A conventional medical doctor would explain that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is caused by neurotransmitter imbalance and deficiency in the brain. He would then prescribe ADHD medications to artificially manipulate the levels of various neurotransmitters such as dopamine. But he would probably never ask why the body is deficient in neurotransmitters in the first place, or whether those imbalances can be treated naturally.
Biologically speaking, all brain neurotransmitters are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of proteins. There are 20 different amino acids that can be classified into two groups. The first group is called essential amino acids. The body cannot synthesize them and we absolutely must obtain them in our diet. The second group is called non-essential amino acids, because our body can make them out of other amino acids or by breaking down proteins. Supplementing with amino acids in order to boost neurotransmitters – an approach called "precursor loading"--has been used for more than 30 years and is backed up by science. Obviously, the idea here is not to replace Ritalin with its natural counterpart amino acid, but to find out precisely what your child needs. That being said, here are some of the most important amino acids in relation to ADHD.
Tyrosine and phenylalanine
Tyrosine and phenylalanine are the precursors of dopamine and catecholamines (noradrenalin and adrenalin, also called norepinephrine and epinephrine). Those neurotransmitters allow you to get focused. All three neurotransmitters are made from tyrosine, which itself comes from phenylalanine. You can get these amino acids by eating high-quality proteins such as beans, nuts, seeds, lean poultry, fish, and eggs. The metabolic pathway from phenylalanine to dopamine and catecholamines also requires iron, copper, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, and vitamin C with other antioxidants. Start supplementing with 500 mg of tyrosine before breakfast, mid-morning, and mid-afternoon. After three days, you can increase to 1000 mg. After one week, you can start adding 500 mg of L-phenylalanine at the same frequency and move up to 1000 mg after three days.
Glutamine is the precursor of GABA. Think of GABA as the relaxing neurotransmitter. It is an inhibitory molecule that allows the system to calm down. It is great for people who have anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. Glutamine is great because it will not only boost the production of GABA, but it will also help heal and restore a compromised gut lining, a problem many ADHD kids suffer from. Dr. Roger Williams from the University of Texas demonstrated that 250 children and adults with ADHD showed marked behavioral and neurological improvement after taking daily doses of 250 mg - 1,000 mg of glutamine for a month. Another researcher named Dr. Fredericks performed a similar study on children, and discovered that their abilities to retain and recall information improved drastically. You can get glutamine from high-quality proteins in your diet, but this will most likely be insufficient. If you want to supplement, you can take GABA supplement directly, or supplement with the raw material glutamine. The metabolic pathway from glutamine to GABA requires vitamin B6. Other molecules help boost GABA production in the brain, such as taurine (an important other amino acid), B vitamins and theanin from green tea. You can use 1000-2500 mg of glutamine per day. If you want to supplement directly with GABA, take 500 mg mid-afternoon and just before bed.
Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, the feel-good molecule. Serotonin is also used to produce melatonin, a neurotransmitter involved in the sleep cycle. Tryptophan is transformed to 5HTP, then to serotonin, and then to melatonin. Those steps all require vitamin B6. Eating refined carbohydrate or sugar will temporarily boost serotonin, but then they crash and we get more down than before. Stress, imbalances in blood sugar, magnesium and vitamin B deficiencies ,and everything that produces inflammation (such as food allergies, infections, high sugar diet, and toxins) will interfere with serotonin metabolism. You can supplement using either tryptophan or 5HTP. If you use tryptophan, you can take 500 mg once in the afternoon and once before bed. Take it on an empty stomach (one hour before or two hours after meals). If you want to use 5HTP, take 50 mg twice a day, once in the afternoon and once before bed.
There is a fourth important neurotransmitter in the brain: acetylcholine. It is involved in learning and memory. It is not made from amino acids, but from a substance called phophatidylcholine. I will discuss it in more detail in my article on phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine in this series.
Taurine has several functions in your body. You can think of it as a molecule that has a calming effect. It helps boosts the production of GABA, the inhibitory neurotransmitter. It also helps keep magnesium within the cells so that it does not "leak out" when we are under stress.
This non-essential amino acid has a structure that resembles glucose (blood sugar) and glycogen (sugar stored in the liver). Glycine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that can permeate the blood-brain barrier, giving it a significant role in treating ADHD. Researcher Carl Pfeiffer MD discovered that glycine decreases the craving for sugar and calms aggression in children with ADHD. When taken with glutamine and GABA, glycine can help slow down anxiety-related messages relayed by the limbic system. Because glycine is sweet to the taste, it can be used to replace sugar on foods like cereal or tea.
I suggest that you find the help of a trained holistic health care professional to help you with amino acids and precursor loading. There are ways that those can be measured in the body to check whether there are any deficiencies. An individualized plan will always work better than supplementing at random.