“If you aren’t taking Alpha Brain, you’re playing at a disadvantage,” so says the Alpha Brain website.
That’s a pretty big statement to make for a nootropic supplement. Most content themselves with claiming that if you’re having trouble in certain areas, then taking a little of this or a little of that can help to improve the deficiencies.
The makers of Alpha Brain however, seem to be saying that their supplement provides some kind of general advantage for everyone. In fact, a video on their site says that the supplement is, “Shown to help support memory and focus in healthy individuals.” That kind of confidence in the product makes this an interesting nootropic that deserves a closer look.
Alpha Brain is a ready-made nootropic stack supplied by Onnit Labs and it has been on the market since 2010. It’s one of the more well known general nootropic supplements, thanks to the exposure that it gained by being featured by “influencer” and Podcaster, Joe Rogan (Joe Rogan has a financial stake in Onnit Labs), and by plenty of media reporting, and endorsements from some minor celebrities like hockey player Duncan Keith, football player Brian Cushing and MMA fighters Tim Kennedy and Michelle Waterson.
Interestingly, an article on Forbes.com explains that “Onnit also sponsors athletes like Bode Miller and accomplished trainers and MMA fighters that help spread their message through social media.”
So it may be wise to take those endorsements with a pinch of whatever you like.
A slick marketing campaign complete with endorsements doesn’t actually tell us anything about the efficacy of a product though so we need some proof.
Now that a few years have passed and the nootropics community has had time to evaluate and scrutinize this supplement, we can review Alpha Brain based on user experiences and see if those experiences match up to the manufacturer’s claims.
We’ll also take a look at the clinical trial that Alpha Brain points to on its website.
What Are The Claims Made For Alpha Brain?
According to the Alpha Brain website, Alpha Brain optimizes you and is apparently like having another gear for your brain.
Does this mean that you’ll become a genius? No. The improvements that you are promised include, being able to remember names and places, focus on complex tasks and improve your mental speed in response to stimuli.
Another claim on the website is that “Research suggests that Alpha Brain works the first time you take it.” Bold claim!
Alpha Brain has also been evaluated in clinical trials. According to the manufacturer “Two double blind clinical trials conducted by the Boston Center for Memory showed improvements vs placebo in memory, brainwave patterns, and focus.”
Joe Rogan has said that “…I feel like it helps me form sentences better.”
So if you have trouble finding the right words, or have difficulty staying focused, Alpha Brain may be a solution.
What Are The Ingredients In Alpha Brain?
The ingredients featured most prominently on the Alpha Brain page are the all natural, herbal ingredients Cat’s Claw, Oat Straw. Bacopa, and Huperzia Serrata. Other ingredients are L-tyrosine, L-Theanine, Phosphatidylserine, Pterostilbene, Vitamin B6, L-Leucine, Alpha GPC.
Cat’s Claw proprietary extract AC II – Cat’s claw has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits. There is no evidence that the proprietary extract has any benefit over and above that provided by the regular variety.
Bacopa – Bacopa is an antioxidant herb that has a long history of use as a memory enhancement aid and as a relaxant. It is this anxiety reducing effect that is thought to enhance cognition. Bacopa is an adaptogenic herb meaning that it will have different effects depending on your current physical and emotional state. If you are already is a relaxed state, Bacopa can lead to lack of motivation.
Bacopa promotes neuronal communication by improving the rate at which the nervous system can communicate, by increasing the growth of dendrites (nerve endings).
The anti anxiety effects of Bacopa can happen quite quickly but the research suggests that cognitive benefits appear to be greater at 8 – 12 weeks than they are at 4 – 6 weeks.
Huperzia Serrata – This is the source of Huperzine A which is a substance that has been investigated for its effects on patients with Alzheimer’s disease. A 2013 meta review of studies found that Huperzine A may improve cognitive function in those with existing degenerative brain conditions, however the review concluded that there were quality issues with those studies therefore Huperzine could not be recommended as a treatment option.
Another nootropic effect is related to its actions as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme which causes the breakdown of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which is involved in formation and recall of memories. Huperzine A prevents this breakdown and stimulates greater neurotransmitter activity levels in the brain.
A standard dose for this substance is 50 – 200 mcg per day.
L-Tyrosine – L-tyrosine is an amino acid that is used in the body for production of the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine. It is usually taken in doses of 500 – 2000 mg.
