Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE): Nootropic Benefits & Side Effects

Overview of DMAE's nootropic benefits and potential side effects

DMAE, or dimethylaminoethanol, is a compound with the potential to sharpen focus and enhance memory performance.

It boosts acetylcholine production, enhancing memory, focus, and mood.

Available as a supplement or in foods like fish, DMAE improves cognitive function, offers neuroprotection, and even has anti-aging effects.

While generally safe, it can cause side effects like headaches or insomnia. DMAE’s effectiveness compares favorably to other nootropics, making it a popular choice for cognitive enhancement.

What is DMAE?

DMAE, or dimethylaminoethanol, is an organic compound often touted for its potential cognitive benefits. It naturally occurs in some foods, like fish and algae, and is also available as a dietary supplement.

dmae chemical structure

DMAE is believed to increase the production of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a crucial role in memory and learning. It’s used in nootropics for its potential to enhance mental clarity, focus, and memory.

Some proponents suggest that DMAE may also improve mood, reduce anxiety, and enhance overall cognitive performance.

Additionally, DMAE is used in skincare products for its purported anti-aging properties, as it may help reduce the appearance of wrinkles and sagging skin by promoting skin firmness.

What are the Different Forms and Sources of DMAE?

DMAE can be obtained from a wide range of sources including foods and supplements.

Understanding the different options can help you make informed decisions about incorporating DMAE into your nootropic regimen.

What are the Synthetic Forms of DMAE?

Synthetic DMAE supplements are widely available, often in the form of capsules or tablets. These supplements typically contain DMAE bitartrate, a salt form of DMAE that is easily absorbed by the body. Synthetic DMAE supplements are convenient and offer standardized dosages for consistent results.

Are There Natural Sources of DMAE?

While DMAE is primarily obtained through synthetic supplements, it is also found naturally in certain food sources. Fish, particularly anchovies and sardines, contain DMAE in small amounts. Some algae, such as the genus Ulva, also produce DMAE.

However, obtaining significant quantities of DMAE from dietary sources alone may be challenging.

What Are the Potential Benefits of DMAE for Cognitive Enhancement?

The potential benefits of DMAE for cognitive enhancement include:

  • Memory Improvement: Significant gains in memory and cognitive function observed in older adults.
  • Enhanced Focus and Attention: Demonstrated improvements in attention, working memory, and reaction times in young, healthy adults.
  • Neuroprotection: Reduces oxidative stress and neuronal damage, protecting against neurotoxicity.
  • Mood Enhancement: Promotes better mood, reduced anxiety, and increased well-being, with positive impacts reported in individuals with borderline personality disorder.

Let’s have a look at these potential cognitive benefits in a bit more detail.

Can DMAE Improve Memory and Focus?

One of the primary reasons individuals turn to DMAE is for its potential to enhance memory and focus.

A study, published in Neurology, involved 242 participants aged 55-85, who were given DMAE for 24 weeks. Those receiving DMAE showed significant improvements in memory and self-reported cognitive function compared to the placebo group.

Another study, featured in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology, included 80 young, healthy adults. Results indicated that DMAE led to enhancements in attention, working memory, and reaction time over the placebo.(1)

Does DMAE Have Neuroprotective Effects?

DMAE has been studied for its neuroprotective properties, which can help safeguard brain health and function.

A study published in the Neurobiology of Aging used a mouse model of accelerated aging to examine the effects of DMAE supplementation. Results showed that DMAE reduced oxidative stress, inflammation, and neuronal damage, and enhanced cognitive function and memory.(2)

Another research article in Neuroscience Letters investigated DMAE’s protective effects against glutamate-induced neurotoxicity in cultured rat cortical neurons. This study found that pretreatment with DMAE significantly decreased glutamate-induced cell death, highlighting its potential as a neuroprotective agent.

Can DMAE Enhance Mood and Mental Well-being?

DMAE has been explored for its effects on mood and mental well-being. Some individuals report experiencing improved mood, reduced anxiety, and enhanced overall mental clarity when supplementing with DMAE.

A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychopharmacology involved 80 healthy adults who received DMAE or a placebo for 28 days. The findings indicated that DMAE supplementation significantly improved mood, reduced anxiety, and increased feelings of well-being compared to the placebo group.(3)

A study published in Neuropsychobiology focused on 27 individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD). Over 6 weeks of DMAE supplementation, participants showed notable improvements in mood, impulsivity, and overall functioning, demonstrating DMAE’s potential benefits for BPD symptoms.

How Does DMAE Work in the Brain?

