Sleepy, Unfocused, Poor Attention, ADHD? DMAE Might Help

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February 1st, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I’ve been a fan of the nutritional supplement DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol or dimethylethanolamine) for some time. Some women swear by it for reducing wrinkles and age spots, especially when applied in cream form. However, I believe this nutrient has a much wider and more important use than skin care. That use is boosting brain function in people experiencing problems with sleep, focus, and attention.

When I started taking DMAE years ago, I noticed about an hour reduction in the number of hours of sleep I needed each day to feel rested. I also noticed improved ability to concentrate. As with any supplement, your results may vary due to many factors including diet, weight, biochemistry, genetics, dosages, and perhaps random chance. That said, if you’ve got concerns about excessive sleepiness, trouble focusing, and problems maintaining attention, it’s my opinion that DMAE is worth a look as it is an inexpensive dietary supplement with a long track record.

DMAE Bitartrate (dimethylaminoethanol), 150 mg 200 capsules

DMAE is especially worth consideration by parents who are being threatened by schools, CPS, and courts with removal of child custody because of their children’s problems with educational achievement due to problems with attention, focus, and hyperactivity. These kids are often diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Mainstream doctors prescribe Ritalin for this condition, but sadly this drug has killed hundreds of children while safe alternatives such as DMAE are widely ignored. Furthermore, problems with attention and school performance can often be traced back to social problems like the impact of bad parenting and child abuse endemic to divorces. You may be a fine parent, but your child could be stressed out from custody exchange conflicts and mommy-bashing or daddy-bashing from the other parent who is far from fine. The result may be a misbehaving child who seems hyperactive and gets categorized as an ADHD case to be medicated.

ADHD and Ritalin

In my opinion, doctors in the US have gone a bit insane in recent years by turning to psychoactive drugs for children as a first line of treatment rather than first turning to counseling or natural compounds with better safety records. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, also sometimes called ADD for Attention Deficit Disorder) is one of the conditions commonly diagnosed and treated with drugs such as Ritalin (generic name: methylphenidate). While Ritalin stimulates brain function with some results like DMAE causes, it is potentially hazardous because it is a CNS (Central Nervous System) stimulant with effects similar to amphetamines and cocaine.

(from The Partnership for a Drug-Free America: Ritalin)

What are its short-term effects?
Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a central nervous system stimulant, similar to amphetamines in the nature and duration of its effects. It is believed that it works by activating the brain stem arousal system and cortex. Pharmacologically, it works on the neurotransmitter dopamine, and in that respect resembles the stimulant characteristics of cocaine. Short-term effects can include nervousness and insomnia, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, dizziness, palpitations, headaches, changes in heart rate and blood pressure (usually elevation of both, but occasionally depression), skin rashes and itching, abdominal pain, weight loss, and digestive problems, toxic psychosis, psychotic episodes, drug dependence syndrome, and severe depression upon withdrawal.

Long-term usage of stimulants such as Ritalin, amphetamines, and cocaine can also damage the heart. The parents of Matthew Smith, a 14 year old boy who died on March 21, 2000, from heart damage caused by Ritalin, started a web site Death from Ritalin: The Truth Behind ADHD to warn other parents about the dangers of the drug. They are particularly aggravated that their son’s school and a CPS social worker pressured them and a doctor for Matthew to use the Ritalin which killed him by causing heart failure.

(from Death from Ritalin: The Truth Behind ADHD)

Matthew’s story started in a small town within Berkley, Michigan. While in first grade Matthew was evaluated by the school, who believed he had ADHD. The school social worker kept calling us in for meetings. One morning at one of these meetings while waiting for the others to arrive, Monica told us that if we refused to take Matthew to the doctor and get him on Ritalin, child protective services could charge us for neglecting his educational and emotional needs. My wife and I were intimidated and scared. We believed that there was a very real possibility of losing our children if we did not comply with the school’s threats.

Monica further explained ADHD to us, stating that it was a real brain disorder. She also went on to tell us that the Methylphenidate (Ritalin) was a very mild medication and would stimulate the brain stem and help Matthew focus.

We gave into the school’s pressure and took our son to a pediatrician that they recommended. His name was Dr. John Dorsey of Birmingham, Michigan. While visiting Dr. Dorsey with the school’s recommendation for Methylphenidate (Ritalin) in hand, I noted that he seemed frustrated with the school. He asked us to remind the school that he was not a pharmacy.

I can only conclude from his comment that we were not the first parents sent to him by this school. Dr. John Dorsey officially diagnosed Matthew with ADHD. The test used for the diagnosis was a five minute pencil twirling trick, resulting in Matthew being diagnosed with ADHD.

