Alpha Brain is one of the world’s best-selling nootropics. Released by Onnit back in 2011, Alpha Brain was one of the first brain supplements to hit the mass market. Since then it has gone on to become arguably the best-known nootropic in existence. It is also one of the top rated nootropics in the world according to professional nootropics review sites.
According to Onnit, Alpha Brain can sharpen focus, improve memory function, and reduce stress and anxiety. They claim that it can put you into a ‘flow state’ of intense concentration and mental performance, all while supporting long-term brain health. To achieve this, Onnit claim to have combined state of the art, clinically proven, 100% natural ingredients into Alpha Brain.
But are Alpha Brain’s ingredients actually that good?
What is in Alpha Brain exactly?
Let’s go through the ingredients in Alpha Brain in more detail to see if this popular brain supplement can really deliver on its promises.
What is Alpha Brain?
Alpha Brain is a comprehensive, once-daily nootropic supplement made by Onnit. According to the official website – and its many celebrity endorsers – Alpha Brain can enhance practically every single aspect of cognitive performance and brain health.
Specifically, Onnit Alpha Brain promises to:
- Improve memory
- Enhance focus, concentration and learning
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Improve mood
- Support brain health
As mentioned above, Alpha Brain has a lot of significant celebrity endorsements. Of these, the most notable is probably Joe Rogan. The 5 foot 5 podcast host and amateur comedian credits Alpha Brain with his extremely sharp intellect and superb memory. Make of that what you will! Those of you who have read our review of Alpha Brain will know that we arne’t exactly convinced by Rogan’s claims, or those of Onnit themselves.
The reason we aren’t convinced is because of Alpha Brain’s formula. So, let’s cut to the chase and take a good look at Alpha Brain’s ingredients.
Alpha Brain Ingredients
What ingredients are in Alpha Brain?
The bulk of the Alpha Brain formula is divided up into three distinct proprietary blends. A proprietary blend is just a term given for when a manufacturer lumps ingredients into groups based on their effects. It has no practical meaning. All it does is allow for the hiding of low doses!
Manufacturers typically only use proprietary blends when they want to hide th efact that the formula is stuffed full of the cheapest ingredients, and low in the more effective (and thus more expensive) ingredients.They can list a dozen or so fantastic ingredients on the label, while only including a few micrograms of the most expensive ingredients. This allows them to still look like a solid supplement while keeping costs low.
The main blends which make up the Alpha Brain formula are:
- Onnit Flow Blend: The flow blend is designed to put you into a ‘flow state’. This is a kind of intense hyper-focus where you lose perception of time and you are performing right at the edge of your mental capacity. The flow blend supposedly contains ingredients which heighten focus, increase concentration, and promote the production of alpha brain waves.
- Onnit Focus Blend: According to Onnit, the focus blend is a combination of ingredients which increase the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. This neurotransmitter is the main executive neurotransmitter in mamals. It is responsible for working memory function, learning, speech, motor control, and so on. The blend also apparently contains ingredients which make nerve cells (i.e. neurons) better at receiving acetylcholine.
- Onnit Fuel Blend: The Onnit Fuel Blend claims to provide you with a “healthy brain environment”. The blend contains ingredients which clai to protect brain cells from damage, and others which help the body synthesized protein. How that is of benefit in a nootropic is not clear to us, but there we are!
We will now go through the main active ingredients in Alpha Brain and explain what they do, how they work, and what the scientific evidence has to say. We will then talk briefly about the formula as a whole and the safety of Alpha Brain’s ingredients.
B6 is one of the most important B vitamins. It is also one of the most commonly occurring in nature; B6 is found in a huge variety of foods, from peanuts and oats to pork and eggs. B6 is vital for the metabolism of energy from food. It is also crucial for the synthesis of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. This is why B6 is an ingredient in so many nootropics. The 10mg we get in Alpha Brain is plenty.
