Summary: We think the enduring popularity of Alpha Brain must be thanks to Onnit’s amazing marketing team. It is definitely not because the formula is so good. We’re dealing with a couple of proprietary blends with some very suspicious ingredients. We suspect there’s some formula stuffing going on here. Exercise caution.
Alpha Brain Review: Why is this nootropic so popular?
Alpha Brain. This is probably the first nootropic supplement that many of you ever heard of. It was among the first brain supplements to ‘go mainstream’. Before companies like Onnit came onto the scene, nootropics were an underground phenomenon. But thanks to their extensive marketing efforts – and some key celebrity endorsements – Onnit became a massive lifestyle brand, and Alpha Brain became one of the best selling nootropics in the world.
So what does Alpha Brain do exactly?
According to the official Onnit website, Alpha Brain does the following:
- Heightened focus
- Improved memory function
- Brainwave optimization
- Reduces stress
The brainwave optimization stuff is interesting. The Onnit website doesn’t go into too much detail on this, but it seems that Alpha Brain is supposed to be able to promote alpha brain waves. These are linked to a ‘flow state’ – a state of intense mental focus where you are totally engaged in a task.
So how much of this is true? Does Alpha Brain really do all of this? Is it worth the money? Is it safe? Are there better options than Alpha Brain for total cognitive enhancement? See our detailed Alpha Brain review below to find out!
Alpha Brain Ingredients
Let’s dive right into the important stuff. Here is the Alpha Brain ingredients list as displayed on the bottle:
Here is an overview of each ingredient in Alpha Brain. In each case we’ll explain what the ingredient does and how it contributes to better cognitive function (if it does so at all). Please post your questions to the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Supplementing with L-Tyrosine significantly improves mental performance during times of extreme stress and environmental distraction. It is the ultimate nootropic-specific anxiolytic. Successive clinical studies have shown that Tyrosine supplementation leads to improved test performance in people placed in various stressful contexts, including cold exposure, loud noise exposure, sleep deprivation, and excessive multitasking. You do need to take more than about 150mg to see results though.
Theanine is an amino acid found in high concentrations in green tea. It doesn’t really have any nootropic effects of its own. It is a very good sleep aid. It also helps reduce the severity of caffeine’s side effects. But apart from that, it doesn’t have a huge effect on humans. It is a slight relaxant but nowhere near as powerful as ashwagandha or rhodiola rosea.
We aren’t sure why this substance has been added to Alpha Brain. Perhaps Onnit have some anecdotal data for this being a good cognitive enhancer. There isn’t any peer-reviewed, independent clinical data which indicates that oat straw is a good nootropic. As far as we can tell, it does absolutely nothing. This makes sense intuitively – if oat was a performance enhancer, then we’d probably know by now since it makes up a significant portion of the human diet.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid. It is extremely important for normal brain function. It is a primary structural component of brain cell membranes. It is also involved in cell signalling; phosphatidylserine is responsible for signalling to immune cells when a brain cell has reached the end of its life cycle. Phospholipid levels naturally decline over time; supplementation can have profound benefits, including enhanced memory function, greater focus, and a slower rate of cognitive decline.
Cat’s Claw Extract – 350mg
In our opinion, it’s a real shame that this is the only ingredient which Onnit deemed worthy of its own blend. According to our research, Cat’s Claw has never been conclusively shown to have any serious nootropic abilities. We are yet to see a single controlled clinical trial in which Cat’s Claw made a big difference to participant outcomes. Basically, we’ve never seen evidence that it affects cognitive performance, mood, or brain health.
Alpha-GPC rapidly increases acetylcholine availability in the brain. Acetylcholine is arguably the brain’s most important neurotransmitter; it is involved in pretty much every executive brain function, from information processing to working memory formation. Increasing acetylcholine availability is a sure-fire way to boost mental performance across a number of parameters. Alpha-GPC is one of the safest, most reliable cholinergics in existence.
Bacopa monnieri is our favorite natural memory-specific nootropic. Consuming a bacoside-rich bacopa monnieri extract is an excellent way to improve memory function over the long-term. Multiple studies have now proven that daily bacopa monnieri supplementation leads to a dramatic improvement in memory-based test scores. The biggest improvements are usually seen in people with mild cognitive impairment. You need to use a good extract – over 20% bacosides – in doses above 150mg to see real results.
Huperzine A – 400mcg
Huperzine A inhibits the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. As you might be able to guess from its name, this is the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine. With the enzyme no longer able to function, acetylcholine starts to accumulate in the brain, leading to higher cognitive functioning. Onnit have included 400mcg of Huperzine A in Alpha Brain. That is way more than the standard dose of 125mcg seen in most nootropics. You’ll see rapid results with this dose, but the side effect risks are significant (more on that later).
A simple amino acid which offers absolutely no nootropic benefits whatsoever. People regularly consume Leucine in amounts of up to 5g. They do this to promote muscle growth, not to boost focus or improve mood. A potential filler ingredient if we’ve ever seen on!
Vinpocetine – 5mg
Vinpocetine is an all-round cognitive enhancer. It increases blood flow to and within the brain, reduces inflammation, and acts as an antioxidant. Alpha Brain contains 5mg; this may not sound like much, but it is plenty.
