Finding your calm in this day and age isn’t easy. Whether you’re constantly stressed from a neverending to-do list at work, have turned into a total worrywart, or are constantly dealing with stress and anxiety — or, you know, all of the above — wouldn’t it be nice to chill out for once? Well, there’s a totally natural way to calm your body and mind, and it’s so easy to find that you can grab it right at the grocery store.
If you’ve ever felt super relaxed after drinking green tea, there’s a reason for that. It’s jam-packed with L-theanine, an amino acid that’s also present in black and white varieties. Essentially, it’s nature’s chill pill, working similarly to medical prescriptions to calm the body.
“L-theanine can help improve feelings of relaxation, tension, and calmness,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York City. And that’s not all: according to Lindsey Elmore, a pharmacist and chemist, past studies have also shown “it can help alleviate the symptoms of depression and anxiety in healthy adults, as well as people with depression or schizophrenia. Some evidence even suggests it can actually work better than standard treatments like Xanax,” she says.
So obviously the amino acid packs a pretty powerful punch. But how exactly does it work? Dr. Elmore says there are a couple different processes that go down in the body that result in all those calm, feel-good vibes.
“It may exert anti-anxiety effects on the hippocampus, one of the areas of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, by increasing neurotransmitters like glutamate and amino acids like methionine, which could lead to decreases in anxiety and stress,” Elmore explains. “L-theanine also reduces cortisol, the stress hormone, and resting heart rates during times of stress.”
The best part about L-theanine is that getting your fix is incredibly simple, and there are two ways you can start scoring the many benefits in your own life: either through what you eat or in supplement form. Since it’s found in foods, Gorin suggests first starting there: “I would recommend drinking green, white, or black tea, which are natural sources of L-theanine,” she says. But if you’re not much of a tea drinker, that’s where the supplements come in. Because there’s no confirmed correct dose that will instantly bring on the positive effects, says Elmore, it might take a little trial and error to figure out what works for you.
“Studies have used doses of 250 mg/day, so that might be a great place to start,” she explains. “Research has also found chronic administration of L-theanine may be needed to show anti-anxiety action, so give it at least eight weeks to see full results.”
If you do choose the pill route, just like adding any other supplement into your diet, it’s a good idea to chat with your doctor first — especially if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, have low blood pressure, or are taking any other supplements or medications, just to make sure no negative interactions take place, Gorin says. Soon enough, you could have a solid solution for getting your calm back, letting you finally show stress and anxiety who’s boss — no Xanax needed.