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 side 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 side effects, drug interactions, and how to take Alpha Brain to limit side effect risks. Please post your questions and your own experiences with Onnit Alpha Brain in the comments section at the end.
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 Alpha Brain 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.
Compared to the likes of Mind Lab Pro, Neuriva and VyvaMind, Alpha Brain does look incredibly dated.
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 Alpha Brain 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 negative side effects!
Here is the Alpha Brain 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 Alpha Brain 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 side effects.
We also know from clinical trials that some of the ingredients in Alpha Brain can cause serious side effects when taken in large doses or for long periods of time.
Below are some of the side effects you might experience when taking Alpha Brain. If you have experienced any side effects of 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 Alpha Brain’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 side 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. There is no other way to avoid Huperzine A side effects; you have to just stop taking 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. Alpha-GPC does not necessarily cause headaches whereas Huperzine A will if taken for prolonged periods or in large enough doses.
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 side effect 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 Alpha Brain. Again, this side effect 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 Alpha Brain, 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 side effect of Alpha Brain. 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 the ingredients in Alpha Brain. 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, Alpha Brain explicitly claims to 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 Alpha Brain 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 side effects.
Last but not least, we come to insomnia or sleeplessness. Alpha Brain doesn’t contain any stimulants, and there isn’t anything in the formula designed to keepo you awake or increase energy levels. However, some people have found that taking Alpha Brain keeps them awake at night and prevents them from feeling sleepy. It isn’t clear which ingredient in Alpha Brain is responsible for causing insomnia, but something clearly acts to prevent people from falling asleep at night.
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 side effects. 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 side 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 have not found common, serious side effects 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.
Onnit Alpha Brain contains some totally useless ingredients. All these substances do is increase the risk of you experiencing side 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 side effects. 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.