Posted on Apr 4th, 2006

The results are in, the clinical trials have spoken. Drinking relieves stress–drinking green tea, that is. There’s something in green tea that helps us relax. And it may start turning up in other foods soon.

The legendary benefits of green tea–weight loss, cancer prevention, immune system boosting, and more–have put green tea on everyone’s top ten superfoods list. Now the teacup’s relaxation effect has been proven in the lab.

An amino acid called theanine (or L-theanine) is responsible for green tea’s magic. First discovered in 1949, theanine is found almost exclusively in tea leaves. (It’s also found in one type of mushroom–but who wants to relax with a plate of mushrooms?)

Clinical trials testing the relaxation effect of theanine produced remarkable results. Japanese researchers found that human volunteers became more relaxed about 30-40 minutes after taking up to 200mg of theanine. That’s six cups of tea to you and me.

Once the theanine is flowing, a couple of things happen. Your brain waves start to shift into the alpha range. That’s a good thing. Alpha brain waves occur when you are relaxed and peaceful, but still awake–like after a massage or a hot bath, or during meditation.

At the same time, theanine increases the GABA levels in your brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that is linked to dopamine and serotonin levels. This complicated-sounding chemical cocktail results in a relaxation effect. And what’s more, theanine also lowers your blood pressure. Well, OK, the blood pressure part is only proven in rats. But testing continues.

So if you’re stressed and anxious, relax with a few cups of green tea. You should begin to feel relaxed and alert in about half an hour. Theanine won’t make you drowsy, but if it happens to be bedtime, studies have also shown you’ll sleep better and awake more refreshed. By the way, if you’re already relaxed when you start, it doesn’t matter how much theanine you get—you won’t get any more relaxed.

If you would rather get your theanine in a pill, you’re in luck. Supplements containing theanine are readily available. One of the Japanese firms heavily involved in theanine research went beyond simple green tea extracts and developed Suntheanine, which is a synthesized, ultra-pure theanine. A company spokesperson stated there is “a tremendous opportunity for designing foods and medical foods targeting relaxation and the reduction of stress.”

I’m not sure what they have in mind, but the possibilities are wide open. More than 50 food items containing Suntheanine, including ice cream, candy, and beverages, are currently sold in Korea, Japan, and Europe. In America, it’s only available in supplements right now. But I’m looking forward to seeing it in something that goes with my cup of tea. Relaxation muffin, anyone?

Art Turner is a writer, musician, and creator of Relaxation Emporium, where you can learn more about the relaxation effect of tea and other ways to reduce stress.

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