Field of Science

Calm amino acids

It's the time of the year when I covet both energy and calm. A young friend sent me the link to these mints, which promise both in a single package. The secret ingredient is L-theanine (structure shown at left), a naturally occurring amino acid found in Camelia sinensis. Interestingly, the dried, fermented leaves of Camelia sinensis are what I use to brew my preferred pharmacological concoction to decrease stress and increase alertness: tea.

Some amino acids (roughly 20) are used by biological systems to build proteins (the working machinery of cells). The basic structural motif of any amino acid has a carboxylic acid group (COOH, which occurs in molecules like acetic acid, aka vinegar) along with an amine group (NH2 — certain amines are responsible for the characteristic odor of fish) as shown here:

Theanine is not one of the twenty plus amino acids used to construct proteins. There is some evidence that it works synergistically with caffeine to enhance cognitve performance, while moderating some of caffeine's less desirable effects.

So…do the mints work as advertised? I've no idea, but browsing the literature suggests that my students might reap some benefit from the multiple cups of tea I drink while grading their exams. A calm, but alert grader can't be all bad!

Related posts:

Where does the name amine, and hence amino acid come from?
How old are whales and what does this have to do with right and left handed amino acids