L-Tyrosine is one of the few ingredients in Alpha Brain with real, proven nootropic effects. Tyrosine is a fundamental building block of the neurotransmitter dopamine. This is the neurotransmitter responsible for motivational behavior; it is dopamine that keeps you focused on a task and drives you to finish it. Studies show that Tyrosine supplementation improves mental performance during times of peak stress, such as sleep deprivation and extreme cold.
Theanine is an amino acid found in great abundance in black tea. It is known to have a noticeable calming effect when used in large doses. Theanine is particularly effective when used in conjunction with caffeine, as it decreases the stimulant’s side effects while amplifying its beneficial effects. But theanine does have nootropic properties of its own; taking theanine reduces mental and physical tension and heightens focus. Unfortunately, we have no idea how much of this ingredient we get in Alpha Brain. Doses below 150mg are practically pointless, and we are unlikely to get more than that in Alpha Brain!
Oat straw extract
Oat straw is said to have anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties. For a long time it has been used as a relaxant and sleep aid. However, there is no hard evidence that oat straw extract ctually works to reduce anxiety and tension, and there’s no proof that improves sleep quality either. All of the “evidence” backing up its use as a supplement relies on hearsay and the claims of “traditional medicine”. No clinical trials show it being an effective anxiolytic, contrary to what Onnit claim about Alpha Brain’s ingredients.
Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in large quantities in the human brain, where it is used to create new brain cell membranes and to signal that old brain cells are dying. Unfortunately, phosphatidylserine levels sgtart to decline as we age. Studies have associated this decline with impaired cognitive performance in old age. Supplementing with phosphatidylserine has been shown to reliably improve focus, memory and mental clarity in young and older people alike.
Sadly, we have no idea how much phosphatidylserine we get in Alpha Brain. It could easily be less than the minimum recommended dose of 100mg. In fact, given the total blend size, we think it is highly unlikely that Alpha Brain provides enough phosphatiylserine for you to see benefits, which is a shame since it is such a potent nootropic ingredient.
Cat’s claw extract
The Onnit Alpha Brain ingredients page doesn’t give us a lot of detail about what cat’s claw actually does or how it works. All we are told is that “Cat’s Claw is known to promote cellular integrity.” Indeed, this vine from the Amazon is often said to do various vague things beneficial to health and performance. The trouble is, there’s no hard, scientific evidence that it can actually do any of these things. There is no clinical proof that cat’s claw has any nootropic benefits at all.
Alpha-GPC is an extremely potent nootropic. It is a fast-acting and reliable cognitive enhancer. Alpha-GPC works by increasing choline availability in the brain. This leads to an increase in the synthesis of two important neurochemicals; acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine. Acetylcholine is the most important executive neurotransmitter in the brain, responsible for everything from short-term memory formation to speech. Phosphatidylcholine is a vital component of brain cell membranes.
Studies show that Alpha-GPC consumption lads to rapid increases in focus, concentration, and learnin capacity. However, this is only true o doses above about 250mg. Alpha Brain simply cannot contain this much of this ingredient.
Bacopa monnieri extract
Bacopa monnieri is one of our favorite nootropic ingredients. Every good, comprehenive brain supplement needs to contain some Bacopa monnieri. This herb works in several different ways at once.
There is good evidence to suggest that Bacopa monnieri works as an adaptogen, impoving the body’s resistance and response to stress. But we think there is even stronger evidence suggesting that bacopa monnieri works first and foremost by stimulating the growth of neuron dendrites. This would explain why so many studies have found that Bacopa monnieri supplementation improves memory function, particularly in older adults with mild cognitive impairment and memory loss.
But once again, it is unlikely that Alpha Brain contains even a fraction of the Bacopa monnieri we need to take in order to see significant improvements in memory function. Alpha Brain uses a basic form of Bacopa monnieri as an ingredient, with no stated Bacoside (active ingredient) content. We also don’t see how there could be enough Bacopa monnieri in Alpha Brai given the total blend size. Taking less than 200mg of Bacopa monnieri is only effectie when using a very high quality, high bacoside extract.
