Tranquility in a Teapot: The Effects of Green Tea on Anxiety
“I always fear creation will expire before teatime.” – Sydney Smith (Smith par. 6)
The end of the world before teatime is a rather nasty thought. For those of the population
suffering from anxiety, the end of the world tends to be a particularly nasty thought in the first
place. Perhaps with a nice cup of green tea, one would feel a tad bit better about the world
ending, so we should hope the world does not end before teatime. This line of thought most
likely stretches the medicinal uses of tea quite a bit; however, there is evidence that green tea can
actually reduce anxiety. One who suffers from anxiety knows it is a difficult thing to deal with
due to the side effects and cost of the prescription drugs often used to prevent anxiety. These side
effects can be quite detrimental to one’s health, and the money it takes to buy them is substantial;
therefore, those suffering from anxiety might seek a more natural and less expensive approach to
preventing anxiety attacks: drinking green tea.
Green tea has been proven to contain L-theanine, an amino acid that can be a relaxant and
decrease feelings of anxiety (Nathan et al 22). This can prove useful if one does not want to go
about dealing with anxiety with prescription drugs. But how does L-theanine work? It causes an
increase in the production of serotonin and GABA, which are neurotransmitters responsible for
controlling anxiety and depression (Nathan et al 27). A group of researchers at the University of
Technology in Australia have conducted a study comparing the effects of L-theanine and
alprazolam, Xanax, on anxiety disorders. The results indicated that when subjects affected by
mild anxiety were given L-theanine, they showed a significantly lowered amount of anxiety in
comparison to the subjects who were given alprazolam and the placebo (Lu et al 462).
Interestingly enough, the alprasolam did not give the subjects any relief if they were in a normal
state with no added stress, unlike the effects of the L-theanine; however, neither the alprazolam
nor the L-theanine provided any relief for the subjects when they were induced with anxiety (Lu
et al 462). The L-theanine works just as well as the alprazolam in fighting against mild anxiety,
which means that the supposed calming effects of green tea are true. This study provides
evidence that drinking green tea, which contains L-theanine, can be an alternative to prescription
Prescription drugs such as Xanax, Valium, or Cymbalta can all have adverse effects on
the body some of which are quite bewildering. Instead of indulging in a nice cup of tea one could
pop a pill once a day. That sounds nice and simple until one considers the side effects of the one-
pill-a-day instant gratification. One analysis notes some of the side effects of antidepressants
“include change in appetite (feelings of hunger), unsteadiness, slurred speech, increased saliva
production, difficulty in focusing, drowsiness, and feeling lightheaded” and ironically, “new or
worsening mental or mood problems like depression or severe anxiety” (“Alprazolam” par. 2-4).
While taking medications for anxiety one would like to know that the medication would actually
help instead of causing the illness one is trying to control. Simply drinking green tea can control
the situation without causing more anxiety or depression or any other unwanted side effect.
Nathan, Lu, Gray, and Oliver confirm there are no side effects related to L-theanine, not even
drowsiness (28). Also considering the time it takes for any sort of drug to change the chemical
composition of the brain and the addictive nature of the antidepressants, one could easily become
dependent on these medications. Dr. Volkow notes in her testimony on drug abuse that the
“psychotherapeutic drugs act, either directly or indirectly, upon the same brain systems affected
by addictive drugs” (Volkow par. 1) where as there is no evidence stating that green tea is
addictive, and the L-theanine does not work with the same parts of the brain as the
antidepressants; it only stimulates production of serotonin and dopamine in small amounts. Once
the drugs are prescribed, one usually must continue taking them for at least a year. Considering
the addictive side effects, one can have some issues coming off the drugs after this amount of
time as Dr. Volkow states, “anti-anxiety medications can cause depressed respiration and even
death, and CNS depressants can also induce seizures when a reduction in their chronic use
triggers a sudden rebound in brain activity” (par. 13). Clearly these drugs have far too many
detrimental side effects, and one must carefully determine whether their benefits outweigh their
costs. However, with green tea, one does not have to worry about addiction, drowsiness, or
recurring anxiety because the L-theanine, while increasing amounts of certain anxiety-
controlling neurotransmitters, does not have any side effects.
