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Top Nutrients that Increase Dopamine and Serotonin

Article at-a-glance:

  • The four primary hormones for brain health are dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine.
  • They produce the feeling of joy, focus, motivation, and help you learn better, think clearer, and store and retrieve memories.
  • Four nutrients have been shown to boost these healthy chemicals and clinical trials have proven their benefits.
  • These nutrients are ALA, ALCAR. HupA and Turmeric.
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By Dr. John Neustadt

Your brain contains a mind-blowing number of nerves—about 1,200 cubic centimeters of nerves, which is only a bit larger than a quart of milk (946 cubic centimeters).1 This allows you to do an extraordinary amount of living. In an instant, your miraculous brain can be moving your arms and legs, thinking about what you’ll have for dinner, remembering a conversation you had yesterday or a memory from elementary school, figuring out a problem, talking to a friend, and feeling love, hope, and joy. 

Doing those jobs for you are four primary chemicals: dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. When you have ample amounts of these chemicals you experience greater focus, better memory, healthy mood, faster recall, are more adaptable, better able to go after your goals, better at problem solving, and more motivated. 

Acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR), alpha lipoic acid (ALA) turmeric extract and Huperzine A (HupA) increase all four of these important chemicals. These nutrients boost neurotransmitters and protect delicate brain tissue from damage that can cause your body’s own production to decline. For these reasons, and because of human studies proving their benefits, Brain Blend contains the clinical trial doses of these four nutrients. 

Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)

ALA was first isolated in cow liver in 1951.2 The nutrient is a sulfur-containing antioxidant that is also required to burn sugar for cellular energy. ALA is naturally found in spinach, broccoli, tomato, red meat, beets, and potatoes. Since your body can create it in small amounts and aging and some diseases deplete ALA, many people don’t have enough and can benefit from supplementing with ALA.3,4  

In animal models and cell studies ALA has been shown to:  

      • Increase brain dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine.5 
      • Protect the brain cortex from cell death.6 
      • Inhibit beta amyloid fibril formation.7 Beta amyloid accumulation in the brain is associated with decreased brain function and lower cognition; therefore, reducing beta amyloid is healthy.
      • Decrease free radical damage to nerves and improve antioxidant status.8
      • Enter the central nervous system and protect brain cells from damage.9
      • Increase the concentration of other antioxidants such as vitamin C and glutathione.10 

But what about in humans? Do the benefits translate into promoting healthy brain function in people?

There have been more than 250 clinical trials with ALA. In one of them, 43 people took alpha-lipoic acid for up to 48 months. The volunteers taking ALA demonstrated better cognition and mood compared to those not taking ALA. Yet another study gave ALA daily to 120 volunteers. ALA is known to have positive effects on glucose metabolism and insulin balance, which is important for healthy memory. After sixteen months, cognitive improvement was seen in up to 43% of volunteers.11 The amount of ALA used in clinical trials typically ranged from 300-600 mg per day.

Acetyl-L-Carnitine (ALCAR)

ALCAR also crosses the BBB and enters your central nervous system (CNS) to directly nourish your brain.  

In animal model or cellular biology studies, ALCAR has been shown to:  

      • Increase lifespan, improve cognition, and support healthy long-term memory.12 
      • Delay the age-related decline of mitochondria activity. Delaying this decline is good since mitochondrial damage is associated with lower cognition, decreased energy, and poorer memory and mood.13 
      • Protect brain cells from damage and death.14,15
      • Counter the decline in cellular ALCAR levels that naturally occurs with aging.16 
      • Prevent the decrease in dopamine production that naturally occurs with age.17 
      • Increase dopamine production.18 
      • Improve cognition and physical activity.19 
      • Improves cellular metabolism and decreases oxidative stress.20

But what about in humans? Do the benefits translate into promoting healthy brain function in people?  

