Monday, December 20, 2010

Brewing Chemicals

Warning: explicit chemistry content ahead!

When last I visited Patient Spiritual Director we had a conversation about caffeine — since at times this semester I felt as caffeine was all that was getting me through the next hour. So for now, a lá Ignatius' advice to find the mean of things regarding eating and drinking, I'm trying to stick to just two cups of the caffeinated stuff a day, though I have to admit that caffeine adds a bitter edge to tea and I miss the taste even more than the buzz when it's not there. The small deprivation definitely heightens my appreciation for those two cups!

A young friend sent me the link to these mints, which promise both tranquility and alertness in a single package. The secret ingredient is L-theanine (structure shown below), a naturally occurring amino acid found in Camelia sinensis. (Some amino acids (roughly 20) are used by biological systems to build proteins (the working machinery of cells), but theanine is not one of them.) Coincidently, the dried, fermented leaves of Camelia sinensis are what I use to brew my preferred pharmacological concoction to decrease stress and increase alertness: tea.

So would the mints work as advertised? I don't really know, but there is some evidence that theanine works synergistically with caffeine to enhance cognitve performance, while moderating some of caffeine's less desirable effects. I think I'll stick with tea — two cups!

Need more chemistry? Read the version posted at my chemistry blog.


  1. finding God in all things again, are we????

  2. And where else should a chemist look for God, in those delightful molecular structures? or in the steam from a bracing cup of tea?

  3. I think Ignatius stole the moderation bit from Aristotle (

    Thanks for the warning! I braved the post.

  4. You are a brave woman! And Ignatius lifted many things :)...

  5. Thank you-now did I understand it? Let's just say I've forgotten what an amino acid is . . . and (parents preserve me!) did not look it up.

    Somehow this phrase makes me think of a heavyweight lifter. Ignatius as the giant Atlas, holding up at least a portion of the theological world?