Ever wonder what the science is behind why you feel so focused yet relaxed after enjoying a cup of matcha? By now, you’ve probably heard that matcha green tea powder has a myriad of health benefits and is an easy and delicious ritual to add to any routine.
However, did you know that matcha is the best and most natural concentrated source for an amino acid called L-theanine?
Start supplementing your L-theanine naturally by drinking matcha daily
You may have heard Joe Rogan talking about all the fantastic health benefits of supplementing L-theanine on his podcast — he also lists it on his official supplement list — but what he failed to mention is how matcha is the best natural source of L-theanine.
L-theanine is responsible for matcha’s sweeter note tastes. Growing research also suggests l-theanine may be behind a host of matcha's health benefit potential, such as supporting healthy blood pressure levels, increased focus, reduced anxiety and stress, improved immunity, better quality sleep, and providing immune support for tumor and cancer treatment. (8)(1)
Our premium and ceremonial grade matchas are of the highest quality, lab tested with highly concentrated levels of L-theanine in every serving.
Why does matcha have such concentrated amounts of L-theanine?
Green tea is well touted to be a rich source of L-theanine, but studies have shown that matcha is by far the best source of L-theanine - containing up to five times as much L-theanine as any generic green tea. (20 mg versus 4 mg) (8)
Matcha has higher levels of L-theanine than green tea due to how it has been shade-grown by Japanese farmers for centuries — matcha is grown for a more extended period in the shade, while regular green tea spends more time out in direct sunlight. Direct sunlight has been shown to diminish L-theanine concentrations, while shading enhances it. (4) (2)
Keep reading to learn more about L-theanine, and just why drinking matcha is the best way to supplement L-theanine.
What is L-theanine, and how is it measured?
You can think of L-theanine as this large bundle of bonded glutamate molecules. When you take a sip of matcha, these glutamate bundles quickly enter your bloodstream in concentrated amounts, disintegrating and crossing the blood-brain barrier within seconds. A test, known as an EEG or electroencephalography test, can measure the electrical activity in our brains, seeing how your brain’s alpha waves increase when stimulated by L-theanine. The presence of alpha waves on EEG tests indicates a state of alertness. (8)(1) (6)
We’ll learn that it’s not only the brain boost either, this special molecule provides a host of protections – even helping to balance immunity during a critical time.
The best L-theanine comes from natural sources, like matcha tea
In the past couple years, alternative energy drinks have started adding a dose of L-theanine to try to mimic the natural effects of matcha green tea; there must be some good reasons why, right?
Absolutely! But, simply adding an extract of L-theanine fails to accomplish the complete, naturally-rounded L-theanine benefits produced by authentic Japanese matcha tea.
Not to mention, how this neuroactive amino-acid harmonizes with other natural compounds in matcha tea, including polyphenols, caffeine, and catechins.
- Premium Japanese matcha powder can be thought of as a partner in health. It's nature’s most concentrated source of L-theanine as well as some of the other most potent antioxidants in the world.
Adding a matcha latte to your daily routine comes with a range of well-studied health benefits.
Common reasons to supplement L-theanine | How L-theanine works, according to science
Research has shown that L-theanine is responsible for why we feel so focused and alert when we drink matcha.
In a 2008 study, participants performed cognitively demanding visual-spatial tasks after being given L-theanine or a placebo. Participants who were given L-theanine were shown to be more alert, productive, and better able to take on tasks requiring sustained brainpower when compared with the placebo group. They also found that when participants were given L-theanine in combination with caffeine - the same mix a natural cup of matcha delivers — they experienced faster reaction times, improved sentence verification accuracy, and better reactive memories than the placebo group. (6) (7)
In light of the incredible benefits of L-theanine, it’s important to note that it’s not technically considered an essential amino-acid. Not required, but the mountain of research for brain health, immunity, overall mental health and longevity are astounding.
L-theanine for Anxiety | L-theanine and Caffeine
Among other studies, matcha’s L-theanine is suggested to improve sleep, focus, learning, and symptoms of anxiety. L-theanine synergizes with the natural caffeine content in matcha, but how exactly does that work on a neurochemical level?
