So Onnit is probably the most popular brand in the nootropics space. The company started in 2010 with the release of its flagship product, Alpha Brain. Then it went heavy on endorsements from the likes of UFC commentator Joe Rogan and NFL Linebacker Brian Cushing.
I had my hopes contained for Alpha Brain because they were such a big name in the nootropics space. Once brands get big, they start to get overhyped and overpriced. It’s like when someone tells you that a new release was the best movie they’ve ever seen. Then you go see it only to be disappointed because your expectations are set so high. So with my hope and hype contained, I was fairly impressed with Alpha Brain.
The following post is my personal review of Onnit’s Alpha Brain as well as a discussion of some of the ingredients in their nootropic stack.
Before proceeding, here’s something I want to say about nootropic reviews—my experience may not be the same as your experience. The variance in our genetic makeup and how in tune we are with minute changes in the body makes all the difference when taking nootropics. All-in-all, there are too many variables to have a review apply to everyone across the board. However, I hope this review will shed light on the product and what it is capable of doing.
Ingredients in Alpha Brain
The following is a compilation of the ingredients in Alpha Brain and what clinical trials have shown.
Vitamin B6 (as Pyridoxine HCL): Probably the most important of the B vitamins from a nootropic perspective. B6 is involved in synthesizing many neurotransmitters important to cognitive function, including acetycholine, dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine. It also synthesizes melatonin, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle.
L-tyrosine: An amino acid known to aid in preserving cognitive function. Human studies show that this amino acid can reduce stress and heighten cognition during periods when the body is experiencing acute stress, such as high altitudes or cold weather. Some studies have shown that working memory is preserved during high stress periods.
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L-theanine: L-theanine is a pretty well-known ingredient found in tea leaf. It is an amino acid that is used in the nootropic community to calm the body and negate many of the negative effects of caffeine and many other stimulants. In addition to its calming effects, it has been known to increase attention. Clinical trials showed that combining 200mg of l-theanine and 200mg of caffeine gave participants a greater cognitive boost than taking each alone.
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Oat (straw) Extract: Also known as avena sativa, this herb has been used for over 3,000 years for its healing properties. Two studies (here and here) showed that extract significantly improved attention and focus of older adults. In 2015, another study showed that avena sativa also improved cognitive performance of younger adults.
Phosphatidylserine: This is a popular ingredient inside many pre-made nootropic stacks. You can also find phosphatidylserine in Axon Labs’ Nexus stack. Phosphatidylserine is a fatty acid and amino acid that helps comprise cell membranes. It’s also one of the fundamental building blocks of brain cells and extremely vital to its health. It has also been shown to improve brain functioning, memory retention, and information processing speed.
Cat’s Claw (bark) Extract: Also known as AC-11 or uncaria tomentosa, cat’s claw a woody vine native to the Amazon rainforest and other parts of South/Central America. It has been used for centuries to effectively treat a plethora of ailments, stemming from arthritis to stomach ulcers. Cat’s claw has many antioxidant properties, which is one of the reasons why it is so popular among the life-extension community. It has been gaining a lot of popularity within the nootropic community lately because of its potential ability to protect DNA from damage that often leads to cognitive decline. Cat’s claw has not been studied for its cognitive benefits in human trials but have shown efficacy in rats.
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L-alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine: Also known as Alpha-GPC, is a phospholipid form of choline derived from soy lecithin. Choline is extremely popular in many pre-made and homemade nootropic stacks for its known ability to increase cognition in healthy adults (seen in studies rodents), decrease rate of cognitive decline (in human studies), and reduce headaches that is caused by side effects of certain pharmaceuticals and supplements. This is a very popular element in many stacks because many nootropics tend to drain choline from the body and cause many unwanted side effects, such as headaches.
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Bacopa Extract: Also known as bacopa monnieri, is a plant commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine. In human trials, it has been shown to increase memory and attention in healthy adults and those experiencing cognitive decline and also those suffering from ADHD. There are also two human studies that show reduced anxiety in adults taking bacopa.