According to Examine.com “Tyrosine appears to effectively improve cognition during acute stressors (altitude and cold being tested most); this appears reliable if the acute stressor is present, but may not be an inherent increase in cognition and it is unsure if it applies to chronic stress and fatigue,” and “Appears to preserve working memory during acute stressors without inherently having a memory boosting effect.” No evidence exists for any memory boosting effects without acute stressors present.
L-Theanine – L-theanine is found primarily in tea. It promotes relaxation without exhibiting a sedative effect, reduces stress and it may have a slight beneficial effect on improving attention. L-Theanine is closely related to Glutamine, and the neurotransmitters that are produced from it, GABA and glutamate are known to reach the brain following oral ingestion. As a nootropic L-Theanine is commonly stacked with caffeine using a dose of 200 mg of each substance to achieve a synergistic effect that promotes cognition and attention.
Oat Straw (Avena sativa) – Oatstraw is a mildly relaxing herb that has been used traditionally to lower stress. Early research in the 1970’s appeared to show that oat straw could assist in giving up smoking and weaning addicts off opium, however follow up research couldn’t replicate those results.
The Alpha brain website links to a 2011 study – Ingested oat herb extract (Avena sativa) changes EEG spectral frequencies in healthy subjects – which shows the positive impact of oat straw on cognition in healthy individuals. However the dose used in the study was 1250 or 2500 mg of a proprietary preparation of oat straw.
Phosphatidylserine – Phosphatidylserine is an essential lipid compound abundant within brain cell membranes. It can be synthesized (made) by the body, and obtained via the diet or supplementation. Research shows that supplementation in older adults has cognitive benefits as dose supplementation for children with ADHD
A standard dose of phosphatidylserine is 100 mg, taken 3 times a day for a total of 300 mg daily. This dose appears to be effective as a preventative against cognitive decline. Studies in children and adolescents for the purpose of ADHD tend to use 200mg.
Pterostilbene – An antioxidant found in blueberries. Antioxidants help the body to reduce oxidative stress. Studies in mice have found that low doses of this substance exhibit an anxiolytic effect (anti anxiety). The dose used in mice 1 – 2 mg/kg translate to an estimated human dose of 5.5 -11 mg for a 150lb person, 7.3 -14.5 mg for a 200lb person, 9 -18 mg for a 250lb person. Although it should be stressed that no human studies exist in this area as yet.
Vitamin B6 – Vitamin B6 is an essential nutrient (your body can’t synthesize it) that has many functions in the body. Vitamin B6 is required for the production of several neurotransmitters, and it is needed for normal brain development and function. B6 helps the body to make serotonin, dopamine, GABA and norepinephrine, which influence mood, and melatonin, which helps regulate sleep / waking cycles. Vitamin B6 is also required to convert glycogen back into glucose, a function that the brain is very dependent on.
One study found cognitive benefits from taking this vitamin in conjunction with magnesium for ADHD in children. The dose used was 6 mg per kg of body weight per day for magnesium and 0.6 mg per kg of body weight per day for vitamin B6. Another study found that a daily dose of 250mg of vitamin B6 in college students improved dream recall and dream vividness. This effect was not present at the 100 mg dose tested.
L-Leucine – L- leucine promotes protein metabolism. There is no evidence for this substance having any nootropic effects.
Alpha GPC – This is a choline supplement. Choline, while usually available abundantly in a healthy, varied diet, may be low in some individuals, and if this is the case, then a choline supplement can improve cognitive function. In healthy individuals choline supplementation does not have any supporting evidence for any cognitive enhancements (it does show this effect in rats) however it does appear to be beneficial for the elderly.
Doses used to affect cognitive decline are typically 1200 mg per day.
The exact quantities in the supplement as per the clinical trial data:
Compound Per Serving of 2 Capsules (mg)
Bacopa Monnieri 100
Huperzine Serrata 44
L-Alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine 100
Oatstraw 20:1 100
Vitamin B6 10
Are The Ingredients Good Value For Money?
Cat’s Claw AC II cannot be purchased unless you’re a supplement manufacturer. That said, there is no evidence that AC II has any benefits over regular cats claw, and cats claw isn’t included as a cognitive enhancer, but as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. 100 x 500mg capsules cost $5.50, which gives a per capsule cost of 5.5 cents.
Bacopa Monnieri in a 100 gram bag is $25. This size would provide 1000 servings, with a per serving cost of 2.5 cents.
