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Lemon Balm vs. Theanine: Which Natural Relaxation Aid is Right for You?

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Lemon balm is a soothing herbal plant that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Ancient Greeks believed in its power as a promoter for longevity as one of the many lemon balm uses [1]. In herbal medicine, lemon balm benefits for sleep are well-known. L-theanine is a natural nutrient derived from green tea and is an excellent aid to promote relaxation without the feeling of drowsiness. It has been well-researched to establish its calming benefits in the brain. Does a theanine and lemon balm complex give you better relaxation benefits? Or is there a clear winner?

Lemon balm benefits- What is the evidence?

Lemon balm leaves contain many plant nutrients, and their benefits are mostly attributed to a mix of these nutrients and essential oils [2]. There are at least 18 compounds found in lemon balm that can be beneficial to humans [3]. In terms of safety, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the USA classified lemon balm as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use as a spice, natural seasoning, or flavouring in small amounts [6].

Apart from relaxation or sleep benefits, some people use lemon balm for anxiety. A review of different studies found that lemon balm may help improve anxiety symptoms but declared a caution around the results due to the major differences in the studies [4]. Another caveat is that many studies on the brain benefits of lemon balm are conducted on animals. A recent 2022 review concluded that among humans, though there is anecdotal evidence, there is a gap in rigorous evidence to validate the use of lemon balm for sleep, anxiety, and mood benefits [5]. In a particular patient group, high doses of lemon balm helped decrease sleep disturbance [7].

There is limited evidence that all beneficial compounds in lemon balm can actually enter the brain. The brain contains its very own gated entrance that allows only specific nutrients to enter the brain. One of the nutrients in lemon balm, called rosmarinic acid, is known to enter the brain [9] and help stabilise the relaxing brain chemical, GABA, slowing its breakdown [9]. An important point to note is that the levels of the different nutrients in lemon balm levels fluctuate with the country of origin, soil conditions, weather etc [3]. Rosmarinic acid’s availability was also found to be highly variable in different samples, with ranges of 14mg/g-90mg/g reported [10]. As with most herbal products, it is difficult to maintain a uniform composition of all the compounds found in lemon balm, which can affect its effectiveness. Due to limited evidence, it is recommended to use lemon balm for a few weeks as opposed to regular long-term use [8].

L-theanine benefits- A better scientific alternative?

L-theanine is a single nutrient that is extracted from green tea, making up 1-2% of the dry weight of the leaves. An important difference is that it promotes relaxation without sedation. If you need to relax mid a busy workday, lemon balm might promote sleepiness. In contrast, taking l-theanine would help you stay calm while maintaining mental alertness.

L-theanine works wonderfully for relaxation because it is one of the welcome guests in your brain. Upon intake, its effects on the brain can be seen within 30 mins [11]. Once it enters the brain, it helps bring calm in 2 ways: Increasing the relative concentration of GABA [13] and by increasing brain waves that occur during meditation called alpha waves [12]. These waves are seen in the state where you brain is relaxed but alert. 

In comparison, there is more robust evidence for l-theanine. A review of 15 years’ worth of research found that taking 200-400mg of l-theanine was found to reduce stress and promote calming relaxed state [14]. In both animal and human studies, l-theanine supplementation was shown to reduce stress symptoms and improve mental state of those stressed [15]. brain feed has produced l-theanine that is naturally extracted from green tea and provides evidence-backed dose of 250mg/capsule. Read more here

l theanine and lemon balm: the perfect relaxation duo? 

Though the combination of these two widely used serenity tools may seem like a great idea for a calm evening, until good quality studies are conducted to establish a clear benefit of the combination, it is better to opt for singular supplements that have been well-evidenced. The strong evidence for l-theanine should put your mind to ease, literally. Combination supplements like Viridian l theanine and lemon balm, that provide 100mg l-theanine and 150mg lemon balm extract per capsule might benefit some users, however the evidence of this combination at this dose is undocumented in research. The variability of lemon balm extract constituents can also add to inconsistent results. The best bet is to go for conclusive evidence, like using l-theanine in at least 200mg dose for a zen mental state. 

References

  1. Bumb, M. (2008). LEMON BALM. [online] Hamilton Academics
  2. Shakeri, A., Sahebkar, A. and Javadi, B. (2016). Melissa officinalis L. – A review of its traditional uses, phytochemistry and pharmacology. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 188, pp.204–228.
  3. Petrisor, G., Motelica, L., Craciun, L. N., Oprea, O. C., Ficai, D., & Ficai, A. (2022). Melissa officinalis: Composition, Pharmacological Effects and Derived Release Systems-A Review. International journal of molecular sciences23(7), 3591.
  4. Ghazizadeh, J., Sadigh-Eteghad, S., Marx, W., Fakhari, A., Hamedeyazdan, S., Torbati, M., Taheri-Tarighi, S., Araj-Khodaei, M., & Mirghafourvand, M. (2021). The effects of lemon balm (Melissa officinalis L.) on depression and anxiety in clinical trials: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Phytotherapy research : PTR35(12), 6690–6705
  5. Zam, W., Quispe, C., Sharifi-Rad, J., López, M. D., Schoebitz, M., Martorell, M., Sharopov, F., Fokou, P. V. T., Mishra, A. P., Chandran, D., Kumar, M., Chen, J. T., & Pezzani, R. (2022). An Updated Review on The Properties of Melissa officinalis L.: Not Exclusively Anti-anxiety. Frontiers in bioscience (Scholar edition)14(2), 16.
  6. US Food and Drug Administration (2023). CFR - Code of Federal Regulations Title 21. [online] www.accessdata.fda.gov.
  7. Haybar, H., Javid, A. Z., Haghighizadeh, M. H., Valizadeh, E., Mohaghegh, S. M., & Mohammadzadeh, A. (2018). The effects of Melissa officinalis supplementation on depression, anxiety, stress, and sleep disorder in patients with chronic stable angina. Clinical nutrition ESPEN26, 47–52.
  8. Healthline. (2017). Lemon Balm: Uses, Benefits, and More. [online]
  9. Wang, Q., Mei, J., & Xie, J. (2022). The Effects of Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis L.) Essential Oil on the Stress Response, Anti-Oxidative Ability, and Kidney Metabolism of Sea Bass during Live Transport. Animals : an open access journal from MDPI12(3), 339.
  10. Chizzola, R., Lohwasser, U., & Franz, C. (2018). Biodiversity within Melissa officinalis: Variability of Bioactive Compounds in a Cultivated Collection. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland)23(2), 294.
  11. Nobre, A. et al. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, [online] 17(S1), pp.167–168. Available at: https://apjcn.nhri.org.tw/server/APJCN/17%20Suppl%201/167.pdf.
  12. Mason, R. (2001). 200 mg of Zen: L-Theanine Boosts Alpha Waves, Promotes Alert Relaxation. Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 7(2), pp.91–95. 
  13. White, D. et al. (2016). Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients, [online] 8(1), p.53.
  14. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, p.104395.
  15. Li, M. Y., Liu, H. Y., Wu, D. T., Kenaan, A., Geng, F., Li, H. B., Gunaratne, A., Li, H., & Gan, R. Y. (2022). L-Theanine: A Unique Functional Amino Acid in Tea (Camellia sinensis L.) With Multiple Health Benefits and Food Applications. Frontiers in nutrition9, 853846.

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