*It is important to note that the school’s insistence and role in our son’s drugging was documented in a letter written by Monica to the pediatrician stating: “We would have hoped you would have started Matthew on a trial of medication by now”.

Medical Ethics and Ritalin

The use of unsafe psychoactive drugs on kids as de facto practice has expanded vastly in recent years due to threats by abusive government entities, manipulations by greedy pharmaceutical companies, and poor practices by misguided doctors. While Ritalin is much like illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines, there are many parties who wish to push Ritalin on children. These include unethical drug companies, CPS social workers, schools, and anybody else who views drugging children to be a potential means to profit or power that can be pursued at the risk of hurting children about whom they care not at all.

The result is that many parents and children are being forced into the use of dangerous drugs that can kill, as they did to Matthew Smith and hundreds of other children, or cause other long-term damage. A study by Dr. Nadine Lambert regarding children who used Ritalin suggests that the use of the drug doubles the lifetime risk for substance abuse. Other children suffer badly when they stop the medicine because they have developed an addiction to it.

Addicting children to a possibly deadly pharmaceutical to encourage drug use and later substance abuse crimes may be profitable for drug companies, doctors, and the government (they profit by creating a “justification” for more spending on law enforcement, prisons, etc.), but it is not ethical to do this to children. It’s doubly unethical to mislead and/or fail to inform the parents about the risks of Ritalin prior to duping them into drugging their children.

(from Children in Clinical Research: A Conflict of Moral Values)

Case 4: Ritalin (methylphenidate) a Prescription for Dependency?

The FDA classifies Ritalin (methylphenidate) and the other drugs that are prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—including Ritalin, and the amphetamines, Adderall and Dexedrine—as Schedule II controlled substances. This class of drugs includes, cocaine, methamphetamine, morphine, opium and barbiturates—these are dugs with the highest abuse potential and dependence profile in medical use.101 In 2000 testimony, the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) indicated that in 1994, the DEA was petitioned by an advocacy group, children and adults with ADHD (CHADD) requesting that methylphenidate be removed from the list of schedule II controlled substances.102 CHADD claimed that methylphenidate was a mild stimulant with little abuse potential. DEA conducted an extensive review of the use, abuse liability, actual abuse, diversion, and trafficking of methylphenidate. The agency’s conclusions were documented in its 1995 report: Methylphenidate, it found, shares the same profile of dependency as the other schedule II stimulants, notably, addiction. The DEA also noted that “despite the unprecedented availability of other highly abusable stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine, methylphenidate is still highly sought after by the drug abusing population.”103 The petitioners subsequently withdrew their petition. Although FDA approved Ritalin for use in children with ADHD over the age of six, it is prescribed even for toddlers.104

In 1995, Dr. Nora Volkow of Brookhaven Laboratories reached the conclusion that the mechanism of action of cocaine and Ritalin (methylphenidate) is almost identical.105 Ritalin (methylphenidate) “works” in children much as cocaine “works” in adults — it sharpens short-term attention span in whoever takes the drug, whether or not they have been diagnosed with ADHD. And, Dr. Volkow found, Ritalin stays in the brain much longer than cocaine. The most common side effects of Ritalin are insomnia, appetite suppression, and weight loss.106 A congressional panel raised concerns as early as 1970, about whether Ritalin and other the drugs used to treat children with ADHD were creating dependency whether the children who were being prescribed psychostimulant drugs “are involved in a psychological game of chance that may or may not affect their future.”107 In 2000, Dr. Hyman acknowledged that given the lack of clinical data about the safety and efficacy of psychoactive drugs in children, “every child who receives this medication represents an uncontrolled experiment – that is entirely unacceptable.”108

One of the few studies to examine long-term effects on children prescribed drugs that stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) is a 26-year Berkeley study conducted by Dr. Nadine Lambert who evaluated 492 children, in the San Francisco Bay area, half of whom had been prescribed Ritalin (methylphenidate) for ADHD.109 Dr. Lambert found strong evidence significantly different lifetime tobacco dependence rates–40% for those who had been exposed to Ritalin as children compared to 19% for age-mate controls. And the rates for cocaine dependence were 21% for the Ritalin -ADHD group, and 10% for age-mate controls. Dr. Lambert reported her findings in 1998 to a NIH panel of experts, suggesting that one explanation for the higher dependency rates to tobacco and cocaine among former Ritalin and amphetamine users is a “sensitization hypothesis” based on her interpretation animal studies showing that early exposure to stimulant drugs predisposes rats to the reinforcing impact of cocaine.

