Disclaimer: None of the information in this article constitutes medical advice, and is just the opinion of the writer(s). We recommend that patients follow their doctor’s guidance in regard to nootropics.
Alpha Brain is a nootropic supplement manufactured by a company called Onnit. The supplement is made famous by Joe Rogan, who claims Alpha Brain significantly improves his mental state and references the product frequently on his podcast "The Joe Rogan Experience."
In this article we’ll analyze Alpha Brain’s formulation, as well as the two published medical studies on the supplement, to give our take on whether it's actually likely to improve cognition and memory, or if it's a waste of your money.
Alpha Brain contains a large number of active ingredients, so we'll break our ingredient review into four sections based on the four sections of the Supplement Facts label: Flow Blend, Focus Blend, Fuel Blend and other active ingredients.
Flow Blend Ingredient Review
The first ingredient blend in Alpha Brain is called “Flow Blend” and contains four active ingredients at a combined dosage of 650 milligrams (mg).
Onnit claims that amino acid l-theanine is “shown to promote attention and reaction time” which is a surprising claim in our opinion, given that l-theanine is typically used as an anxiolytic (for anxiety reduction).
That claim on their website is not cited, but due to the similar terminology it seems as though the brand is referencing this medical study titled “Effects of l-theanine on attention and reaction time response.” The study found that l-theanine had “no convincing [nootropic] effect” in healthy subjects, and had a nootropic effect on subjects with anxiety.
We consider this to be a potentially effective nootropic ingredient for individuals with anxiety, but a likely ineffective nootropic ingredient for individuals without anxiety.
The second item in this blend is another amino acid, l-tyrosine. This compound has been studied more for nootropic effect than l-theanine, but we consider it likely to be underdosed in Alpha Brain.
Here are three studies suggesting that tyrosine may aid cognitive function, but the lowest dose in any of them is equivalent to around 10,000 mg for an average weight adult. The average ingredient dose in Flow Blend is 162.5 mg, or around 2% of what appears to be an effective nootropic dose.
The third ingredient in the Flow Blend is oat straw extract. A clinical trial published in the Nutrients journal found that 12 weeks of oat straw extract supplementation (at a dosage significantly higher than that in Alpha Brain) caused no cognitive improvement. Two other studies on oat straw extract reported some cognitive improvement, but the subjects already had cognitive decline, and the doses were significantly higher than the average ingredient dose in Flow Blend. We'll consider this a likely underdosed and ineffective ingredient.
The final ingredient in the Flow Blend is phosphatidylserine, which does have some promising research backing in regard to nootropic function. Several studies have found this compound to improve cognition short-term, at dosages of 300 mg and 400 mg respectively. Since the average ingredient dose in Flow Blend is only 162.5 mg, we'll consider this potentially effective but likely underdosed.
We are unable to identify an ingredient in this blend that we would consider effectively dosed for nootropic benefit.
Focus Blend Ingredient Review
Alpha Brain's Focus Blend is the only one of the three blends that discloses individual ingredient doses. Two of the three doses are reported, which allows us to determine the other through subtraction.
There is 100 mg of Alpha GPC in this blend, which we would consider significantly underdosed. As Examine concludes after summarizing medical studies on this compound, “For the usage of alpha-GPC in attenuating symptoms of cognitive decline, almost all studies use a dosage of 1,200 mg daily." That's 12x higher than the dose in Alpha Brain.
Bacopa extract is present in the Focus Blend at the dosage of 100 mg. We would also consider this ingredient underdosed based on available research, which suggests that the minimum effective dose is 300 mg.
The third compound in the Focus Blend is toothed clubmoss extract at a 40 mg dose, standardized to 1% huperzine A (the active chemical compound). This is an effective dose. This study found huperzine A at 0.4 mg to confer cognitive benefits, as did this meta-study.
We consider one of the three ingredients in this blend to be effective for nootropic benefit.
Fuel Blend Ingredient Review
The first ingredient in the Fuel Blend is l-leucine, an animo acid. We have not come across any studies suggesting leucine has nootropic effect; it’s primarily used as a workout enhancer. Regardless, this entire blend has a total dosage of 60 mg, which is quite low. Most studies on leucine have subjects taking thousands of milligrams daily.
Pterostilbene is the only other ingredient in this blend, and like leucine, it's not primarily considered to be a nootropic compound. It’s an analog of resveratrol that’s more bioavailable, but we can't locate any clinical trials proving it has nootropic benefit.
We consider this blend likely ineffective for nootropic benefit.
Other Active Ingredients
There are two active ingredients in Alpha Brain that aren’t included in the blends: cat’s claw extract and Vitamin B6.
Cat’s claw extract is an interesting herb with some preliminary research suggesting it may reduce brain plaque formations. At the given dosage of 350 mg, we believe it's an effective ingredient choice as a preventative measure.
We do not recommend taking added vitamins without documentation of deficiency or a doctor's recommendation. We have not come across any medical studies suggesting that patients with normal Vitamin B6 levels benefit from supplementing with Vitamin B6.
Since this is the last ingredient review section for Alpha Brain (we review the ingredients in Alpha Brain Black Label below), we'll share our overall thoughts.
We're disappointed in this formulation especially considering the price. There are only two ingredients (toothed clubmoss extract and cat's claw extract) that we would consider to be effectively dosed.
We do believe that Alpha Brain may improve short-term cognitive function and memory, since it contains two effectively-dosed ingredients and many other ingredients that are effective nootropics but may be underdosed. We do not recommend the product overall.
