November 14, 2017
What the heck is Biohacking?
Amid all the talk about anonymous (or not so anonymous) hackers stealing valuable personal information and closely guarded state secrets from “secure” databases all over the globe, the word hacking has taken on both a complicated and seemingly trepidatious connotation. Couple this with “Bio”, and we suddenly enter the realm of mad scientists attempting to hijack your brain to their own nefarious ends. Thankfully for all of us, this is not what Biohacking is, nor are intentions of the Biohacking community that is participating in this growing movement to somehow break your biological code in the interests of some underground science experiment. The emphasis of what Biohacking is all about is to view your own biological functions as a system. More specifically, as a system that is very much dependent on what variables are presented to it.
A simple way to think about this is with tea. You wake up in the morning and are still shaking off the pixie dust that put you in bed the night before, and you are (unless you’re a possibly mythical “morning person”) probably groggy and running at around 80%. Then you boil some water, steep your favorite tea (loose leaf of course), and your pre-tea groggy brain goes from being ready to hop back into bed to a post-tea wide awake brain that is ready to conquer the day, running at nearly 100%. What is the difference?
The Tea of course!
Another way to think about this is to imagine that you were about to run a 5k at 12pm tomorrow afternoon. You wake up in the morning around 8am and one version of yourself has a juiced kale smoothie with some steel cut oats and a little fruit for breakfast, and the other version of yourself grabs some takeout with a deliciously sugary coffee, a piping hot bacon croissant sandwich, and of course a glazed doughnut (or 4) on the side. Which version of you finishes first? If the answer is obvious, then you can now put a label on what was probably common sense all along.
You get out what you put in!
The fact is, drinking tea didn’t change you into a morning person (as much as we wish it would), and having a healthy breakfast did turn you into an Olympic distance runner, but what these things did do was provide your body with the precise stimuli it needed for you to express the best version of yourself in these situations. This is what Biohacking is all about. Anything that you can put in, on, or around your unique (and not so unique) human system to enhance it’s (i.e. your own) performance and well-being falls into the realm of Biohacking. Scientist and people from all walks of life are using everything from noise cancelling headphones to nootropic (brain boosting) supplements to try to be the best versions of themselves, and are making groundbreaking developments in enhancing areas of our lives as far flung as energy and memory, sleep and happiness, to just about every other conceivable realm of human existence. These are truly exciting times! We are always focusing on ways that tea can enhance a person’s life, and once we discovered that Biohacking is all about personal enhancement, we knew that we could use the concept to do some Biohacking of our own. The best place to start? A powerful amino acid called L-Theanine.
Tea (camellia sinensis) is high in the non-essential amino acid L-Theanine. In fact, Camilla Sinensis (the tea bush) is almost the exclusive natural source of this compound, with the only other sources being found in a few flowering bushes (C. japonica and C. sasanqua) and a Northern European mushroom (Xerocomus badius). L-Theanine is very structurally similar to glutamine (it’s chemical name is 5-N-Ethyl-Glutamine), which is responsible for the production of GABA (Gamma Amino Butyric Acid) and Glutamate. These neurotransmitters act to regulate the brain’s levels of focus and attention, the formation of new memories, as well as mood regulation and calmness, and a litany of other interneuronal functions. Due to its structural similarities, when L-Theanine is consumed, there are numerous studies that corroboratively report that L-Theanine increases levels of focus and attention, while simultaneously stimulating a non-sedative calmness that is coupled with reductions in self-reported levels of anxiety. This was particularly true when supplemented with caffeine (50mgs of Caffeine to 100mgs of L-theanine), which by itself is well known for its stimulating properties, and in clinical trials the combination is shown to increase focus and reaction time over baseline in basic auditory and visual tasks, importantly more so than when they were taken separately. So, what does all of this mean? The basic mechanism behind this stacking effect is that caffeine excites and produces a sort of energetic buzz, while L-Theanine calms and regulates mood and attentiveness. In combination, L-Theanine and Caffeine are shown to produce a calm, focused, stimulatory effect that is not privy to the jittery sway that high doses (or even low doses) of caffeine can cause. This effect is thus very effective for everything from learning to overall well-being.
So how much L-Theanine do you need? With the end goal of a calm, focused and attentive mindset being our target, it is important to note that this state of mind is largely collaborative with your overall brain function. Thinking systematically, there are a variety of other factors that also play into focus and attention, like your levels of important neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, your dietary health, sleep pattern, and exercise levels, just as a few examples. With all of this being said, the Biohacking community seems to have landed on a 1:2 Caffeine to L-Theanine ratio for optimal performance, with a 50mg:100mg dosage being used as a mild pick me up, and a 200mg:400mg dose being effective for an intentional boost in calm attentiveness. As with anything, keep your own subjective experience in mind, because what works for others may not be the ideal ratio for you.
