[UPDATE]: July, 2016. There is an updated analysis of Alpha Brain in light of their research and the passage of time. You can find this Alpha Brain analysis here.
Alpha Brain is one of the most famous nootropic blends that sparked debate and controversy in many communities. Produced by Onnit Labs since 2010, Alpha Brain has been featured in a variety of media outlets including the Joe Rogan Experience. Many nootropics users question the validity, price, and efficacy of Alpha Brain for cognitive enhancement, but few provide a full analysis of their complaints, biases, and / or compliments.
In this Alpha Brain review, we will discuss every conceivable aspect of this nootropic blend in order to help you determine whether it is worthwhile for purchase. Our perspective is unique because Pure Nootropics is itself a nootropics company, but we do not actively sell a similar blend of products.
Before diving in to what is a very long read and analysis, we will first provide our conclusion:
Alpha Brain can be an effective tool for improving cognitive abilities in some individuals, but like most nootropics is highly individualized. The synergy between vinpocetine, huperzia serrata, and 100 mg of alpha GPC is definitely effective for improving cholinergic functioning, but more noticeably for those lacking choline-rich diets.
While some ingredients (such as bacopa monniera) are not provided in high enough doses, others (like L-theanine) can provide useful psychoactive and cognitive effects. There seem to be relatively few Alpha Brain side effects, but this is highly dependent upon the individual.
Recent Alpha Brain studies show promise, but also raise certain questions about efficacy. Finally, the cost may be prohibitive for some, but finding the ingredients and putting them all together is a lot of time and effort that Onnit Labs saves with their product. Price is always a function of the market so there is obviously demand at the current price point.
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Does Alpha Brain Work?
Anyone searching for an Alpha Brain review would be interested to know whether the nootropic blend “works”. Of course, as anyone in the nootropics community will tell you: it depends. There are many factors that will influence whether Alpha Brain works for you.
People that maintain a diet consisting primarily of fruits, large volumes of vegetables, healthy fats, and protein will probably consume enough choline that reduces the effects of Alpha Brain. Getting adequate sleep, exercising, and general healthy lifestyle habits will also make the cognitive enhancement of Alpha Brain less effective. This does not mean that you will not see any advantages of using Alpha Brain if you maintain these practices, but the likelihood that it will be life changing is slim.
For those who are too busy with familial, professional, or educational responsibilities to maintain healthy eating, sleeping, and lifestyle habits, Alpha Brain can be incredibly effective. Many people overlook the 10 mg of B6, which can be an effective nutrient for 20 – 40% of the population. While the source of the B6 is unknown, assuming it is a somewhat bioavailable source, it can be helpful if absent from diet.
The benefits of Alpha Brain are manifold, but they come in varying magnitudes and combinations depending on the individual.
For example, 200 mg of L-theanine is an effective dose with this amino acid. Research shows that L-theanine can cross the blood-brain barrier relatively easily and has the potential to increase brain dopamine and possibly serotonin. Several studies using EEG showed that lower doses of L-theanine improved alpha brain wave levels, which is associated with relaxation.
There are also a plethora of studies about L-theanine’s efficacy for improving mental energy and alertness. The same EEG study concluded that L-theanine “…has a significant effect on the general state of mental alertness or arousal…alpha activity is known to play an important role in critical aspects of attention…” Other studies on kids with ADD showed that L-theanine improved sleep quality and improved attention the next day.
On the memory side, there can be substantial Alpha Brain benefits as well. Vegetarians or individuals who have low choline will benefit even more as they may be deficient. Dietary choline is the precursor for acetylcholine, which has a number of functions, but does help memory function as well.
Alpha Brain works through two methods to improve acetylcholine in the brain; the first is to provide raw choline through alpha GPC, which is arguably the best choline source (definitely top 2). The second step is providing acetylcholinerase inhibitors (through huperzia serrata), which do not allow acetylcholine to be degraded.
The enhanced acetylcholine can also improve the lucidity (control) and vivid nature of dreams. In theory, the huperzine and alpha GPC causes the intense vivid nature of dreams. Perusing internet forums and communities like Reddit yields much discussion about Alpha Brain’s potency for lucid dreaming. The overall attitude seems to be of awe and surprise at the efficacy, but some recount “terrifying nightmares”. Considering scientists know little about dreams, each individual will probably have a different experience.
