You might say that L-theanine is nature’s Xanax—once the potent amino acid is consumed, studies show most people feel considerably calmer and more focused within 30 minutes. (And unlike yoga or meditation, you don’t have to leave your desk to feel its reputed effects.)
The ingredient is believed to be so safe and powerful, in fact, that it’s popping up in all sorts of cool wellness products. It’s taking over the vitamin aisle, where you can buy straight-up L-theanine capsules or find it mixed with other active ingredients—Nootrobox and Olly are just two of the brands that utilize it. It’s also being added to functional beverages like Just Chill and Neuro Bliss, both of which claim to aid in stress reduction and concentration.
Why is L-theanine suddenly popular—and will it actually help you calm down? Here’s what you need to know.
How L-theanine works
So what is L-theanine, exactly? “It’s an amino acid that’s naturally found in high amounts in tea leaves,” says Taryn Forrelli, a naturopathic doctor by training and vice president of innovation at Olly. “There’s been a lot of research that shows it stimulates alpha waves in your brain, which are associated with a relaxed, focused, but awake state of mind.”
It’s also multi-functional. When combined with caffeine—like in green tea or in supplements with other all-natural uppers like B vitamins—Forrelli says it helps “create clean energy, without the crash and burn afterwards.” On the other hand, if it’s mixed with melatonin, magnesium, or other sleep-inducing substances, it can help you quiet your mind and catch a snooze.
An antidote to anxiety
But its biggest superpower, by far, is stress relief. Well+Good Wellness Council member Frank Lipman, MD, frequently prescribes it to overtaxed and anxiety-riddled patients because, he says, “it has the ability to calm the body without compromising mental clarity.”
And it reportedly kicks in just as fast as prescription chill pills (minus the side effects), usually keeping you calm for a few hours. “The research shows that L-theanine works in as little as 30–60 minutes,” says Forrelli. (She recommends a dose of 50–200mg for therapeutic benefits—a cup of black tea, by contrast, contains 20mg of L-theanine, while green tea has even less.) “It’s not one of those things where you sit around for a week wondering if it’s working—it takes the edge off of any type of stress you might be feeling in the moment.”
(One of my Well+Good colleagues can vouch for this—she’s been taking Olly’s new Goodbye Stress gummies and says, “I’ve been popping them left and right, and they actually make a difference!”)
Is it too good to be true?
Of course, like any supplement, you shouldn’t down L-theanine with abandon. Dr. Lipman recommend you avoid taking it with other sedatives, and if you’re pregnant, nursing, or on cholesterol medication you should check with your doctor before supplementing with it.
But overall, Forrelli says, reducing your stress levels is going to have benefits beyond just the mental and emotional. “Stress is very destructive to the body, and it’s one of those things that you can easily forget about,” she says. “But if you tune into it and take action, it’s really going to improve your overall quality of life.” So, seriously—take a chill pill.
L-theanine’s not the only thing that will put you into a better state of mind—check out the five mental health-boosting supplements that a doctor thinks you should take. Or you could always strap on some wearable tech to help manage your stress levels.