Other adverse drug effects include cognitive impairment, aberrant behavior, involuntary facial tics and Tourette syndrome.110 In 1996 FDA issued a warning about a possible risk of cancer based on two studies on mice and rats.111 Of particular concern is the discovery that millions of children are being prescribed various psychoactive drugs for disorders that lack objective diagnostic criteria.104 They are often used in an effort to control or modify undesirable behavior. Children whose brain is still in development, are prescribed these drugs in an uncontrolled experiment—even as concerns are being raised about the risks of addiction, cancer, and the possibility of causing neurological damage.

DMAE for ADHD Instead of Ritalin

Clearly if there’s a better choice for helping those with attention and focus problems, you’d want to avoid subjecting your kids or yourself to treatment with drugs like Ritalin. DMAE is one such natural option that has the potential for similar beneficial cognition effects with fewer side effects and less risk for addiction and safety problems.

DMAE is found in fish, particularly sardines and anchovies, and is also made by the brain in small quantities. It’s arguable that DMAE is a more natural alternative and likely safer alternative than many synthetic drugs. DMAE has been used successfully for decades to help with hyperactivity and attention deficits, predating the explosion in the use of Ritalin in children in the 1990’s. Since it is inexpensive, nonaddictive, and is associated with fewer side effects, parents would be well advised to at least discuss the use of DMAE prior to resorting to psychoactive drugs.

(from DMAE: The Smart Supplement)

Calmer Kids
Parents of children with ADHD know firsthand the difficulty of getting their children to remain focused in a typical structured learning environment. Prescription drugs like Ritalin® (methylphenidate) have long been a common choice in the treatment of ADHD, but a growing number of physicians find Ritalin® and related medications to be potentially dangerous. As a result, more parents are investigating alternative (and more natural) therapies like DMAE, which have shown promising results and fewer potentially adverse side effects in a number of studies.

A prescription form of DMAE, called Deaner or Deanol, was already in use in the 1960s and 1970s for the treatment of learning and behavioral problems associated with shortened attention span.4 As early as 1959, treatment with DMAE was demonstrated to result in significantly improved test scores.5 A 1974 report on DMAE focused on two 10-week, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials involving 124 children with ADHD-related diagnoses. In one of these trials, positive results using DMAE were comparable to those using Ritalin®.6 Similar positive results were also seen in a 1975 study, wherein a placebo-controlled trial in 74 children found that DMAE at 500mg daily was as effective as methylphenidate.4

In 1983, the FDA insisted on additional studies to prove the effectiveness of Deaner. Because the clinical trials would have been more expensive than the product’s sales could support, Deaner was taken off the market. DMAE, however, has continued to be available as a natural nutritional supplement, and is a subject of more recent investigations into so-called “smart drugs.”

4. Lewis JA, Young R. Deanol and methylphenidate in minimal brain dysfunction. Clin Pharmacol Ther. 1975 May;17(5):534-40.

5. Pfeiffer CC. Parasympathetic neurohumors. Possible precursors and effect on behavior. Int Rev Neurobiol. 1959;1:195-244.

6. Re O. 2-Dimethylaminoethanol (deanol): a brief review of its clinical efficacy and postulated mechanism of action. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 1974 Nov;16(11):1238-42.

What Does DMAE Do?

It appears that DMAE acts by at least three effects.

One effect is that it helps raise choline levels in the brain more effectively than plain choline, a very common component of foods. This is likely because DMAE can better cross the blood-brain barrier. This helps the brain produce more acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter critical to brain and nervous system functions.

DMAE also helps the body clear away lipofuscin, metabolic debris that tends to clog up cells in aging people. Lipofuscin is believed to be the primary cause for age spots which are the dark spots that appear on people’s skin as they age, particularly beyond age 60. Accumulations of metabolic debris such as lipofuscin and beta amyloid may be related to the onset or worsening of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s.

DMAE also acts as an antioxidant, mopping up some of the free radicals floating around in the body before they can cause more damage.

Increasing Choline Consumption May Be Healthful

By the way, raising choline consumption can also help benefit human health as research is suggesting that choline deficiencies may be related to health risks such as elevated homocysteine levels (associated with cardiovascular disease) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. You can find more information on foods high in choline and betaine (also known as trimethylglycine or TMG which is similar to choline but with one less methyl group) in a study published by the USDA in 2004.

(from USDA Database for the Choline Content of Common Foods)

Human beings have a requirement for choline. Choline is needed for the synthesis of phospholipids in cell membranes, for methyl metabolism, acetylcholine synthesis and cholinergic neurotransmission. Betaine, a derivative of choline, is important for its role in the donation of methyl groups used in the conversion of homocysteine to methionine and for its folate sparing effect.

