Adderall and L-Tyrosine, an over-the-counter supplement, aren't one and the same, regardless of what anyone on TikTok says.
Advertisement

TikTok may be a solid source for the latest and greatest skin-care products or easy breakfast ideas, but it's probably not the place to look for medication recommendations. If you've spent any time on the app recently, you might have seen people posting about L-Tyrosine, an over-the-counter supplement that some TikTokers are calling "natural Adderall" for its supposed ability to improve your mood and focus.

"TikTok made me do it. Trying the L-Tyrosine. Apparently, it's natural Adderall. Girl, you know I love the Adderall," shared one TikTok user.

"I personally am using [L-Tyrosine] because it gives me more energy. It helps me get through the day." said another TikToker.

There's a lot to unpack with this. For one thing, it's definitely not accurate to call L-Tyrosine "natural Adderall." Here's what you need to know about the supplement and its actual impacts on the mind.

What is L-Tyrosine, exactly?

L-Tyrosine is a non-essential amino acid, meaning your body produces it on its own and you don't need to get it from food (or supplements, for that matter). Amino acids, in case you're not familiar with them, are considered the building blocks of life, along with proteins.

"Tyrosine may be found in all tissues of the human body and plays many roles, from producing enzymes and hormones to helping your nerve cells communicate through neurotransmitters," says Keri Gans, R.D., author of The Small Change Diet.

What is L-Tyrosine used for?

There are a few different things L-Tyrosine can do. "It's a precursor — or starting material — for other molecules in your body," says Jamie Alan, Ph.D., associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at Michigan State University. For example, among other functions, L-Tyrosine can be converted into dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to pleasure, and adrenaline, a hormone that causes a rush of energy, explains Alan. She notes that Adderall can also raise levels of dopamine in the body, but that doesn't make it equivalent to L-Tyrosine (more on that below).

"Tyrosine is one of the neurotransmitters in the brain," says Santosh Kesari, M.D., Ph.D., a neurologist at Providence Saint John's Health Center and chair of the Department of Translational Neurosciences and Neurotherapeutics at Saint John's Cancer Institute. Meaning, the supplement can help carry signals between nerve cells, explains Dr. Kesari. As a result, L-Tyrosine can potentially give you energy since it's broken down like any other amino acid, sugar, or fat, says Scott Keatley, R.D., of Keatley MNT.

Adderall, on the other hand, is an amphetamine, or a central nervous stimulant (read: a substance that isn't naturally produced in the body) that can raise dopamine and norepinephrine (a stress hormone that affects parts of the brain related to attention and response) levels in the brain, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Raising dopamine and norepinephrine levels is thought to improve focus and reduce impulsivity in people with ADHD, according to research published in the medical journal Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment.

Can you use L-Tyrosine if you have ADHD?

Backing up a moment, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health condition that can cause inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsiveness (or a combo of some or all three of these markers), according to the National Institute of Mental Health. ADHD symptoms can include frequent daydreaming, forgetfulness, fidgeting, making careless mistakes, having trouble resisting temptation, and having difficulty taking turns, among other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). ADHD is often treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medications, including stimulants such as Adderall (and, in some cases, non-stimulants, such as clonidine).

As for the question of using L-Tyrosine for ADHD, Erika Martinez, Psy.D., founder of Envision Wellness, says she's "concerned" by the implication that a supplement could treat the condition. "An ADHD brain is wired differently than a non-ADHD brain," she explains. "To 'resolve' it would require re-wiring the brain which, to my knowledge, there's no pill for."

In general, ADHD "cannot be cured," not even by medications that are traditionally prescribed for the condition (such as Adderall), notes Gail Saltz, M.D., an associate professor of psychiatry at the NY Presbyterian Hospital Weill-Cornell School of medicine and host of the How Can I Help? podcast. "[ADHD] can be managed, as in treated in various ways," she explains. But management isn't the same as a cure. Moreover, "believing that a supplement can resolve [ADHD] will leave sufferers distressed, frustrated, and feeling like they can't be helped," which, in turn, can increase negative stigma that's already associated with the condition, says Dr. Saltz. (See: The Stigma Around Psychiatric Medication Is Forcing People to Suffer In Silence)

Calling L-Tyrosine "natural Adderall" also implies that everyone with ADHD can be treated the same way, which simply isn't true, adds Dr. Saltz. "ADHD presents differently in different people — some people have more difficulty with distractibility, some with impulsiveness — so there is not a one-size-fits-all treatment," she explains.

Plus, supplements, in general, aren't well-regulated by the FDA. "I'm very wary of supplements," says Dr. Kesari. "It's hard to know what you're getting with a supplement." In the case of L-Tyrosine, specifically, continues Dr. Kesari, it's unclear whether the synthetic version of tyrosine acts the same way as the natural version in your body. Bottom line: L-Tyrosine "is not a medication," he stresses. And, because L-Tyrosine is a supplement, it's "definitely not the same" as Adderall, adds Keatley. (Related: Are Dietary Supplements Really Safe?)

For what it's worth, some studies have looked at the association between L-Tyrosine and ADHD, but the results have largely been inconclusive or unreliable. One very small study published in 1987, for example, found that L-Tyrosine decreased ADHD symptoms in some adults (eight out of 12 people) for two weeks but, after that, it was no longer effective. The researchers concluded that "L-Tyrosine is not useful in attention deficit disorder."

In another small study involving 85 children age four to 18 with ADHD, researchers found that 67 percent of participants who took L-Tyrosine saw "significant improvement" in their ADHD symptoms after 10 weeks. However, the research has since been retracted from publication because "the study did not meet the standard ethical publication requirements for studies involving human subjects in research."

TL;DR: The data is really weak on this one. L-Tyrosine is "not a medication," says Dr. Kesari. "You really want to listen to your doctor instead," he adds.

If you have ADHD or suspect you might have it, Martinez says it's crucial to be evaluated "with actual neuropsychological tests that measure executive functioning to see if you actually have ADHD." (Related: Free Mental Health Services That Offer Affordable and Accessible Support)

"Neuropsych testing is a must," explains Martinez. "I can't tell you the number of times I've evaluated someone who's been on stimulant medications like Adderall and it turns out what they really had was an undiagnosed bipolar disorder or severe generalized anxiety."

If you do, in fact, have ADHD, there are several different treatment options available — and, again, different treatments work for different people. "There are multiple types of medications, and it really is a matter of looking at the types of benefits [and] side effect profiles to determine which to try first," explains Dr. Saltz.

Basically, if you think you need help with attention or focus, or you suspect that you have ADHD, get advice on the next steps from a doctor who specializes in attention disorders — not TikTok.