Today we’re taking a look at an unproven, but potentially fruitful area for treating ADHD symptoms.
In our first article in this series on non-pharmaceutical interventions for ADHD, we mentioned supplements that increase dopamine.
To recap, this is because of The Dopamine Hypothesis of ADHD.
ADHD may in part be caused by lower baseline dopamine levels. We know that higher dopamine increases attention, focus, and slows time perception.
Medication, like adderall and ritalin, are effective for ADHD work because they raise dopamine levels. The idea, then, is that other interventions that increase dopamine may help improve ADHD symptoms.
One such intervention is supplementing with l-tyrosine.
L-tyrosine is an amino acid. You can find it in high abundance in most meats, like beef and chicken. However, as a supplement, it’s one of the most popular ingredients in “nootropics” or “smart drugs.”
That’s because l-tyrosine is a precursor to two very important neurotransmitters: dopamine and norepinephrine. This means that our body uses l-tyrosine to directly make more dopamine.
Several studies have shown that supplementing with l-tyrosine increases dopamine levels, like this study on healthy older adults.
What does this have to do with ADHD? Well, thanks to The Dopamine Hypothesis of ADHD, potentially a lot.
The dopamine hypothesis of ADHD follows that a lack of baseline dopamine may be a key driver of ADHD symptoms.
After all, ADHD medications like Adderall and Ritalin cause massive dopamine spikes. By increasing dopamine, symptoms improve. This may also explain some strange phenomenon like how those with ADHD can take dangerous street drugs, like cocaine, and not feel the same “high.” Instead they’ll feel focused, and even calm. Rather than boosting dopamine to super-physiological levels, it could just be bringing it to what’s normal for many people, the theory goes.
Some studies even found “that some patients with ADHD have abnormalities in genes responsible for dopamine regulation.” This means that genes responsible for low dopamine may be more prevalent in those with ADHD, further supporting the hypothesis.
By increasing dopamine, l-tyrosine may support ADHD symptoms.
But what does the current research say?
While the theory of the mechanism is solid, research on this specific link hasn’t backed it up. The one promising study from 2011 was retracted in 2020 by the publishers.
As of now then, we can’t establish a direct link between l-tyrosine supplementation and ADHD symptoms.
And if the link were really that strong, the research would have shown it by now. So at best, we’re looking at some modest improvements as a result of modest dopamine increases.
The good news though, is that l-tyrosine is totally safe. It’s an amino acid. It’s not an active compound like medication or even like caffeine, which also has interesting research around its dopaminergic effects and potential for ADHD support, which we wrote about in this article on caffeine for ADHD.
This makes l-tyrosine a prime ingredient to experiment with, because there isn’t much downside.
Given the lack of a clear research link, l-tyrosine lives in the world where if you want to find out if it works, you’re going to have to try it and ideally track metrics.
It won’t be replacing actual medication anytime soon, probably ever. Even though we see dopamine increases with l-tyrosine, they’re not close to the dopamine increases seen in established ADHD medications.
However, that doesn’t mean you can’t experiment with it and see if it helps you.
A common practice for those with ADHD is to only take medication on the days you’re doing demanding, attention-requiring work.
You could try using L-Tyrosine on the days you weren’t going to take medication.
Most people with ADHD don’t take medication every day. So there’s space to experiment on these days. In this case, you can see how you feel isolated from the effects of medication.
You may even try to get some work done and see how your brain is reacting to it.
Other anecdotal reports claim people using l-tyrosine synergistically with medication, but this doesn’t isolate the variable. If you know how you feel on certain doses of your medication, then this may work.
As for dose, research on l-tyrosine ranges widely, from 100mg to 1200mg. As a general guideline for self-experimentation, start with smaller doses, and see if you feel any effects. You can adjust from there. Often capsules come in doses of 500mg. While this is in the mid-range, it’s also a safe place to start.
One of the downsides to l-tyrosine, like a lot of other ingredients, is you build a tolerance to it. Research on this dates back over 40 years, and showed that mice build a tolerance within a few weeks.
This points to what could be another variable of your self-experimentation: if you take it every day, you’ll build a tolerance to its effects.
Perhaps, then l-tyrosine is a supplement you keep on hand and use occasionally, perhaps when you need an extra dopamine-induced focus boost, but not to be used all the time.
Not all supplements are created equal. We only recommend products that are GMP-certified and third-party tested.
The supplement industry is notoriously scant of regulations, so look for companies that go above and beyond to ensure quality and safety.
There are a lot of good l-tyrosine products out there, and we could get fancy with different nootropic products.
However, in the name of testing out l-tyrosine, we recommend trying a product that’s just l-tyrosine. NOW Foods has an inexpensive, 500mg capsule product with 120 capsules for just $8. That’s 7 cents a serving.
As a company they’ve been around for decades, which is generally a great indicator of the quality of a supplement company. Their products are third-party tested and pharmaceutical grade.