Our Nutritionist Kate Harrison takes a look at a popular nootropic supplement in this Alpha Brain review – read on to find out how it fared.
It can be hard to keep it together, firing on all cylinders all the time. Many of us live busy, stressful lives. Modern life is hectic and cognitively draining. It can be hard to maintain the level of focus and cognitive control we would like.
This is where nootropics come into it. They are amongst the most popular supplements in the world, with a fast-growing industry flourishing around them. There are plenty out there, many of them fantastic, some of them far from effective.
So, where does Alpha Brain sit in this pantheon? Is it fantastic or is it a waste of money? We recently had the chance to try some out. The results were very promising, and we reveal all in our full Alpha Brain review…
Alpha Brain Explained
Alpha Brain is a leading nootropic supplement. Nootropics include ingredients, compounds, and often natural ingredients that are thought to improve cognitive function. Many people call them ‘smart drugs’ because of these cognitive benefits.
They aren’t drugs as you may think of them, however. They are available to buy over the counter, without prescription. No medicine is involved – as above, all ingredients are natural. This is certainly the case with Alpha Brain.
However, nootropics can still be potent. Many people use them in the same way an ADD sufferer might use something like Adderall.
Recent studies have proven their efficacy, with improved executive function coming about after just a few weeks’ use (executive function refers to a range of mental and cognitive skills, including the likes of self-control, flexibility of thinking, memory, and so on).
Alpha Brain, made by supplement company Onnit, is a blend of the herb Cat’s Claw and three proprietary supplements which all come together to boost executive function and raise awareness and energy levels.
These supplements are:
- Onnit’s Flow Blend
- Onnit’s Focus Blend
- Onnit’s Fuel Blend
Together, they boost serotonin and dopamine response, increase naturally occurring acetylcholine levels, and help to facilitate improved cellular communication.
Benefits Of Alpha Brain
The main benefits of Alpha Brain are the same you would expect of any good quality nootropic style supplement. In short, it will improve your attention, focus, and cognitive power by optimizing neural communication and promoting cellular integrity.
You will experience increased dopamine and serotonin levels whilst taking Alpha Brain. These are crucial hormones related to brain function. Dopamine is the ‘reward’ chemical – when we do something good, like eating good food, exercising, having sex, and so on, our dopamine levels spike. Meanwhile, serotonin aids certain cognitive functions like memory and recall.
Boosting both will leave you happier and more energetic, clearer headed, with greater cognitive function.
It will also increase acetylcholine within the brain. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter – it is involved in the communication between your muscles and your nervous system. Every action you perform will involve a series of complex messages from your brain to your extremities. Acetylcholine will ultimately be responsible for sending these messages. It is also responsible for carrying messages within the brain.
Cognitive speed and ability, and full body reactions, will therefore be at their best when acetylcholine levels are optimised. Together with the increased dopamine and serotonin, you will find yourself with greater clarity and focus, whilst all tasks will be easier and clearer.
Alpha Brain Ingredients
Alpha Brain elicits these benefits through a very good ingredients list, made up of the kinds of things commonly found in most decent nootropics.
Firstly, we have l-tyrosine and l-theanine, which make it into plenty of these kinds of supplements. They help to increase levels of serotonin and dopamine in the body. They are also often found in weight loss supplements to ease the brain fog commonly associated with calorie deficits, and to offset the effects of low blood sugar as they regulate healthy serotonin and dopamine production.
Then there is oat straw extract, another usual suspect in the nootropic world. It is a natural supplement used in plenty of traditional medicine forms to improve blood flow to the brain. This is more profound than it may sound. The blood is the brain’s oxygen source; without it, our brains would be functioning far below par. With it, we can optimize our brains’ functionality.
As above, Alpha Brain works in large part by helping to increase production of acetylcholine. This aids communication within your brain, and between your brain and the rest of your body. This increase is largely down to a combination of Alpha GPC (not often found in any but top tier nootropics), bacopa, and phosphatidylserine (phosphatidylserine is so far the only nootropic which the FDA recognises for improving cognitive function.)
Alpha Brain also helps you to retain higher levels of acetylcholine. It does this by including huperzia serrata, a compound which inhibits the production of a catalyst known as an acetylcholinesterase. Acetylcholinesterase breaks down the acetylcholine in our bodies; limiting it therefore increases the amount of acetylcholine we have available.
However, the science starts to get a bit murky from here. Acetylcholine doesn’t float uselessly around the body waiting to be broken down. It stays intact when it attaches to the synaptic cleft in the postsynaptic membrane, meaning that when it’s needed, it stays around. We may also need acetylcholinesterase to help us recycle and reuse acetylcholine.
Alpha Brain also uses pterostilbene and l-leucine in their fuel blend, a replacement for the compound known as resveratrol and an amino acid, respectively. There is no science to back any link between either and improved cognition, memory, or focus (though each can bring several unrelated benefits.)
How To Use/Take Alpha Brain
You only need two capsules per day. However, each capsule will only last you around 4 hours, so you will need to either spread these out through the day, or double dose each day (I would recommend the former).
There are no direct side effects listed on the website, though user reviews indicate otherwise (more on this below). However, for the most part, you can safely take two capsules per day for several weeks at a time with minimal side effects and no risk.
