- Fair serving of Bacopa moinnieri, although no potency given
- Contains phosphatidylserine, although we don't know how much
- Proprietary blends are ALWAYS a sign of a rip-off!
- No serving size information for most ingredients
- Contains useless ingredients like Cat's Claw
Alpha Brain remains one of the most popular nootropics in the world today. Yet having done a detailed review of Alpha Brain, we have no idea why! This is a poor brain supplement by today’s standards. The ingredients are hit and miss, with some good nootropics and some ineffective, unproven duds. The main issue though is undoubtedly the lack of exact dosing information – for several ingredients, we have no idea of their serving sizes. Compared to other nootropics on sale right now, Alpha Brain looks terrible. Better brain supplements are available for the same price!
Alpha Brain review: What does this popular nootropic do?
Onnit Alpha Brain is easily one of the most-used brain supplements in the world. Alpha Brain has been among the most popular nootropics in the world since Onnit launched it several years ago. At that time, the nootropics market was in its infancy, with few premium stacks on offer.
So how has this supplement remained so popular? What does it have to offer? Why is almost every Alpha Brain review so positive?!
According to the Onnit website, Alpha Brain offers some impressive benefits:
- Supports memory
- Promotes focus
- Aids mental processing
- Helps with entering the “flow state”
- Increases energy levels
- Reduces anxiety
That is one ambitious set of benefits for a single nootropic stack. Clearly, Onnit see Alpha Brain as a complete, all-in-one, daily nootropic stack. This is definitely a positive, as we think the best way to improve any one aspect of cognitive function is to aim for total brain optimization (as the brain usually works “all at once”).
The question we need to answer is, does Alpha Brain really do all of the things that Onnit says it can?
Does Alpha Brain really work? Is it an all-in-one nootropic? Is it safe? What are the side effect risks? Is there a better nootropic on sale today? In our full Alpha Brain review below, we answer all of these questions in detail.
Alpha Brain ingredients
Let’s get straight into the important stuff. Here is the Alpha Brain ingredients profile as it is shown on the product itself:
Just in case there’s a problem with that image, here is a list of Alpha Brain’s ingredients:
- Vitamin B6 – 10mg
- L-Tyrosine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- L-Theanine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Oat straw extract – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Phosphatidylserine – DOSE UKNOWN
- Cat’s claw extract – 350mg
- Alpha-GPC – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Bacopa monnieri extract – 100mg
- Toothed clubmoss extract (1% Huperzine A) – 400mcg
- L-Leucine – DOSE UNKNOWN
- Pterostilbene – DOSE UNKNOWN
Note about the formula
Onnit have decided to keep much of the serving size information shielded from us behind proprietary blends. This is unfortunate. We think prop blends are always a clear sign of a rip-off. Perhaps they were necessary when Onnit first launched Alpha Brain, but today they are completely pointless – formula theft doesn’t happen, as there’s no point. Either they’ve failed to keep up with the times, or Alpha Brain is a scam. We shall see!
We will now go through each Alpha Brain ingredient individually. For each one, we’ll tell you what it does (or doesn’t do) to enhance cognition, what the scientific evidence says, and what we make of the dose (where it is available). Please post your questions in the comments section at the end of this Alpha Brain review.
Vitamin B6 – 10mg
Vitamin B6 is an essential nutrient, and it is particularly important for energy metabolism. In its active form – pyridoxal-5’-phosphate – B6 acts as a coenzyme in over 100 reactions in the body. These include the metabolism of amino acids, glucose, and lipids. Without B6, you couldn’t properly release energy from food. While its nootropic effects are limited, it will help you maintain high energy levels throughout the day, including mental energy. Alpha Brain gives us 10mg, which is plenty.
L-Tyrosine – DOSE UNKNOWN
Tyrosine is an amazing nootropic substance; one that often gets overlooked by DIY bio-hackers making their own brain boosting stacks. Tyrosine has been shown in clinical trials to enhance focus and improve memory function in people placed in stressful situations (compared to placebo). So far, Tyrosine has been proven to enhance cognitive function in people who are sleep deprived, placed in extreme cold, surrounded by distracting noise, and more. It seems that Tyrosine works by reducing anxiety and promoting calm, clear-headed focus.
Unfortunately, we have no idea how much Tyrosine is in Alpha Brain. Exactly how much calm, clear focus you will get from this nootropic is therefore anyone’s guess.
L-Theanine -DOSE UNKNOWN
Theanine isn’t a very powerful nootropic, but we think it should be in every complete brain supplement. Theanine’s main benefit is that it counters the negative effects of caffeine while simultaneously amplifying caffeine’s benefits. So it lets you enjoy all of the extra energy and focus without the jitters and anxiety. Theanine does have some anxiolytic and mood-boosting properties of its own too.
Like with Tyrosine, we have no idea how much Theanine is in a serving of Alpha Brain. We therefore cannot possibly judge how much caffeine we can take with it before we experience anxiety, jitters, dizziness, etc. This effectively makes the Theanine pointless – a massive shame.
Oat straw extract – DOSE UNKNOWN
Oat straw extract was a common ingredient in nootropic about 10 years ago (when Onnit released Alpha Brain). Since then, it has fallen out of favor, and for good reason: IT DOESN’T DO ANYTHING! People all over the world use oat straw extract, primarily as an anti-anxiety supplement. But we are yet to see a convincing clinical trial in which people saw a significant reduction in anxiety from taking oat straw.