There have been more than 190 clinical trials with ALCAR. Studies show that ALCAR is helpful for maintaining brain health. In one clinical trial of sixty-five women (mean age about 52 years old), taking 1500 mg ALCAR daily for 12 weeks significantly improved mood and physical function.21   

An earlier, double-blind, placebo controlled, multicenter clinical randomized 102 volunteers to receive 1500 mg daily of ALCAR or placebo for 10 weeks. At the end of the study, those taking ALCAR had significant improvements in physical well-being and mental health.22 

An even larger clinical trial enrolled 481 elderly volunteers who received 1500 mg per day of ALCAR or placebo for three months. The results showed ALCAR significantly promoted healthy memory and mood.23 Finally, a review of 21 placebo-controlled clinical trials with 1,479 volunteers concluded that ALCAR was superior to placebo at promoting healthy memory, attention, mental performance, and learning.24 

In summary, ALCAR supports cellular health and healthy cognition, memory, attention, and mood in adults.25 The amount of ALCAR used in clinical trials typically ranged from 1500 to 3000 mg per day; however, in a meta-analysis of different doses of ALCAR, researchers concluded that 1500 mg per day was just as effective as 3000 mg/day.24

Huperzine A

Huperzine A (HupA) is a natural extract from the Chinese clubmoss (Huperzia serrata). It is one of a group of molecules that inhibits an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase (AChE). This enzyme, which is found in muscles and nerves, is important for learning and memory.26 

In animal or cellular biology studies, HupA has been shown to: 

      • Increase dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus.27,28 The prefrontal cortex is involved in planning and executing those plans while the hippocampus stores memories. 
      • Inhibit the formation of beta-amyloid plaques in the cortex and hippocampus. Accumulation of beta-amyloid in these areas is associated with worse executive function and memory.29  
      • Reduces the formation of pro-inflammatory molecules interleukin-6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha).30 
      • Inhibit the formation of reactive oxygen species that can cause free radical damage to cells.31,32 
      • Protect brain mitochondria and nerves from damage and regulate the secretion of nerve growth factors.33,34

But what about in humans? Do the benefits translate into promoting healthy brain function in people?  

There have been 18 clinical trials with Huperzine A. In one double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, 400 mcg of HupA per day supported healthy cognition and quality of life in the volunteers. It’s been proposed that Huperzine A’s brain-boosting benefits are the result of protecting nerves in the brain from damage and increasing the levels of brain acetylcholine.35 

According to a review and meta-analysis of six studies with a total of 454 volunteers, HupA promotes healthy cognitive function with no obvious serious side effects.36 The amount of HupA used in these clinical trials was 400 micrograms per day. 

Turmeric

Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years to promote health, as a dye, and as a spice. Turmeric root is what gives curry its distinctive yellow-orange color and has been part of Indian healthcare, industry, and food for at least 2500 years. The root of turmeric (Curcuma longa) has been extensively studied for its health-promoting properties. Within the root are a class of compounds called curcuminoids, which are considered the most bioactive component of the plant and that give the root its characteristic color.  

Curcumin is the primary curcuminoid in turmeric. Animal or cell biology studies show that curcumin: 

      • Promotes a healthy blood-brain-barrier37 
      • Helps immune cells clear beta amyloid plaques38 
      • Inhibit beta amyloid formation.39 
      • Has powerful antioxidant action and inhibits creation of free radicals40  
      • Is a stronger antioxidant than vitamin E and protects cells from damage.41 
      • Increases serotonin.42,43
      • Promotes healthy dopamine levels.44,45

But what about in humans? Do the benefits translate into promoting healthy brain function in people?  

There are more than 275 clinical trials with turmeric. A meta-analysis evaluated the potential brain health benefits of turmeric. The researchers analyzed data from six clinical trials with 289 volunteers and concluded that turmeric root extract was safe and effective at supporting healthy memory in the elderly.46   

A second meta-analysis evaluated five clinical trials with 292 volunteers with an average age of about 70 years. The results of these studies showed that turmeric root extract can support healthy memory.47 The amount of standardized turmeric extract per day used in clinical trials ranged from 180 mg to four grams. 