One may begin to think that the green tea sounds like a good idea because there are no
side effects, but what about one major reason for stress build up. An insufficient amount of sleep
is often a cause of anxiety, and with anxiety comes even more sleepless nights. This becomes a
debilitating cycle that a person can get caught up in quite easily. This cycle is one that the
prescription drugs attack. They are used to place a person in a meditative state of mind that will
induce better sleeping habits. Perhaps one might ask, “ What will green tea do to aid in restful
sleep? Its green tea, right? Its not advertised as a sleep medication or stress reducer.” True, the
prescription drugs will allow for a better night’s sleep, but green tea can do the same because
“Theanine readily crosses the blood-brain barrier [one of our defense mechanisms used to stop
harmful substances from reaching the brain] and changes the brain chemistry in the same way as
a deep meditative state” (Sahley par. 7). The L-theanine in green tea has been proven by the
National Institute of Mental Health in Japan to allow for a more restful sleep (Murray par. 5).
Therefore, one can see that green tea will do the same thing as the prescription drugs, but without
These side effects are not the only issue with the prescription medication. Perhaps one
has decided that the side effects are fine, and he or she just needs relief from mild anxiety and
sleeplessness, unfortunately, these drugs are not cheap. On a national level the amount of money
spent on the antidepressants is astonishing. According to Dr. Insel, “the direct costs of mental
health treatment represent 6.2 percent of all health care spending, which,” he continues,
“according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), totals 15.8 percent of the
gross domestic product” (par. 3). The shear amount of money that goes into paying for these
drugs is incredible. Perhaps one should look into this on a more personal basis. If one is
prescribed an antidepressant, he or she could expect to pay around $130 for one bottle of thirty
pills. One pill a day would cost approximately $4.37. This is based on the prices of Xanax,
Valium, Cymbalta, and Zoloft. Instead of $4.37 a day, how does $0.17 a day sound? Much
better. That is the price one would pay for a tea bag a day based on the average price of Celestial,
Lipton, Tazo, and Bigelow which turns out to be a staggering $3.37 per box of tea. Now, if green
tea has the same effect as prescription drugs on mild anxiety, then one would most likely prefer
to pay $3.37 per box of tea than $130 per bottle of medication.
Now, yes, there is a time for one to consider prescription drugs. Simply drinking green
tea cannot help some types of depression and anxiety, no matter how powerful the L-theanine is.
However, for mild anxiety and depression, a cup of green tea can lower the anxiety considerably
just like Xanax or Valium. Instead of dealing with drowsiness and potential addiction, one could
drink a cup of tea and enjoy the entire experience of teatime and a good night’s rest without
notions of detrimental side effects later on. Green tea also is less expensive than prescription
drugs allowing for that money that would have been used to buy the drugs to be used for other
things. Green tea, with its anxiety-fighting ingredient L-theanine, is the better choice for one
“Alprazolam Side Effects: Are They too Much For You?” Alprazolam.org. Alprazolam.org,
Insel, Thomas R. From Molecules to Minds: The Future of Neuroscience Research and Development. Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. U.S. Dept. of Health
and Human Services. 29 Sept. 2010. Web. 19 Feb. 2011.
Lu, Kristy, MA Gray, C Oliver, DT Liley, BJ Harrison, CF Bartholomeusz, KL Phan, PJ Nathan.
“The Acute Effects of L-theanine in Comparison with Alprazolam on Anticipatory
Anxiety in Humans.” Human Psychopharmacology 19.7 (Oct. 2004): 457-465.
MEDLINE with Full Text. Web. 19 Feb. 2011.
Nathan, Pradeep J., Kristy Lu, M Gray, C Oliver. “The Neuropharmacology of L-theanine (N-
Ethyl-L-Glutamine): A Possible Neuroprotective and Cognitive Enhancing Agent.”
Journal of Herbal Pharmacotherapy 6.2 (2006): 21-30. Academic Search Complete.
Smith, Sydney. “Quotations about Tea.” Quote Garden. Quotegarden.com, 9 Sept. 2010. Web.
Volkow, Nora D. Prescription Drug Abuse. The Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy,
and Human Resources. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. 26 July 2006. Web. 19
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