If there are two things most, if not all, mothers tell their kids to eat, it’s their greens and breakfast. They encouraged these for good reasons too, as both are healthy for growing kids and adolescents. But now, a new study shows that eating spinach and eggs, which are both high in the amino acid tyrosine, can boost a person’s reflexes.

Tyrosine isn’t only found in spinach and eggs either, although it’s possible to make a great breakfast with both, and they’re both good for the body. It can also be found in soy, cottage cheese, chicken, turkey, peanuts, avocados, and bananas, among other foods. The amino acid is a precursor in the production of norepinephrine and dopamine, both of which increase energy, alertness, and improve mood when together. With that in mind, researchers from the University of Leiden and the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands wanted to see how well it improved reflexes.

They tested a number of participants using either an orange juice mixture containing added tyrosine or a juice mixture containing a placebo. Each participant was asked to watch as green arrows quickly appeared on a computer screen, while pushing a button indicating which direction it was pointed in at the same time. But when a red arrow appeared, they were told that they couldn’t touch the keyboard. Each participant performed this task during two different sessions, in which they took tyrosine before one and a placebo before the other. As expected, the participants performed better whenever they had ingested tyrosine.

The researchers said that their findings could have implications for driving safety, because tyrosine could enhance a person’s defensive driving. But tyrosine could have a more important purpose. “Tyrosine food supplements and tyrosine-rich food are a healthy and inexpensive way of improving our intellectual capabilities,” Lorenza Colzato, a cognitive psychologist at Leiden University, said in a press release. “This makes them preferable to Ritalin and Modafinil, products that students often reach for to improve their academic performance. Tyrosine is safe and doesn’t need a doctor’s prescription.”

Ritalin is among other prescription attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications known as study drugs. These drugs are used to increase concentration among students who may feel that they’re falling behind on school work, or who need to stay up all night studying for an exam the next day. In recent years, use of these drugs have gone up, according to The Partnership at Drugfree.org, which reported last year that 33 percent more teens had used the drugs in 2012 than in 2008.

“Parents fear drugs like cocaine or heroin and want to protect their kids,” Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership at Drugfree.org, said in a statement. “But the truth is that when misused and abused, medicines — especially stimulants and opioids — can be every bit as dangerous and harmful as those illicit street drugs.” By simply eating some more veggies, or even buying a tyrosine supplement, students can take the safer route to better academic performance.

Source: Colzato L, Jongkees B, Sellaro R, et al. Eating to stop: Tyrosine supplementation enhances inhibitory control but not response execution. Neuropsychologia. 2014.

Published by Medicaldaily.com