Huperzia Serrata Extract: This compound is derived from herbs of the hyperziceae family and is famously known as an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor, which means it stops acetycholine from breaking down, thereby resulting in an increase of acetycholine in the brain. This is important because acetycholine is famously known as the “learning neurotransmitter”, allowing for more effective learning. In rat studies, huperzia serrata seems to promote neurogenesis, the process of nerve cell growth and development.
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L-Leucine: This compound is one of three branched chain amino acids (BCAA) and is popular among the weight-training community for its ability to build and maintain muscle mass. Because this amino acid is not produced by the body, you must consume it via supplementation or through foods (such as soybeans). Although human trials have been sparse, studies in rodents showed that l-leucine improved physical energy and lean muscle mass.
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Vinpocetine: This synthetic alkaloid from the periwinkle plant is popular both in the nootropic and life-extension communities for its ability to protect from cognitive decline and prevent premature aging. In human trials, it has been shown to increase memory formation in females, increase cognitive functionality in the elderly and cognitively injured, increase speech performance in healthy adults, and increase overall cognitive well-being.
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Pterostilbene: Pterostilbene is an antioxidant with structural similarity to resveratrol, a content in wine known for protecting the heart, reducing blood pressure, and increasing insulin sensitivity. Low doses of pterostilbene seem to hold some benefits to cognition because of its neuroprotective properties.
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Order and Delivery
The checkout process was fairly straight forward and easy. When ordering, the site will automatically create an account and temporary password for you. You use that account to track your order. I ordered Alpha Brain at night and it shipped the next morning. It took about 3 working days to get to my doorstep which is faster than I expected.
The product itself is listed as $34.95 on the website. But that’s before shipping and handling charges, which was 4.83 for me. But you can get a $6.99 discount if you choose the recurring order option in which Onnit automatically ships Alpha Brain to you every 30, 60, or 90 days. I chose the 90 day option. Even if you choose the recurring option, you can cancel anytime before the order recurs. So if you find that after a week of using it that Alpha Brain just doesn’t do it for you, you can log into your account and cancel the recurring order. My order came out to around $32 with the coupon code.
Overall the order and delivery process was fairly straight-forward and easy.
Cost of Alpha Brain (With Discount)
Alpha Brain’s total price was just under $40 for 15 days worth of supplies. However, Onnit offers a $6.99 discount with their recurring order. So total price came down to be around $33 for your initial order.
$40 for 15 days worth of supplies is a little on the expensive side if you are calculating the cost per serving. On a per serving basis, Alpha Brain costs around $2.65 per serving ($40 divided by 15 servings). Rise from Nootrobox is $49 for 30 servings. Nexus from Axon labs is $55 for 30 servings. So both Rise and Nexus come out to be under $2 per serving. Thus, from a cost per serving perspective, Alpha Brain is the most expensive. But if we are talking from a checkout price point of view, Alpha Brain is the cheapest out of the three, coming in at under $40. So Alpha Brain would be a good nootropic to buy if you want to test out.
Alpha Brain is built to help you in three distinct areas; focus, flow, and fuel. I will talk about each area separately.
Alpha Brain worked well for focus. But like many other pre-made nootropic stacks, the effects are different than that of pharmaceuticals and psychostimulants. When taking prescription drugs or stimulants, you definitely get a sense that there are dramatic changes going on in the brain. You know something is definitely happening chemically inside your head; you just feel different. But the effects of Alpha Brain (and most other nootropic stacks) are much more subtle.
I didn’t find myself writing or studying for 10 straight hours without a break when I took Alpha Brain. Instead what I found was that it was much easier to stay on track and focus on one thing at a time. And although I did get distracted at times, it was much easier to get back on track. I made sure to take breaks every 1 to 2 hours when taking Alpha Brain or else I would started getting distracted. The point is that Alpha Brain won’t turn you into some genius or give the mental energy to focus all day without breaks. It aided me in getting stuff done but it did not do the work for me. I still needed to be organized and put myself in an environment conducive for productivity. After all Alpha Brain isn’t a super drug, it’s just suppose to supplement my focusing efforts.
