Last updated: January 5, 2017
Developed in 2010, Alpha Brain is one of the most famous nootropics that has grown in popularity over the past few years. While it has been featured in many news media outlets, including the Joe Rogan Experience, the nootropics community has often scrutinized the efficacy of the drug for cognitive enhancement.
In this Alpha Brain review, we will update an original article we composed about the different aspects of this nootropic with a full analysis of the supplement. From this review, we hope to inform your decision to buy Alpha Brain so you can determine whether it is worthwhile for you.
For those who desire a conclusion before diving into a long (and sometimes scientific) analysis, here is an updated version:
Like any nootropic compound, Alpha Brain can be an effective tool for improving cognitive abilities, but is highly individualized. Three particular ingredients, vinpocetine, huperzia serrata, and alpha GPC are all synergistic for improving cholinergic functioning, but this is especially true in individuals who lack choline-rich diets (such as a diet low in eggs).
Some of the ingredients in Alpha Brain are not supplied in a high enough dosage (such as bacopa monnieri), but others are the recommended dose according to scientific literature (such as L-theanine). The ingredients have changed over time, but Alpha Brain side effects seem to be relatively mild and rare. They do depend on the individual, though.
Alpha Brain is one of the few nootropic blends that has clinical trials. A 2015 Boston University study in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology showed significant findings in favor of Alpha Brain including :
- 12% verbal recall improvement (compared to placebo)
- 21% faster completion time (measured by executive function assessment compared to baseline)
- As safe and tolerable as placebo
Finally, even though costs might be prohibitive if you purchase Alpha Brain, Onnit Labs helps save time by putting all the ingredients together for you.
Does Alpha Brain Work?
Most people in the nootropics community consider “does X work?” to be a loaded question. There is so much variation in each person’s brain chemistry, it is hard to say whether Alpha Brain will work or not. It will vary greatly depending on the individual.
Nonetheless, the Alpha Brain clinical trial offers general answers to the question “Does Alpha Brain work?”. Within the Boston University study, scientists found that Alpha Brain was 12% more effective than a placebo for verbal recall (memory). Mental processing speed also increased by 21% compared to baseline.
Imagine what your brain could do with 12% better memory and mental processing that was 21% faster than usual.
Beyond memory and processing speed, a study from the Alzheimer’s Association International Conference showed an increase in alpha brain wave frequency via EEG tests, which is said to reflect a higher state of relaxation and concentration .
Alpha Brain Helps More if You’re Unhealthy
Of course, Alpha Brain is going to provide more of a cognitive advantage in those who do not engage in healthful practices. For example, someone who has a diet comprised of fruit, large volumes of vegetables, healthy fats, and protein paired with adequate sleep and exercise have a lifestyle that is already healthy. This type of lifestyle might render some of the effects less intense or noticeable.
Vitamin B6 – many families in the United States do not consume enough vitamin B6. In fact, 20 – 40% of the population is deficient in this essential nutrient, which is responsible for memory and concentration via a number of pathways in the body. For people deficient in vitamin B6, the Alpha Brain dosage of 10 mg vitamin B6 will assuredly help.
L-Theanine – Alpha Brain has received criticism for having lower than an effective dose for particular nootropic compounds. With L-theanine, there is 200 mg, which is effective according to the scientific literature. This dosage of L-theanine can increase brain dopamine  and serotonin. Several studies of EEGs showed that adequate doses of L-theanine alone can improve alpha brain waves .
Cholinergic Function – Our ancestors used to eat all parts of the animals that they killed. This included the organ meats, such as liver, kidney, and others. These organ meats are avoided in many cuisines today, but they are high in choline, which is the dietary precursor for a brain chemical called acetylcholine. Today, many vegetarians and vegans are sorely deficient in choline as they consume no eggs or dairy products where it is found.
Acetylcholine is imperative for memory formation and Alpha Brain is full of ingredients that improve acetylcholine levels and function within the brain. Alpha GPC is one ingredient that provides raw choline for the brain while huperzia serrata is a acetylcholinerase inhibitor, which prevents the brain neurotransmitter from being degraded. This impacts memory formation and learning in addition to lucid dreams.
The Joe Rogan Experience and other media outlets reference Alpha Brain’s power for vivid, lucid dreaming. Theoretically, this mechanism is probably huperzine and alpha GPC. Online research on the topic shows mixed degrees of success with some recounting “terrible nightmares” at the hands of Alpha Brain. These experiences are most likely rare and unique based on the individual.
What Part of Alpha Brain is Hype?
As we described above, there are many ingredients with adequate doses to improve memory formation, concentration, and relaxation. However, there are ingredients that may be more hype (or are at least questionable within the Alpha Brain product).
Bacopa monnieri is one of the most effective Ayurvedic compounds and is still used in Indian villages with children to this day. Evidence on bacopa monnieri abounds because there are so many people who take the drug and have done so for thousands of years.
