L-Theanine vs 5-HTP: Their Pros and Cons Explained

Pills symbolizing the face-off between L-Theanine vs 5-HTP

TL; DR: L-Theanine vs 5-HTP Summary

L-Theanine and 5-HTP both have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on what you’re looking for. L-Theanine is the better option for reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress, such as chronic overthinking and the inability to fall asleep. 5-HTP, on the other hand, is a precursor to serotonin, a molecule that regulates your mood and appetite, which makes it a better option for helping with weight loss and supporting mental well-being overall. 5-HTP’s advantage over L-Theanine is most obvious in people with low serotonin levels and those who’re looking to lose weight. However, L-Theanine is a safer option than 5-HTP if you plan on supplementing it long-term, as 5-HTP is known to have some side effects.

What is L-Theanine?

L-Theanine is a non-essential amino acid, also known as theanine. Theanine is found in green tea and can be taken in supplement form. L-Theanine is what promotes feelings of relaxation and mental clarity. It works by elevating your brain’s GABA levels.

GABA is the brain chemical that slows down nerve activity by inhibiting the neural transmission of the neurotransmitter glutamate (the “excitatory neurotransmitter”).

  • If you want to get the most out of its stress-reduction benefits, an effective dose is 200-250 milligrams of L-Theanine.

You’ll also often see L-Theanine paired with caffeine because of its stimulating effects. Caffeine is a natural stimulant familiar to all of us. It is found in coffee, tea, and many other plants. It speeds up the central nervous system, increases alertness, and reduces stress.

Caffeine’s benefits are amplified when it is paired with L-Theanine. But at the same time, caffeine’s side effects such as jitters and energy crashes are smoothened out thanks to L-Theanine’s calming effects.

L-Theanine’s Benefits

1. It Enhances Alpha Brain Wave Activity

L-Theanine is very well known for its unique ability to influence your brain waves. Specifically, L-Theanine has been shown in research to promote alpha brain wave production and to block beta-1, 2, and 3 brain waves.

Alpha Brain Waves: Alpha brain waves are associated with relaxation, stress reduction, and a feeling of positive well-being.

Beta Brain Waves: Beta waves are associated with high anxiety levels, high heart rate, and shortness of breath to name a few. So, whenever you’re feeling overly stressed, it’s because you’re in an overly active beta-brainwave state.

2. It Reduces Mental Chatter

One of L-Theanine’s anti-anxiety effects is a reduction in mental chatter. You may notice that when you take L-Theanine, your thoughts are quieter than usual, or simply take a break from their constant chatter.

L-Theanine also promotes alpha wave production, as we’ve mentioned. Alpha waves are the brain wave states that you might be more familiar with if you’ve seen a neurofeedback practitioner. They represent a relaxed state of mind and are produced during meditation as well as deep sleep states.

3. It Helps Alleviate Stress

L-Theanine alleviates stress by inhibiting the excessive production and release of glutamate, a neurochemical that has excitatory effects. You know that saying; too much of a good thing is a bad thing? Glutamine is the perfect example.

While glutamate is essential for important functions, like brain development and memory, too much of it can cause oxidative stress in the body. Too much glutamate can even lead to brain cell death. By lowering the production of glutamate, L-theanine may protect the brain from oxidative stress.

  • As a side note, L-theanine is also a powerful antioxidant; it protects against free radicals and their harmful effects, while simultaneously stimulating the production of glutathione, which is another important antioxidant found in every cell of the body.

4. It promotes GABA production

L-Theanine is an amino acid that many people use for reducing the effects of stress and anxiety. It does this by increasing levels of GABA, which causes a calming effect. This results in less mental chatter and can help you fall asleep.

However, that doesn’t mean L-Theanine makes you drowsy. Actually, many people take it during the day, not just before they go to sleep. This is due to the fact that while L-Theanine calms down the brain, it also promotes deep concentration and a relaxed state of focus at the same time. This means it can be used for both enhancing productivity, and unwinding the mind to get to sleep faster. It’s an extremely versatile supplement!

L-Theanine’s Drawbacks

L-Theanine is an extremely safe compound with very few downsides. It can be found naturally in a variety of plants, mainly green tea. In fact, L-Theanine supplements are typically made from the water-soluble portion of the green tea leaves. The compound can also be found in other kinds of plants such as mushrooms and certain kinds of fungi.

