What Is It?
DMAE, or dimethylaminoethanol, is a compound found in high levels in anchovies and sardines. Small amounts of DMAE are also naturally produced in the human brain. Health-food outlets sell it in capsule form to “boost brain power.” While it probably won’t make you smarter, DMAE may play a role in treating memory lapses and symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease. Some evidence suggests it may also play a beneficial role against the impulsive and disruptive behaviors caused by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The supplement has an interesting history. Initially, drug makers were interested in selling the product as a medication for attention deficit disorder after studies in the 1970s showed that deanol, the chemical name for DMAE, reduced hyperactivity and improved concentration in schoolchildren with learning disabilities and behavior problems. However, when further testing was deemed too expensive, it was packaged as a Nutritional supplement, as this substance is naturally found in fish.
Because it steps up production of brain chemicals essential for short-term memory, concentration, and learning capacity, DMAE may aid in the treatment of ADHD and other disorders affecting the brain and central nervous system.
DMAE is sometimes referred to as a “cholinergic” because it is thought to increase levels of the Neurotransmitter acetylcholine, one of the chemicals in the brain that utilized in memory formation. “Cholinergic” drugs, such as tacrine (Cognex), are used to treat dementia associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
Cholinergic drugs are also sometimes prescribed to stabilize the debilitating movements brought on by tardive dyskinesia—repetitive involuntary movements, especially of the face, that can go along with diseases such as Tourette’s Syndrome and Huntington’s chorea, and can also be a side effect of antipsychotic drugs used to treat schizophrenia and other mental conditions. Researchers have tested DMAE for these conditions, although results of several small studies have been disappointing and a Cochrane review of the available evidence in 2002 determined there was no benefit to this therapy. (1) Still, case reports continue to report some benefits for DMAE in certain individuals with these movement disorders. Benefits, if present, may be due to a Placebo effect or to some unknown genetic factor that makes certain people more responsive to the supplement.
Marketers have also trumpeted DMAE pills and creams for everything from prolonging life and enhancing athletic performance to ridding aging skin of “liver spots.” However, there are no sound studies to support these claims. Moreover, there is no evidence that human beings can suffer from a deficiency of DMAE.
Specifically, DMAE may help to:
- Relieve the inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Although ADHD has long been recognized as a cause of disruptive behavior and learning difficulties in school-age children, doctors are increasingly coming to recognize it as a cause of problems in adults as well. Evidence suggests that DMAE may help. Studies in children during the 1970s form the basis for DMAE’s role in treating ADHD. In 1975, a study of 74 children with learning disabilities, including some with hyperactivity, found DMAE was more effective than placebo. Over three months, the children were treated with either 500 mg of DMAE, 40 mg of the stimulant Ritalin (methylphenidate, the most commonly prescribed drug for ADHD), or placebo. Those who were treated with either DMAE or Ritalin showed objective improvements on concentration and skills tests, while those taking placebo did not. (2) Further, a 1976 double-blind study assessed 50 hyperactive kids aged 6 to 12 years who would likely be diagnosed with ADHD based on current standards. After twelve weeks, children taking 500 mg of DMAE daily (300 mg in the morning and another 200 mg at lunch) showed greater improvements in behavior compared to children taking placebo. (3) However, two 1970s reviews of studies examining the clinical efficacy of DMAE and of ADHD treatments (including DMAE) produced inconclusive results regarding efficacy in treating ADHD. (4-5) Since then, little additional research has been done.
- Improve memory. The possible memory-boosting effects of DMAE may help with the ordinary memory lapses that occur with normal aging. Many nutritionally oriented physicians prescribe DMAE along with another memory enhancer, the dietary supplement phosphatidylcholine. Although rigorous studies are lacking, some people who have tried DMAE report better memory (especially short-term memory), as well as improved concentration, focus, mental clarity, and sleep.
Some research also points to deficits in short-term, or working, memory in both children and adults with ADHD (although long-term memory is fine in these patients). Some of DMAE’s possible benefits for ADHD may, therefore, be due to its memory-boosting potential. Studies have yet to confirm this effect, but preliminary evidence in animals indicates a potential benefit. A 1983 study in mice found cholinergic drugs including DMAE improved working memory retention during a test one week after treatment. Memory retention improved as doses were increased, up to an optimal dosage. (6) And in 1995, another study in rats found those treated with DMAE showed improvement in working memory while navigating a maze. (7) More research is needed in this area to determine the effects of DMAE in humans.
- Slow the progressive dementia of Alzheimer’s disease. The severe and progressive memory loss of Alzheimer’s disease is due in part to the loss of brain cells that produce acetylcholine, a key chemical messenger for enhancing communication between brain cells. Acetylcholine is essential for learning and memory. In fact, it’s for these reasons that doctors routinely prescribe drugs that boost levels of acetylcholine, such as tacrine (Cognex), donepezil (Aricept), rivasatigmine (Exelon), and galantamine (Reminyl).
In animal studies, DMAE supplements have led to significant improvements in short-term memory, possibly due to cholinergic effects.
