L-theanine—a unique amino acid of green tea and its relaxation effect in humans
Author: Lekh Raj Juneja and Djong-Chi Chu and Tsutomu Okubo and Yukiko Nagato and Hidehiko Yokogoshi
Since ancient times, it has been said that drinking green tea brings relaxation. The substance that is responsible for a sense of relaxation, is theanine. Theanine is a unique amino acid found almost solely in tea plants and the main component responsible for the exotic taste of ‘green’ tea. It was found that L-theanine administered intraperitoneally to rats reached the brain within 30 min without any metabolic change. Theanine also acts as a neurotransmitter in the brain and decreased blood pressure significantly in hypertensive rats. In general, animals always generate very weak electric pulses on the surface of the brain, called brain waves. Brain waves are classified into four types, namely α,β,δ and θ-waves, based on mental conditions. Generation of α-waves is considered to be an index of relaxation. In human volunteers, α-waves were generated on the occipital and parietal regions of the brain surface within 40 min after the oral administration of theanine (50–200 mg), signifying relaxation without causing drowsiness. With the successful industrial production of L-theanine, we are now able to supply Suntheanine™ (trade name of L-theanine) which offers a tremendous opportunity for designing foods and medical foods targeting relaxation and the reduction of stress. Taiyo Kagaku Co., Ltd, Japan won the 1998 ‘Food Ingredient Research Award’ for development of Suntheanine™ at Food Ingredients in Europe (Frankfurt). The judges felt it was a particularly well-documented and fascinating piece of research.