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Eating More of This Nutrient Can Help Improve Reaction Time

Nutrient Can Help Improve Reaction Time

Everyone has experienced a time when they had to think and move fast. How would you rate your reflexes in times of trouble? If you are on the slower side, you may want to ensure your diet includes a particular nutrient that is found in spinach and soy.

Tyrosine is an amino acid that the body makes from another amino acid called phenylalanine. It is an important building block for several important brain chemicals, especially epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine.

Researchers from Leiden University, led by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato, in collaboration with the University of Amsterdam, have studied the effect on tyrosine on participants who drank a beverage enhanced with tyrosine. The volunteers had to react quickly in response to a computer screen image. Those given the tyrosine drink reacted more quickly than those who were given a placebo.

The positive effect of tyrosine on reaction speed can have benefits for road safety, says Dr. Colzato. For example, fast reflexes can prevent an accident.

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Tyrosine is found in soy products, chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.

It is rare to be deficient in tyrosine, but low levels are associated with low blood pressure, low body temperature, and an underactive thyroid. Stress may also affect the body’s ability to make enough tyrosine from phenylalanine. Some animal and human studies suggest that we may need more of the amino acid in times of stress to help improve memory and performance.

Tyrosine is also available as a dietary supplement, in capsule or tablet form. However, because of the risk of side effects and interactions with other medications, one should only take supplements under the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. Those who should avoid tyrosine supplements include those who have migraine headaches (it can trigger headaches) and those with hyperthyroidism or Grave disease (because it can increase levels of thyroid hormone.)

Those taking Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (or MAOI’s) should also avoid tyrosine supplements as it may cause a severe increase in blood pressure which can lead to heart attack or stroke.

Journal Reference:
Lorenza S. Colzato, et al. Eating to stop: Tyrosine supplementation enhances inhibitory control but not response execution. Neuropsychologia, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2013.12.027

Additional Resources:
University of Maryland Medical Center