Alpha Brain is, hands down, one of the most popular nootropics on the market. Alpha Brain was Onnit’s first product to come to market, and despite them branching out into a wide range of supplements, it remains their best-selling and best-known product.
While it is rarely listed among the best nootropics anymore, Onnit Alpha Brain and Alpha Brain Instant are both still used by thousands of people around the world on a daily basis. With the launch of Alpha Brain Black Label, Onnit is only going to become more nootropic-centric as a brand.
However, a lot of people today question Alpha Brain’s safety. Rightly so too. Alpha Brain uses proprietary blends, which means we have no idea how much of any one ingredient is actually in each serving. Some Alpha Brain ingredients are capable of causing quite severe side effects if taken in large doses, so the lack of dosing information is a real issue.
More worryingly, more than one professional, impartial Alpha Brain review has mentioned adverse effects as a major problem with the nootropic.
In this article, we’re going to look at Alpha Brain’s side effect risks and see how they compare to the nootropic’s potential benefits. We’ll look at all negative effects, drug interactions, and how to take the nootropic safely. Please post your questions and your own experiences with Onnit Alpha Brain in the comments section at the end.
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Alpha Brain is not the most dangerous nootropic on the market, but it is highly likely to cause at least some side effects. The use of Huperzine A in particular makes side effects almost inevitable after several weeks of daily use, and that is exactly how we want to take nootropics for maximum effect!
So for those of you looking for some long-term cognitive enhancement and daily brain health support, we strongly recommend trying Nooceptin.
Nooceptin offers a broader range of benefits than Alpha Brain but without any of the side effect risks and without the use of low quality proprietary blends. It also produces deep, lasting changes in the brain which enhance cognition for long after you stop taking it; something Alpha Brain cannot claim.
What is Alpha Brain?
Alpha Brain is a natural nootropic brain supplement made by Onnit and released in its original form in 2011.
Onnit have barely changed the formula since its initial launch. This is partly why average review ratings for the nootropic have been steadily declining; as new nootropic stacks have come onto the market offering significantly more potent ingredients, better formulations and better value for money, Alpha Brain has looked like a worse and worse proposition.
Alpha Brain is sold as a complete, all-in-one nootropic for memory, focus and brain performance. It claims to enhance practically ever cognitive function, including learning, mood, working memory, processing speeds, stress responses and anxiety levels.
Interestingly, Onnit also claim that this nootropic stack promotes Alpha Brain waves which are said to help you enter a hyper-concentrated ‘flow state’.
All of this sounds really exciting. So how does Alpha Brain hope to do all of this? Let’s take a quick look at the ingredients.
What is in Alpha Brain?
Before we really get into the side effects Alpha Brain may cause, we need to take a look at the active ingredients in this nootropic. After all, it is the ingredients in Alpha Brain that will cause harmful effects!
Here is the ingredients list as it is currently shown on the Onnit website:
Here is a quick overview of the ingredients and doses in Alpha Brain:
- Tyrosine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Theanine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Oat Straw – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Phosphatidylserine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Cat’s Claw Extract – 350mg
- Alpha-GPC – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Bacopa monnieri – 100mg
- Toothed Clubmoss Extract – 400mcg
- Leucine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Pterostilbene – DOSE UNKNOWN
It is important to note that this brain supplement uses proprietary blends to hide certain ingredient doses. That’s why so many of the ingredients are listed as “dose unknown”. This is a serious problem as far as safety is concerned. If we don’t know precise sering sizes, or even rough serving sizes, we can’t tell if a nootropic is going to cause side effects or not!
There’s really no good reason for Alpha Brain to use proprietary blends. We know the ideal doses for every single ingredient in Alpha Brain. There is nothing to hide apart from low dosing and formula stuffing!
Considering each Alpha Brain blend contains obvious filler ingredients (cheap substances used to bulk out formulas), we think this is likely happening.
But we’re not here to talk about how effective the formula is; we’re here to talk about side effects and health risks. Is Alpha Brain safe to take?
Side Effects: Is Alpha Brain Safe?
Although it is a 100% natural nootropic supplement, Alpha Brain is capable of causing side effects in some users. There have been several reports from users who took Alpha Brain and experienced significant adverse reactions.
We also know from clinical trials that some of the ingredients in Alpha Brain can cause serious problems when taken in large doses or for long periods of time.
