DMAE Benefits, Sources, & Side Effects

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Although you may be unaware of these DMAE benefits, this compound can have a serious impact on your quality of life.

What is DMAE?

DMAE, also known as dimethylaminoethanol, is a chemical compound found in oily fish like sardines and anchovies. It is also produced naturally in small amounts by the brain. It has recently become a popular supplement to boost mental health and can be found in many skin care products as well.

DMAE is a derivative of choline, a B vitamin. It is a neurotransmitter and is thought to stimulate the production of acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is essential to basic brain functions like memory and learning and is the compound that helps nerve cells send signals. [1]

DMAE is controversial because, while some studies show that it is effective in treating a variety of problems, other studies suggest that in the wrong doses, DMAE can actually adversely affect the problem. Doses of DMAE can vary wildly, from capsules of 50mg to 1600mg available, as well as the inclusion of very small amounts in lotions. As with any supplement, it’s important to follow dosage recommendations and to speak with your doctor if you are already prescribed any other medications.

Fresh sardines with halved lemons and coriander leaf surrounded with ginger, red chilies, and garlic on a wooden table

Sardines Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Sources of DMAE

Most DMAE is sourced from anchovies and sardines. It is found in oily, fatty fish, and if fish is a part of your regular diet, you are probably getting enough DMAE and do not require supplementation. It is also available in pill form for oral use and in many different topical products.

DMAE Benefits

Although DMAE benefits are somewhat controversial, as limited studies have been conducted, there are a number of exciting areas of ongoing research, as well as positive results from many early studies.


DMAE is a natural antioxidant and works to scavenge free radicals before they are able to damage cells. It is also anti-inflammatory in nature and may help control infection and swelling, both topically and orally. An in vitro study treated myocyte cells (heart-pumping cells) with DMAE and found that it prevented cell damage resulting from a lack of oxygen and blood flow to the heart. [2]

Skin Care

DMAE has become extremely popular for skincare because it has the ability to visibly improve skin tone and tighten loose skin. An assessment of DMAE conducted by Dr. Rachel Grossman and published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology found that DMAE applied regularly as part of a consistent daily routine did indeed reduce fine lines and wrinkles, and improved the overall appearance of aging, saggy skin. It has also been shown to be effective on liver and age spots. DMAE helps to boost the integrity of cell membranes, and stop deposits of lipofuscin, a brown pigment that builds up in cells and causes age spots, from building up in the first place. DMAE must be maintained with a high pH to be effective, usually a highly alkaline pH of 10. However, most skincare products are formulated to match the pH of human skin, around 5 or 6 pH. At that pH, DMAE is largely ineffective. [3] [4]

Mental Clarity

DMAE is a popular supplement for the mind- and mood-altering boosts. As an acetylcholine precursor, users claim that it gives them better memory (especially short-term memory), focus, clarity, and more regular sleep patterns. It may also help improve concentration, especially in high-stress environments. [5]

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Research suggests that DMAE is even more effective than choline when it comes to crossing the blood-brain barrier, and stimulates acetylcholine production in the brain. This can improve your brain cells’ ability to transmit signals to each other, improving memory retention and creating new pathways, in addition to strengthening signals to other parts of the body, like the muscles. Unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to validate this claim. [6]


In the 1960s and 1970s, DMAE was actually prescribed to treat learning behaviors and disorders, such as ADHD, and showed initial positive results. However, in the 80s it was pulled from the market for clinical trials and never returned. Today, many naturopaths suggest DMAE as a supplement to help treat ADHD as an alternative to Ritalin and Adderall, though much of the supporting evidence of this treatment is from studies dating back to the 70s. A recent report done by Ohio State University in 2011 concluded that DMAE may have a small effect on children with hyperactivity, but recommended other more effective dietary methods instead of this supplementary compound. [7]

Muscle Tone

DMAE has the ability to tighten muscle and skin, and while many people just use it topically for signs of aging in the face, it may also help alleviate signs of aging on the rest of the body. Nerve cells sending signals to the body’s muscles rely on acetylcholine to communicate efficiently with the body, so DMAE may not only make your muscles look better, but it may also help them function faster! [8]

Side Effects

Taken orally, high doses of DMAE can cause headaches and muscle tension. It is recommended to start taking DMAE in small doses and then work up to therapeutic doses. There is some evidence that high doses of DMAE may increase blood pressure and confusion in Alzheimer’s patients. People who suffer from schizophrenia, epilepsy, bipolar disorder, or anxiety disorder should not take DMAE because it is a stimulant. There are no known side effects to using DMAE topically. Women who are pregnant or nursing should not use DMAE. Protection Status
About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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