Many of us have trouble maintaining attention at times. If you're lucky, this is a sporadic occurrence, but for the rest of us it is a persistent frustration that keeps us from achieving what we otherwise would.
As with all neurological functioning, the condition of the brain is likely to be the underlying cause of both good and bad focus levels. This is seen with extreme cases of attention deficit known as ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactive disorder.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is responsible for the reward response and generates motivation and focus towards what are seen to be reward-motivated activities.
Research shows that symptoms of attention deficit are associated with lower dopamine levels, and it believed that this occurs because neurons in the brain contain greater concentrations of dopamine transporter proteins, which shuttle dopamine back inside of the synapse where it cannot elicit an effect.
We might want to note here that the diagnosis of the condition known as ADHD can be somewhat controversial, as you may have high levels of the dopamine transporter DTD without having a clinical disorder.
In a clinical setting, attention deficit hyperactive disorder is treated using various forms of the drugs amphetamine (Adderall) and/or methylphenidate (Ritalin). These medications work by blocking the dopamine transporter DAT and thus inhibiting the re-absorption of dopamine from the synapse to the neuron (the are dopamine reuptake inhibitors, DRI).
These drugs may prove beneficial for severe cases of attention deficit, but for those of us looking to enhance our focus more naturally, without the side-effects of pharmaceuticals, or are already focused but looking for an extra boost, there are several compounds found in nature that can help to improve the functioning of the neurotransmitter dopamine in our brains.
Here are the 6 best known compounds for supplemental dopamine enhancement.
1. L-Tyrosine (& N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine)
L-Tyrosine is an amino acid and dopamine precursor. L-Tyrosine is the direct precursor to the amino acid L-DOPA, which is the direct precursor to dopamine.
Supplementation of L-Tyrosine is based on the idea that it will supply the body with more resources to make dopamine. However, conversion of L-Tyrosine to L-DOPA is highly regulated and therefore L-Tyrosine supplementation may only be effective in situations where dopamine is already depleted.
N-Acetyl L-Tyrosine, or NALT, is a more soluble form of L-Tyrosine that is deacetylated into L-Tyrosine in the kidneys. NALT is a popular supplement sinces to it's improved bioavailablity over L-Tyrosine, although it has been shown that up to 35% of NALT is excreted without being converted into L-Tyrosine.
Nevertheless, supplementation of L-Tyrosine can help to improve attention.
2. Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba is a commonly used brain health herb. It appears to provide an all-round benefit to the brain, conferring both neuroprotective and neurogenesis effects. In addition also has additional dopamine specific effects.
These dopaminergic effects come from the ability of the plants flavinoids to protect neurons from oxidative cell death, which results in enhances dopamine secretion. [R]
The standard dose is 120-240mg.
3. Mucuna Pruriens (L-DOPA)
Mucuna Pruriens, or Velvet Bean, is a bean that contains up to 7% of the direct dopamine precursor L-DOPA by dry weight. As a direct dopamine precursor, L-DOPA is able to increase dopamine levels fairly reliably. [R]
Up to 99% of the L-DOPA can be extracted from Mucuna Pruriens, but we suggest using an extract that contains 50% L-DOPA due to the fact that there are likely other compounds in the bean that are beneficial. However, it must also be noted that L-DOPA should be supplemented with an AADC inhibitor.
AADC, or aromatic L-amino acid decarboxylase, is an enzyme that converts L-DOPA into dopamine. Inhibiting this enzyme in the peripheral nervous system (but not the central nervous system) prevents L-DOPA from being converted to dopamine before it reaches the brain.
Dopamine cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, and high levels of peripheral dopamine can increase hypertension. A potent and natural AADC inhibitor is found in Green Tea Extract and is called Epigallocatechin Gallate or ECGC. The additional benefits of using a 50% L-DOPA Mucuna Pruriens extract may also come from the presence of AADC inhibitors in the bean, so a 99% extract may be suitable if used alongside ECGC.
The standard dose is 100-250mg L-DOPA.
3. Muira Puama
Muira Puama is a plant that has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac and nerve tonic, but it also appears to be effective as a cognitive enhancer through several mechanisms.
It's focus-enhancing properties come from its ability to inhibit dopamine reuptake (re-absorption back into the neuron). [R]
The standard dose is 1000mg of a 4:1 extract or 400mg of a 10:1 extract.
4. Psoralea Corylifolia (Babchi)
Psoralea is herb that has traditionally been used fight depression and symptoms of menopause. Some of the compounds in Psoralea seem to have considerable catecholamine (dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine) modality.
Psoralea has been found to inhibit the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine. [R]
It has also been shown to slow down the breakdown of dopamine and norepinephrine by inhibiting to enzyme monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B), which metabolises them. It actually appears to have the strongest selective MAO-B inhibiting functionality found in nature. [R]
A standard dose has not yet been determined for this supplement, however, 500-1000mg is our recommendation assuming a 10:1 extract is used.
5. Fructus Akebiae (Hederagenin)
Fructus Akebiae is a fruiting plant used in Traditional Chinese medicine that contains considerable amounts of the triterpene hederagenin, which . Hederagenin is also found in considerable amounts in quinoa and common ivy.
Hederagenin has affinity for the dopamine transporter and inhibits dopamine reuptake. It appears to dose dependently increase dopamine concentrations in the pre-frontal cortex.
6. Salvia Miltiorrhiza (Red Sage)
Salvia Miltiorrhiza, also known as Danshen and Red Sage, is a perennial plant used in traditional Chinese medicine for heart health. It also appears to have neurological effects.
Red Sage appears to enhance dopamine release. [R]
When discussing the methods of enhancing dopamine functioning, it's always necessary to mention a pair of neurobiological mechanisms called upregulation and downregulation.
Upregulation is the process by which the number of receptor sites on a neuron is increased, and downregulation is the process by which it is decreased.
Higher numbers of receptor sites means that the effects of a neurotransmitter are greater.
Prolonged and excessive stimulation of receptors causes downregulation, while deficient stimulation causes of upregulation, and therefore receptor regulation is an important consideration.
Natural dopaminergics are known to cause less downregulation than synthetic drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, but there are other ways to ensure that dopamine receptors remain upregulated as well. We discuss this topic here (article to be published soon!)
The Best Dopamine Stack
We have found that the greatest results in terms of focus enhancement comes from a specific combination of supplements designed to increase the amount of dopamine produced by the body while prolonging the amount of time that it is able to produce effects in the synapse.
We've combined these compounds into a single supplement for your convenience. You can learn more about this product here.