L-theanine for maximum Brain Boost
As a ‘non-essential amino acid’ L-theanine is an analogue, or close structure, to its protein-building counterparts L-glutamate and L-glutamine, both of which are critical to normal protein synthesis and balanced neurotransmitters.
In the body it is absorbed by the small intestine and can be converted by the liver into active L-glutamate; however some L-theanine that is consumed isn’t first broken down, instead it can cross the blood brain barrier (BBB) to modulate many of the same glutamate receptor sites.
L-theanine for ADHD/ADD
Importantly, L-theanine is very similar to glutamate, the most abundant excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain and central nervous system. Excitatory neurotransmitters require a careful balance in the brain in order to avoid excitotoxicity (overactivity) and hypofunction (under-activity).
- See Ceremonial Grade matcha for the most L-theanine
Multiple studies have assessed L-theanine’s promising neuromodulating effects, one in particular being by reducing glutamatergic excitotoxicity by acting as a glutamate reuptake inhibitor.
A green matcha smoothie is a great way to kickstart your day before work. Check out our recipe’s for delicious and fat-during matcha smoothies.
L-theanine for Brain Health Benefits
The latest science also recommends L-theanine as a powerful modulator on NMDA receptors, acting as an agonist (to increase activity). These receptors are involved in memory, learning, proper muscle impulses, and can signal the production of other neurotransmitters.
L-theanine may help them work correctly, to help avoid distractions and counter impulses. Overall, this amino acid helps to bear the brunt in the host of important functions of the chemically similar, and physiologically critical glutamate.
Reasons to supplement with matcha L-theanine for mental health
Matcha’s L-theanine has also been implicated in important biomarkers for brain health, neuronal growth, and in developing a more homeostatic condition between other important neurotransmitters than glutamate, e.g. dopamine and serotonin.
L-theanine for Neurological Health
Multiple peer reviewed studies demonstrate that L-theanine triggers an increased production of dopamine and serotonin in key regions in the brain by encouraging production of transmitter precursors such as tryptophan.
L-theanine for GABA
L-theanine has also been found to bind to the glutamatergic AMPA receptor, encouraging the release of GABA which plays an overwhelmingly important role in the brain; it functions as a chief inhibitory signal for relaxation, muscle tone, and focus, while also protecting from a broad range of excitotoxicity.
L-theanine for BDNF
Beyond protection, L-theanine increases plasma levels of BDNF (read more about Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor). For one, BDNF is associated with glutamate activity and strongly defines brain health, especially in terms of neuroplasticity and impulse control.
L-theanine for NGF (Nerve Growth Factor)
Also, and as suggested through many shared glutamatergic mechanisms, controlled studies have determined that NGF is upregulated by L-theanine, primary roles including the maintenance, growth, and healing of neurons.
Reports point to appropriate levels of NGF, as aided by L-theanine, in the prevention and reduced symptomology of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. It’s like the perfect nutrition for your brain.
L-theanine Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Best Natural L-theanine?
The incredible benefits of L-theanine are found in matcha tea, something that coffee cannot claim to contain.
What does L-theanine taste like?
It’s the compound directly responsible for the savory/umami flavor of matcha, and the reason why a calm, serene focus washes over those who drink matcha, due to its neuroactive qualities.
What Tea Contains the most L-theanine?
Also good to know: not all tea possesses the same levels of L-theanine. Black teas typically contain the least, in place of higher caffeine content.
On the other hand, green teas, but especially matcha due to precise growing conditions, are known to contain upwards of five times the normal levels of L-theanine.
How L-theanine works in the Brain?
Theanine, also known as L-theanine, is one of the most important molecules for those interested in brain health, nootropic fuel, and overall longevity. L-theanine works in the brain because of the chemical similarity to glutamate, able to cross the blood-brain-barrier.
Can L-theanine Boost Immunity?
