Like any good knowledge worker, I’m always on the lookout for legal substances that will help me get through more tasks, faster. It’s crucial to have something at the ready when you’ve got 30 more minutes of call notes to transcribe into Salesforce but you have already exhausted your very will to live.
You can drink caffeine of course. And chew nicotine gum. But you can’t do those too often or they’ll lose their effect. If you also have an addictive personality and you’re kinda worried you’d become a meth addict if you tried Adderall, then you need to look for “natural” ways of getting an energy boost.
That’s when you enter the murky world of nootropics, or so-called smart drugs. There are a zillion nootropics on the market claiming to help boost your energy, and I’ve taken a lot of them. They are mostly useless, at least for me. But that doesn’t stop me from trying new ones. If I can find something even close to caffeine and nicotine it’ll have been worth all the trouble.
My latest interest, and one that shows great promise, has been a naturally occurring amino acid called L-Tyrosine. I decided to give it a try after seeing the eccentric, fascinating, and brilliant consciousness researcher Andres Gomez Emilsson consistently sing its praises on Twitter. That’s an understatement — he talks it up like he’s on the payroll of Big Amino Acid.
He thinks it’s useful for:
- Acting as a safe, addiction-free stimulant with nicotine-like effects
- Helping with restless leg syndrome (akathesia)
- Helping with amphetamine comedowns
- Preventing insomnia
- Having more productive dialogues with DMT entities (okay he doesn’t say this but I bet he thinks it)
Talk about a wonder drug!
We should all be skeptical of wonder drugs. But we should at try them at least once, yeah?
I’ve been taking L-Tyrosine on and off for about 8 weeks now as well as doing a ton of research to see what it’s all about.
I can’t endorse everything Andres claims, but I do see L-Tyrosine as a cheap and safe way to get a noticeable yet subtle boost of energy. Let’s dive in.
What is L-Tyrosine?
L-Tyrosine is a nonessential amino acid that acts as a key building block for neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine.
It’s found naturally in many foods. A serving of almonds has about 500mg of L-Tyrosine. The average person gets about 7mg/kg of l-tyrosine from their diet per day. That means as a 90kg man, I probably consume about 630mg of L-tyrosine per day.
L-Tyrosine was first synthesized by a prolific German scientist named Justus Von Liebig. It’s name comes from the greek word for cheese, because it was first synthesized as part of the cheese byproduct casein. As a vegan who used to love cheese, this makes me happy.
How does L-Tyrosine boost energy?
If you increase the amount of L-Tyrosine in the body, you boost the production of dopamine and norepinephrine. Those two chemicals have many and various uses in the body, but for our purposes it’s sufficient to know that boosting dopamine and norepinephrine tends to give people more energy.
One study showed that within 45 minutes of taking a 500mg dose of L-Tyrosine, participants had elevated levels of dopamine and norepinephrine for 30 minutes. That makes me feel good about doing a 500mg pill when I want a quick boost to finish some tasks.
Can L-Tyrosine Improve your Brain Function?
It turns out there is a huge body of literature on L-Tyrosine. There is no way I could cover it all, so I only looked at studies on humans that investigated L-Tyrosine’s energy boosting and cognitive enhancing potential. I ignored other studies, such as the ones looking at L-Tyrosine’s effect on the sexual activity of goats. Who am I kidding, I peeked at that one. The L-Tyrosine treated goats had healthier offspring.
Anyway, after spending several hours reviewing dozens of individual studies on L-Tyrosine, I realized someone way smarter than me had probably already done this before.
I was right. I found a 2015 meta-review of studies on L-Tyrosine and mental performance. It concludes that L-Tyrosine does help with mental performance once you’re already a bit run down. The authors reviewed 35 studies on L-Tyrosine and say the following in their abstract:
L-Tyrosine does seem to effectively enhance cognitive performance, particularly in short term stressful and/or cognitively demanding situations. We conclude that L-Tyrosine is an effective enhancer of cognition, but only when neurotransmitter function is intact and dopamine and/or norepinephrine is temporarily depleted.
If you’re undergoing some stress and burning through your available dopamine and norepinephrine, L-Tyrosine might help you refill your energy stores so you can maintain your normal functioning.