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References

1 Koch C. Does Brain Size Matter? Scientific American2016.

2 Reed LJ, De BB, Gunsalus IC, et al. 1951;114(2952):93-4. 

3 Carreau JP. 1979;62:152-8.

4 Seifar F, Khalili M, Khaledyan H, et al. 2019;22(5):306-316. 

5 Molz P, Schröder N. 2017;8:849. 

6 Zhang L, Xing GQ, Barker JL, et al. 2001;312(3):125-8. 

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8 Khan H, Singh TG, Dahiya RS, Abdel-Daim MM. 2022;47(7):1853-1864. 

9 Biewenga GP, Haenen GR, Bast A. 1997;29(3):315-31. 

10 Shay KP, Moreau RF, Smith EJ, 2009;1790(10):1149-60. 

11 Fava A, Pirritano D, Plastino M, et al. 2013;2013:454253. 

12 Traina G. 2016;21(7):1314-29. 

13 Seidman MD, Khan MJ, Bai U, 2000;21(2):161-7. 

14 Ishii T, Shimpo Y, Matsuoka Y, et al. 2000;83(2):119-24. 

15 Barhwal K, Singh SB, Hota SK, 2007;570(1-3):97-107. 

16 Hagen TM, Ingersoll RT, Wehr CM, et al. 1998;95(16):9562-6. 

17 McDaniel MA, Maier SF, Einstein GO. 2003;19(11-12):957-75. 

18 Tolu P, Masi F, Leggio B, et al. 2002;27(3):410-20. 

19 Ames BN, Liu J. 2004;1033(1):108-116. 

20 Hagen TM, Liu J, Lykkesfeldt J, et al. 2002;99(4):1870-5. 

21 Leombruni P, Miniotti M, Colonna F, et al. 2015;33(1 Suppl 88):S82-5. 

22 Rossini M, Di Munno O, Valentini G, et al. 2007;25(2):182-8. 

23 Salvioli G, Neri M. 1994;20(4):169-76. 

24 Montgomery SA, Thal LJ, Amrein R. 2003;18(2):61-71. 

25 Ferreira GC, McKenna MC. 2017;42(6):1661-1675. 

26 Maurer SV, Williams CL. 2017;8:1489. 

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29 Wang CY, Zheng W, Wang T, et al. 2011;36(5):1073-89. 

30 Tao Y, Fang L, Yang Y, et al. 2013;13(8):1314-1324. 

31 Lei Y, Yang L, Ye CY, et al. 2015;10(5):e0128366. 

32 Qian ZM, Ke Y. 2014;6

33 Zhang HY, Tang XC. 2006;27(12):619-25. 

34 Gao X, Tang XC. 2006;83(6):1048-57.

35 Zhu XD, Giacobini E. 1995;41(6):828-35.

36 Li J, Wu HM, Zhou RL, 2008;(2):Cd005592. 

37 Yuan J, Liu W, Zhu H, et al. 2017;207:85-91. 

38 Zhang L, Fiala M, Cashman J, et al. 2006;10:1-7.

39 Ono K, Hasegawa K, Naiki H, Yamada M. 2004;75(6):742-50. 

40 Kim G-Y, Kim K-H, Lee S-H, et al. 2005;174(12):8116-8124. 

41 Kim DS, Park SY, Kim JK. 2001;303(1):57-61. 

42 Abd-Rabo MM, Georgy GS, Saied NM, et al. 2019;33(2):387-396. 

43 Lee B, Lee H. 2018;2018:9041309. 

44 Saied NM, Georgy GS, Hussien RM, et al. 2021;48(3):337-346. 

45 Ramkumar M, Rajasankar S, Gobi VV, et al. 2018;14(53):9-16. 

46 Zhu L-N, Mei X, Zhang Z-G, Xie Y-p, Lang F. 2019;33(3):524-533. 

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