ADHD, or attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, has been the foremost childhood problem worldwide since the early 2000s. It is one of an array of neurological disorders affecting children that are becoming more and more common. As the diagnoses increase, so do the prescriptions. Dr. Robert Melillo, an expert in childhood neurological disorders, writes in his book that in 2008, “doctors in the United Stated wrote an estimated 20 million prescriptions for Ritalin.” This emphasis on medication may be one reason parents are turning to alternative remedies, such as L-theanine, for therapeutic relief.
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The ADHD Brain
In order to understand how L-theanine might work to relieve the symptoms of ADHD, it is important to explore how ADHD affects the brain. The brain is not fully formed at birth. In fact, newborns have only enough synaptic connections to regulate basic bodily functions. Synaptic connections are markers of brain development and are a result of learning. In order for the brain to grow and create more synaptic connections, stimulation must occur. This stimulation is typically environmental; if it is withheld, brain cells can die. Children with ADHD lack adequate stimulation and therefore may lag behind in brain development.
Structure and Function
L-theanine, also known as r-glutamylethylamide, is an amino acid that is small enough to cross the blood-brain barrier. It affects the striatum, hippocampus, and hypothalamus of the brain by increasing the levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and/or dopamine. This elevation of neurotransmitters in the brain helps encourage muscle relaxation, focus and learning.
Children who have ADHD are typically so hyperactive and unfocused that their behavior disrupts the classroom and their relationships with family and friends. When administering remedies to these children, the goal is to produce a calming effect. A study published in June/July 1999 issue of “Trends in Food Science & Technology” found that after consuming 50 to 200 milligrams of L-theanine, human subjects produced alpha-waves on the occipital and parietal parts of the brain. Alpha-waves are indicative of relaxation, thus the study concluded that L-theanine is capable of producing relaxation without drowsiness.
The most popular and well-known source of L-theanine is Japanese green tea. It has also been extracted from the mushroom Boletus badius. Commercially, L-theanine is sold as Suntheanine. There are no safety concerns for the use of L-theanine as a supplement, and the Food and Drug Administration considers L-theanine generally regarded as safe. Few side effects have occurred in studies based around tea extracts; these include headache, dizziness and gastrointestinal reactions. It is important to consult your doctor before using L-theanine as a treatment for ADHD.