Not all studies have been positive, however. In a 1977 study of fourteen senile patients with dementia, patients received 600 mg of DMAE three times daily for four weeks (including a two-week introduction period with smaller doses gradually increasing to 600 mg). In ten patients, depression, irritability, and anxiety were reduced, while motivation-initiative improved. However, cognitive tests showed that neither memory nor other cognitive functions improved with treatment. Symptoms in the remaining four patients remained unchanged. (8) And four years later, when researchers compared DMAE to a placebo in 27 patients with moderately severe or severe Alzheimer’s, the DMAE supplements provided no benefit. In fact, nearly half of the patients stopped taking DMAE due to unpleasant side effects such as drowsiness and increased confusion. (9) Other research investigating whether DMAE is truly a precursor of acetylcholine has been mixed as well, calling into question the supplement’s effectiveness for Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders.
- Increase skin tension. By potentially increasing acetylcholine in tissues, DMAE is touted for its ability to increase skin tone. Preliminary evidence indicates applying a topical preparation of DMAE may yield this benefit. In a 2002 double-blind trial, a topical gel containing 3% DMAE seemed to increase the firmness of skin in 30 volunteers who applied the preparation to their faces daily for 16 weeks. Improvements were noted in forehead lines and lines around the eyes, as well as in lip shape, fullness, and the appearance of aging skin. The improvements were sustained after a two-week cessation of the application. (10) A 2005 review indicated an open-label extension of this trial showed that long-term application of DMAE gel for up to one year was deemed safe. And, according to the review, in vitro studies also indicate DMAE is an effective anti-inflammatory agent, particularly in the skin, a site of acetylcholine synthesis, storage, secretion, metabolism, and receptivity. However, researchers called for further studies comparing the efficacy of DMAE to other skin-care regimens such as topical Antioxidant creams and alpha-hydroxy acids.
- For ADHD: 100 to 300 mg, taken orally once or twice a day.
- For memory problems: 100 to 300 mg, taken orally once or twice a day.
- For skin health: Apply a 3% DMAE solution according to package directions.
Dosage Information Special tips:
- Start slowly. DMAE can over-stimulate the nervous system and cause headaches, tense muscles, or insomnia, although these side effects are uncommon. Drowsiness has also been reported. Begin with a low dose and see how you respond before gradually increasing the amount you take. If side effects develop, stop taking the supplement for a day or two and begin at a lower dose.
- Effects are not immediate but should be noticeable within several weeks.
- DMAE by itself is relatively inexpensive. It is, however, sometimes sold in costly “brain-boosting formulas” that contain other supplements such as phosphatidylserine (PS) or acetyl-L-carnitine; these additions may or may not be right for you but they will definitely increase the cost of the product.
- Tablets or capsules in doses of 50 mg, 100 mg, or 130 mg are common. Pills containing 350 mg or more of DMAE bitartrate, which typically contain about 130 mg of “active” DMAE, are also available.
Guidelines for Use
- DMAE supplements won’t work for everybody and are not intended as a cure. But they are safe and may be helpful.
- Take DMAE with meals for best absorption.
- To help jump-start your day, open the capsules and pour the contents into a smoothie or fruit juice as part of your morning routine.
- Maximum safe dosages for children or for pregnant or nursing mothers have not been established.
- Due to conflicting research results and the use of DMAE in various product mixtures, a specific dose cannot be recommended. 100-300mg once or twice day with meals has been used. Consult an experienced nutritionally oriented practitioner regarding dose and product selection, especially if a child is being treated.
There are no known nutrient interactions associated with DMAE. Much remains to be learned about the risks associated with this supplement, however.
Because DMAE is thought to increase acetylcholine levels, it may interact with acetylcholinesterase (AchE) inhibitors, anti-cholinergic and cholinergic drugs to excessively increase acetylcholine levels. Some herbs also have this property including Butterbur, Huperzia, and Rosemary.
Possible Side Effects
- Most people taking DMAE do not experience side effects. However, all of the following have been observed: constipation, urticaria, headache, drowsiness, insomnia, over stimulation, vivid dreams, confusion, depression, blood pressure elevation, hypomania, an increase in schizophrenia symptoms, and orofacial and respiratory tardive dyskinesia.
- Drowsiness, confusion, and high blood pressure have occurred in people with Alzheimer’s who were taking this supplement, particularly when high doses were used.
- DMAE can be over-stimulating for some people. Headaches, irritability, and tense muscles may result, including tightness in the jaw, neck, or shoulders.
- Weight loss and insomnia may also occur. Lucid dreams have also been reported.
- People with epilepsy, a history of convulsions, or bipolar disorder (manic depression) should avoid DMAE because it may exacerbate the condition.
- Although DMAE may help produce brain chemicals needed for mental sharpness; drowsiness and cognitive impairment have been reported in some people. Monitor the effects of DMAE before driving or handling heavy machinery.
- People with kidney or liver disease should consult a doctor before taking DMAE. These conditions can affect levels of the supplement in the body.
- If unusual movement problems develop while taking DMAE, consult a doctor.
- ADHD and Memory Loss/Impairment – Due to conflicting research results and the use of DMAE in various product mixtures, a specific dose cannot be recommended. 100-300mg once or twice day with meals has been used. Consult an experienced nutritionally oriented practitioner regarding dose and product selection, especially if a child is being treated.
- Skin Health – Apply topically according to package instructions
For product recommendations and orders click here for the Natural Apothecary or call 773-296-6700, ext. 2001.