This is a kind of enhanced version of resveratrol. Pterostilbene is a potent antioxidant. Protecting your brain cells from oxidative stress is very important if your goal is securing long-term brain functionality. The general wear and tear that your brain cells go through can all add up, causing premature cognitive decline. This is especially true if you drink alcohol, smoke, or are often exposed to environmental pollutants.
Our thoughts on the Alpha Brain formula
As you might expect, we’re far from impressed with the Alpha Brain formula.
For one thing, it lumps some of its ingredients together into a proprietary blend. Manufacturers only ever do this to keep certain facts about their formula from customers, not from competitors. Formula theft does not happen.
The fact that Onnit revealed the serving sizes for some of Alpha Brain’s ingredients makes the hidden ones seem even more suspicious.
Generally speaking, we advise staying well away from proprietary blends. Either the manufacturer is just hiding a poor formula, or they’re cowards afraid of formula theft. Either way, other manufacturers can offer us transparency, so why settle for anything else?
Alpha Brain has specific problems too. With 40mg of the Focus Blend dedicated to Huperzia Serrata, there isn’t enough blend left for optimal doses of both Bacopa monnieri and Alpha-GPC. One must be under-dosed.
Cat’s Claw is totally unproven.
Leucine is not a nootropic. Not even vaguely. It is an amino acid found in most foods. It is often taken by bodybuilders to enhance muscle growth – they typically consume about 5g added to protein shakes. The only reason it could be included here is to act as a filler.
Same with Oat Straw – this stuff has filler written all over it!
All things considered, we really don’t know how Alpha Brain has remained so popular over the years. It has been completely blown out of the water by several nootropics released over the last 5 years.
It is a testament to Onnit’s marketing abilities that Alpha Brain is still such a big seller. Afterall, we now know that Alpha Brain isn’t so popular because of its potency!
Side Effects: Is Alpha Brain safe for long-term use?
Alpha Brain looks like a pretty safe supplement to us. We are dealing with proprietary blends here, so obviously there is a degree of uncertainty to contend with.
Whether or not a supplement is going to cause side effects – and how severe those side effects are – always depends on the serving sizes of the ingredients. We don’t know all of the ingredient doses in Alpha Brain, so we cannot be certain when it comes to side effect risks.
This is a big problem. We will generally avoid any supplement that creates any degree of uncertainty around side effects.
There are so many nootropics out there that offer total formula transparency – why use one that doesn’t?
That said, Alpha Brain does look highly unlikely to cause side effects.
None of the ingredients in Alpha Brain are particularly problematic. They’ve all been extensively studied in human clinical trials. Each one has been found to be perfectly safe for regular, long-term human consumption. All of the ingredients in Alpha Brain are used in other supplements sold around the world. They rarely cause any side effects – even mild problems are uncommon.
However, there is one ingredient which may cause quite serious side effects if you use Alpha Brain improperly. That is Huperzine A.
Alpha Brain contains 400mcg of Huperzine A, which is a very large dose of this nootropic.
Huperzine A shuts off the brain’s ability to get rid of excess acetylcholine. If you use Huperzine A for a long, unbroken period, acetylcholine levels will get too high.
This will cause the following side effects:
- Brain fog
- Muscle cramps
- Loss of focus
- Loss of motivation
These side effects can be avoided by regularly cycling Huperzine A. We recommend taking a 7-10 day break every 2-3 weeks. After you’ve done a couple of cycles back to back, take a prolonged break and evaluate how you found your experience.
If you experience any side effects whatsoever while using Alpha Brain, stop using it and seek medical attention. Talk to the manufacturer directly if you have specific questions about the ingredients.
In conclusion – Is Alpha Brain a good brain supplement?
We advise all of our readers to avoid proprietary blends. There is absolutely no excuse for them in this day and age. When they are still used, it’s usually to cover up a poor formula – low doses, stimulant spiking, etc. We think all proprietary blends represent a poor choice of nootropic.
This applies to Alpha Brain too.
There are some good nootropic substances in Alpha Brain. We don’t doubt that many users will see significant improvements in cognitive function while using it. The Huperzine A alone will drastically increase focus and information processing in a very short space of time.
But there is just too much dead weight in Alpha Brain – too many useless ingredients – for us to use it.
Oat Straw does nothing.
Cat’s Claw is seriously over-hyped and woefully unproven.
The amino acids in Alpha Brain could easily be used to bulk out the formula. Leucine, for example, has no nootropic properties, it is cheap, and side effect free. It is the perfect filler ingredient!
There isn’t enough formula to accommodate for Alpha-GPC and Bacopa monnieri either. To make matters worse, we aren’t told how much of the Bacopa monnieri extract is bacosides.
For us, Alpha Brain just doesn’t cut it. Compared to some of the other brain supplements on sale today, it is weak, bloated, and poorly put together.
If you want total brain optimization, there are far better options out there now.
Alpha Brain might have been revolutionary when it was first launched, but it is not today. Much of its popularity today is down to Onnit’s branding. Alpha Brain is certainly not a leading nootropic because of its merits!