Your brain utilizes a multitude of biochemicals to carry out its many cognitive tasks and make you happy, calm, alert, relaxed, energized, or motivated. Helping orchestrate every thought, feeling and movement are the neurotransmitters, perhaps the best known of which is serotonin, whose functions include sleep regulation and anxiety reduction.
Another key neurotransmitter is acetylcholine, essential in memory formation and maintenance. And count in dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine, collectively called catecholamines, which control arousal and anxiety states.
Neurotransmitters are manufactured in the body from amino acids and other substances supplied by diet. Serotonin, for example, is manufactured from the amino acid tryptophan, which, like all other amino acids is found in protein-rich foods. Dopamine and norepinephrine are derived from the amino acid tyrosine. Acetylcholine is made from the fat-like B vitamin choline, found in egg yolks and organ meats.
So by consuming more choline than is normally found in the diet, can a healthy younger person perform better mentally?
Well, supplemental choline has been shown to improve mental functioning in
Alzheimer's patients and in aging people. Choline has also been shown to improve physical performance.
U.S. Army researchers looked into the effects of supplemental tyrosine, the precursor to dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine (the major players in the brain's response to stress). When given tyrosine supplements, soldiers exposed to high altitudes or prolonged cold did not suffer the loss of memory, lightheadedness, headache, nausea, and general malaise such stresses normally bring on.
Before you make a beeline to the health food store to start your mega-dosing with neurotransmitter precursors, consider this: All effects so far depend on the context. Supplementation improves cognitive performance only if there's a deficit caused by environmental stress or aging.
Whether or not you'll benefit from this kind of supplementation depends on where you start off. If you have a deficit somewhere, then you may benefit. It certainly doesn't hurt to try.
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