4 Natural Alternatives To Adderall (That Are Also Good For You)December 2, 2021
Looking for a natural alternative to Adderall?
I’ve got good news for you–I’ve got 4 options that will give you incredible focus–without the serious side effects.
Whether you have ADHD and are looking for an alternative, you’re a college student who wants to increase focus to ace exams, or maybe you work long hours and want to maintain high levels of productivity–whatever your reason, you will find your answer in this article.
I’m a personal trainer and an expert in supplementation–and I’ve spent more hours than I’d like to admit reading about Adderall, its pharmacology, how it works on the brain, and it’s healthier alternatives.
In this article, I’m going to tell you what I’ve told my clients–taking Adderall is simply not worth the long-term side effects (for most people).
While the alternatives on this list won’t give the same Dopamine effects as Adderall, they will give you a significant boost without the side effects.
In this post, you will learn:
- The pharmacology of Adderall and how it works
- 4 alternatives to Adderall–Phenylalanine, Theanine, Ginseng, Ginkgo Biloba–with the studies on their effects (for those interested in getting into the nitty-gritty!)
Two things to note:
- I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. Please consult your doctor if you want medical advice.
- Every claim in this article is backed by a study that I reference at the bottom of the article.
What Does Adderall Actually Do?
First of all, how does Adderall work?
Or maybe a more suitable question is what does Adderall treat?
For starters (and there’s a good chance you already know this), Adderall is commonly prescribed for those with ADHD.
People suffering from ADHD lack adequate levels of the hormones used as neurotransmitters that deal with focus, memory retention, recall, and many other functions required for sustainable levels of cognition.
These hormones originate from the hormone family known as The Catecholamines.
The Catecholamines consist of Dopamine, Epinephrine, and Norepinephrine and are used to help with cognitive functions and the ability to remain calm during higher stress environments.
So why does Adderall work so well at increasing focus?
Well it massively boosts these focus-increasing neurotransmitter levels, which causes huge increases in motivation and focus that so many Adderall users have become addicted to; it’s why if you’re studying for a test or working long hours, taking Adderall can allow you to focus deep into the night.
However–and I don’t say this lightly–the negative symptoms of Adderall often outweigh its positive aspects–and in most cases do. There’s a reason why Adderall is known as the chemical cousin to Meth; both have incredible boosts in Dopamine release, but what goes up, must come down!
And since Adderall’s chemical composition is nearly identical to meth, abuse can lead to detrimental side effects that you may not be aware of.
This is where it’s beneficial to look for and dig a little deeper into some of the potential alternatives to Adderall that could be used to either reduce the amount of the drug needed or, in some instances, help eliminate its use altogether.
There are a few alternatives that we’re going to look at but the first alternative we’re going to discuss is Phenylalanine.
Adderall Alternative #1: Phenylalanine
The reason why I have Phenylalanine as number #1 on our list is that the body actually uses Phenylalanine to create the hormones we’re striving to crank up and there’s some decent research that I’ll be getting into that highlights that.
Now we know the incredible focus that Adderall brings, but let’s be honest, the side effects far outweigh the benefits. Now Phenylalanine isn’t going to get you to that same level but you’ll definitely still be riding that ‘feel good’ wave and focus, it’ll just be down a notch or two.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that can be broken up into three forms: L-Phenylalanine, D-Phenylalanine and DL-Phenylalanine.
Its natural form, L-Phenylalanine, can be found in whole foods and its synthetic forms, D-Phenylalanine and DL-Phenylalanine, in manufactured supplements. It’s in these synthetic forms that we’re seeing some pretty interesting research about.
How Phenylalanine Helps To Increase Focus
Phenylalanine is the kickstarter of sorts that creates the hormones we’re after when taking Adderall (see ‘’Pathway of Catecholamine Biosynthesis’ below) and what ADHD sufferers are found deficient in.
This is done in a chain reaction of sorts. As the image shows, Phenylalanine is a precursor to Tyrosine, meaning Phenylalanine is turned into Tyrosine in the body and so on.
Based on this, researchers wanted to test the theory on whether supplementation of Tyrosine would reduce the time to recall memories in healthy older adults between the ages of 61-72.
The short answer: yes.