Choline and betaine values for over 400 foods are presented. This database represents the first report of choline content for most of these foods. Foods found to provide a significant amount of choline (per100g food) include: eggs (251), wheat germ (152 mg), bacon (125 mg), dried soybeans (116 mg), pork (103 mg), cod (83 mg), beef (80 mg), chicken (70 mg), and salmon (65 mg). Foods providing high levels of betaine include: wheat bran (1339mg), wheat germ (1241 mg), spinach (645 mg), pretzels (237 mg), shrimp (218 mg), wheat bread (201 mg), wheat crackers (199 mg), cooked beets (157mg) and pasta (90 mg).

DMAE Forms and Usage

DMAE is incorporated into a variety of nutritional supplements including tablets, capsules, liquids, gels, and creams. The gels and creams are generally for skin application for wrinkles and age spots.

I’ve personally used DMAE in the form of tablets and powders made of DMAE bitartrate. Usually 350mg of DMAE bitartate provides about 130mg of active DMAE.

I typically take about 250mg of DMAE in the morning and another 250mg of DMAE at night in the form of 1/4 teaspoon of DMAE bitartrate powder per dose. However, I started with 100mg of DMAE once per day in capsules for many months before increasing the dose.

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol), 100 grams powder

DMAE bitartrate powders smell and taste slightly like fish so you may not want to mix them into drinks and foods in which this smell or taste might be bothersome. I usually mix it together with some other powdered nutritional supplements (chlorella, choline bitartrate, MSM, and amino acids such as acetyl L-carnitine and tyrosine) and take it in the morning and before going to bed. While my mix of powders sometimes earns me comments about being an “alchemist” and revolting looks at the resulting green liquid, it’s palatable enough to gulp down, especially with water or another beverage at the ready to follow it down.

Some people find that DMAE is excessively stimulating and it can cause them to have trouble sleeping. Based upon my personal observations, I have not found this to be the case for me. I have found that I tend to remember more of my dreams on days when I’ve taken DMAE.

When first starting DMAE, start taking it in the mornings in small quantities around 50mg to 100mg of active DMAE. Some people believe they can notice the effects of DMAE within a couple of hours. Others find it takes time for effects to show up. For those with no immediate response, it may take a few weeks for the effects to build up as it takes time to raise the choline and acetylcholine levels in the body by such small doses. Side effects from DMAE, especially at low doses, are not common and are often mild.

Watch for signs of muscle pains, headaches, and tension that could be caused by excessive acetylcholine activity. Also watch for digestive upset similar to that caused by many other supplements such as fish oils. Both of these classes of side effects can often be reduced or eliminated by taking DMAE in smaller doses multiple times per day and by taking it with some food.

A few people may experience the opposite effects from those desired from DMAE, meaning they may become more confused, tired, or unable to focus. Some people have increased blood pressure. It’s not clear why these effects may happen, but if any of these do occur then you need to be more cautious about using it.

Dosages of DMAE up to 1600mg per day have been used in some studies with no apparent signs of toxic reaction, so this supplement is believed to be generally safe. But as with any food, supplement, or drug, individuals may have varying reactions so it’s good to be aware that some people cannot tolerate higher dosages without experiencing side effects.

For another perspective on DMAE, health site author Dr. Ray Sahelian comments on his own experience trying DMAE:

(from DMAE supplement pill and cream benefit and side effects)

Within two hours of taking 130 mg of actual DMAE, I notice a definite increase in alertness and slight mood and visual enhancement. I also get more motivated to work on projects and seem to work more efficiently. On higher amounts I have experienced neck stiffness and anxiety.

Alternatives to DMAE

If you find that DMAE does improve your concentration or sleep but want more of an effect or want to try some other supplements with similar mechanisms of action, check out centrophenoxine and huperzine A. Both operate by influencing acetylcholine levels and both can be used with DMAE.

I personally have not tried centrophenoxine due to its higher expense compared to DMAE and mostly similar effects, but have used huperzine A for some time. I take it in the morning and at night in doses of 200mcg each.

Centrophenoxine combines DMAE with another compound called parachlorophenoxyacetate (pCPA) and is sold in some medicines used to treat Alzheimer’s Disease.

Huperzine A is an extract from a moss that blocks the action of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. By blocking the enzyme action, higher levels of acetylcholine can be achieved. Some people also advocate huperzine A as a treatment for Alzheimer’s Disease and even for just simple improvements in the brain function of normally aging people.

There are also a number of other nutritional supplements which boost brain function more safely than drugs such as Ritalin. For a starting point, look at Wikipedia’s list Nooptropics that links to more information on many such substances.

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Further Reading

Custom Search

DMAE: The Smart Supplement

Advances in Nutritional Therapy for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

The Partnership for a Drug-Free America: Ritalin

Death from Ritalin: The Truth Behind ADHD

Diagnose-Me: DMAE

Centrophenoxine – The Neuroenergizer

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These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned in this post are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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