Table of Contents
About Alpha Brain
Onnit Labs of Austin, TX was founded by Aubrey Marcus in July 2011 with the launch of his first product, the nootropic stack Alpha Brain.
The seed of an idea that eventually ended up as Alpha Brain started out as a stack to cure hangovers.
But an extensive brain scan in 2010 put Marcus on a new track. Because the scan showed all four major neurotransmitters were lower than they should be.
Marcus then consulted with his stepmother, Dr. Janet Zand, Doctor of Oriental Medicine. Her background in nutritional supplement formulations helped Aubrey design a nootropic stack to help correct his cognitive issues.
That formula soon became Alpha Brain. With the help of his good friend Joe Rogan and his podcast, word soon spread to the rest of the biohacking community.
Marcus credits 90% of Onnit’s growth and Alpha Brain sales to podcasting. The company has since grown from just Alpha Brain to an Inc. 500 company with hundreds of products.
Onnit Labs is not a nootropic supplement company. Which is evident in their slogan Total Human Optimization and selling everything from nootropic supplements to Kettle Balls to float sessions.
But Alpha Brain is one of the first pre-formulated nootropic stacks on the market. It’s still available online and at local Whole Foods markets and vitamin shops.
Here you’ll learn what’s in this nootropic stack, the benefits each ingredient provides for your brain, pros and cons of this supplement, pricing and links through to buy if you want to try Alpha Brain.
Alpha Brain Ingredients
Onnit Labs marketing tagline for Alpha Brain is it’s made with “earth-grown nutrients”. Likely inspired by Aubrey Marcus’ personal work since age 19 with things like Ayahuasca, San Pedro and others.
Alpha Brain is formulated to primarily boost clarity, focus, and mental speed.
Onnit has chosen to use “proprietary blends” in their Alpha Brain formula. While this may have been standard practice when it was introduced in 2011, it’s no longer an acceptable option. But more on that later in this review.
Alpha Brain is comprised of 3 blends which are intended to support ‘flow’, ‘focus’, and ‘fuel’. Here’s what that looks like …
Onnit Flow Blend™ 650 mg
- L-Tyrosine (dosage unknown) – is a precursor to the synthesis of dopamine.[i] Which enhances working memory, executive function, creative flow states, reduces stress, improves mood and is anti-anxiety.
- Oat Straw extract (dosage unknown) – inhibits monoamine oxidase B (MAO-B) which increases dopamine levels in your brain.[ii] And increases Alpha brain waves which are associated with super-learning, flow states and joy.
- Phosphatidylserine (PS) (dosage unknown) – is a phospholipid located mainly in the internal layer of your brain cell membranes. Studies show PS significantly decreases Beta brain waves which leads to a more relaxed state.[iii]
Onnit Focus Blend™ 240 mg
- Alpha GPC (dosage unknown) – is a precursor to the synthesis of acetylcholine (ACh). Increases in ACh is associated with better learning and memory.[iv]
- Bacopa Monnieri extract (dosage unknown) – The bacosides A and B in Bacopa improves the signaling of electrical impulses between neurons. Leading to better attention, word recall, and focus.[v]
- Huperzine-A 400 mcg – is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor which means it boosts levels of acetylcholine in your brain.[vi] Improving cognition and memory.[vii]
Onnit Fuel Blend™ 65 mg
- L-Leucine (dosage unknown) – as a Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) seems to reduce serotonin uptake in your brain. Less serotonin is associated with less fatigue.[viii]
- Vinpocetine 5 mg – inhibits an enzyme called PDE1 (phosphodiesterase type 1) while reducing calcium levels in brain cells. Which in turn dilates blood vessels and boosting cerebral circulation. Increasing the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to fuel mitochondria.[ix]
- Black Pepper extract (BioPerine®) (dosage unknown and only in Alpha Brain Instant) – inhibits the drug transporter P-glycoprotein, and the drug-metabolizing enzyme CYP3A4 in your liver. Allowing more of each nootropic in this stack to be absorbed and used as intended.[x]
- Pterostilbene (dosage unknown) – increases hippocampus neurogenesis, boosts insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and modulates the receptor kinase pathway which improves learning and memory.[xi]
Cat’s Claw Extract (ac-11®) 350 mg – it’s alkaloid Rhynchophylline is a NMDA receptor antagonist which helps tone down hyperactivity and overstimulation.[xii] And Cat’s Claw extract boosts tryptophan levels which is a precursor to serotonin and should have a positive effect on mood.[xiii]
Alpha Brain – Who it’s for
The premium price for a month supply of Alpha Brain narrows its appeal to working professionals and athletes. Those looking for a quicker response time, better focus, and help with short-term memory.