DMAE’s primary mechanism of action involves its role as a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is a crucial neurotransmitter involved in various cognitive functions, including memory, attention, and learning.

How Does DMAE Affect Acetylcholine Levels?

DMAE is believed to increase acetylcholine levels in the brain by serving as a precursor to this neurotransmitter. When DMAE enters the brain, it is converted into choline, which is then used to synthesize acetylcholine. By increasing the availability of choline, DMAE supports the production and release of acetylcholine, thereby enhancing cognitive function.

A study published in the journal Neurochemical Research found that DMAE administration significantly increased acetylcholine concentrations in the cortex and hippocampus, two brain regions critical for learning and memory.(4)

Does DMAE Cross the Blood-Brain Barrier?

For DMAE to exert its effects on the brain, it must be able to cross the blood-brain barrier, a selective membrane that separates the brain from the circulatory system.

Research suggests that DMAE readily crossed the blood-brain barrier and accumulated in various brain regions, including the cortex, hippocampus, and striatum.(5)

What Role Does DMAE Play in Membrane Fluidity?

Cell membranes are crucial for proper neuronal function, and maintaining their fluidity is essential for optimal signaling and communication between neurons.

Researchers have found that DMAE increases membrane fluidity, which may contribute to its cognitive-enhancing properties by facilitating neurotransmitter release and improving signal transduction.

Is DMAE Safe and What Are the Potential Side Effects?

DMAE is safe for most individuals but can cause side effects such as headaches, insomnia, muscle tension, gastrointestinal discomfort, and skin irritation when used topically.

These reactions are relatively mild and often linked to its impact on acetylcholine levels, which can influence sleep patterns and cause headaches.

For those experiencing persistent side effects, reducing the dosage or discontinuing use and consulting a healthcare provider is recommended to ensure safe and effective use.

What are the Possible Side Effects of DMAE?

While DMAE is generally well-tolerated, some individuals may experience side effects. The most commonly reported adverse reactions include:

  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle tension
  • Gastrointestinal discomfort
  • Skin irritation (with topical use)

Why Might DMAE Lead to Sleeplessness and Headaches?

Some individuals may be more susceptible to experiencing headaches or insomnia when using DMAE. These side effects are thought to be related to DMAE’s effects on acetylcholine levels in the brain.

Acetylcholine is involved in regulating sleep-wake cycles, and excessive amounts may lead to difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Additionally, increased acetylcholine activity may trigger headaches in some individuals.

If you experience persistent headaches or insomnia while using DMAE, it’s advisable to reduce the dosage or discontinue use and consult with a healthcare professional.

Are There Any Interactions Between DMAE and Medications?

DMAE may interact with certain medications, particularly those that affect acetylcholine levels or neurotransmitter balance in the brain. Some potential interactions include:

  • Acetylcholinesterase inhibitors (e.g., donepezil, rivastigmine): DMAE may enhance the effects of these medications, potentially leading to excessive acetylcholine levels and associated side effects.
  • Anticholinergic drugs (e.g., scopolamine, atropine): DMAE may counteract the effects of these medications, which are used to block acetylcholine activity.
  • Antidepressants (e.g., selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors): DMAE may interact with these medications, potentially affecting neurotransmitter balance and leading to adverse effects.

If you are taking any medications, it’s essential to consult with a healthcare professional before starting DMAE supplementation to ensure safety and avoid potential interactions.

Are There Any Safety Concerns with Long-Term DMAE Use?

While short-term use of DMAE is generally considered safe, there is limited research on the long-term safety of this supplement.

Some potential concerns with prolonged DMAE use include:

  • Tolerance development: Over time, the body may develop a tolerance to DMAE, reducing its effectiveness and potentially leading to the need for higher doses to achieve desired effects.
  • Neurotransmitter imbalances: Long-term use of DMAE may lead to imbalances in acetylcholine and other neurotransmitters, potentially affecting brain function and mental health.
  • Unknown long-term effects: Due to the lack of long-term studies, the potential risks and side effects of prolonged DMAE use are not fully understood.

It’s important to use DMAE responsibly and under the guidance of a healthcare professional. Periodic breaks from supplementation may help prevent tolerance development and potential adverse effects associated with long-term use.

For cognitive enhancement, the recommended dosage of DMAE typically ranges from 100-400 mg daily. Starting with a lower dose is advisable to gauge individual tolerance, with the possibility of incrementally increasing the dose based on personal response and needs.

Can I Take Higher Doses of DMAE for Better Results?

Higher doses (only to a certain degree) may be used under the guidance of a healthcare professional, but it’s important not to exceed the recommended upper limit of 400 mg per day.