Some evidence suggests that bacopa significantly improves cognitive abilities , but it is important to get the correct dosage. Alpha Brain only has 100 mg, which is probably not an effective dose for the positive effects of the drug.
Finally, AC-11 is a patented form of Cat’s claw (uncaria tomentosa), which is too under researched to make any cognitive claims besides antioxidant support similar to that of blueberries or dark chocolate.
Alpha Brain Side Effects – Is it Safe?
No Alpha Brain review would be complete without seriously analyzing the side effects of the compounds. Compared to experimental drugs that nootropic enthusiasts are using within the community, Alpha Brain is very tame.
Some anecdotal reports show headaches and jaw pain, which is probably related to the high amounts of acetylcholine in an individual’s brain. A few experience uncomfortably vivid dreaming as well.
Most of the ingredients of Alpha Brain are generally regarded as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). An overview of each dose and ingredient can help you to understand potential side effects of Alpha Brain.
- Vitamin B6 (10 mg) – As a nutrient, there is no reason to consider it a threat to your health.
- Alpha GPC (100 mg) – The FDA considers this “generally regarded as safe” (GRAS).
- Huperzia serrata (40 mg) – The extract (called Huperzine A) is included in twice as high as the recommended dosage. This assumes 1% huperzine A and if so, this might be the cause of the vivid dreams that haunt some people
- Vinpocetine (5 mg) – vinpocetine is a relatively safe extract and this is half the recommended dosage
- AC-11 (350 mg) – While this seems safe, the scientific literature is lacking (both in favor or against).
- Phosphatidylserine (50 mg) – This ingredient is well-researched and safe at a low dosage. Not much you need to be concerned over.
- Bacopa monnieri (100 mg) – Safe nootropic with lots of research and thousands of years of Ayurvedic support.
- Pterostilbene (750 mcg) – Relatively new compound with a higher than recommended dosage for most people. While there is little research, this is probably not threatening in any way.
- L-tyrosine (300 mg) – This is a low dosage for a well-researched and safe nootropic compound.
- L-theanine (200 mg) – Very safe and well researched
- Oat straw (100 mg) – Essentially, this is a filler for the product so there is nothing to worry about.
Everyone will handle Alpha Brain differently because it will depend on personal brain chemistry. In general, it should be considered a relatively safe nootropic. Onnit Labs created the product with the full formula and exact ingredients. Whether you feel the desire to buy the ingredients and make your own Alpha Brain or not, their gesture is a great example for the nootropics community.
Unfortunately, too many nootropic vendors with unique blends are not as transparent and forthcoming about their ingredients.
How Much Does Alpha Brain Cost?
There are a few different variables that inform whether you buy Alpha Brain online or not. Keep these two considerations in mind:
- Onnit’s money back guarantee – Few companies truly have a no hassle money back guarantee policy. If you get Alpha Brain and it doesn’t really help you or improve cognitive abilities in any way, just send it back and get your money back. That makes it almost risk free.
- Assembling ingredients yourself is a pain – If you have never used a scale to measure and weigh powders (especially the ones that are 10 – 40 mg), you don’t know how much of a time and energy drain it can be. It’s so much easier to just have it done (precisely) for you. A single misstep and you could be taking a dangerous dosage of an ingredient making it yourself.
As you can see, it makes a lot of sense for you to buy Alpha Brain online from Onnit Labs. If you are taking other nootropics as part of a “nootropic stack” it might fit in even better than you expect.
Alpha Brain and Other Nootropic Compounds
Nootropics users often like to create nootropic “stacks”, which are an assortment of ingredients that have synergistic properties and work together to create a desired effect. In the case of Alpha Brain, one of the strong points is improving choline levels in the brain.
This can be paired with piracetam (or any other racetam), which increases the uptake and utilization of acetylcholine in regions of the brain like the hippocampus . Alpha Brain has a relatively solid dose of alpha GPC choline and huperzia serrata, which should enhance acetylcholine levels and help get the full effect from analogues. Some anecdotal reports suggest Alpha Brain with phenylpiracetam or pramiracetam works well.
Editors’ Notes on Alpha Brain
I have a pretty great diet and lifestyle (including exercise, meditation etc), which made me skeptical about whether Alpha Brain was going to make any difference. The ingredients just didn’t jump out at me as being anything out of the ordinary or special.
I wouldn’t say Alpha Brain blew me away or anything, but given my low expectations, I was quite pleasantly surprised. I primarily had mood enhancing experiences with Alpha Brain as opposed to anything else.
I still need to take Alpha Brain closer to bedtime so I can try to experience the vivid dreams, but many other anecdotal reports suggest it is common. Simply for the mood enhancement alone, I would consider Alpha Brain a solid choice even if it is a bit pricey for that particular benefit.
Mansal Denton, Nootropedia Editor
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