Not likely a good option for stay at home moms, young students, or the aging brain.
Alpha Brain – The Good
Onnit Labs is not a supplement company in the truest sense but more of a ‘lifestyle’ company. With Alpha Brain being just one of dozens of dietary and nutritional supplements, athletic gear, personal care products, books, and clothing.
The company started with the launch of Alpha Brain back in 2011. Critics point out that as a nootropic stack it hasn’t stood the test of time. Nor kept up with leaders in the nootropic space like Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® Mind.
But as a standalone pre-formulated nootropic stack, the ingredients should support the modest claims of their marketing message.
Natural ingredients: Onnit’s tagline that Alpha Brain is made with “earth-grown nutrients” is mostly true. Common sense tells us that L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, Phosphatidylserine (PS), Alpha GPC, L-Leucine, Vinpocetine, and the extracts are made in the lab. And not plucked from the garden. But you will not find stimulants or caffeine in this stack. Which is a good thing.
Unique ingredients: You’ll only find Oat Straw extract and Cat’s Claw extract (ac-11®) in Alpha Brain. Not in most other premium nootropic stacks. Both are effective nootropics proven in clinical studies and in daily life.
Alpha Brain Instant: Unique among premium nootropic stacks, Alpha Brain Instant is an interesting option. The stack is available in individual packets of powder to be mixed with water. This should improve bioavailability and provide the benefits of Alpha Brain faster than digesting capsules.
Onnit Keep-It™ Money Back Guarantee: Not many nootropic companies offer this kind of guarantee. Onnit says that if Alpha Brain doesn’t perform for you, or you don’t like it, you can keep it. Just let them know why and they’ll provide an instant refund.
Alpha Brain – The Not So Good
You don’t have any accurate way to tell how much of each nootropic in this stack you are using. And depending on the issues you are dealing with, what you should add for your unique situation.
Average ingredient quality
Alpha Brain is priced as a premium nootropic stack. But Onnit doesn’t meet the same ingredient standard as found in products like Mind Lab Pro® and Performance Lab® Mind. Who use patented versions of Phosphatidylserine (Sharp-PS Green), Suntheanine® L-Theanine, and Ajipure® L-Tyrosine.
Alpha Brain includes Vitamin B6 which is cofactor needed for the synthesis of all major neurotransmitters. But it’s missing the other key B-Vitamins required for the synthesis of acetylcholine and dopamine. Both primary neurotransmitters affected with this stack.
Onnit Flow Blend™ is incomplete
The neuroscience of the Flow State has taken great strides in the last couple of decades. And we now know what nootropics can help support flow from inception through to the end. Onnit’s Flow Blend™ supports only parts of flow.
For more on supporting flow from beginning to end, see my post: How to Hack Your Flow State with Nootropics
Onnit’s Fuel Blend™ is insufficient
The human brain is the most energy hungry organ in your body. Alpha Brain may provide some of the ingredients needed to help keep you alert. Although this is debatable with only 65 mg total nutrients for this Fuel Blend.
I continue to be baffled why even respected nootropic supplement manufacturers continue including Huperzine-A in their stacks.
Sure, Hup-A is a very effective acetylcholinesterase inhibitor which boosts acetylcholine.[xv] But it also has a 24-hour half-life. Which means it’s dangerous to use every day long-term. It has no place in a stack meant to be used daily.
And to make matters worse, Onnit includes 400 mcg of Huperzine-A in Alpha Brain. Recommended dosage for Hup-A is 50 – 200 mcg every second or third day. Eliminating the possibility of safely using Alpha Brain as a daily nootropic stack.
Check most supplement bottle labels, and you’ll see a list of so-called “other ingredients”. Including chemical sounding names, you likely will not recognize.
This is what separates the highest quality supplements available from the good but not great supplements.
Onnit does not meet this standard. But fortunately, has limited “other ingredients”.