Huperzia serrata extract
Huperzine serrata is a unique natual source of compound called Huperzine A, which is known to inhibit an enzyme in the brain called acetylcholinesterase. As the name suggests, acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme responsible for breaking down acetylcholine in the brain. As discussed above, acetylcholine is the main executive neurotransmitter in the human brain. By inhibiting the enzyme which breaks it down, Huperzine A causes a rapid build up of acetylcholine in the brain, which enhances ever aspect of cognitive performance in a very short space of time.
However, there is an issue with using Huperzine A in nootropic stacks like Alpha Brain. By removing the brain’s ability to get rid of excess acetylcholine, Huperzine A eventuall causes side effects as acetylcholine starts ‘clogging up’ your neurons. Because Alpha Brain uses this ingredient, you must take breaks from the nootropic every couple of weeks.
Leucine is one of the most common amino acids in the human diet. If you’re eating a food high in protein, it almost certainly contains some Leucine. You most probably eat grams upon grams of leucine every single day. Leucine is important for protein synthesis, and it acts as a kind of anabolic trigger for muscle growth. But it has absolutely no nootropic properties whatsoever. Consuming a few dozen milligrams of leucine is not going to even register with your body. This is a pointless Alpha Brain ingredient included purely as filler (so Onnit can skimp on the pterostilbene).
Pterostilbene is a synthetic derivative of resveratrol. It is often said to be much more potent than resveratrol, as well as more bioavailable. However, we’re skeptical about the benefits of using pterostilbene over naturally occurring anti-oxidants like resveratrol. In any case, there are much more effective antioxidants to use in a nootropic. The best nootropics available today use Maritime Pine Bark Extract, which is rich in anti-oxidants and promotes cerebral blood flow.
Is Alpha Brain Safe?
The ingredients in Alpha Brain are unlikely to cause side effects if you take them infrequently for limited periods of time. All of the Onnit Alpha Brain ingredients have been tested in clinical trials on humans. All of them have been deemed generally safe for human consumption. Most of the ingredients are used in other nootropics on the market today, and none are thought to pose serious health and safety risks.
However, you will almost definitely experience side effects from Alpha Brain if you use it daily for prolonged periods of time. This is because Alpha Brain contains Huperzine A.
As explained above in the main Alpha Brain ingredients section, Huperzine A causes a rapid buildup of acetylcholine in the brain. While this is beneficial for cognition in the short-term, if left unchecked too much acetylcholine starts to impair cognition as it ‘clogs up’ your neuronal pathways.
The side effects of taking Alpha Brain every day for prolonged periods will include headaches, confusion, loss of focus, lethargy, low mood, slower reaction times, and muscle cramps. To avoi these side effects, you need to take breaks from Alpha Brain every couple of weeks.
Conclusion: Are Alpha Brain’s Ingredients Any Good?
It’s really surprising to see how popular Alpha Brain is given the nootropic’s ingredients and doses. There is really nothing exciting about this brain supplement at all. The ingredients in Alpha Brain are broadly good, but all of the best ingredients are dosed too low, the ingredient quality i squestionable, and there are several bogus substance in the formula.
Alpha Brain contains two ingredients which increase acetylcholine: Huperzine A and Alpha-GPC. These ingredients together cause a rapid increase in acetylcholine which can actually impair cognition and cause side effects if left unchecked. This means you must take a break from Alpha Brain every couple of weeks. This isn’t ideal for a daily nootropic!
Several ingredients in Alpha Brain do nothing. Cat’s Claw, Oat Straw, and Leucine are all completely useless. They have no place in a nootropic. Why they were chosen as ingredients for Alpha Brain is beyond us!
Then there’s ingredient quality. Alpha Brain uses basic forms of the most important ingredients and doses them far too low for you to expect optimal benefits. This is a real shame. if they were dosed properly, many of the ingredients in Alpha Brain could dramatically improve focus, learning and memory.
So in terms of the ingredients, there are much better nootropics out there than Alpha Brain. No question about it!