When taken in doses between 100-200mg per day, it is shown to work well and safely even with long-term supplementation.

What is 5-HTP?

5-HTP is a naturally occurring chemical found in the seeds of the Griffonia plant. It is an amino acid that is converted to serotonin in the brain and central nervous system.

5-HTP supplements help balance neurotransmitters in your body to get you through an episode of depression. It can also help people who have sleep disorders, appetite problems, menopause, fibromyalgia, and other conditions. The safe upper limit for 5-HTP is 100 mg per day. The average dose is 50 to 200 mg. 

5-HTP is often used in people who want to lose weight and those who have sub-optimal levels of serotonin in their system. This means that if you have sub-optimal serotonin levels, you will notice the effects of 5-HTP more than if you have normal levels of serotonin. This makes it quite different from L-Theanine. L-Theanine works for pretty much everyone, more so in chronically stressed individuals.

Possible side effects of 5-HTP include nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, drowsiness, heartburn, and an upset stomach. We’ll talk about these more later.

5-HTP’s Benefits

Helps Boost Mood

Researchers have studied the supplement 5-HTP and its effect on mood and mental well-being. They found that it can lead to an improvement in mood and a reduction in stress, with few side effects.

Mood is affected by many factors, such as genetics, environment, lifestyle, and other health conditions. The study of 5-HTP supplements has focused on how it leads to a better mood in people with depression or anxiety disorders.

5-HTP supplements are typically safe for adults who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. A doctor should be consulted before taking 5-HTP if you have other health conditions or take medications for depression or anxiety disorders.

Reduces Appetite

5-HTP increases the production of serotonin in your brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which, among many effects, regulates your appetite. Higher levels of serotonin are linked with increased satiety. This is why you’ll sometimes see 5-HTP being included in fat burner supplements; it’s a solid weight loss aid.

5-HTP’s Drawbacks

5-HTP is a supplement that people take to try and increase their serotonin levels. It is a precursor to serotonin, which is the chemical in the brain that makes us feel happy.

The side effects of 5-HTP are not well understood. There have been some reports of people feeling nauseous or having headaches after taking it. The side effects might be worse for those who are sensitive to medications and drugs, so it’s best to consult with a doctor before taking it if you have any pre-existing conditions or sensitivities.

L-Theanine vs 5-HTP: Which One is The Better Option for You?

Now that we’ve looked into both the advantages and drawbacks of L-Theanine and 5-HTP, let’s answer the main question; which of the two is more effective, safer, and better overall?

The answer is that neither is better than the other; it all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

If you want an increased sense of relaxation, or if you are someone who likes caffeine but you find that it makes you too jittery, then L-Theanine is the one for you. It is a better option than 5-HTP when it comes to alleviating mental “chatter,” stress, and other symptoms of anxiety.

5-HTP can help with the aforementioned symptoms too, although it’s more geared towards people who have sub-par serotonin production. In other words, 5-HTP can help you more with mood and overall sense of well-being, especially if your serotonin levels are low.

  • Another advantage of 5-HTP is that it curbs appetite. This is because elevated serotonin levels signal the brain that the body is full and satiated. In that sense, 5-HTP is the better option than L-Theanine if your goal is weight loss.

One major area where L-Theanine takes the edge over 5-HTP, though, is that it’s a lot safer to take long-term. 5-HTP is often a synthetic supplement. Our brain prefers to make its own 5-HTP from precursor compounds such as L-Tryptophan, which are naturally found in foods.

In this sense, 5-HTP is the worse option than L-Theanine if your goal is to support your brain function long-term. A better and safer alternative, in that case, would be 5-HTP’s precursor – L-Tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid found in food just like L-Theanine, which makes it safe and effective for supplementation – achieving similar effects as 5-HTP.

Anything Else to Consider?

If you are looking to improve your brain function, a solid lifestyle with good sleep, regular exercise, and a nutritious diet is a foundation that you need to set up before considering a brain supplement like L-Theanine or 5-HTP.

That said, if you already have your bases covered, consider taking a more comprehensive “nootropic stack”, which doesn’t only have L-Theanine or 5-HTP, but also other proven nootropic compounds that affect and benefit brain function in different ways. From neurogenesis to brain blood flow, to neurotransmitter support, to long-range cognitive plasticity. A truly effective brain supplement will combine multiple ingredients to provide you with a wide spectrum of brain performance benefits.

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