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Taking the edge off

I am a naturally anxious and introverted person but I have one of those jobs where I have to take part in meetings with clients on a regular basis and have to present information, answer difficult questions etc. and at these times my verbal fluency can sometimes let me down.

I can lose words altogether and have to take pauses which just make me more anxious.....heart racing, total block on my thinking, everyone looking at me. You may be familiar with this kind of scenario. Each negative experience makes the anxiety worse for the next time and so on.

I wanted to break this cycle so I did a little bit of research on the subject of nootropics. 'Nootropics' is the collective term for natural substances that have a positive effect on the mental performance of healthy adults. The nootropic substance I became most interested in was L-theanine (more specifically Suntheanine).

L-theanine occurs naturally in green tea. It is an amino acid that doesn't commonly occur elsewhere in the human diet. If you drink green tea on a regular basis you might be aware of its positive, calming effects. (I try to drink a large mug of matcha green tea every day for its myriad health benefits beyond the effects on my brain.)

Scientific studies have concluded that L-theanine can reach the brain within 30-40 mins of oral consumption and that it increases alpha brain waves. When your brain is experiencing alpha waves you are generally in a state of calm alertness, fully present and engaged in whatever activity you are taking part in - almost meditative.

'Suntheanine' is not an extract of green tea but is produced via a patented process that mimics the natural creation of L-theanine in the leaves of the tea plant. This means that it is ultra pure (100% L-theanine) whereas other L-theanine products on the market may not reach anywhere near this purity. Quality matters in this regard.

I bought and tried a Suntheanine product. The brand I bought was a little bit expensive (Solgar - roughly £40 for 60 capsules on Amazon at the time of writing) and some may not feel able to justify the expense but it was worth the price tag to me - I was willing to try anything. Plus I wanted something that I could take quickly in situations where I'm under stress, or have an upcoming stressful event, and this does the trick for me.

It's possible to open the capsules and sprinkle the contents under the tongue (sublingual administration), letting it dissolve there for a minute or two and then swallowing. The blood vessels under the tongue are very close to the surface and the L-theanine can be absorbed straight to the blood through this tissue if taken this way. It doesn't taste brilliant but, to me, that's a small price to pay for feeling the effects more quickly. I take a couple of capsules this way before an important meeting or presentation, or it can also be helpful if I'm struggling to sleep.

Some people combine L-theanine with caffeine to get an increase in productivity without the jitters that can be a problem with caffeine. It's a well known 'nootropics stack' that I have successfully used in the past when pressing up against hard deadlines at work. Green tea helpfully combines them naturally for us :-) but I sometimes need the extra kick of a strong coffee.

With regards to L-theanine side effects, I have never experienced any. However, supposedly common side effects are:

  • Headaches

  • Dizzyness

  • Anxiety

  • Irritability

Be especially cautious if you already have low blood pressure as there is some suggestion that it can lower blood pressure.

I started with a tentative low dose (150mg) and had no issues so tried 300mg the next time. I can take 600mg any time I want to with no problems whatsoever and the webMD website reports that daily doses of up to 900mg have been safely used for up to 8 weeks. I only take it when I want to - not every day. As the title of this post says - it takes the edge off stressful situations for me.

L-theanine supplements are sold widely as dietary supplements and have been granted GRAS (Generally Recognised as Safe) status by the FDA in the United States. I have not read anything that makes me think it could be addictive and I have certainly not noticed any addictive qualities myself.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical or clinical professional and nothing written here constitutes medical advice or advice of any kind. I'm merely sharing details of things I have tried in attempting to manage my anxiety over the years. Please do your own research regarding L-theanine/Suntheanine, how it works, other people's experiences with it etc. If you are considering trying anything new, please consult with your doctor to ensure that there are no contraindications regarding any existing conditions or medications.

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