brain barrier to affect the nervous system. Theanine increases inhibitory (calming) neurotransmitters, particularly GABA, which is a naturally–produced chemical that has a soothing affect on the nervous system. GABA may also further the calming effect by bringing balance to various neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine.
Theanine has also been shown in studies to increase a compound that protects the nervous system, called "brain-derived neurotrophic factors" or BDNF, which promotes the growth of nerves. Some of these actions can help improve cognitive function and enhance memory and learning abilities.
One clinical trial showed that a daily dosing of theanine in older adults with mild cognitive impairment helped to prevent a decline in attention and memory. Several other studies showed that theanine helps increase alpha brain-wave activity, which is responsible for wakeful relaxation, improved creativity, learning, and concentration.
Theanine has the unique ability to help alleviate anxiety and increase calm and relaxation, without being sedative. In fact, it can increase alertness and focus while still maintaining calm. Research studies have compared it to anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepine, and found that theanine can actually help enhance the affects of such medications. Studies also show it reduces elevated heart rate caused by stress, demonstrating its relaxing actions in the cardiovascular system.
In addition, theanine can help balance neurotransmitter activity; for example, it can counteract the damaging effects of excess glutamate. Glutamate is an important excitatory neurotransmitter and when in balance, it supports brain functions, such as learning and memory. In excess, it acts as a neurotoxin (think monosodium glutamate or MSG) that damages the nervous system. Excess glutamate is also linked to many neurodegenerative diseases, such as Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's disease.
Theanine is naturally present in black and green tea at various concentrates, depending on the quality of the tea. You can derive the benefits of theanine by drinking large quantities of tea every day, but the downside is that you would also be consuming large quantities of caffeine, which is likely to be overstimulating and counterproductive. Taking theanine as a supplement is an easier and more consistent way of getting the neuroprotective and calming benefits. The effective dose is approximately 100-200 mg daily, but feel free to try higher doses, multiple times a day as it's perfectly safe!
Yours in Good Health,
Naturopathic Doctor (ND) & NEEDS Education Director
Nutritional Neuroscience 2014 VOL. 17 NO. 4:145. Lardner Neurobiological effects of the green tea constituent theanine.
These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.