It’s reported that L-theanine may help in maintain a balanced immune response. Specifically, L-theanine may help equalize key immune cells (Th1, Th2) in order to fight infection, without causing tissue damage. (3)
This is also suggested as one reason that L-theanine may offer protections to the liver, potentially helping to fight inflammation and low antioxidant levels. (5)
- Read more about how matcha helps liver health.
How to Get Started with L-theanine
Historically, the Japanese have demonstrated a level of longevity not seen elsewhere in the world. Minimal disease and age-related cognitive impairments, it’s considerable that these qualities may be attributed to the regular (daily) consumption of matcha tea – even throughout the day.
The cutting-edge of science coincides this level of consumption with the threshold to achieve therapeutic benefits; not only from L-theanine, but also antioxidant catechins like EGCG.
Overall, matcha green tea is notable as an enjoyable, energizing elixir with a lot more to offer than most mainstream energy drinks (e.g. coffee). It’s also far more ancient and deeply rooted in human civilization.
You can also opt to make some matcha cookies to de-stress!
The bottom line
It’s recommended to fully incorporate matcha in your day for up to 2 or 3 months to benefit from the full range of metabolic and cognitive benefits, not to mention overall sense of wellbeing. At least, the L-theanine in matcha will keep you feeling cool, level-headed, and able to stay productive and healthy.
Matcha has all the benefits of L-theanine and more - ditch the coffee and drink Matcha instead
Matcha also delivers a clear caffeine boost that doesn’t have any of the downsides of coffee. Have you ever experienced a coffee caffeine crash or had a case of coffee jitters? You won’t ever have to worry about a caffeine crash with matcha. Check out our whole blog post on matcha caffeine, or check out our guide on switching from coffee to Matcha. (2)
-Written in collaboration with Nick Noble
- Baba, Y., Inagaki, S., Nakagawa, S., Kaneko, T., Kobayashi, M., & Takihara, T. (2021). Effects of l-Theanine on Cognitive Function in Middle-Aged and Older Subjects: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Study. Journal of Medicinal Food, 24(4), 333–341. https://doi.org/10.1089/jmf.2020.4803
- Csupor, D., Boros, K., & Jedlinszki, N. (2016). Theanine and Caffeine content of infusions prepared from commercial tea samples. Pharmacognosy Magazine, 12(45), 75. https://doi.org/10.4103/0973-1296.176061
- Gupta, A. (2020). Is Immuno-modulation the Key to COVID-19 Pandemic?. Indian Journal of Orthopaedics, 1-4.
- Jakubczyk, K., Kochman, J., Kwiatkowska, A., Kałduńska, J., Dec, K., Kawczuga, D., & Janda, K. (2020). Antioxidant Properties and Nutritional Composition of Matcha Green Tea. Foods, 9(4), 483. https://doi.org/10.3390/foods9040483
- Li, C., Tong, H., Yan, Q., Tang, S., Han, X., Xiao, W., & Tan, Z. (2016). L-Theanine improves immunity by altering TH2/TH1 cytokine balance, brain neurotransmitters, and expression of phospholipase C in rat hearts. Medical science monitor: international medical journal of experimental and clinical research, 22, 662.
- Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8. PMID: 18296328.
- Owen, G. N., Parnell, H., de Bruin, E. A., & Rycroft, J. A. (2008). The combined effects of L-theanine and caffeine on cognitive performance and mood. Nutritional Neuroscience, 11(4), 193–198. https://doi.org/10.1179/147683008x301513
- Unno, K., Furushima, D., Hamamoto, S., Iguchi, K., Yamada, H., Morita, A., Horie, H., & Nakamura, Y. (2018). Stress-Reducing Function of Matcha Green Tea in Animal Experiments and Clinical Trials. Nutrients, 10(10), 1468. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10101468
- Unno, K., Furushima, D., Hamamoto, S., Iguchi, K., Yamada, H., Morita, A., Pervin, M., & Nakamura, Y. (2019). Stress-reducing effect of cookies containing matcha green tea: essential ratio among theanine, arginine, caffeine and epigallocatechin gallate. Heliyon, 5(5), e01653. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.heliyon.2019.e01653