Today I want to discuss the relationship between ADHD and neurotransmitter precursors. If there is one thing I have learned from my decades of experience as a clinical psychiatrist treating children, it’s that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for any patient.
This is especially true for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
I have many natural treatments at my disposal that I commonly use to ease the effects of ADHD. But when those don’t achieve the desired results, it’s time to start directly balancing the brain’s neurotransmitters with neurotransmitter precursors.
But first, let’s start by understanding what neurotransmitters and neurotransmitter precursors actually are.
What are neurotransmitters?
Much like a computer, everything that happens in our brains runs on a binary system. Every message, or neurotransmitter, traveling through the paths in a neural pathway in your brain is either an “on” signal or an “off signal”.
To be more precise, neurotransmitters are one of the following two types:
- Excitatory: turn-it-on neurotransmitters, like energizing dopamine and norepinephrine
- Inhibitory: turn-it-off neurotransmitters, like calming serotonin and GABA (gamma-aminobutryic acid).
Generally speaking, the number of neurotransmitters a person has doesn’t change much over time. Medications you give your child to combat the symptoms of ADHD don’t create more of these messengers, they just change the way the brain interacts with them.
There is, however, another way to create more neurotransmitters. By introducing neurotransmitter precursors, the nutrients and herbal extracts that help create neurotransmitters, into your child’s diet, you can correct any chemical imbalance that may exist.
The main ingredients, called precursors, are:
- For focus-improving dopamine: tyrosine, an amino acid (a sub-unit of protein); and the B-vitamins pyridoxine (B6) and folate.
- For calming serotonin: tryptophan, an amino acid; and the B-vitamins pyridoxine (B6) and folate.
What the science says about neurotransmitter precursors in ADHD
Among the many studies that demonstrate how effective neurotransmitter precursors are for the treatment of ADHD, some of the more compelling ones show that:
- Children with ADHD had lower levels of tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan (all precursors).1
- The ADHD brain inhibits the flow of tryptophan.2 Less tryptophan leads to more aggression, poorer focus, and slower reaction time.3,4
- Children with ADHD were found to have lower levels of GABA, a calming neurotransmitter, leading to higher impulsivity.5,6
- Taking neurotransmitter precursors results in “significant improvement” or “complete relief” for many ADHD sufferers.7
- For some patients, taking vitamin B6 was just as effective as taking Ritalin.8
- Vitamin D, another precursor, is often low in ADHD patients.9,10
Now that you know just how important neurotransmitter precursors are, how can you use them to treat your child’s ADHD?
How to use neurotransmitter precursors to relieve ADHD symptoms
The following treatments should be tried after other nutritional deficits are met but before resorting to ADHD medication.
As with other natural treatments, it may take some time before you notice an improvement in your child.
First and foremost, if your child suffers from a vitamin D deficiency, it must be resolved before trying the other treatments.
Once your child has the right levels of vitamin D, you will notice many areas of improvement, all stemming from the boost of serotonin that this vital vitamin provides. Serotonin energizes executive function, the mental skills that help your child get things done.
It eases impulsivity, allowing your child to choose long-term benefits over short-term gratification. It improves social behavior and your child’s ability to be friendly, even when disappointed or frustrated. It upgrades sensory gating, so your child is able to filter out extraneous input and focus on the task at hand.
Vitamin D also affects dopamine and norepinephrine, which will lead to an improvement in your child’s attention span.
Dopamine Neurotransmitter Precursors
The following precursors can be used to increase dopamine:
- L-tyrosine: an amino acid that forms dopamine.
- Folate: a B-vitamin that helps convert tyrosine to dopamine.
- Vitamin B6: in the form of pyridoxal 5’ phosphate, a biologically active form of the nutrient that does the best job of helping the body convert tyrosine to dopamine.
- L-DOPA: supplied naturally by mucuna pruriens, or the velvet bean, which grows mainly in India and China.
- Zinc: a mineral that helps keep dopamine in the synapse between neurons, making it more available. Put another way, zinc is a natural dopamine reuptake inhibitor.
- Rhodiola: an herb that turbocharges dopamine, speeding it across the synapse.
- Green tea extract: which helps preserve dopamine.
That’s a long list, and right now you might be thinking: I’m not going to try to get my ADHD child to take all those supplements.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to. I’ve formulated one supplement that includes each of those precursors: DopaPlus, from Pure Encapsulations.
The formula of DopaPlus reflects my experience in more than 20 years of treating ADHD children with precursors, and slowly but surely learning what did and didn’t work for my patients.
What didn’t work was prescribing individual amino acids, like tyrosine.
What did work was prescribing dopamine-creating amino acids with nutritional co-factors that preserve dopamine and enhance its action in the brain. DopaPlus contains precursors and co-factors.
But neurotransmitter precursors are just one part of the puzzle.
Using precursors to rebalance neurotransmitters is a powerful tool for reducing the symptoms of your child’s ADHD. However, you should view them as one part of a greater treatment plan that addresses all of your child’s nutritional needs for a healthy mind.
I go into further detail about neurotransmitter precursors in my award-winning book, Finally Focused. Additionally, in the book I also discuss the many other changes you and your child can make to help reduce or even eliminate his ADHD.
Yours in health,
James M. Greenblatt, MD
Founder, Medical Director, Psychiatry Redefined
Did you know there are many studies showing a connection between low-dose lithium and ADHD?
- Bornstein RA, et al. Plasma amino acids in attention deficit disorder. Psychiatry Research, 1990 Sep;33(3):301-6.
- Johansson J, et al. Altered tryptophan and alanine transport in fibroblasts from boys with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): an in vitro study. Behavioral and Brain Functions, 2011 Sep 24;7:40.
- Kötting WF, et al. Effects of tryptophan depletion on reactive aggression and aggressive decision-making in young people with ADHD. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 2013 Aug;128(2):114-23.
- Zimmermann M, et al. The effects of acute tryptophan depletion on reactive aggression in adults with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and healthy controls. PLoS One, 2012;7(3):e32023.
- Edden RA, et al. Reduced GABA concentration in attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 2012 Jul;69(7):750-3.
- Ende G, et al. Impulsivity and Aggression in Female BPD and ADHD Patients: Association with ACC Glutamate and GABA Concentrations. Neuropsychopharmacology, 2016 Jan;41(2):410-8.
- Hinz M, et al. Treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder with monoamine amino acid precursors and organic cation transporter assay interpretation. Neuropsychiatric Disease And Treatment, 2011 Jan 26;7:31-8.
- Coleman M, et al. A preliminary study of the effect of pyridoxine administration in a subgroup of hyperkinetic children: a double-blind crossover comparison with methylphenidate. Biological Psychiatry, 1979 Oct;14(5):741-51.
- Sharif MR, et al. The Relationship between Serum Vitamin D Level and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Iranian Journal of Child Neurology, 2015 Fall;9(4):48-53.
- Goksugur SB, et al. Vitamin D status in children with attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Pediatrics International, 2014 Aug;56(4):515-9.