Huperzine Serrata is difficult to evaluate because they don’t give the amount of the active Huperzine A that is contained in the supplement. I’ll work with the suggested dose given on the Huperzine A 1% label from Powder City which states that an 8 mg serving yields 80 mcg of Huperzine A Based on that – a 5 gram bag of Huperzine A 1% is $20. This size would provide 625 servings, with a per serving cost of 3 cents.
Alpha GPC powder in a 50 gram bag is $18. This size would provide 500 servings, with a per serving cost of 3.5 cents.
L-Leucine powder in 500 gram bag is $19. This size would provide approximately 8,333 servings, with a per serving cost of less than 1 cent.
L- Theanine powder in a 100 gram bag is $12. This size would provide approximately 555 servings, with a cost per serving of 2 cents.
L- Tyrosine powder in a 100 gram bag is $5. This size would provide approximately 370 servings with a per serving cost of 1.5 cents.
Oatstraw 20:1 powder in a 50 gram bag is $10. This size would provide 500 servings with a per serving cost of 2 cents.
Phosphatidylserine powder in a 10 gram bag is $9. This size would provide 200 servings, with a per serving cost of 0.5 cents.
Pterostilbene powder in a 5 gram bag is $15. This size would provide 6,666 servings, with a per serving cost of around 0.25 cents.
Vitamin B6 powder in a 25 gram bag is $5. This size would provide 2500 servings, with a per serving cost of 0.25 cents.
For a grand total of 22 cents per serving DIY versus $2.33 per serving for Alpha brain.
My math could be a little flaky, so if you want to do a cost comparison for yourself, you’ll find most of the powders and their prices at Powder City.
How Do Those Ingredients Stack Up?
Well, there’s nothing new or particularly impressive in this supplement. You’re basically paying for the convenience of having some basic substances combined for you into one handy capsule.
There’s nothing wrong with paying for convenience, but given the cost of this supplement and the suggested dose, you’re looking at paying almost $70 a month for a nothing special supplement.
If you find that it works for you and you want to keep on taking it and have plenty of spare cash then you’re good to go.
However, if you like the supplement, but don’t like the price, then you can save a nice chunk of change by picking up a digital scale and an encapsulating kit and making your own capsules using bulk powders.
You should also bear in mind that the quantities of some substances used in Alpha brain are much lower than the doses known to have any beneficial effects.
Examine.com advises caution when using L-Tyrosine and L-Leucine together.
Results Of The Clinical Trial
Alpha Brain is one of the few nootropic blends with a clinical trial supporting its efficacy and the promoters of the supplement regularly point to this benefit.
The results of the Boston University trial on Alpha Brain were published in 2015 in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology. From what I can gather Boston University didn’t conduct the trial, they evaluated the data provided to them.
Initially the results look promising, with Alpha Brain producing a,
“12% greater improvement in verbal recall over placebo and a 21% faster completion time in executive function assessment compared to baseline.”
63 participants were recruited for the trial and split into 2 groups. All participant received a placebo for the first 2 weeks. At the end of this two week period no significant differences were found in cognitive function between groups.
Subsequently the participants received either Alpha Brain or a placebo for 6 weeks. At the end of this period participants underwent testing and statistically relevant results were recorded.
What does a 12% improvement over placebo in verbal recall mean?
The test used here is the California Verbal Learning Test. In the test participants are a read a list of 16 nouns and asked to repeat the words back. The test is repeated 5 times with small variations.
At the beginning of the trial the mean score of both groups on the test was just over 11, and at the end of the 6 weeks the placebo group had a mean score of just under 11.5, while the Alpha brain had a mean score of about 12.7.
The study has been criticized for the evaluation methods used to determine whether the differences between groups were statistically significant. Apparently for the ANOVA analysis used, the group size needed to validate the small difference in the results between groups as being significant would have needed to be 800, not 63.
Another thing to keep in mind is that “significant” has a different meaning in research than it does in general use. In normal conversation significant implies that something is important, or that something is large. For example if investigators receive a significant piece of information, or if someone loses a significant amount of weight.
In research findings however, significant simply means that the results are unlikely to be due to chance. There are millions of research papers that show a significant difference between certain substances compared to placebo, but the research in the end amounted to nothing because the significant statistical difference didn’t mean that a substance was actually effective.