Tyrosine was found to cause significant improvements in memory recall and reduced interference from other parts of the brain that make it harder to do so. (1)
And remember, as we stated above, by taking Phenylalanine, your body converts that into Tyrosine, which helps increase memory recall.
Now as you saw in the image above, Phenylalanine is converted into Dopamine in the body and with Dopamine being one of the main neurotransmitters (a carrier of chemical signals) that work in the brain to bring about feelings of happiness and pleasure, it’s also in control of the brain’s ability to form memories.
The other two hormones listed above, Norepinephrine & Epinephrine, are formed when Phenylalanine is processed and are responsible for what people refer to as the fight-or-flight response.
They do this by metabolising fat and glucose (sugar) as fuel. This also lights up the brain circuitry in control of this survival mechanism, which leads to a boost in energy and focus.
Long story short, Phenylalanine is like the signal in the brain that instigates the chain reaction of hormones that are responsible for laser-like focus and energy we strive for.
To be honest, there hasn’t been a crazy amount of research in regards to dosage variations as it seems to be dependent on the individual and their sensitivity but some studies suggest D-Phenylalanine supplementation around 350mg taken 1-3 times a day around meals for cognitive benefits.
When in doubt I’ll always err on the side of caution and start with a lower dosage to be safe, so start with the lower end first and go from there. To be clear, I am not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice so please make sure to contact your doctor if you have specific questions about dosage.
Adderall Alternative #2: Theanine
Now Theanine isn’t going to have you bouncing off the walls, blasting through papers like Adderall but it is going to get you productive and dialed in in other ways. Think ‘Buddist Monk’ like focus here rather than ‘Bradley Cooper in Limitless’.
As you may have already guessed, Theanine is widely popular for its ability to calm the mind without bringing on symptoms of drowsiness, which is a highly beneficial effect when quick thinking and memory recall is required during high-stress mental situations.
Theanine is an amino acid derived from Green Tea and is broken up into two forms: L-Theanine & D-Theanine. There isn’t much in the way of research for D-Theanine but research on supplements with L-Theanine seems to highlight the most benefits closely linked to Adderall by way of reducing our time to react, especially in stressful situations.
Getting into the finer details, a basic cup of English Breakfast contains roughly 20 mg of Theanine, which isn’t enough to elicit any cognitive benefits.
However, a study used a dosage of 50mg to monitor for any improvements in focus and attention periodically and found notable improvements. (2)
They tested L-Theanine on its ability to calm the mind and see if it reduced our reaction to an external stressor using a Mathematics problem (in other words, they had the subjects solve a complex math equation).
Participants responded extremely well to the theanine supplementation, causing the subjects’ heart rate to slow. The study was able to highlight L-Theanine’s ability to help the brain articulate thoughts and increase its other processing functions. (3)
L-Theanine’s cognitive benefits are different than Phenylalanine. Instead of increasing hormones that boost motivation, L-Theanine provides a sense of clarity that reduces the amount of Dopamine and other hormones required to get the desired focus and energy.
The recommended dosage of L-Theanine is 50mg a day, 1-3 times a day for the cognitive benefits we’re chasing.
Personally, I’ve had doses of L-Theanine in pre-workout several times higher than this. However, I’ve recommended the same dosage to others and it was too much for them, which goes to show how individual supplement sensitivity is. To start, I suggest the recommended dosage and work up from there.
Adderall Alternative #3: Ginseng
Ginseng is another substitute showing promise in the replacement of Adderall as it helps us handle stress easier. Ginseng has been used for centuries in the Eastern Medicine world, and is considered what’s called an Adaptogen.
Adaptogens induce the body’s ability to handle stressors more effectively and is why I think it’s a great alternative to adderall for increasing focus and directing our energy more effectively.
I’ve been taking Ginseng for years, and love it.
When I’m taking an adaptogen like Ginseng, not a lot bothers me; it causes me to readily go with the flow, my thinking feels fluid, focused and precise without feeling forced–like a high caffeine hit can sometimes feel like.
Jumping into some research, one study from 2003 tested individuals’ Event Related Potential (basically the brain’s reaction time to a stimulus).
To test this they gave one group 4,500mg a day of Korean Ginseng and another group a placebo.
