The best supplement for stress, anxiety and sleep

Are you anxious and exhausted?

Moving full speed all day trying to keep up with demanding work and family responsibilities? Then when night time rolls around, you can’t unwind and turn your mind off?

You’re trapped in a cycle of stressful days and sleepless nights.

Maybe you’ve already tried natural remedies to relieve stress and improve sleep, like magnesium, meditation, valerian root, acupuncture… but nothing takes the edge off your anxiety. Maybe you even tried Xanax, but it made you feel spacey, irritable and just downright weird.

Well, you’re not alone. It seems like everyone’s stressed and anxious nowadays. It’s sad, but we’re all just searching for a way to cope with the demands of our day-to-day lives.

Luckily, there is one supplement that might be able to squash this modern-day stress —  the amino acid L-theanine.

But before I tell you why this amino acid is my go-to stress supplement, first you need to understand how stress affects your body… especially your hormones.

How stress affects your hormones and your health

When you’re stressed, your adrenal glands start pumping out a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol can be really useful in life or death situations. It increases your blood sugar, giving you the energy you need to either fight the threat you face or flee from it.

But to give you that extra boost of energy, cortisol stops other bodily functions that aren’t essential in an emergency situation, like immune response, digestion and reproduction. This is no big deal if the stress is temporary. But if you have high levels of stress daily, it becomes a serious problem that impacts your hormones and your health.

Cortisol blocks the body from making the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone, throwing your hormonal balance out of whack. Beyond your hormones, high cortisol levels weaken your immune system, put you at risk for diabetes and contribute to obesity. High cortisol — and low estrogen and progesterone levels — are also tied to mood problems and, of course, anxiety.

So, in other words, stress messes with your hormonal balance. And unbalanced hormones make you feel more stressed. It’s a vicious cycle.

How do you break it?

Well, that’s where L-theanine comes in.

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What is L-theanine, and how can it help?

L-theanine is an amino acid that’s found in green tea, black tea and one species of mushroom. Even though it’s one of the rarest amino acids found in food, it’s the most useful for fighting stress.

Research shows it lowers cortisol levels — the same cortisol that fuels that destructive hormone-anxiety cycle I was just telling you about.

L-theanine also boosts levels of the brain chemical GABA, which promotes relaxation and sleep. Progesterone encourages your body to produce GABA too. But if progesterone levels are low due to hormonal changes or the overproduction of cortisol, you’re not getting as much of this calming brain chemical as you need.

L-theanine triggers alpha brain waves as well. Alpha brain waves occur when you’re relaxed but still awake, like when you meditate or daydream. They make you feel relaxed but not sedated, which may explain why L-theanine is known for its ability to decrease anxiety while increasing alertness.

Using L-theanine to undo your stress

Green and black tea are the best naturally-occurring sources of L-theanine. But you’d have to drink quite a bit of tea (like 10 cups or more per day) to match the L-theanine doses typically used in studies.

That’s why it’s a good idea to try L-theanine supplements. You can start with about 250 to 400 mg per day. That’s a similar dosage to what’s been used successfully and safely in studies to relieve stress. L-theanine doesn’t have many side effects, but it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before starting new supplements, especially if you have low blood pressure or if you’re pregnant or nursing.

When you shop for an L-theanine supplement, you’ll probably notice GABA supplements on the shelf nearby. Since L-theanine lowers anxiety by encouraging the production of GABA (among other things), you may wonder if you should just go straight to the source and take GABA supplements instead. But L-theanine is much better at crossing the blood-brain barrier than GABA. So for now, stick to L-theanine as your go-to stress-relief supplement.

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Sources:

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  6. Theanine — PubChem. Retrieved May 7, 2018.
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  9. P. Rao. “In Search of a Safe Natural Sleep Aid.” — Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2015;34(5):436-447.
  10. A. Camfield, et al. “Acute effects of tea constituents L-theanine, caffeine, and epigallocatechin gallate on cognitive function and mood: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” — Nutrition Review. Aug 2014;72(8):507-22.
  11. K. Keenan, et al. “How much theanine in a cup of tea? Effects of tea type and method of preparation.” — Food Chemistry. Mar 2011; 125(2): 588-594.
  12. Terashima, et al. “Time-dependent changes of amino acids in the serum, liver, brain and urine of rats administered with theanine.” — Bioscience Biotechnology Biochemistry. Apr 1999;63(4):615-8.
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Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.