The primary culprit included in Alpha Brain capsules and Alpha Brain Instant is:
- Maltodextrin – is used as a thickener, filler or preservative which can spike blood sugar and is very bad idea for those with diabetes or insulin resistance. It’s been found to enhance E. coli adhesion to cell walls in your intestines. Promotes the survival of salmonella leading to all kinds of chronic inflammatory diseases. And suppresses antimicrobial defenses leading to inflammatory bowel disease.[xvi]
Alpha Brain – Clinical Studies
Not many nootropic supplement companies can claim their product has been tested in clinical studies. But Onnit can, and it certainly helps support their marketing message.
Executive Function and Memory
One study was published in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2015. Researchers had 63 healthy adults aged 18-35 use Alpha Brain or a placebo for 6 weeks.
The researchers concluded at the end of the 6-week trial that those using Alpha Brain experienced a significant improvement in verbal memory and executive function compared to the placebo group.[xvii]
Another study was apparently conducted a year previously which mimics the study above. In this trial they had only “17 healthy adults ages 18 – 35” which produced results like the one published in 2015. But I cannot find any evidence of this study other than a PDF on the Onnit website.
A study published in the same journal in 2018 had 43 active duty Soldiers use 3 capsules of Alpha Brain per day for 30 days. On day 31 marksmanship was assessed in a prone position with zeroed M-4 rifles.
The soldiers were assessed for hits vs. misses, distance of hit from target center, and target engagement speed. The researchers concluded, “The Alpha Brain® nootropic supplement did not have any statistically significant effects on marksmanship performance in this study”.[xviii]
Cognitive Processing Speed
And one final study from 2015 investigated the effects of Alpha Brain on ERP (Event-Related Potentials) and EEG (electroencephalography) cognitive measures in 20 healthy adults aged 18 – 35.
Study subjects used Alpha Brain daily for 45 days. Researchers concluded that on Day 45 subjects using the nootropic stack showed faster cognitive processing speed, enhanced target discrimination, and increase Alpha brain waves associated with focus.[xix]
If you order Alpha Brain from Onnit’s website, you’ll find they ship to many countries worldwide. Check with Onnit support to verify that they ship to your country.
Onnit offers shipping via standard domestic USPS mail, FedEx 2-Day Service, FedEx Smart Post, FedEx Home Delivery, FedEx International Priority, and FedEx International Mail Service (FIMS). Costs are set by each carrier at the time of your online order.
Alpha Brain Price
Recommended dosage of Alpha Brain according to Onnit is 2 capsules or one Instant packet per day.
Alpha Brain (30 capsules) $34.95
Alpha Brain (60 capsules) $59.88
Alpha Brain (90 capsules) $79.95
Alpha Brain Instant (30 count box) $59.95
Who Uses Alpha Brain and Why?
Alpha Brain is used by healthy young adults who want their brains to work a little bit better.
Most of the ingredients are natural. And dosages of most ingredients are generally low enough for most people but should still be effective.
The only caution with using Alpha Brain is the Huperzine-A which has a long half-life. And is twice the maximum dosage recommended.
For long-term use I highly recommend only using Alpha Brain once every second or third day. To avoid the side effects caused by too much acetylcholine.
Where to Buy It
You can get Alpha Brain directly from the Onnit website. Each of the following links will take you to the relevant product page where you’ll find an “Add to Bag” button.
Onnit also offers a monthly subscription service which if selected, comes with a regular 15% discount off your monthly order.
Alpha Brain (30 capsules) $34.95
Alpha Brain (60 capsules) $59.88
Alpha Brain (90 capsules) $79.95
You can also purchase Alpha Brain from some local stores. In the USA this includes Whole Foods, The Vitamin Shoppe, and other local health and nutrition stores.
Onnit has a Store Locator function for the USA in the footer of their website so you can find stores near you that offer Alpha Brain.
Nootropics Expert® Alpha Brain Summary
If you have spent any time searching for nootropic supplements, chances are you’ve come across Onnit’s Alpha Brain. Onnit is an Inc. 500 company and have been promoting this stack since 2011.
Its founder Aubrey Marcus remains active in promoting and building the Onnit company and its community.
Alpha Brain contains natural nootropics considered non-toxic and safe when used at recommended dosages. I just wish the company would choose to discontinue use of Huperzine-A in this nootropic stack.