Medical Studies on Alpha Brain
There are two published medical studies we could find on Alpha Brain. These studies are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, so we commend Alpha Brain for the investment into legitimate clinical research.
The first clinical trial on Alpha Brain found that the supplement improved various cognitive measures in healthy young adults, such as delayed verbal recall and executive functioning. The second trial reported that Alpha Brain did not benefit performance on mentally-strenuous tasks with a trial population of U.S. army soldiers.
Given that one trial found Alpha Brain to be effective and another found it to be ineffective, we'll consider the supplement potentially effective for nootropic benefit until further research emerges.
Alpha Brain Black Label Review
Onnit sells a premium version of Alpha Brain called Alpha Brain Black Label with a more potent formulation. It retails for $124.95 so we would expect it to be well formulated.
Three of the active ingredients in this formulation are the same as in regular Alpha Brain: phosphatidylserine, l-theanine and toothed club moss.
Alpha Brain Black Label contains velvet bean extract at a dose of 1,000 mg. We cannot find any medical studies suggesting this ingredient is effective for improving brain function, nor does Onnit link to any, so we'll consider it ineffective.
Lion's mane is the next-listed ingredient. A clinical trial found that this mushroom improved cognitive function and reduced mental deterioration caused by dementia at a dose of 800 mg. An animal study found that this ingredient increased the rate of neurons formed in the brain, and improved memory.
The dosage of lion’s mane in Alpha Brain Black Label is 500 mg, so we’ll consider this ingredient potentially effective.
Citicoline is another effective nootropic ingredient, but as we noted in our review of 5 Hour Energy, the minimum effective dose, at least according to the few medical trials we could find on this ingredient, is 500 mg. The dose in Alpha Brain Black Label is 250 mg.
This product contains a strangely low caffeine dose of 25 mg. Even one single cup of coffee contains around 95 mg. We cannot locate any medical research suggesting such a low dose of caffeine has nootropic effects. The lowest nootropic caffeine dose that we could identify in a medical trial is 40 mg, and this dose was found in the linked trial to improve cognitive performance and increase alertness.
Another active ingredient in this formulation is “Lutemax 2020,” which is a patented form of a marigold flower extract. The only clinical studies we can find on this ingredient involve its effects on the skin and eyes rather than the brain. We consider this ingredient ineffective for nootropic benefit.
Alpha Brain Black Label also contains the added sugar sucrose as an inactive ingredient. While there’s almost certainly a small amount of it, we find it strange for a nootropic supplement to include added sugar, given that excessive sugar intake is associated with worse cognitive function in medical research, and given that many consumers in developed countries already consume excess sugar from their diet. We recommend avoiding supplements with added sugar.
Overall we wouldn’t recommend Alpha Brain Black Label, due to the inclusion of added sugar and our belief that several of the ingredients are underdosed.
Joe Rogan Discusses Alpha Brain
Many consumers initially became interested in Alpha Brain because of Joe Rogan. The popular podcast host and media personality is a part-owner of the business and an avid Alpha Brain user. He discusses the effects of the supplement in a popular YouTube clip on Onnit's channel:
Alpha Brain Side Effects
While any consumer can experience side effects from any medication or supplement due to individual biochemistry, we don’t believe Alpha Brain is likely to cause any significant side effects based on its ingredients and their respective dosages.
Even though we don’t recommend any of the brand’s supplements, we don’t consider any of the ingredients unsafe or likely to cause side effects, and the clinical trials funded by Onnit didn't note any serious side effects.
We wouldn’t worry about side effects while taking Alpha Brain, but patients on prescription medication may want to check with their doctor prior to taking the supplement to ensure there’s no risk of interaction with their medications, which can cause side effects.
Alpha Brain Real User Review
One of the most popular reviews of Alpha Brain from a real user comes from a YouTube creator called “Your Inception.” He shares his personal experience using the supplement, provides dosage recommendations and compares it to other nootropic supplements he's used:
Our Recommended Nootropic Supplements
There are herbal supplements which are proven in medical literature to be effective for cognitive enhancement and memory function.
Ginkgo biloba extract is arguably the most well-studied nootropic supplement apart from caffeine. It’s derived from the leaves of a tree native to China, and has been proven to improve memory, cognition and focus in hundreds of published medical research studies.
Ginkgo biloba has not only been shown effective in older adults (the population that most nootropic studies are conducted on), but also in young, healthy adults which is impressive. A medical review published in the Psychopharmacology journal found ginkgo biloba supplementation to improve attention and cognitive performance in healthy, young adults.
Illuminate Labs manufactures a ginkgo biloba extract supplement that's potent (standardized to minimum 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones) and third-party tested to ensure purity and label accuracy.
Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Ginkgo Biloba Extract at this link.
Panax ginseng extract is another well-studied nootropic supplement. A 2013 clinical trial found that ginseng extract supplementation improved memory and short-term cognitive function.
Illuminate Labs manufactures a panax ginseng extract supplement that's potent (standardized to minimum 8% ginsenosides) and third-party tested to ensure purity and label accuracy.
Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Panax Ginseng Extract at this link.
Both Illuminate Labs nootropic supplements referenced in this section cost only $15 on a subscription basis, while an order of one bottle of Alpha Brain costs $79.95.
Alpha Brain Pros and Cons
Here are the pros and cons of Alpha Brain in our opinion.
- Some effective ingredients
- Backed by legitimate medical research
- Many ingredients may be underdosed
- Uses prop blends
- Black Label contains sucrose