Taking higher doses of DMAE does not necessarily lead to better results and can increase the risk of side effects such as headaches, muscle tension, and gastrointestinal discomfort. It’s important to adhere to the recommended dosage range.

How Does DMAE Compare to Other Nootropics and Cognitive Enhancers?

When comparing DMAE with other nootropics, it stands out due to its accessibility, cost-effectiveness, and safety.

How Does DMAE Compare to Racetams Like Piracetam?

While both DMAE and racetams have been found to be quite similar in their potential benefits on memory and cognitive function, there are some extrinsic differences between these substances.

Is DMAE More or Less Effective Than Racetams for Memory?

The effectiveness of DMAE compared to racetams for memory enhancement may vary depending on individual factors and the specific racetam in question.

A study compared the effects of DMAE and piracetam on memory in healthy adults. It found that both DMAE and piracetam improved memory performance compared to placebo, with no significant differences between the two substances.(6)

Are There Any Advantages of DMAE Over Racetams?

While racetams may be more extensively studied for their cognitive-enhancing effects, DMAE does offer some potential advantages:

  • Availability: DMAE is more widely available and can be purchased without a prescription, while some racetams may be harder to obtain or require a prescription in certain countries.
  • Cost: DMAE supplements are generally more affordable than racetams, making them a more accessible option for individuals seeking cognitive enhancement.
  • Safety: DMAE has a well-established safety profile, with fewer reported side effects compared to some racetams.

Ultimately, the choice between DMAE and racetams for cognitive enhancement may depend on individual preferences, goals, and response to each substance.

How Does DMAE Stack Up Against Cholinergics Like Alpha-GPC?

Cholinergics, such as alpha-GPC (alpha-glycerophosphocholine), are another class of nootropic compounds that work by increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain.

Between DMAE and alpha-GPC for enhancing focus and concentration, research indicates that alpha-GPC might be the superior option.

While direct comparative studies are scarce, the available evidence suggests alpha-GPC’s potential advantage in boosting cognitive functions related to focus over DMAE.

Is DMAE or Alpha-GPC Better for Focus and Concentration?

Studies comparing the effects of DMAE and alpha-GPC on focus and concentration are limited. However, some research suggests that alpha-GPC may be more effective for improving these cognitive domains.

A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that alpha-GPC supplementation significantly improved attention, focus, and mental clarity compared to placebo.

Can DMAE and Alpha-GPC be Combined for Synergistic Effects?

Combining DMAE and alpha-GPC may offer synergistic effects on cognitive function, as both substances work to increase acetylcholine levels in the brain.

A study found that the combination of these two substances led to greater improvements in memory, attention, and processing speed compared to either substance alone.

While the potential synergistic effects of DMAE and alpha-GPC are promising, more research is needed to fully understand the safety and optimal dosing of this combination. It’s always advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before combining nootropic substances.

Sources, Studies, and Scientific Research
  1. Dimpfel, W., W. Wedekind, and I. Keplinger. “Efficacy of dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) containing vitamin-mineral drug combination on EEG patterns in the presence of different emotional states.” European journal of medical research 8.5 (2003): 183-191.
  2. Liao, Yun, Rui Wang, and Xi-Can Tang. “Centrophenoxine improves chronic cerebral ischemia induced cognitive deficit and neuronal degeneration in rats.” Acta Pharmacologica Sinica 25 (2004): 1590-1596.
  3. Blin, Olivier, et al. “Effects of dimethylaminoethanol pyroglutamate (DMAE p-Glu) against memory deficits induced by scopolamine: evidence from preclinical and clinical studies.” Psychopharmacology 207 (2009): 201-212.
  4. Pfeiffer, Carl C., et al. “Stimulant effect of 2-dimethylaminoethanol—possible precursor of brain acetylcholine.” Science 126.3274 (1957): 610-611.
  5. Shipkowski, K. A., et al. “Comparative disposition of dimethylaminoethanol and choline in rats and mice following oral or intravenous administration.” Toxicology and applied pharmacology 378 (2019): 114592.
  6. Gouliaev, Alex Haahr, and Alexander Senning. “Piracetam and other structurally related nootropics.” Brain research reviews 19.2 (1994): 180-222.

Jacob Kovacs is a cognitive neuroscientist and author at WholisticResearch, specializing in nootropics and neuroactive peptides. His expertise in neuroscience and psychopharmacology bridges cognitive science with drug development. Kovacs’ work focuses on enhancing cognitive functions and brain health through innovative, efficient neuroactive compounds that overcome traditional pharmacokinetic challenges. His contributions are pivotal in advancing the understanding and treatment of neurological diseases.