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February 18, 2016

L-Theanine: A Non-Drug Way to Treat Stress

Female pulling her hairWhat do Valium, Xanax, Ativan, and Klonopin have in common? They all belong to the benzodiazepine drug class. They are among the most prescribed drugs for stress, anxiety and panic disorder and frequently prescribed for those with sleep disorders. The entire class has many side effects . But there are safer and non-pharmaceutical ways to manage to these disorders. So how do you treat stress and anxiety without drugs? Two supplements can be used to treat anxiety and stress much more safely. They are L-theanine and GABA. Today we will focus on L-theanine.

Treat Stress with L-Theanine

A double-blind controlled study performed in 2004 compared 200 mg of L-theanine to 1 mg of alprazolam (Xanax) and placebo and was found to be more effective in the management of anxiety than Xanax or placebo. It should be noted that 1 mg of alprazolam is a high dose as many individual are treated with 0.5 mg or 0.25 mg. Since then additional studies have demonstrated the benefits of L-theanine. One study showed L-theanine to reduce physiologic and psychologic indicators of stress within 15 minutes. Another study found L-theanine improved mental focus and concentration. L-theanine was shown to suppress the initial stress response. Finally, in another study L-theanine was shown to reduce blood pressure in adults with high stress responses.

What is L-Theanine and How Does it Work?

Now that we know the effects of L-theanine on stress what is it? L-theanine is an amino acid found in green tea and some mushrooms. It makes up two to three percent of the content of green tea.

L-theanine has multiple mechanisms of action. EEG studies (brain wave studies) show L-theanine increases alpha wave activity in the brain. Alpha waves are the predominant brain wave when the body and brain are relaxed. L-theanine increases alpha activity without inducing drowsiness. Meditation and yoga induce increase alpha activity, too.

Alpha waves are generally considered the healthiest of the brain waves. Alpha waves are associated with increased creativity, enhanced problem solving ability, enhanced immune function, ability to learn tasks faster, optimal athletic performance, less depression, and more positive outlook. Individuals with higher than average amounts of alpha waves tend to more outgoing. Other brain waves include beta, delta, gamma, and theta.

L-theanine also increases serotonin, dopamine, glycine, and GABA levels in the brain contributing to its health benefits. L-theanine is similar to glutamate in structure. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter. L-theanine can bind to glutamate receptors preventing glutamate from binding and thus inhibits the excitatory effects of glutamate enabling the brain and body to relax.

In controlled studies no adverse effects were reported though anecdotal reports suggest some drowsiness.

Side Effects of Benzodiazepines

Benzodiazepines work by stimulating GABA the most common neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter and produces a calming effect on the brain. Side Effects of benzodiazepines include:

  • drowsiness and lethargy
  • fatigue
  • impaired motor coordination
  • slurred speech
  • mood swings
  • hostile or erratic behavior

Benzodiazepines are slowly metabolized by the body and repeated dosing over time can also lead to disorientation, confusion and slurred speech. Benzodiazepines are also associated with increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease with the risk being higher the higher the dose and longer the drug is taken. See this study in the British Medical Journal published in 2014.

Names of Benzodiazepines

Here are the generic names with brand names in parentheses.

  • alprazolam (Xanax)
  • chlorodiazeopoxide (Librium)
  • clonazepam (Klonopin)
  • clorazepate (Tranxene)
  • diazepam (Valium)
  • flurazepam (Dalmane)
  • lorazepam (Ativan)
  • midazolam (Versed)
  • oxazepam (Serax)
  • temazepam (Restoril)
  • triazolam (Halcion)
  • quazepam (Doral)

How to Use L-Theanine

If you are already taking a benzodiazepine do not stop taking it until you talk to your physician and let him or her know that you are interested in taking L-theanine. Point to some of the research articles posted here to better educate your physician. If you suffer from stress and anxiety and are on no medications then try L-theanine first if your symptoms are not debilitating. If they are debilitating see your doctor first. The typical dose of L-theanine is 200 mg a day though doses as little as 50 to 100 mg may be effective. Results are best when L-theanine is taken daily.

 

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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