Theacrine is a natural compound with the ability to increase mental clarity, energize workouts, and increase overall mood and motivation. It can also enhance and extend the positive effects of caffeine while minimizing its negative side effects. Read on to learn more about this new alternative to traditional caffeine.
- What Is Theacrine?
- Mechanism of Action
- Health Benefits of Theacrine
- Theacrine and Caffeine
- Limitations and Caveats
- User Experiences
What Is Theacrine?
Theacrine (1,3,7,9-tetramethyluric acid) is a purine alkaloid found in cupuacu fruit (Theobroma grandiflorum) and the kucha plant (Camellia assamica var. kucha).
The cupuacu plant is related to cocoa and grows in the Amazon.
The kucha plant is related to the tea plant and grows only in the wild woods of Yunnan (China), above 1,000 meters of altitude. It has been used to make Chinese kucha tea. Kucha also contains caffeine and theobromine, and it seems that the plant produces theacrine from caffeine [R].
The chemical structure of theacrine is similar to caffeine, and scientific evidence suggests that it activates similar signaling pathways.
Mechanism of Action
- A high dosage (48 mg/kg in rats) blocks adenosine receptors. This mechanism counteracts the drowsiness produced by adenosine, just like caffeine [R].
- However, smaller doses (3 mg/kg in mice) demonstrate the opposite effect by increasing adenosine levels in the brain (hippocampus) and counteracting the stimulatory property of caffeine [R].
Activation of these receptors is responsible for motivation and wakefulness.
- It protected against liver damage by reducing liver levels of the inflammatory markers IL-1β, TNF-α, IL-6, and IFN-γ [R].
- It also increased the antioxidant capacity of the blood and liver of stressed mice. The antioxidant activity of theacrine increased the production of the enzymes superoxide dismutase, catalase, and glutathione peroxidase and reduced the activity of xanthine oxidase (an enzyme that creates reactive oxygen species) [R].
What makes theacrine truly unique is how it differs from caffeine. Theacrine:
- Has a longer half-life [R]
- Has no effect on blood pressure [R]
- Is less likely to disrupt sleep compared to caffeine [R]
- Has reduced tolerance [R]
Health Benefits of Theacrine
1) Theacrine Increases Energy, Focus, and Motivation
Theacrine is a brain/nervous system stimulant that became popular in sports nutrition as a pre-workout and fat burner supplement. Reports suggest it provides a long-lasting boost of energy without the negative side effects (anxiety, insomnia, tolerance) associated with caffeine.
A DB-RCT of 15 healthy humans showed that a single 200-mg dose of theacrine resulted in a subjective increase in energy, focus, concentration, willingness to exercise, motivation to train, and libido [R].
Another placebo-controlled study involving 20 healthy human subjects reported increased subjective feelings of attentiveness, alertness, and focus when using a supplement containing both theacrine and caffeine vs. caffeine alone [R].
Theacrine significantly enhances physical activity in rats, and it’s suggested that this effect is mediated by both the adenosine and dopamine systems [R].
2) Theacrine Improves Mood and May Help with Depression
High dopamine levels result in perceived feelings of energy, improved mood, and sensations of pleasure.
Theacrine consumed at high doses activates the dopamine receptors DRD1 and DRD2 [R].
Research also indicates that this compound increases activity in the nucleus accumbens region of the brain, which is associated with pleasure and reward [R].
Data on 20 healthy humans suggested a supplement containing both theacrine and caffeine may favorably impact multiple subjective feelings related to energy and mood when compared to either caffeine alone or placebo. It also decreased feelings of lethargy and grogginess [R].
This evidence seems to back up the anecdotal personal experiences shared by consumers when combining the two substances.
An experimental study on the antidepressant effects of theacrine concluded that it reduces depression in various tests on mice, possibly by acting on the neurotransmitters serotonin and norepinephrine [R].
3) Theacrine May Improve Sleep
A low dose of theacrine shortened wake time and increased sleep time in mice. It also reduced caffeine-induced insomnia [R].
In addition, theacrine markedly increased adenosine levels in the brain (hippocampus) of rats, which has sleep-promoting effects [R].
These results (from a rodent model) suggest that theacrine might regulate the adenosine system at lower doses to increase sleep.
4) Theacrine May Reduce Inflammation and Pain
The pain relieving properties of theacrine in mice were dose-dependent [R].
The same study showed that theacrine had acute anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties, while caffeine had no effect [R].
5) Theacrine May Decrease Cholesterol
Polyphenols in tea can inhibit the absorption of dietary cholesterol and decrease blood cholesterol levels.
Similar to other studies on tea extracts, theacrine supplementation may be a viable alternative to cholesterol-lowering drugs but more research is needed in this area.
6) Theacrine May Combat Stress
An investigational study demonstrated that theacrine has protective effects on liver damage induced by restraint stress in mice [R].
Results suggest that these protective effects of theacrine in stressed mice may be correlated with its antioxidant activity [R].
Theacrine and Caffeine
Caffeine is known to cause a comedown effect after a couple of hours, which leads to even more fatigue. This ultimately leads to drinking more coffee or taking higher doses, which causes tolerance in the long term.
Research in both animal and human has demonstrated that theacrine does not result in a fatigued crash or lead to tolerance build up over time. In a placebo-controlled study, theacrine demonstrated non-habituating effects in 60 healthy humans over 8 weeks of daily use at up to 300 mg/day [R, R].
In addition, it may have benefits that caffeine doesn’t, such as decreasing inflammation and relieving pain [R].
Recommended daily dosages in humans range from 50 to 300 mg/day.
Kucha tea, for example, contains low doses and has been used to induce relaxation.
Doses below 50 g can be considered lower and relaxation-inducing, while doses closer to 300 mg are stimulatory.
Theacrine has demonstrated clinical safety and non-habituating effects in 60 healthy humans over 8 weeks of daily use at up to 300 mg/day [R].
The acute toxicity in mice would equate to roughly 4 grams for an individual weighing 170 lbs [R].
Although it is similar in structure to caffeine, at this point more research is needed to assess the safety in pregnant and breastfeeding women. It is recommended to consult with your healthcare provider or avoid theacrine during this time.
Limitations and Caveats
Theacrine is a relatively new compound on the market, and there are only a few published scientific studies that confirm a clear benefit over similar purine alkaloids such as caffeine and theobromine.
Theacrine is typically formulated as part of a multi-ingredient supplement and harder to find as a standalone supplement, making it difficult to trace the clinical benefits to one substance.
- “In general, theacrine has essentially all the same effects of caffeine, but slightly weaker stimulation at the same dose, and much less noticeable negative side effects like the jitters. It also lasts about 6 hours for me, as opposed to 3-4 hours of full efficacity from caffeine.”
- “As a sleep-deprived college student, 100 mg of this is enough to get me awake enough to get through class but its stimulant effects seem more clear and mild compared to caffeine. When combined with caffeine and l-theanine especially, this stuff provides a familiar buzz to most, with a slight difference in headspace.”
- “Theacrine works so much better for me than caffeine. It is smoother, longer lasting and the effects are consistent. Sometimes I mix in a bit of caffeine for a little more kick. They work very well together.”
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