You may have heard L-Tyrosine described as a “nootropic,” meaning it may enhance cognitive function. While the term has been gaining plenty of traction in the wellness world, there’s still an important question at hand–what is L-tyrosine? And how exactly can it benefit brain health?
Before you decide whether this nootropic supplement is right for you, here’s what you should know about L-Tyrosine benefits, research, and potential risks:Table of Contents
L-tyrosine is a form of the amino acid tyrosine. It’s responsible for helping the body to build proteins and produce important enzymes, hormones, neurotransmitters, and even the skin pigmentation melanin. Most significantly, tyrosine is necessary for the production of epinephrine, norepinephrine and dopamine, hormones responsible for stress responses, mood regulation, and more.
L-tyrosine is often described as a non-essential amino acid, a title that can be a bit misleading. This just means that you don’t need to get it from food because your body is able to produce tyrosine from the amino acid phenylalanine. Some people, however, choose to supplement with L-tyrosine, citing various brain-boosting and mood-balancing effects.
Luckily, there’s no need to worry about the risks of over-supplementing with L-tyrosine because the body can break down and dispose of excess tyrosine easily. If you’re looking to decide whether or not you should take L-tyrosine as part of a regular wellness regimen, you may want to take a look at some of the available research:
L-Tyrosine research is still somewhat limited, but studies have acknowledged some potential benefits, like L-tyrosine’s ability to increase dopamine or help manage stress. Let’s dig into to some of the most significant areas of L-tyrosine research to see what benefits it may bring to the table:
Stress is a common experience, but one of the most impactful drawbacks of stress is it’s adverse effect on cognition. Research has aimed to see how tyrosine supplementation can help prevent the negative impact that stress has on memory, attention, and reasoning.
Two studies (2001, 2007) found that tyrosine supplementation in mice prevented the cognitive decline caused by cold exposure. After supplementation, mice experienced improvement in neurotransmitter levels and their working memory was restored.
Another 2013 study involving 22 women found that tyrosine supplementation significantly improved working memory during tasks that required intense concentration or problem solving. A 2015 study found that tyrosine improved cognitive flexibility, or the ability to switch quickly from task to task, compared to a placebo.
After sleep deprivation, a circumstance known to increase stress and negatively impact cognitive function, participants of a 1995 study were able to stay alert for three hours longer with tyrosine supplementation than without.
Another review found that tyrosine supplementation can improve cognitive function in short-term, high-stress situations that may typically cause mental decline.
Unfortunately, no evidence currently exists to show that tyrosine may improve cognitive function outside of stressful situations, although some anecdotal reports claim otherwise.
Phenylketonuria (PKU) is an inherited condition generally diagnosed in infancy in which the body cannot create the enzymes necessary to break down certain amino acids. This can lead to amino acid build up that causes brain damage, mental disabilities, adverse behavioral reactions, and even seizures. PKU is primarily treated with a special diet meant to avoid these amino acids, but some evidence suggests that tyrosine supplementation may help as well.
It’s important to note that PKU is associated with a tyrosine deficiency which is thought to lead to the behavioral and cognitive effects discussed previously. Some experts believe that supplementing with tyrosine may help prevent these adverse effects.
However, evidence is mixed, and one study found no difference in growth, nutritional status, or quality of life in participants taking tyrosine supplements versus those taking a placebo. Another study offered a similar conclusion–of 56 PKU patients studies, there was no significant difference observed between those taking tyrosine versus the placebo group.
Some reports claim that L-tyrosine supplementation can help manage depression, a condition characterized by decreased neurotransmitter levels. According to a 2011 study, tyrosine can potentially increase neurotransmitter levels and therefore may act as an antidepressant.
However, some research claims otherwise. One study from 1990 found tyrosine to have no antidepressant effects.
Depression is a complex condition that varies for every person. It’s possible that tyrosine’s benefits are increased for those who specifically experience low levels of dopamine, adrenaline or noradrenaline. One study found that patients with dopamine-deficient depression experienced significant improvement when supplementing with tyrosine. For now, more research is needed to fully understand the potential of L-tyrosine to manage depression.
