If you are looking for a simple way to help you relax, you may be interested in a unique amino acid called L-theanine which is naturally found in tea leaves and some mushrooms. L-theanine constitutes 1-2% of the dry weight of green tea  and it has been shown to promote relaxation without sedation .
what is your stress response and how is it measured?
Researchers differentiate aspects of anxiety into state and trait anxiety. Trait anxiety is one’s general level of anxiety and it’s linked to your personality type. State anxiety is triggered by an acute stressor, such as public speaking or your first day at a new job. In these situations, the brain releases your stress-related hormone cortisol which in turn stimulates the release of adrenaline, and this is known as your “fight or flight response”. Adrenaline initiates a stress response by increasing heart rate and blood pressure  whilst reducing blood flow to non-essential functions such as the brain, stomach and sex organs.
how does l-theanine work?
It is suggested that L-theanine increases the relative concentration of GABA compared to the excitatory pathway, glutamate in the brain. GABA’s primary role is to aid relaxation without sedation and some studies suggest that it can further limit the stress response by reducing blood pressure, heart rate, and muscle contraction .
A clinical trial showed that 200mg of L-theanine significantly reduced subjective stress responses to multitasking cognitive stressors compared to placebo and saliva cortisol levels were also lowered 3 hours post-ingestion .
Clinical evidence has shown that L-theanine can amplify alpha brain waves which are associated with a state of relaxation and alertness, often referred to as a “wakeful relaxation” . Another study showed that oral ingestion of 200mg L-theanine increased brain levels after 30 minutes and peaked at 5 hours . Similar results of increased alpha waves were noted in those with high levels of trait anxiety, upon 200 mg L-theanine intake . A review of 9 studies found that regular intake of 200-400 mg/day of L-theanine has a beneficial effect on stress and anxiety .
can I drink green tea or buy GABA supplements?
To obtain a therapeutic dose of L-theanine from tea you would need to consume up to 15 cups of tea . Green tea can contain caffeine which can stimulate and cause laxative effects as well as certain antioxidants which may hinder iron absorption.
L-theanine can freely enter the brain. GABA differs from L-theanine in its ability to cross the blood-brain barrier . GABA supplements are non-approved in the UK whereas synthetic forms of L-theanine are common and natural, high strength variants can be bought in health food stores and online.
lifestyle tweaks boost relaxation
The great news is research shows that some natural alternatives that encourage self-care and positive lifestyle changes may be linked to the production of GABA. Did you know that brief bouts of vigorous exercise can do wonders for the brain?
The Journal of Neuroscience published a study that showed doing an average of 11.5 minutes of vigorous exercise has shown to boost the production of GABA post-exercise . If you fancy a less intense form of exercise, 60 minutes of yoga appears to be just as effective. A 12-week yoga intervention appeared to be more beneficial for increasing GABA production than walking for the same period. This exhibited additional benefits such as improved mood and decreased anxiety . Mediating for 60 minutes also appears to increase the activity of a part of the brain which implicates the production GABA .
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