Another L-Tyrosine literature review I found supports this conclusion, stating that under stressful conditions you can use “acute and dietary administration of tyrosine to prevent the depletion of brain norepinephrine which would otherwise occur.”
The trend I kept seeing is that L-Tyrosine is helpful, but only when someone is stressed. But I didn’t see a standard definition of what stress actually is. Here are some of the ‘stressful’ conditions under which L-Tyrosine appears to improve functioning:
- Being really cold
- Being really hot
- Having Parkinson’s
- Having ADHD like symptoms
- Staying awake for a full day straight
If stress includes situation in which you’re thinking hard for prolonged periods of time, maybe we’re all stressed when working our normal jobs? So L-Tyrosine might be more beneficial than is commonly thought? In my opinion day to day life can stressful for many people, so I wonder if L-Tyrosine can be used in a wider range of situations than most researchers imagine. I might be missing something obvious here.
Maybe a better framing is that L-Tyrosine helps performance on cognitively demanding tasks. That’s the conclusion of this 2013 study using 2mg doses:
The present study is the first to demonstrate that TYR supplementation promotes working memory updating. As expected, the more challenging 2-back condition was more sensitive to the effect of L-Tyrosine, which reinforces our suspicion that only tasks with considerable cognitive demands benefit from L-Tyrosine. As we have argued in the introduction, this may be because more demanding cognitive operations are more likely or more efficient to exhaust the available cognitive resources, which can then be repleted by L-Tyrosine. The idea that cognitive-control operations are particularly likely to exhaust cognitive resources fits with the concept of “ego-depletion” suggested by Baumeister et al. (1998), which would suggest that L-Tyrosine can be used as an effective “ego-repletor.”
If nothing else, I think we can all agree that ego-repletor is a cool word and that we should use it it in non-drug contexts as well.
“You’re not just my best friend, you’re my number one ego-repletor.”
Can L-Tyrosine Make You More Creative?
One study showed L-Tyrosine (at a 2mg dose) helped with a word association task. The author of the study take this to mean that L-Tyrosine “may promote convergent thinking in inexpensive, efficient, and healthy ways, thus supporting the creative process that Steve Jobs was so fond of. ”
That feels like a bit of a stretch to me. I can’t say I’ve felt any more creative on L-Tyrosine. I also think it’s amusing that the authors end their scientific research paper with a totally out of left field reference to Steve Jobs. I mean, sure, he was a fan of the creative process, but so were a lot of people!
Maybe it’s an homage to the fact that Steve Jobs was a notoriously voracious consumer of fruit and nuts, two foods high in L-Tyrosine. God bless the internet, where a search of “steve jobs l-tyrosine” led me to an article which argues just that. It’s called “Did Fruit Contribute to Apple’s Success?“
What Dose of L-Tyrosine Should You Take?
All L-Tyrosine studies appear to have one of two approaches to dosing:
- Give someone a little bit (500mg – 2g)
- Load people up with L-Tyrosine until it’s coming out their ears (150mg-300mg per kg of body weight)
It’s strange, there appears to be no in-between! The high doses might be due to the fact that you need about 100mg/kg in order to double your plasma tyrosine levels. Maybe that’s what many researchers are shooting for? I wasn’t able to find anything around why that would be.
As a 90kg person, taking 150mg/kg is the equivalent of taking 13.5 grams of L-Tyrosine, or 27 (!) of my 500mg pills at once.
I have yet to try the higher doses. I couldn’t afford to do that for very long, and it just feels extreme? But maybe I’ll give it a go one time just to see what happens.
Thankfully, there are plenty of studies showing cognitive enhancing abilities in the 2 grams or less range. I’m going to bank on that lower dose being effective for me.
I also want to note that some studies have shown positive effects with doses as low as 100mg per day. That was the case in some small scale trials where L-Tyrosine was given to Parkinson’s patients. I’m left thinking there is still a ton to learn here about dosing and I’m curious to see how the field develops.
