I’ve found that physical energy — the “fuel” that allows us to ignite our emotional and intellectual skills and talents — is, in the end, what we all crave. We absolutely need physical energy to be at our best.
And there’s no way around it: we have to somehow access pleasant and positive emotions, including joy (aka enjoyment), challenge, and adventure, to be at our best. Emotions that manifest via fear, anger, frustration, and sadness have a certain toxic quality to them. All are associated with the release of a specific stress hormone called cortisol.
Cortisol is actually a steroid hormone, produced and released by the adrenal gland (where adrenaline comes from) in response to stress and low blood glucose. It functions to suppress the immune system (by lengthening wound healing time), to inhibit collagen formation needed for bone strength, and to prevent proliferation of T-cells. It also decreases amino acid uptake required by our muscles.
In short, cortisol has helped human beings throughout our evolution through the creation of the “flight or fight” response. As the great Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky has written, ”
In the short term, stress hormones are “brilliantly adapted” to help you survive an unexpected threat. You mobilize energy in your thigh muscles, you increase your blood pressure and you turn off everything that’s not essential to surviving, such as digestion, growth, and reproduction. You think more clearly, and certain aspects of learning and memory are enhanced. All of that is spectacularly adapted if you’re dealing with an acute physical stressor—a real one.
But non-life-threatening stressors, such as constantly worrying about money or pleasing your boss, also trigger the release of adrenalin and other stress hormones, which, over time, can have devastating consequences to your health. If you turn on the stress response chronically for purely psychological reasons, you increase your risk of adult onset diabetes and high blood pressure. If you’re chronically shutting down the digestive system, there’s a bunch of gastrointestinal disorders you’re more at risk for as well.
So: cortisol was extremely useful for early homo sapiens, but far less useful today for most of us.
Matcha, it turns out, is a sort of anti-cortisol. It helps stabilize blood sugar, and reduces stress on the adrenal glands.Specifically, the L-theanine in matcha is thought to reduce levels of cortisol by creating alpha waves in the brain to produce a state of calm and serene alertness.
Coffee, in contrast, does the opposite: it causes an adrenaline and cortisol spike.
So if you needed yet more reason to introduce matcha into your life, there it is!