Read "L-Tyrosine Benefits" to learn more.
It’s important to note that supplements are not regulated in the same way as medications are in the U.S., so it’s important that you carefully consider the quality of the L-tyrosine supplements you choose. Also pay close attention to dosing, since the dosage for L-tyrosine isn’t standardized.
Here are some things to consider when designing your L-tyrosine dosing routine:
The quality of your wellness supplements is incredibly important, especially since supplements are not regulated the same way as prescription medications. Ensure that the L-Tyrosine supplement you buy comes from a trustworthy manufacturer, specifically that uses a third-party testing process to ensure quality. You may also look for a company that is experienced with wellness supplements and uses a cGMP compliant manufacturing facility.
When you take L-tyrosine depends on the impact you want it to have. For instance, many people take tyrosine supplements about 30 minutes before meals, typically divided into 2 or 3 daily doses.
Those looking to boost athletic performance (a potential benefit that has not been proven) may take their Tyrosine dose 30–60 minutes before exercise. For weight loss support, sources claim that tyrosine is best taken on an empty stomach. Other reports claim that tyrosine should not be taken at night because it has a tendency to be stimulating, which may disturb sleep.
In general, you may choose to take L-tyrosine in the morning before breakfast, 30 minutes before lunch, or at both of these times for the best results.
A standard dose of L-tyrosine starts at 150 milligrams (mg) daily. However, clinical trials have used doses of 100 to 150 mg per kg or body weight daily, citing these results as “well tolerated.” Manufacturers commonly recommend 500 to 1,500 mg/day, and doses in excess of 500 mg are generally considered safe.
Many people start with 150 mg and increase their dosage slowly, sometimes breaking larger doses into 2 or 3 daily portions. We recommend starting at the low end of this dosing scale and increasing your dosage slowly as needed.
Read "L-Tyrosine Dosage" to learn more.
You may find tyrosine (with or without the L- prefix) available in wellness stores and grocery stores. Typically, it’s found in capsule form, though the dosage per capsule ranges by brand and dosing intention.
If you're looking for an L-tyrosine supplement to help improve cognitive performance or manage stress, we recommend looking for a nootropic blend like this nootropic+mushroom instant drink mix. On its own, L-tyrosine may provide a handful of brain-boosting benefits, but it may provide more full coverage benefits when combined with other adaptogens, herbal extracts, and brain-supporting vitamins and minerals.
In most trials, L-tyrosine is considered to be safe and well tolerated by both humans and animals. In fact, the body can dispose of excess L-tyrosine, so there is not much concern surrounding taking too much.
Still, some people may need to avoid L-Tyrosine, including those who have thyroid problems, take certain medications for depression or Parkinson’s Disease, or who are prone to insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, headache, upset stomach, or heartburn. You should also avoid taking L-tyrosine if you are pregnant or breastfeeding since no evidence exists to prove the safety of L-tyrosine in pregnant or breastfeeding persons.
If you fall into one of these categories, check with your doctor before adding L-tyrosine to your wellness routine.
Also keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the FDA in the same way food and drugs are. That means you need to take special care to ensure that the product you choose is safe and well-made, without unnecessary chemicals or leftover additives.
Read "L-Tyrosine Side Effects" to learn more.
According to limited evidence, L-Tyrosine may be useful for improving mental performance during stressful situations, increasing alertness, and improving memory. Some evidence also suggests that it may be useful for managing depression or treating ADHD, although more research is needed to confirm these reports.
Tyrosine is described as likely safe, though some people experience minor side effects like nausea, headache, fatigue, and heartburn after taking L-tyrosine.
Some evidence suggests that L-tyrosine could be a useful aid in weight loss efforts because it helps produce epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine, which could possibly help increase metabolism. Current evidence is limited, however.
L-tyrosine should be avoided by those who are prone to migraines, have a thyroid disorder, or frequently experience insomnia, restlessness, palpitations, upset stomach, or heartburn. If you take prescription medications or fall into one of these categories, talk to your doctor before trying L-tyrosine.
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