Onnit’s flagship nootropic blend did a good job of enabling me to focus better without my mind wandering. Although it is a focus aid, I still have to do most of the legwork by setting up a productive environment. It’s not like Ritalin. If I feel disinterested in the work I’m doing on a certain day and my phone is right next to my desk, then I will find myself focusing on Facebook instead of getting actual work done. So here’s my advice for getting the most focus out of Alpha Brain:
- Get a good night’s sleep
- Take it right before your peak productivity hours, which for most people is the late morning
- Leave your phone and other distractions out of your sight
I did find myself in a flow mode a couple of times while taking Alpha Brain. But don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a daily thing. Flow doesn’t come easily if you do not like what you are doing or what you are doing is not challenging enough. So if you want to get into flow mode, get rid of distractions, enjoy what you are doing, and make sure it is difficult enough to engage you mentally.
Although I was in flow mode, I can’t really verify that it is easier to get into flow with Alpha Brain or not. However, it didn’t impede on my ability to get into flow mode.
For best result, take the blend with food, especially a fat source. Bacopa monniera, one of the primary ingredients in Alpha Brain, works especially well with a fat source.
This Onnit blend definitely holds my energy well. If I take it in the middle of the day, I can find myself working without fatigue until 7 or 8 pm. The energy provided by Alpha Brain is not stimulatory (like coffee) in nature. Instead, it’s more of a constant alertness. While stimulants disturbed my sleep, Alpha Brain did not. If I did need a nap, I was able to take one easily without issue. Keep in mind that Onnit’s nootropic blend is only a supportive supplement; I once took Alpha Brain on 3 hours of sleep—it did not give me any extra boost in energy. So don’t use it as your primary fuel source if you lack sleep, it won’t work.
Alpha Brain Clinical Trials
One thing that Onnit has done that many other nootropic companies do not is published their own clinical trials showing the efficacy of their nootropic. Onnit had two studies showing the effectiveness of Alpha Brain. The two studies showed findings of improvement in verbal memory, processing speed, and peak Alpha brain waves (flow state). If you are interested in reading the clinical trials, go here.
Does Alpha Brain Disrupt Sleep?
Alpha Brain does not disturb my sleep at all. In fact, Alpha Brain can be taken 4 to 5 hours prior to sleep to promote deeper sleep. Remember, vitamin B6 synthesizes melatonin, which helps promote an improved sleep-wake cycle. Personally, I don’t use it to get into deep sleep. I use it in the morning to promote improved focus. When taking Alpha Brain, I have absolutely no trouble napping during the day or sleeping at night. Remember, Alpha Brain is not a stimulant so it should not decrease your sleep quality in the slightest bit.
Overall, I was impressed with Alpha Brain. I have ADHD and have taken Ritalin for it in the past. But I hate the side effects of it. Since then I have been trying to find substitutes for Ritalin to aid me in paying attention and getting work done. Although Alpha Brain is not a prescription drug I feel that it is a viable alternative if you are willing to set the right conditions and contain your expectations.
With many nootropics, it is important to try it for a week or two because taking it only once won’t give you a sufficient answers as to its effectiveness. The longer I took it, the better it worked for me. This may be because some of these ingredients take time to build up in the body in order to work effectively. In fact, clinical trials involving Alpha Brain showed that the improvements in verbal recall score coincided with the amount of days the participants have taken Alpha Brain—so the longer they took it, the more their score improved.
If you find that Alpha Brain’s effects are a bit too dull for you, try supplementing Alpha Brain with higher doses of Alpha-GPC (choline). You can also take extra bacopa monnieri to supplement the amount already included in Alpha Brain. After playing with the dosages of Alpha-GPC and bacopa monnieri, you can try adding dosages of other ingredients included in the blend to see if it makes a difference. Again, the results of nootropic blends vary highly in individuals.
My most productive days on Alpha Brain were the days that I woke up with a set schedule and set my phone in a different room. This makes Alpha Brain work much better by setting myself up for success. I treated Alpha Brain like any other product that promotes focus; I had to get in the correct frame of mind to focus on the right things. If you are able to concentrate on your work, Alpha Brain will work much better for you.