Here is a list of the main side effects of Alpha Brain ingredients as reported by scientific studies:
- Brain fog
- Difficulty focusing
- Short-term memory loss
- Stomach cramps
Below is a more detailed look at some of the negative effects you might experience when taking Alpha Brain. If you have experienced any adverse reactions to Alpha Brain, please let us know in the comments section at the end.
Headache is probably the single most common Alpha Brain side effect. The reason for this is the stack’s use of Alpha-GPC and Huperzine A. Huperzine A causes a steady buildup of acetylcholine in the brain by stopping it from being broken down. Alpha-GPC promotes the creation of acetylcholine. While more acetylcholine is good for cognitive function, there is such a thing as too much. Very high acetylcholine levels at your neurons will almost ‘clog them up’ and cause a range of negative secondary effects, including headaches.
Because Huperzine A prevents the brain from controlling acetylcholine levels, it will ineviably cause headaches unless you take a break from the substance from time to time. There is no other way to avoid Huperzine A side effects; you have to cycle it! Huperzine A is the real driver of headaches, but Alpha-GPC does compound the problem and make the likelihood of headaches much higher. It also makes their severity much greater when they do happen. Alpha-GPC does not necessarily cause headaches whereas Huperzine A will if taken for prolonged periods or in large enough doses. Certain nootropics need cycling and this is one of them.
After headaches, the next most commonly reported side effect from Alpha Brain is brain fog. The reason people get brain fog from Alpha Brain is the same reason it can cause headaches – too much acetylcholine! Acetylcholine is the brain’s main executive neurotransmitter, responsible for speech, muscle contraction, information processing, and more.
Nootropics like Alpha Brain seek to boost acetylcholine, but excessive amounts of acetylcholine can swamp your receptors and effectively clog up your neurons. By stacking Alpha-GPC and Huperzine A, Alpha Brain dramatically increases the risk that you will experience brain fog as a side effect. To avoid this, you need to cycle Huperzine A every couple of weeks, and after 2-3 cycles take a prolonged break.
Confusion is another potential side effect of Onnit Alpha Brain. While this side effect appears to be rare, a number of different users have reported feeling confused after taking Alpha Brain. The cause of this is likely to be, once again, Huperzine A. While infrequent use of this ingredient should actually enhance cognitive function and promote mental clarity, using it for porlonged periods of time causes a steady buildup of acetylcholine in the brain which can impair cognitive function if it becomes excessive. This buildup of acetylcholine is compounded by Alpha Bran’s use of Alpha-GPC, which promotes acetylcholine production (but unlike Huperzine A doesn’t prevent it from being broken down).
A small number of people have also reported feeling confused or cognitively impaired after taking Bacopa monnieri, which is another ingredient in this formula. Again, this is rare, and it is typically quite mild when it does occur. But there are anecdotal reports of people taking Bacopa monnieri and feeling transient confusion as well as short-term memory loss and general brain fog. If you experience this side effect while using this stack, we recommend stopping immediately and testing nootropic ingredients individually to see what is or isn’t safe for you.
Nausea is likely to be quite a common issue reported by Alpha Brain users. We can’t find many reports of users complaining of gastric distress or nausea while taking Alpha Brain, but we have seen plenty of reports of people feeling nauseous after taking some of its ingredients. The main culprit here will be Bacopa monnieri. This nootropic is usually very well tolerated and side effect free, but in a very small number of cases, it can cause digestive problems. In one clinical trial, researchers noted a small number of participants complained of nausea, bloating and stomach cramps while taking Bacopa monnieri.
Alpha Brain contains a number of herbal extracts, not all of which actually promote cognitive performance. Taking a handful of unsuual herbal extracts is always going to pose the risk of giving you nausea, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and constipation. Since some of these ingredients don’t actually help you in any way, we have to ask, are these risks reasonable? We think not!
Anxiety & Depression
Does Alpha Brain cause anxiety? Might it make depression worse? These are two very good questions. A number of people have asked these and similar questions on nootropics forums. We think the reasons for this are twofold. First, Alpha Brain is closely associated with alpha brain waves, and these brain waves are supposedly linked to both mood and stress levels. Secondly, Onnit explicitly claim that their nootropic can help reduce anxiety levels and help with depression; quite often, anti-anxiety nootropics can backfire and make the problem worse!