What’s the Hype?
Despite adequate doses of many ingredients, there are plenty of weak points. The most glaring is the use of bacopa monniera, which is one of the most effective Ayurvedic compounds found on the Indian subcontinent. As a fat soluble nootropic, it is interesting that Onnit does not recommend taking Alpha Brain with a fat source of some sort. On an empty stomach, bacopa monniera would not be well absorbed. Furthermore, the 100 mg dose is far too small to provide any real results.
While there is plenty of evidence suggestion bacopa improves cognition, the amount and administration makes a significant difference. For anyone particularly thrilled with Alpha Brain due to the bacopa, it might be a better idea to supplement with straight bacopa monniera instead.
Another ingredient with questionable psychoactive effects is AC-11, which is a patented extract of Cat’s claw (uncaria tomentosa). It is impossible to know whether AC-11 has the correct amount of carboxyl alkyl esters to be effective. There is very little research indicating that the extract is anything more than an antioxidant one might get from eating blueberries or dark chocolate.
Is it Safe? Alpha Brain Side Effects
Any time one alters brain chemistry, a fair bit of skepticism can go a long way. Most custom blended nootropics are rather tame compared to experimental compounds like dihexa or sunifram. Some individuals dominant in acetylcholine may have headaches or pressure around their jaw due to the excess neurotransmitter. As mentioned earlier, there are a few cases where dreams become too vivid for comfort.
The current formulation of Alpha Brain uses mostly ingredients that are recognized as safe by the FDA. Combined, there is no way of knowing whether effects can be magnified or become dangerous. However, an overview of each ingredient and the dose can help one understand potential Alpha Brain side effects.
- B6 (10 mg) – This is just a nutrient. No reason to believe it is bad, though no telling how much is bioavailable.
- Alpha GPC (100 mg) – This is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) by the FDA. Toxicity shows it is a very safe ingredient.
- Huperzia serrata (40 mg) – The active ingredient is Huperzine A, which is discussed with some caution. Assuming 1% huperzine A, the 40 mg of huperzia serrata is about 400 mcg, which can be double the recommended dosage. This high dosage is probably to blame for the vivid dreams and may be the only thing to watch out for.
- Vinpocetine (5 mg) – At 5 mg, vinpocetine is not a dangerous ingredient. It is half the recommended dose, but when combined with other nootropics, it is probably as much as one needs. People with low blood pressure may want to be careful with vinpocetine, but again it is at a low dosage.
- AC-11 (350 mg) – Seems quite safe though studies are lacking. At a glance, it has antioxidant properties, which are typically (though not always) useful.
- Phosphatidylserine (50 mg) – Well researched and relatively safe ingredient at a low dose. Not much to worry about.
- Bacopa (100 mg) – Used for centuries. Safe with plenty of research.
- Pterostilbene (750 mcg) – This is a relatively new compound with a dosage that exceeds that of a 250 pound person. Given the lack of research and high dose, it is interesting, though probably not threatening.
- L-tyrosine (300 mg) – Well researched and dosed low, so there is little to worry about.
- L-theanine (200 mg) – Incredibly safe ingredient with a lot of research. Nothing to worry about.
- Oat straw (100 mg) – Mostly a filler. Nothing to worry about.
In general, Alpha Brain should be recognized as safe, but it will always vary depending on the individual. Much respect must go to Onnit Labs for providing the formula for anyone interested in the exact doses and ingredients.
Most of the supplement and nootropic industry does not do this to the detriment of users and the community. Onnit has been more than forthcoming about the ingredients while trying to balance the business aspects of a unique blend.
Cost Review of Alpha Brain
No matter how good a nootropic is, price is always a main factor. People want something for nothing and complaints about Onnit and Alpha Brain abound. For a month’s supply it would require buying two bottles totaling $59.41 (taking two capsules per day). Expensive? Yes. But here are a few things to think about.
