"PAY ATTENTION" The truth behind trends: DMAE (PART 1)

Hello to my TRUTH in SKINCARE readers! Here's one of the first "PAY ATTENTION" articles. Let's take a trip through the making (and marketing) of a modern "anti-aging" treatment, DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol). Unlike a previous post where I talked about sodium hydroxymethylglycinate, luckily this has an abbreviation!

Heard the wonders of DMAE yet? I'm sure you have . . . the latest in the anti-aging tool cabinet. It is touted by multiple supplement and skincare companies to increase your metal clarity & focus, to help keep you younger, and to help firm, tighten and fight skin-aging. It's pretty synonymous with Dr. N.V. Perricone, as his skin line is one of the first pushers of DMAE in skincare products (he sells supplements as well :-).

I'll be addressing DMAE on 2 separate points:
1. Overall and Brain Function
2. Skin Function
Today's post will deal with point #1, the next post will deal with point #2!

Basically the whole hoopla over DMAE supplements is that the body converts it into choline. DMAE is converted into choline in the liver. So what's choline? Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter Acetylcholine. Here's the reaction:
Increased levels of Acetylcholine can increase focus and clarity. Acetylcholine is used in the nerves of the Central Nervous System as well as other peripheral nervous systems. Many pushers of DMAE claim that it will make you more youthful, live longer, and become more intelligent, along with increased focus and alertness.

Let's start with the fact that DMAE supplementation has been tested in very limited studies and has shown to have a positive effect on increasing alertness. Ok, fine so far. Some studies have indicated that DMAE also increases brain levels of acetylcholine. Ok, great.

Guess what? DMAE is not classified as a drug, not much research has been done on it. There are no studies on it's safety and especially it's long term effects on humans. On top of this, research is so lacking and inconclusive, one can not truly begin to state the claims that it can keep you younger and living longer. In animals, some research has shown an increased lifespan while other research has shown a decreased lifespan. Point being, we don't even know if it can help you live a longer life or a shorter life!

And I'm not done yet. There is some good research on DMAE and it's effect on embryos. This to me is the most disturbing of the research done on DMAE. Research after research has shown that DMAE has adverse effect on embryo development as well as increasing the occurrence of neural tube defects (causing diseases like spina bifida and the like). Click here for the full research article.

Now remember, as I stated before, when ingesting DMAE the body converts it mostly to choline, so it shouldn't have this effect on embryos right? Right.

Here is a little fact that is important for everyone to know: Everything that we ingest (take in orally) that is digested and absorbed . . . goes into a special network of blood vessels called the portal blood system. Blood from the esophagus all the way down to the anus and everything absorbed in between goes via veins directly to the liver first! This is an important fact.
This means that everything we ingest is processed by the liver before it is released into the "regular" blood system through out the body. The liver is a miracle of creation that processes, changes, rearranges, does all sorts of fancy reactions to things that we have ingested. Let's just say we should really be good to our livers, it is a gateway from the foods that we eat (from the outside world) to our bodies.

What is my point for talking about the liver and oral route of taking in foods/compounds/nutrients? My point is that it needs to be contrasted by other routes of taking things in. Examples of other routes of blood absorption: injections directly into the blood stream and sublingual (absorption from under the tongue). Both these routes bypass the liver when they enter the blood stream. They can eventually be processed by the liver, but this is after it gets to roam around the body in it's pre-processed state. An example: Taking nitroglycerin tablets. Many people use these tablets to treat some heart conditions (angina, heart failure, etc). It works by holding the tablet under your tongue. The blood system is rich in this area and the nitroglycerin is absorbed directly into the "regular" bloodstream and bypasses the liver. If nitroglycerin were swallowed, it would lose it's effectiveness! It would be absorbed by the veins that will take it first to the liver, where it would be altered and no longer have the effects that sublingual taken nitroglycerin does. This is why nitroglycerin is meant to be kept under the tongue and not swallowed, so that it can directly enter the blood stream.

And we are finally starting to get to point 2: Skincare function.
Guess what? When you apply things to your skin (assuming they can be absorbed deeper into the skin and into the bloodstream) you have a route that again bypasses the liver!!! So, if DMAE could be absorbed into the skin, it would be acting in the body and blood stream differently than if it were taken as an oral supplement. It would be bypassing the liver and acting in an "unprocessed" state.

