Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that makes it difficult to focus and causes impulsive behavior. There are a number of treatments for the disorder. But what about natural supplements — for instance, can you take L-tyrosine for ADHD?
For context, ADHD typically appears in childhood, per the Mayo Clinic, and may occur due to genetics, developmental issues or environmental factors. It causes symptoms like:
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- Poor ability to time manage, plan or follow through
- Difficulty focusing
- Difficulty multitasking
- Excessive activity or restlessness
- Frequent mood swings
- Difficulty coping with stress
Medication and therapy are the two most common treatments for the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, some claim that you can take an amino acid supplement called L-tyrosine for ADHD. Here, we explore if there's any truth to those claims.
Talk to your doctor before taking tyrosine for ADHD, because the FDA does not require supplements to be proven safe or effective before they're sold. That means there’s no guarantee that what you take is safe, contains the ingredients it says it does or produces the desired effects.
What Is L-Tyrosine?
L-tyrosine is an amino acid that your body naturally produces, according to Mount Sinai. Tyrosine helps your brain create neurotransmitters, which are chemicals like epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine. These chemicals help your brain function at it's best, and can affect your mood.
L-tyrosine is also found outside of your body in food sources. Foods high in tyrosine include:
- Meats like chicken and turkey
- Dairy products like milk, cheese and yogurt
- Nuts like almonds and peanuts
- Seeds like pumpkin and sesame seeds
- Fruits like avocado and bananas
Where Can You Get L-Tyrosine?
Tyrosine is available as an over-the-counter supplement, per Mount Sinai, so you can find it at most drug stores. However, remember to check with your doctor before trying it to make sure it's safe for you.
Can You Take L-Tyrosine for ADHD?
So, why consider L-tyrosine for ADHD? Well, there's limited evidence to suggest that some people with ADHD lack dopamine and norepinephrine, according to a January 2014 review in the Postgraduate Medical Journal. And because tyrosine supports the production of these brain chemicals, the theory is that taking these amino acids for ADHD can help ease your symptoms.
At the same time, though, other studies report normal tyrosine levels in other people with ADHD. For example, March 2016 research in PLoS One found that children with the condition were not lacking tyrosine.
As a result, whether or not this theory holds true is up for debate. There is limited evidence to suggest that tyrosine has an effect on ADHD: For instance, a small September 2016 study in Cortex found that the amino acid helped improve working memory for people with ADHD.
However, more and larger studies are needed to better establish this link — in general, there's not sufficient evidence to suggest that ADHD symptoms benefit from L-tyrosine.
L-Tyrosine Dosage for ADHD
Remember, this amino acid is not a proven treatment for ADHD, so there's no specific L-tyrosine ADHD dosage. The doses of supplements vary by brand, so talk to your doctor about what would work best for you.
While there's not much evidence to show tyrosine affects dopamine in such a way that it helps treat ADHD, there are some other potential benefits to taking the supplement, including:
1. It Could Improve Cognitive Function Under Stress
It's difficult to think clearly when you're stressed. And L-tyrosine may be able to help with that by improving your working memory in stressful situations, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Similarly, a March 2015 study in Neuropsychologia found that cognitive flexibility improved for people who took the supplement during high-cognitive tests versus those who took a placebo.
However, it's important to note that this benefit hasn't been studied in people with ADHD specifically.
2. It Could Help Ease Depression
Tyrosine's role in producing neurotransmitters could possibly benefit those with depression by increasing dopamine levels, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
However, current research on tyrosine's antidepressant effects is mixed, so more studies are needed to better establish a link.
3. It Could Help With Phenylketonuria
Phenylketonuria is a rare genetic disorder that makes your body unable to produce the phenylalanine hydroxylase enzyme, which is the enzyme used to make tyrosine, per the Cleveland Clinic.
As a result, your doctor may prescribe you an L-tyrosine supplement if your levels are low. However, only take this supplement with your doctor's supervision — don't try L-tyrosine without checking with them first.
L-Tyrosine Side Effects
In general, tyrosine is typically considered safe, according to the Cleveland Clinic. That said, per Mount Sinai, there are still some side effects to consider, including:
- It could trigger migraines for people who get headaches
- Upset stomach
- It can mess with your thyroid, so people with hyperthyroidism or Graves disease should avoid it
- It may interact with other medications, like thyroid hormones, L-dopa and MAOIs
Talk to your doctor before trying this supplement to minimize your risk for side effects.
- Mayo Clinic: "Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “FDA 101: Dietary Supplements”
- Mount Sinai: "Tyrosine"
- Postgraduate Medical Journal: "Low dopamine function in attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder: should genotyping signify early diagnosis in children?"
- Cortex: "Effects of l-Tyrosine on working memory and inhibitory control are determined by DRD2 genotypes: A randomized controlled trial"
- PLoS One: "No Tryptophan, Tyrosine and Phenylalanine Abnormalities in Children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder"
- Cleveland Clinic: "Should You Try an L-Tyrosine Supplement? A Look at Its Benefits and Side Effects"
- Neuropsychologia: "Tyrosine promotes cognitive flexibility: evidence from proactive vs. reactive control during task switching performance"
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