Some experts have called for the removal of the term because of the way that it is used to mislead the public. If you hear someone touting the significant benefits of Alpha Brain discovered in the study, then they either don’t know what significant means or they do know and they’re assuming that you don’t.
Another issue with the study is the lack of baseline nutrient measures. For a supplement that is providing choline and vitamin B6 this would have been helpful information to have.
As things stand we have no way to know whether the small beneficial effects of the supplement were because of improved vitamin B6 levels.
You may think that’s being overly picky, but really it isn’t because a substantial percentage of the population have insufficient levels of vitamin B6, with many more being mildly affected. So if you take a supplement containing B6 which corrects that deficiency, then the effects seen in the study could be down to that one factor alone. Particularly as B6 is known to be important for cognitive function.
According to a study conducted by researchers at Tufts University around 25% of the population across all groups have insufficient vitamin B6 levels. This means having less than 20 nmol/L. Three quarters of women who report using oral contraceptives are low on vitamin B6.
As the supplement contains 11 different ingredients, it’s just impossible to say if it’s one ingredient that makes the difference, or if it is indeed the synergistic action of all of them.
Alpha Brain User Experiences
Users tend to fall into 2 camps. Those who love the supplement and those who think it’s snake oil taking advantage of a huge and mostly credulous (trusting) Joe Rogan fan base.
I think snake oil may be too harsh a criticism as the ingredients used are legitimate even if some of them seem to be too low to be effective. Vitamin B6 is certainly effective, even though Alpha Brain is a very expensive way of getting a dose.
While snake oil probably isn’t an appropriate assessment, it could be said that the claims made for the supplement are a touch on the ambitious side.
The supplement certainly generated some heated discussions on the nootropics subreddit and the Joe Rogan subreddit, as well as on a variety of other forums.
Those defending the supplement don’t usually have much to say about the supplement, rather they defend the personality behind the supplement.
Let’s look at a sampling of users reviews – good and bad. Keep in mind that it’s common practice for manufactures in all categories to give out freebies in exchange for flattering reviews, and it’s also fairly common for competitors to post negative reviews. That’s not to say that the following reviews haven’t been left by genuine people.
“I love it, I take 2 b4 bed and have wicked lucid dreams and wake up super focused and ready to go.”
“I bought this two weeks ago, first had headache for a couple of days but after that no problems helped my moods and focus, Definitely working for me.”
“I am a big believer in Onnit products especially the alpha brain. I usually have to write everything down and put in several reminders in my phone to be able to remember the simplest tasks. Since taking alpha brain I have noticed a huge difference.”
“I’m a father of three and small business owner. Mentally I’m always being pulled in multiple directions at one time. Alpha brain helps a lot! Mostly I feel like I’m well rested when I’m not, my vision is great. I’m just mentally quick with this product no matter what’s happening.”
“I’m a software engineer and this product helps my brain remain effective all day. It even helps me to be motivated on working on more things around the house after a long day.”
“Took it for the first time yesterday and it definitely works like it says. It’s nice because it doesn’t make you feel jittery. I’m just amazed it actually can make you attentive without caffeine lol.”
“I bought this stuff thanks to joe rogan and i’m a sceptic. after the first dose I was feeling ON POINT & FULL of energy. I was rushing around getting it done son, but not in a illicit drug style or over hyperactive state just sharp and clear.”
“Unfortunately, all this did was give me a headache.”
“I started about 3/4 weeks ago and have noticed no difference.”
“Bought for me and my wife. We both have been taking them and haven’t noticed any difference.”
“Memory was the same, focus was the same, everything was the same. I’ve done a lot of reading prior to and post purchasing. Was skeptical but decided to give it a go.”
“I bought this product hoping for help with memory and to give me energy, but it didn’t work for me.”
“Bottom line, no benefit. I don’t see any changes. Unhappy.”
“Genius marketing and incredible website sold me on it but the product did not deliver. Been taking it for a week and I’m very disappointed, all this did was give me multiple unpleasant dreams that were slightly easier to recall.”
“I heard amazing things about this product by fitness gurus and of course the owners. They all claim the effect would be noticed very quickly. I took this product as directed and saw NOTHING. Very disappointed and frustrated I wasted my $$.”
“No perceptible change in anything, if there’s any improvement it’s too small to be noticeable. Don’t waste your money on this, just sleep an extra hour or two for free.”