Critical thinking point:
If companies and doctors such as Perricone are stating that DMAE is absorbed by the skin, than shouldn't they also weigh the dangers associated with it's absorption by this method. Click here to see in Perricone's own words how he recommends topical DMAE in a "special vehicle" for better skin cell absorption. I believe that, at least, if one is claiming that DMAE is absorbed by the skin, any product containing it should at least be labeled as NOT TO BE TAKEN DURING PREGNANCY. After all, research in animals is conclusive in showing the damgaing and often fatal effects that DMAE has on embryos (albeit in higher doses than we would even be able to apply through skincare products).

Don't get too scared here. The truth is, that most concentrations of DMAE and it's resistance to full absorption from the skin into the blood, may very well prevent serious effects from taking place to an embryo. But to be on the safe side, I would certainly not recommend its use during pregnancy. Many supplements carry this warning, but funny how no skin care product carries this warning. If any product should carry this warning it should be the skincare products, since any DMAE that would enter the body through the skin would remain as DMAE (versus being converted to a much more safer choline, by the liver when DMAE is ingested).

This post will really be even more relevant to skincare. I'll tell you what DMAE actually does to the skin!

click here to see what Dr. Weil has to say about DMAE
click here to see an article so as not to be too alarmed by DMAE and to put things into perspective (although it doesn't acknowledge possible effects on embryos)
click here for a safety profile from the hazardous substances databank

In summary:
DMAE may hold some promise in the treatment or understanding of certain diseases (such as Huntington's, Alzheimers). But guess what? WE NEED MORE RESEARCH on DMAE, it's possible applications, and it's safety profile, especially long term effects. It is sad to see something like DMAE being promoted so highly, without the research to back it up. This is just one example of many supplements that can have a significant effect on the human body, yet doesn't have the science to back up the why, how, and when it should be used.

Other posts in the future will address why there is such lack of interest in the U.S. for actually doing the research into these supplements.

REMEMBER: I am a doctor, but I am not your doctor. Any information in my posts is meant to broaden your thinking and is not a substitute for medical care given by a medical professional. These posts are meant to shed light on the truths of the skincare industry, not to provide treatment in any form.


Anonymous said...

I LOVE the concept of this blog. My organic chem professor would always tell us to critically examine food labels and ingredient lists, much like the way you warn us to analyze the components in skincare products. I also very much appreciate that you're writing technically and scientifically--you're helping me keep my brain sharp! :) I also like the different font styles you use to tell us to pay attention. It makes the reading much easier when it's organized like that. The entries you have so far are great. I can't wait to keep reading and learning from you!

Anonymous said...

I totally agree that what you have written gives good scientific and technical info. You make us aware of the chemical components in the skin products that affects us. Thanks, I enjoy learning the truth in skincare in your site.

Co-author of "www.antiagingskincaremag.com"

Lily said...

DMAE has been touted by the cosmetic industry as a great anti-aging ingredient but there is still many unknown health effects about this chemical. I'd stay away from products that contain this ingredient.

Anonymous said...

So don't use it. It's really that simple.

Unknown said...

I've been looking for a lucid, well-written discussion of DMAE for awhile. Thank you, Dr. David. I am a translator and was attracted to DMAE because it does seem to improve my focus, my "edge". At the same time, it seems to give me headaches and make it more difficult to sleep. I look forward to when more research has been done. In the meantime, I'll stick to a second cup of coffee when I need a clarity boost.

Anonymous said...

I have been using a serum for my skin off and on for about 6 years that contains DMAE and it is one of the BEST I have used. I am very objective and critical of skin care products- so if I say it works- it works. Further, it is only 12.99 a bottle that can last you months as opposed to Perricone.

I just recently started taking it as a daily supplement 500 mg a day. So far no side effects. Perhaps what is missing from these studies is the idea of timing. Maybe it is more of preventative step as opposed to treating people after the fact? In this I am referring to the Dementia studies; although it did seem to increase well being and focus, so that is still positive. Again, maybe this is just a good idea as a preventative measure with some mild treatment benefits? But it is one of my favorite for skin care.

Anonymous said...

So what do you recommend when your pregnant ?

Anonymous said...

Love to read thes blogs. Very Interesting and informative

Anonymous said...

From my own personal experience, this, along with some other natural combinations, has helped me to come off of antidepressants. Of course, I did not take these while pregnant. The product I took was Protazen and it did amazing things for my mood and overall sense of wellbeing.