And what did they find–impressive improvements in reaction time compared to the placebo group. (4)
Still, there still needs to be more in-depth research on Korean Ginseng to determine whether an increased daily dose or more frequent doses can help further the positives it seems to have on cognitive function, especially when it’s combined with its stress management properties.
Korean Ginseng Dosage
Korean Ginseng dosage for cognitive benefits is dependent on its active ingredient Ginsenoside and as such, individual product dosage can vary greatly.
What I’d recommend is going through the brands you have available, picking the highest percentage of Ginsenoside and starting at around 250mg a day, work your way up till you find a sweet spot.
Be sure to take it around meals as well just to avoid an upset stomach.
Adderall Alternative #4: Ginkgo Biloba
Ginkgo Biloba, also known as Maiden Hair, is a tree known for its strong antioxidant properties and its ability to promote blood flow to the brain–which has led researchers to discovering its effects on cognitive functioning and reducing inattentiveness.
To test this, researchers created a study by having one group take Ginkgo Biloba while the other group took a placebo.
What they found was incredible.
After 6 weeks, children who took Ginkgo Biloba had a 27% improvement for inattentiveness and impulsiveness. (5)
This has been confirmed with other studies using Ginkgo Biloba supplementation on children with ADHD.
Other research benefits has shown to improve:
- Quality of life markers
- Performances during brain activity testing
- Other forms of measurements used to monitor changes in ADHD symptoms which were based around assessments from doctors and parents on the children’s abilities to concentrate, etc. (6)
Personally I’m a big fan of products that increase blood flow. Anything to promote nutrient delivery throughout the body is a big plus in my books, so it’s great to see this added research on the long list of health benefits that comes with blood flow promotion.
Ginkgo Biloba Dosage
Research done on the recommended dosage of Ginkgo Biloba varies depending on the studies and subjects but can be anywhere from 60-240mg. Similar to Ginseng, start on the lower end and work your way up to an ideal dosage.
Wrapping It Up
Will these natural alternatives give the same level of focus as adderall?–no.
But will they help increase focus and attentiveness while reducing impulsivity?–absolutely.
But not just that.
These alternatives have tons of other health benefits and no side effects–something Adderall can’t say.
So if you’re looking to improve focus and memory retention while reducing impulsivity, I highly suggest giving the supplements on this list a try. I would try them one by one and see how you respond to it.
1.Bloemendaal M, Froböse MI, Wegman J, Zandbelt BB, van de Rest O, Cools R, Aarts E. Neuro-Cognitive Effects of Acute Tyrosine Administration on Reactive and Proactive Response Inhibition in Healthy Older Adults. eNeuro. 2018 Apr 30;5(2):ENEURO.0035-17.2018. doi: 10.1523/ENEURO.0035-17.2018. PMID: 30094335; PMCID: PMC6084775.
2. Nobre AC, Rao A, Owen GN. L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr. 2008;17 Suppl 1:167-8. PMID: 18296328.
3.Kimura K, Ozeki M, Juneja LR, Ohira H. L-Theanine reduces psychological and physiological stress responses. Biol Psychol. 2007 Jan;74(1):39-45. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsycho.2006.06.006. Epub 2006 Aug 22. PMID: 16930802.
4.Yeo HB, Yoon HK, Lee HJ, Kang SG, Jung KY, Kim L. Effects of Korean Red Ginseng on Cognitive and Motor Function: A Double-blind, Randomized, Placebo-controlled Trial. J Ginseng Res. 2012 Apr;36(2):190-7. doi: 10.5142/jgr.2012.36.2.190. PMID: 23717119; PMCID: PMC3659585.
5.Shakibaei F, Radmanesh M, Salari E, Mahaki B. Ginkgo biloba in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adolescents. A randomized, placebo-controlled, trial. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2015 May;21(2):61-7. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2015.04.001. Epub 2015 Apr 18. PMID: 25925875.
6.Uebel-von Sandersleben H, Rothenberger A, Albrecht B, Rothenberger LG, Klement S, Bock N. Ginkgo biloba extract EGb 761® in children with ADHD. Z Kinder Jugendpsychiatr Psychother. 2014 Sep;42(5):337-47. doi: 10.1024/1422-4917/a000309. PMID: 25163996.