Does Alpha Brain Work?
It really is impossible to say. As with all nootropic supplements, everybody will have a different experience because no two people have the same health status and resulting brain chemistry.
As you can see from the reviews above, some people claim it’s a great product, others claim that it does nothing for them.
If Alpha Brain appeals to you, then the best thing to do is purchase the entry level size from the Alpha Brain website – not a 3rd party site where the money back guarantee doesn’t apply – and see how you get on with it.
If you don’t feel that it lives up to its promise, be sure to take advantage of the guarantee and get a refund.
Alternatively, you could start with a vitamin B6 supplement and see if that gives you any cognitive benefits, or pick and choose from the other ingredients listed.
One common report that users post is that the results of Alpha brain are no better than using caffeine. However, Alpha Brain is supposed to give you the benefits of caffeine without the downsides. If caffeine leaves you jittery, makes your heart race, or leaves you feeling wiped out once it’s out of your system, you might find that Alpha Brain is worth your money.
It may be that Alpha brain is more beneficial to you if you are currently following an unhealthy lifestyle – poor quality diet, lots of stress, poor sleep, etc.
Those with a fairly clean diet and no sleep or stress issues shouldn’t expect vast improvements.
Vegans may also notice better results with Alpha Brain as they could be low in choline, as plant sources contain less choline than common animal products like eggs.
One egg contains 146 mg of choline while the most choline rich vegetable – collard greens – contains 72 mg in one cup. If you eat 2 eggs for breakfast, you’ll be doing fine on the choline front. Eggs are also a fantastic protein source and they come with beneficial fats and other nutrients. Foods are always preferable over supplements.
Safety Of Alpha Brain
There are no general safety concerns with the supplement, however pregnant women should not take Alpha Brain.
If you are taking any medications, then you should check with your doctor before taking this or any nootropic supplement, as some substances can interact with certain drugs.
Some users report side effects from taking Alpha Brain, these include headaches, nausea, jaw pain, and nightmares.
Compared to some of the nootropic supplement available Alpha Brain appears to be very safe and gives no cause for concern.
How Much Does Alpha Brain Cost?
This supplement isn’t cheap. Purchasing their entry level 30 count supplement (which is the only size that the money back guarantee applies to) costs $34.95. A serving size is two capsules, so that 30 count bottle gives you a 15 day supply.
You’re paying for convenience because none of the ingredients are new or special. You could DIY the blend for a lot less. Less than 7 bucks a month compared to $70 ready made.
For those new to nootropics, it’s probably worth the expense to get a ready made formula, but if you’re competent at measuring out powders, then you’ll save a ton by going down the DIY route.
Alpha Brains Money Back Guarantee
The guarantee offered by Onnit Labs is a strong selling point. Everyone loves a no quibble money back guarantee don’t they?
A money back guarantee is a standard offering these days, but Onnit go a step further and let you keep the product which saves you the hassle and expense of returning it to them – it also saves them the hassle and expense of processing your return and disposing of it.
One point to note is they tell you not to ask for a refund if you’ve had the product for less than two weeks?
Why is that? Right on the main page they have a big bold notice announcing that “Research suggests that Alpha Brain works the first time you take it.”
If that’s true, why do you need to wait for two weeks to get a refund if you don’t notice any benefits? Seems like a bait and switch.
Alpha Brain contains basic ingredients, yet charges a high price.
It appears that the supplement became popular thanks to some effective marketing targeting the several million strong fan base supporting Joe Rogan, and to the fans of MMA fighting.
The clinical study backing up the product isn’t particularly reassuring, and the results obtained showed very, very small improvements.
User reviews are mixed but that isn’t unusual for nootropic supplements.
You can buy the product from the Alpha Brain website risk free, and for new nootropic users or for those who value convenience, it may seem worth a trial run.
Does it live up to the bold claims on the website? Are you playing at a disadvantage by not taking Alpha Brain?
Your guess is as good as mine I’m afraid. The very nature of nootropic supplements means that most of the claims made are untested in any clinical way or have limited studies showing vague results. At least this one has some research, even if it is less than impressive.
Bear in mind too, that as long as supplements don’t claim to cure any diseases, then the manufactures can pretty much say what they like – no one is policing the claims.
Bottom line – You’ll have to try Alpha Brain for yourself. It’s not going to hurt you, and it might give a boost even if it is a placebo effect.