1. Onnit’s money back guarantee – Pure Nootropics derived the money back guarantee from Onnit Labs. They are one of the first and only nootropic / supplement companies that provides such a feature. If you try it and find out that it doesn’t work, just return it. It’s a major company with plenty of influential people backing it; they aren’t going out of business anytime soon and they will not scam you. Worst case scenario you try something out and it doesn’t help, but doesn’t cost you anything.
2. Assembling the ingredients is a pain – There are some diehard nootropic fans that will buy each individual ingredient and try every new research compound. For people that do not know where to buy safe bulk nootropics and don’t have the patience to take them all together, Alpha Brain is priced for convenience. If you are looking for cognitive enhancement, there is a good chance you don’t want to be spending all your day filling capsules or taking poor tasting drinks. Most likely you want to be better in the gym, work harder on your business, etc.
3. Nobody is forcing you to purchase – Onnit Labs, Aubrey Marcus, and Joe Rogan are not trying to force you to buy anything. They want you to, but you can vote whether it is too expensive with your wallet. Just don’t buy. Why get offended at the price if you perceive it is “outrageous”?
Alpha Brain Interactions with Other Nootropics
While Alpha Brain is full of different ingredients, adding other nootropics in a “stack” can be an effective method of using the supplement. Pure Nootropics may be biased, but racetam products work particularly well with Alpha Brain. Studies of piracetam show that choline exponentially improves cognitive enhancement. Racetams typically increase utilization and uptake of acetylcholine into certain regions of the brain (such as the hippocampus).
Alpha Brain works primarily on the cholinergic system through alpha GPC choline and a high dose of Huperzia serrata. By enhancing acetylcholine with Alpha Brain, one can get a full effect by taking piracetam or other analogues. Anecdotally, nootropics users have found great use with phenylpiracetam and pramiracetam as well.
Adding many nootropics together should always be done with caution. While Alpha Brain utilizes many ingredients, it is recognized as safe. Combining it with other racetams may have differing effects.
Alpha Brain Studies
Unlike most other nootropic companies, Onnit has spent considerable resources testing Alpha Brain. While only a pilot study is currently available, the evidence is promising in a number of cognitive categories. Nonetheless, trained scientists / researchers and doctors have made interesting points about the drug and efficacy studies.
One particularly poignant point came from a (unverified) MD and (soon) PhD in oncology. Essentially, one complaint focuses on the 19 neuropsychological tests, which did not require much to be considered significant. Second, he argued that significant differences between groups was used rather than between baseline and intervention. An Onnit representative’s response can be found here and the doctor’s final word here.
Discrepancies in the Onnit study are evident, but hopefully the feedback from professionals will help improve the larger studies of Alpha Brain products. Considering no other supplement company is testing in such a way, it is refreshing to see engagement from Onnit and the nootropic / scientific communities.
Personal Experiences – My Alpha Brain Review
Personal opinions and experiences matter little in the scheme of things. From a scientific perspective, it is not as encompassing as the studies done in a lab setting. Nonetheless, no Alpha Brain review would be complete without adequate information about personal experiences and usage.
Given my diet and other lifestyle factors, I was skeptical whether Alpha Brain could help improve cognitive enhancement too much. Just analyzing the ingredients was enough to tell me that it was nothing really special. When I started to use the Alpha Brain, I was a bit shocked by the marked difference. The primary enhancement came with mood, which was greatly enhanced after using Alpha Brain.
I never took Alpha Brain late enough to recount vivid dreams, but other Alpha Brain reviews and anecdotes indicate it is a frequent occurrence. The mood improvement alone was useful enough to recommend the product for anyone looking for a simple and convenient way of improving cognition. While I may not always have the spare cash to purchase the nootropics, those that are capable should do so for sure. With a money back guarantee there is no reason not to.
 It is impossible to accurately detect whether you have adequate or low choline. However, knowledgeable scientists / doctors have developed tests to find out. Use the Braverman test to see whether you are dominant or deficient in choline, which could help you review Alpha Brain for yourself.
 Whether the “dARKsURGEON” on Reddit is an actual MD or PhD is unverified. His argument does make sense and seems to point towards some glaring faults with the preliminary study. While I would always err on the side of caution, it is definitely not definitive proof that Alpha Brain is an effective cognitive enhancer. I believe Aubrey Marcus and Joe Rogan will try to address them if noticed.
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