L- the what now? Well, friends, L-Theanine is a unique non-protein amino acid1 found in green tea and is a naturally occurring phytochemical, meaning it is a plant food that has more to it than meets the eye. L-Theanine has many benefits, which are getting more attention from Western and Chinese medicine and wellbeing journals. L-Theanine contributes to the earthy, umami taste2 of green tea, with the amount found in the tea closely connected to its quality and price point. For example, the more L-Theanine present in the leaf, the more expensive it is. So, what are the benefits of L-Theanine? And why did Ruth include it in her natural sleep aid for kids, Sleepy Sloth?
L-Theanine is an amino acid that is said to support relaxation while improving attention and reducing the perception of stress in the brain. In a randomized trial on adults in 2019, observations were made on how L-Theanine affects stress and cognitive function.3 Trials had already been carried out on rodents, which were very positive and showed how L-Theanine increased brain serotonin4 (the happiness chemical), dopamine5 (the chemical messenger for both pleasure and planning), and observations of behavior suggested an improvement in learning and memory function.6
L-Theanine is a subtle amino acid that is similar in structure to an essential amino acid, glutamine. L-Theanine and glutamine both produce neurotransmitters, and they are known to act in and reach the brain following oral ingestion. Further studies in animals have presented some exciting findings which have certainly captured our attention. Although in the early stages, these findings suggest that L-Theanine interacts with the small intestine in a way that could affect nutrient absorption. It’s certainly an area of research that will be worth keeping an eye on.7
A fun fact worth noting is that L-Theanine, combined with other green tea properties such as caffeine and catechins (which have potent antioxidant properties),8 can potentially affect body weight increase and fat accumulation. It is pretty amazing to think of the diverse properties that L-Theanine has and the synergy it finds when working with other green tea compounds. Although we are not here today to discuss this in any further detail, we did think it was worth noting.
Most commonly, L-Theanine is associated with having a potential impact on the many facets of cognitive function. In an article by Psychology Today,9 Michael J Breus Ph.D. shares his findings on this more recent supplemental discovery. He notes that Japanese Scientists discovered L-Theanine in 1949. They found it in the green tea, most commonly drunk by populations across Asia, and even found it in some mushrooms too. Breus discusses how L-Theanine is not common in our diet here in the USA, but that, putting it simply, the research shows that it can boost calming brain chemicals and lower stress-causing chemicals.
The evidence around L-Theanine’s chemical interactions, especially in the brain, shows its promotion of enhanced alpha brain waves. Michael J Breus Ph.D. says:
“Alpha brain waves are associated with a state of “wakeful relaxation.” That’s the state of mind you experience when meditating, being creative, or letting your mind wander in daydreaming. Alpha waves are also present during REM sleep. L-theanine appears to trigger the release of alpha-waves, which enhances relaxation, focus, and creativity.”
It is these findings that attracted Ruth to include L-Theanine in the X5 Naturals Sleepy Sloth product. When it came to creating a natural sleep aid for kids, the inclusion of L-Theanine was not so much about helping a child sleep, from a sedative point of view, but more about resourcing the brain while they sleep.10 The research has shown that it can improve sleep, sure, but not because of any sedative qualities; instead, it’s superpowers thrive by lowering anxious feelings and promoting relaxation. By reducing mental stress, this gentle and resourceful amino acid is like a comfort blanket to the brain. The consequences of its consumption have the potential to bring reassurance to children’s minds as they develop in the quiet and resting state of sleep.
Adequate sleep in children has been suggested as one of the top three most essential elements of a child’s development.11 With so many of our children facing more sleep concerns than ever before, we must approach this subject with wisdom and grace. For those children who are challenged with paying attention and focusing during the day, we hope that resourcing the brain will have a knock-on effect on brain function during waking hours too.
The bountiful benefits of L-Theanine could be described as a beautiful contradiction. It promotes relaxation while encouraging brain function to be supported and resourced, allowing our kids to thrive when awake and be nourished cognitively while they are asleep. Sleepy Sloth is a natural sleep aid for kids that contains the wonder that is L-Theanine.
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