Alpha Brain provides basic, safe support for better short-term memory, focus, and thinking speed for the healthy, young adult brain.
But Alpha Brain is certainly a worthy competitor. It’s worth trying. I have and it does what the company says it’ll do.
[ii] Moccetti T., Wullschleger C., Schmidt A., Aydogan C., Kreuter M.H. “Bioactivity-based development of a wild green oat (Avena sativa L.) extract in support of mental health disorders” Zeitschrift für Phytotherapie 2006; 27 - P24 (source)
[iii] Baumeister J., Barthel T., Geiss K.R., Weiss M. “Influence of phosphatidylserine on cognitive performance and cortical activity after induced stress.” Nutritional Neuroscience. 2008 Jun;11(3):103-10. (source)
[iv] Drago F., Mauceri F., Nardo L., Valerio C., Lauria N., Rampello L., Guidi G. “Behavioral effects of L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine: influence on cognitive mechanisms in the rat.” Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior 1992 Feb;41(2):445-8. (source)
[v] Calabrese N.D., Gregory W.L., Leo M., Kraemer D., Bone K., Oken B. “Effects of a Standardized Bacopa monnieri Extract on Cognitive Performance, Anxiety, and Depression in the Elderly: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial” Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine 2008 Jul; 14(6): 707–713. (source)
[vi] Raves M.L., Harel M., Pang Y.P., Silman I., Kozikowski A.P., Sussman J.L. “Structure of acetylcholinesterase complexed with the nootropic alkaloid, (-)-huperzine A.” Nature Structural Biology. 1997 Jan;4(1):57-63. (source)
[ix] Vas A., Gulyás B., Szabó Z., Bönöczk P., Csiba L., Kiss B., Kárpáti E., Pánczél G., Nagy Z. “Clinical and non-clinical investigations using positron emission tomography, near infrared spectroscopy and transcranial Doppler methods on the neuroprotective drug vinpocetine: a summary of evidences.” Journal of the Neurological Sciences. 2002 Nov 15;203-204:259-62. (source)
[x] Bhardwaj R.K., Glaeser H., Becquemont L., Klotz U., Gupta S.K., Fromm M.F. “Piperine, a major constituent of black pepper, inhibits human P-glycoprotein and CYP3A4.” Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. 2002 Aug;302(2):645-50. (source)
[xi] Casadesus G., Shukitt-Hale B., Stellwagen H.M., Zhu X., Lee H.G., Smith M.A., Joseph J.A. “Modulation of hippocampal plasticity and cognitive behavior by short-term blueberry supplementation in aged rats.” Nutritional Neuroscience. 2004 Oct-Dec;7(5-6):309-16 (source)
[xii] Mohamed A.F., Matsumoto K., Tabata K., Takayama H., Kitajima M., Watanabe H. “Effects of Uncaria tomentosa total alkaloid and its components on experimental amnesia in mice: elucidation using the passive avoidance test.” Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmacology. 2000 Dec;52(12):1553-61. (source)
[xiii] Pero R.W., Lund H. “Dietary quinic acid supplied as the nutritional supplement AIO + AC-11® leads to induction of micromolar levels of nicotinamide and tryptophan in the urine.” Phytotherapy Research. 2011 Jun;25(6):851-7 (source)
[xv] Raves M.L., Harel M., Pang Y.P., Silman I., Kozikowski A.P., Sussman J.L. “Structure of acetylcholinesterase complexed with the nootropic alkaloid, (-)-huperzine A.” Nature Structural Biology. 1997 Jan;4(1):57-63. (source)
[xvii] Solomon T.M., Leech J., Murphy C., DeBros G., Budson A., Solomon P. “A randomized, double-blind, placebo controlled, parallel group, efficacy study of alpha BRAIN® administered orally” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 12, Article number: P54 (2015) (source)
[xviii] Barringer N., Crombie A., Kotwal R. “Impact of a purported nootropic supplementation on measures of mood, stress, and marksmanship performance in U.S. active duty soldiers” Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2018; 15: 26. (source)
[xix] Leech J.D., Cecchi M., Solomon T.M., Solomon P.R. “Effects of the nootropic compound alpha brain® on erp and eeg measures of cognitive performance” Alzheimer’s & Dementia Volume 11, Issue 7, Supplement, Pages P465–P466 (source)
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