By this point you may be asking, how much L-theanine is in tea? A typical 200ml cup of black tea contains roughly 18mg - 30mg of L-Theanine and about 40mg of Caffeine, while green tea typically produces 6mg - 12mg of L-Theanine and roughly 26mg of Caffeine, with the difference being accounted for due to the oxidative process used to create black tea making the leaf more permeable, and thus easier for these active compounds to be steeped into the water. This ratio is problematic for our purposes, because as you can see the ratio between L-Theanine and Caffeine is roughly reversed. This is not to say that drinking tea normally doesn’t produce the synergistic effect that we’re striving for, in fact this is exactly what tea has been reported to be doing for centuries! But, we’re trying to bring this to the next level by reaching the ideal concentration of both of these molecules for maximum focus. The Solution?
Matcha is a wonderful powdered form of green tea that is produced from the same highly sought after shaded tea bushes that are used to create Gyokuro, and due to the shading process used to grow Japan’s finest quality green tea, these leaves are much higher in L-theanine content than their unshaded green tea cousins. How much more? As much as 4x the L-theanine content, or as high as 46mg per serving. Due to the fact that when you drink Matcha you are consuming the whole leaf rather than steeping it, it has a higher caffeine content per 1tsp serving, roughly 38-54mg. This is fantastic for our purposes because it is at a roughly 1:1 Ratio, which by itself is great for a calming focused effect, but from a purely consumption standpoint, this is only one serving. Meaning that you don’t need to drink 10+ cups of tea in a day (which is a lot of liquid) to hit the ideal dose, and because you could theoretically consume more than one serving in a short amount of time, you can use this Matcha based Biohack to get yourself into “the zone” relatively quickly and effectively.
Unfortunately, as nearly magical as the Camilla Sinensis plant is, nature has not provided us with all of what we need to hit the golden 2:1 L-Theanine to Caffeine ratio. In order to correct this, we turn to L-Theanine supplementation. You can find L-Theanine in nearly any grocery store or pharmacy, at a relatively inexpensive cost. The typical dosing per capsule is 100mg, which is exactly what we need to take our natural 1:1 ratio, and transform it to the ideal 2:1 ratio. A simple formula for this, would be for every two servings of Matcha you consume, take one 100mg L-Theanine capsule, and you are now in position to take full effect of the synergistic reaction between these two compounds! For ease of use the following chart will display how much you should consume to reach certain milestones..
1tsp Matcha, ½ 100mg L-Theanine Capsules - ~50mg Caffeine, ~100mg L-Theanine
2tsp Matcha, 1 100mg L-Theanine Capsules - ~100mg Caffeine, ~200mg L-Theanine
4tsp Matcha, 2 100mg L-Theanine Capsules - ~200mg Caffeine, ~400mg L-Theanine
Maximum Daily Dose
8tsp Matcha, 4 100mg L-Theanine Capsules - ~400mg Caffeine, ~800mg L-Theanine
There is a maximum dose? Is this safe?
L-Theanine has been found in repeated studies to be totally safe for consumption, even in large doses, including studies that tested the effects of 4000mg/kg bodyweight in rats over a 13 week toxicity screening that showed no adverse effects to the rats tested. Couple this with the fact that in an Ames test for carcinogenicity, L-Theanine failed to produce a response, and L-Theanine quickly separates itself from the need for a maximum daily recommended dose. The issue is caffeine, which experts agree has a maximum daily dose of around 400mg for adults. That number is significantly reduced for anyone with cardiovascular issues or stimulant sensitivities, with anything more than this leading to dependence that can cause a litany of health issues including gastrointestinal issues, as well as headaches and cardiovascular concerns.
But why not just supplement Caffeine?
In all honesty, you could. Especially if you sourced your supplements from reputable supplement manufacturers. Then why choose to do it with Matcha? The short answer, your unique and not so unique human system. Aside from having L-Theanine and Caffeine, Matcha (and tea in general) is loaded with powerful antioxidants that aside from being good for overall health, have been proven to be anticarcinogenic. Couple this with the fact that thousands of studies have linked regular tea consumption to everything from decreasing the likelihood of developing liver disease, cardiovascular disease, strokes and possibly even type 2 diabetes to reduction of depression and increased overall longevity and lifelong happiness, then it becomes pretty clear that you shouldn’t just drink tea for focus. You should drink to your health!
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