One of our biggest issues with this formula is that none of the ingredients have ever been shown to effectively reduce anxiety. Oat Straw is the big anxiolytic in this formula, and it has never been found to significantly reduce stress or anxiety levels in clinical trials. On the contrary; consuming oat straw might actually make anxiety and low mood worse in some people, particularly those already struggling with these issues. The theanine and cholinergics in Alpha Brain are also capable of causing jitters and anxiety in some people, so watch out for these complications.
Will Alpha Brain keep you awake? This is a common question we see asked on nootropics forums, and it seems many people experience sleeplessness while taking Alpha Brain.
Alpha Brain doesn’t contain any stimulants, and there isn’t anything in the formula designed to keep you awake or increase energy levels. However, some people have found that taking it keeps them awake at night and prevents them from feeling sleepy. It isn’t clear which ingredient is responsible for causing insomnia, but something clearly acts to prevent people from falling asleep at night. Our advice is to try Alpha Brain and, if you find it keeps you awake, simply stop taking it and your sleeping patterns should return to normal.
Alpha Brain Adverse Effect FAQs
Here are some of the most commonly asked questions about the health and safety risks associated with Alpha Brain, as well as the best ways to avoid Alpha Brain secondary effcts. If yiou have any other specific questions about the safety of Alpha Brain, please post them in the comments section at the end.
What time of day should you take Alpha Brain?
It is best to take Alpha Brain first thing in the morning, ideally as soon as you walk into work. Taking Alpha Brain at the start of the working day will mean you get maximum benefits while avoiding some of the worst secondary effects, such as insomnia. The most effective ingredients in Alpha Brain work almost right away and only last for 2-6 hours. So you really want to be taking Alpha Brain just before you need your brain to start performing at a higher capacity.
Can I take Alpha Brain on an empty stomach?
It is advisable to take Alpha Brain with or just after a light meal. Alpha Brain is known to cause nausea and stomach cramps when taken on an empty stomach. It is therefore best to take the nootropic with some food and a glass of water to mitigate this common side effect.
Can I take Alpha Brain every day?
No, it is not a good idea to take Alpha Brain every day for long periods of time. You can safely take Alpha Brain daily for up to 2 weeks, but then you need to take at least a week off to let Huperzine A leave your system and for your acetylcholine levels to return to an acceptable, safe baseline. Failing to cycle Alpha Brain like this will mean side effects including headaches, confusion and brain fog are inevitable.
Does Alpha Brain have caffeine?
No Alpha Brain does not contain any caffeine. It doesn’t actually contain any stimulants whatsoever. Although many people ask if Alpha Brain is like Adderall, the answer is a firm no! It has no stimulatory effects on the CNS whatsoever. That said, some of the ingredients in Alpha Brain may cause insomnia.
Does Alpha Brain affect sleep?
Alpha Brain may affect sleep in some users. While the popular nootropic from Onnit is said to reduce stress, lower anxiety levels and boost alpha brain waves, it does not necessarily aid with restful sleep. In fact, some users have found that Alpha Brain keeps them awake at night, either by preventing them from feeling sleepy or by causing gastric distress which keeps them awake.
Conclusion: What are the side effects of Alpha Brain? Is it worth the risks?
Alpha Brain is generally safe to take. So long as you’re taking it occassionally and you’re following Onnit’s usage guidelines, then you are probably not going to experience any serious side effects from Alpha Brain.
All of the ingredients in Alpha Brain have been tested in clinical trials using human subjects. While we quesiton the efficacy of many of them, they have all been deemed safe for regular human consumption. Clinical trials do not note any serious adverse reactions from any of Alpha Brain’s ingredients.
However, that does not mean Alpha Brain is 100% safe.
A small but significant number of people have reported experiencing a range of Alpha Brain side effects, including heartburn, headaches, dizziness, skin rashes, nausea, stomach cramps, diarrhea, insomnia, and brain fog.
Some of the nootropics in this stack can also have adverse drug interactions. This is particularly true of Huperzine A and medication designed to treat Alzheimer’s Disease or dementia.
Onnit Alpha Brain contains some totally useless ingredients. All these substances do is increase the risk of you experiencing issues and negative secondary effects. With this in mind, we cannot possibly recommend Alpha Brain to any of our readers, both on grounds of safety and efficacy. That is to say nothing of value for money!
Just because a nootropic is “100% natural” does not mean it cannot cause problems. It may also cause long-term health effects. That’s why it is important to do your research carefully, monitor yourself when using nootropics, and only use brain supplements recommended by experts.
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.