Energy supplement hangs hat on dopamine-boosting properties

By Hank Schultz

- Last updated on GMT

Energy supplement hangs hat on dopamine-boosting properties
A new energy supplement is betting on the benefits of Ayurvedic herb Mucuna pruriens, which provides a precursor to the neurotransmitter dopamine, to stand out in a crowed category.

The supplement is the brain child of Dr Andrew Hemmen, a board-certified physician in internal medicine from New Mexico, who was seeking a way to help his patients recover their focus and drive, and not just to dose them with caffeine or other stimulants.

“I’ve always been fascinated by brain neurochemistry,”​ Hemmen told NutraIngredients-USA. “I have been interested in how serotonin and dopamine work, and I have been looking for ways to naturally support people’s dopamine systems.”

Dopamine in the brain is involved in the so-called ‘executive functions,’ i.e., planning, foresight and execution. Supporting that role is what forms the product’s claim to boost “drive”.  Dopamine in the body is produced from the amino acid tyrosine, via a pathway that includes the dopamine precursor l-dopa.  Murcuna pruriens​ contains this precursor molecule directly, Hemman said.

Ayurvedic mainstay

Hemmen said in the course of his research he came across Mucuna pruriens​, also called velvet bean, a tropical legume that has been a mainstay in Ayurvedic medicine for centuries for mood support.  More recently it has been studied for its effects on Parkinson’s disease​.

“I began taking the herb myself and felt great. I thought, this has be a basis for an energy drink,”​ he said.

There aren’t many safe, gentle ways to affect the dopamine system, Hemmen said. Cocaine, for example, has been shown to enhance dopamine release, one of the ways it confers its pleasurable effects, Hemmen said.  Amphetamines have similar effects, but none of these are candidates for a consumer product for obvious reasons.

Hemmen said his new formulations combines the l-dopa with other supporting herbs and amino acids for an energy drink that offers an alternative to caffeine.  The product does contain some caffeine, 30 mg in the initial formulation, to bridge over the time until the l-dopa starts to affect the brain’s dopamine levels, which can take take up to 90 minutes, Hemmen said.  Caffeine has the benefit of working quickly.

“I wanted there to be a alternative to caffeine,” ​he said. “Having higher dopamine levels confers a feeling of being effective. Do you want an aimless, caffeinated, useless kind of energy?  Or a functional energy that will provide some drive toward achieving a goal?” 

Launched nationwide in Sprouts Farmers Markets in April (and also available on amazon.com​), the product has had enough success to warrant a second stab at its formulation.  The initial formulation was sweetened with sugar, and Hemmen said he wants to explore alternatives such as a stevia blend.

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