My personal experience with L-Tyrosine
I’ve been taking L-Tyrosine about 4 days a week for a couple months. I find a 500mg to 2g dose to be mildly stimulating when used in the afternoon. I also feel it gives me a better ability to focus. Overall, it provides a sustained, non-jittery energy boost for a couple of hours. This is very helpful for getting through the all-to-common afternoon slump. I once took 3g dose after a poor night of sleep and it seemed to help my energy levels quite a bit.
I don’t get a big energy kick with L-Tyrosine like with caffeine or nicotine. It’s more of a subtle boost. And I take L-Tyrosine in the afternoon it has a way more noticeable effect than if I take it in the morning. I honestly can’t really notice it if I take it in the morning. Probably because I drink coffee every morning too.
All that does make me wonder how much of the effects are placebo. I am finding it helpful in the exact situations all the studies say it should be helpful, which is when I am depleted from a morning of work and staring down the barrel of a couple more hours of things that need to get done.
This either means it actually works or I’ve convinced myself it should work. Or some combo. Either way, I am happy with the results.
I don’t notice any withdrawal the next day, and I don’t notice any strong cravings or a comedown like with coffee.
Overall I think it’s great, but you won’t see me on TikTok contributing to the trend of people calling L-Tyrosine “natural Adderall.”
I’ve noticed my sleep being slightly worse since I’ve started my experiment, but I’ve also had other changes going on that could be confounding factors. I unfortunately don’t wear a sleep tracker at night anymore so I have no hard data around this.
As far as the claim that it only works when the brain is “depleted,” I find that hard to test. I consider all my work to be cognitively demanding, so it’s hard to parcel out specific parts where I feel like Tyrosine is helping me more than others. I need to try paying more specific attention to if I have been able to sustain higher energy for longer periods of time in the past couple months. My performance and reviews at work have been excellent lately, so maybe that counts for something?
My wife noticed that my breath gets an odd, slightly metallic smell when I take L-Tyrosine, even at the 500mg dose. When I take 2g she notices it right away.
It’s not bad breath necessarily, just weird. Or maybe she’s just telling me that to be nice. I have a poor sense of smell and would never even notice anything was off.
This doesn’t seem great, but I’m not too worried about it. If my wife can’t handle it that would be an unfortunate deal breaker. For our relationship. L-Tyro for life! JK, I’ll have to go on a new nootropic hunt if the weird breath becomes a quality of life issue.
Is it Risky to Use L-Tyrosine?
L-Tyrosine is generally recognized as safe by the FDA. You can take very large amounts for months at a time without causing significant harm. While you would likely build a tolerance taking mega doses all the time, I am encouraged by the fact that I have never heard of an L-Tyrosine addict. It doesn’t get you high. That said, I’m sure taking it all the time would lead to tolerance, and repeatedly boosting dopamine and norepinephrine has to have some downsides? I’d use your own judgement and common sense — don’t take it every day, watch out for escalating use.
The main risks I came across in the scientific literature have to do with it’s potential to interact with other drugs. It might interacts poorly with MAOIs and if you’re already on thyroid medicine or if you take L-Dopa for Parkinson’s you also probably want to steer clear.
L-Tyrosine — Fan Favorite
While writing this post I stumbled into a nerdy part of twitter where scientists are running a (totally unscientific) bracket to determine the best amino acid. As of this writing, L-Tyrosine is in the final four and is winning it’s matchup! If that doesn’t convince you of its goodness, I don’t know what will.
I’m excited about the potential of L-Tyrosine. While there is not a ton of research at the dosages a normal person would take, those that did look at a 500mg to 2g intake show promising results.
It’s a substance that is safe to try if you are struggling with energy and want a low cost solution that isn’t some mystery chemical cooked up in a lab. It’s just an amino acid that you are already consuming anyway. And a large bottle of 500mg capsules will only run you like 20 USD.
Ideally, we’d all be fully optimized humans who get the perfect amount of sunlight, exercise, fresh food, and soulful interaction with friends and family. Plus we’d work a job we love that doesn’t require us to push the limits of our mental capacities if we don’t want to. I truly wish that existence for anyone, and someone living like that might not even need coffee to feel like their best self, let alone L-Tyrosine. They could be high on life in the truest sense of the word.
Until I get to that point, I’ll continue to explore nootropics. I’m glad I discovered L-Tyrosine and that I now have another weapon in my stress fighting arsenal.