You get 45 servings per bottle, for a total of 90 capsules. This actually works out quite expensively when you break it down into doses. A single bottle of Alpha Brain will set you back around $80 if you don’t find any sales or multi-buy offers. That means you’re spending $1.77 per day if you dose according to Onnit’s suggestions.
If it really works for you, that may be a small price to pay, but it’s one worth bearing in mind going into it.
There are no real long term benefits to taking Alpha Brain – all their active ingredients elicit short term, acute responses. Therefore, during the 4 hour window in which your body is processing each capsule, you will find your cognitive health improving. Outside of it, you will receive no benefits at all, nor will you when you stop taking them (though this is common for any stimulation style supplement, food or drink – a cup of coffee will only give you short term results.)
Using Alpha Brain
Using Alpha Brain on a regular basis will lead to enhanced focus and concentration, improved memory function, faster reaction times, and likely a reduction in stress and anxiety levels. In fact, Alpha Brain bills itself as promoting a ‘flow state’ focus where everything becomes a little less effortful for much better results.
Alpha Brain is also meant to be a once-daily nootropic. I would argue against this. As above, you will get about four hours out of it. If you are setting yourself up for an intense burst of work, training, or creativity session, this is fine. If you’re looking at a more day-long effect to get you through a working day, I would split the dose and take one 3-4 hours after the first.
I tried both. The latter approach was far better in my experience. I was able to hit a higher word count than usual (key to being a writer, of course), with far less stress (hitting several thousand words in a go generally has a knock on result to my stress and anxiety levels), with far less coffee (again, a massive plus). The quality of my work improved and the flow I experienced was a genuine delight.
This is all backed up by quite recent research (though some of it is funded by Onnit themselves, so take it with a pinch of salt – I would remain sceptical had I not tried it myself.) For instance, healthy adults aged 18-35 saw improvements in recent verbal memory and executive function compared to control groups whilst taking Alpha Brain.
Alpha Brain is an effective nootropic that delivers on cognitive improvements. We saw memory, concentration and focus all improve when using it over a 4 week period.
There can be some slight side effects. These can be more major in some people, though this is rare. I only experienced mild side effects, and then it was only in the first few days – it was all manageable and struck me as a fair trade off.
The main side effects come from excessive amounts of acetylcholine, brought about purposefully by Alpha Brain through their inclusion of huperzine A and Alpha-GPC. This build up of acetylcholine can lead to headaches, nausea, dizziness, confusion, anxiety, jitters, brain fog, and muscle cramps.
Obviously, we are trying to reduce anxiety levels and brain fog with Alpha Brain, so this can be counter intuitive.
However, these side effects should be short lived. It’s always worth taking a break every few weeks to let acetylcholine levels normalize. If side effects continue, stop taking it and talk to your medical provider, though this should apply to very, very few people.
- Improved mood
- Improved mental clarity, memory and recall
- Faster cognition with far less mental fatigue
- Decreased stress and anxiety symptoms
- There are some ingredients that seem out of place and unnecessary
- It’s on the pricey side for a simple, quite low dose formula
- Benefits are short lived
- A lot of the evidence comes from company insiders or sponsored trials, whilst many competitors have third party sources
Alpha Brain FAQs
Does it work?
Yes, Alpha Brain works well for most people. It does what it claims, improving cognitive and executive function whilst diminishing the effects of stress and anxiety.
Is it really formulated for cognitive function?
Yes, it is. The inclusion of l-tyrosine, l-theanine, and oat straw extract alone should lead to improved cognitive function. The science behind nootropics is young, but personal experience and other user testimony indicate it works.
Does it have stimulants?
No, there are no stimulants in Alpha Brain. A lot of its competitors use compounds like caffeine, green tea extract, green coffee extract, and guarana for an energy kick. Alpha Brain focuses solely on brain support.
Is it safe?
There are some side effects associated with Alpha Brain. However, they are mild and short lived in most people.
Can the three compounds in Alpha Brain be taken separately?
There seems to be no way of purchasing them individually. However, you can take them separately, and you can buy most of the constituent supplements individually from other sources. Best results are achieved by taking the full Alpha Brain stack, however.
Does Joe Rogan own Alpha Brain?
Joe Rogan is linked to Alpha Brain. As he is known largely for promoting conspiracy theories and going light on science, this can be concerning. However, he doesn’t own Alpha Brain. He is simply a majority shareholder in Onnit, its producer. Aubrey Marcus is the owner.
Cognitive health is no small thing – it’s a cornerstone of who you are, an indicator or broader health concerns, and the key to happiness and success. It is worth investing in if you find the right supplement.
Though its noticeable long term benefits are short lived, Alpha Brain’s short term, acute benefits are fantastic. They will allow you to function at your best when you need to. The ingredients included are largely solid, well-researched, and common to this kind of nootropic. There are, of course, alternatives out there. However, Alpha Brain is a serious contender – it sits towards the top of the market, and that’s saying a lot.
It really will positively augment your life if you take it.
Written by Kate Harrison
Kate is one of our nutrition experts at PathMed and is also one of our in-house writers. There is little that gets past Kate when it comes to nutrition and she has a wealth of experience when it comes to fat loss and supplementation around losing weight. She is thorough in her research and is a real advocate for living a healthy lifestyle.