In any case, there could be anywhere between 1mg and 600mg in Alpha Brain. With such uncertainty, it’s barely worth considering the potential benefits.
Phosphatidylserine – DOSE UNKNOWN
Phosphatidylserine is an absolutely remarkable cognitive enhancer and one of our review team’s favorite nootropics. Phosphatidylserine is a phospholipid found in high concentrations in the human brain, where it is used to form cell membranes. So without phosphatidylserine, you don’t have the raw materials you need to repair or create new brain cells. Phosphatidylserine is also vital for cell signalling in apoptosis (programmed cell death). When a brain cell is ready to die and be replaced, phosphatidylserine gives a signal to immune system cells to get rid of it.
As we age, phosphatidylserine levels seem to steadily decline. We do consume small amounts from food, but if you want to optimize brain function and protect your cognitive function from decline, supplementing is a great idea.
Studies have shown that supplementing with phosphatidylserine can improve focus memory function. While most studies have looked at older people, some found that these cognitive enhancements occur even in younger people without signs of cognitive decline.
So why has Onnit not told us how much phosphatidylserine we get in each serving of Alpha Brain?! This is such an expensive ingredient, not to mention such an effective one, that you’d think they’d be shouting the dose from the rooftops like every other high-end nootropics manufacturer. That is only if the dose was high enough of course. Onnit’s silence speaks volumes!
Cat’s claw extract – 350mg
Cat’s claw is widely used in “traditional medicine” (which isn’t the same thing as medicine). It is used to treat every ailment you can think of, from parasites and haemorrhoids to arthritis and Alzheimer’s disease. Cat’s claw isn’t actually listed individually on the Alpha Brain merchant page. We suspect that’s because Onnit found it increasingly difficult to justify its use in a nootropic. As far as we’re aware, there isn’t a single peer-reviewed study out there showing that cat’s claw supplementation has any meaningful effect on cognitive function whatsoever.
Alpha-GPC – DOSE UNKNOWN
Alpha-GPC is a powerful all-round cognitive enhancer. It rapidly increases focus, information processing speed, and enhances working memory function. Effects from Alpha-GPC can usually be noticed in as little as two hours, with peak effects typically around 4 hours post-consumption.
Alpha-GPC is a cholinergic. This means it donates choline to the brain, where it is used to create acetylcholine (the most important neurotransmitter for executive cognitive function) and phosphatidylcholine (a vital structural component of brain tissues). Raising choline availability in the brain is a reliable way to quickly enhance cognitive function across the board, especially focus and learning capacity, and Alpha-GPC is extremely efficient at raising choline levels in the brain.
As this is such an effective, proven, safe nootropic, it’s extra disappointing to see that Onnit is refusing to tell us the dose provided by Alpha Brain. Every leading brain supplement lists their cholinergic’s serving size proudly on their website as this ingredient typically does the heavy lifting when it comes to boosting short-term executive brain function. Alpha Brain does not – think about that!
Bacopa monnieri – 100mg
Bacopa monnieri is one of the most reliable natural nootropics on the planet. It has been tested by dozens of clinical trials; time and again it is found to be effective for improve memory function. The benefits of Bacopa monnieri supplementation are most pronounced in older people (most studies have looked at older people with mild cognitive decline). However, studies have shown that younger people with no evidence of cognitive impairment respond very well to Bacopa monnieri, with improvements in working memory, retention, and recall showing up in almost all participants.
Bacopa monnieri works by promoting dendrite branching. Dendrites are the little branches that connect neurons. More branches means better communication between neurons, which means more raw brain power.
The 100mg in Onnit Alpha Brain might be enough to promote dendrite branching assuming that it is at least 20% bacosides by weight. The fact that we aren’t given the extract potency is worrying (as this is standard for modern brain supplements).
Toothed clubmoss extract (1% Huperzine A) – 400mcg
Toothed clubmoss has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for centuries. It is the natural source of a compound called Huperzine A, which is a highly potent, fast-acting nootropic. Huperzine A rapidly ramps up acetylcholine availability in the brain. It does this by shutting off the brain’s “safety release valve” for acetylcholine – acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme prevents excess acetylcholine build-ups by getting rid of acetylcholine once it has been used. Huperzine A shuts this enzyme off, which causes a steady build-up acetylcholine, which in turn enhances focus, working memory, reaction times, and learning capacity.
Alpha Brain contains 400mcg of Huperzine A (we think, the labelling isn’t very clear whether there is 400mcg of Huperzine A or 400mcg of Toothed clubmoss). This might sound small, but 400mcg is plenty to see rapid improvements in focus, verbal fluency, and working memory function.
NOTE: Huperzine A must be cycled. If you do not cycle Huperzine A, you will experience side effects from Alpha Brain. Excess acetylcholine can cause serious adverse effects. More on this in the Alpha Brain side effects section.
L-Leucine – DOSE UNKNOWN
Leucine is an amino acid. It has no nootropic effects to speak of. Consuming such a small amount of leucine isn’t going to have any noticeable or meaningful effect on learning, concentration, or memory. It isn’t going to do anything for your health or performance in any way. We have no idea why Onnit have included leucine in Alpha Brain.
Pterostilbene – DOSE UNKNOWN
Pterostilbene is a powerful antioxidant. It is very similar to resveratrol; the two are closely related molecules. Pterostilbene is found in some berries and nuts, but only in small amounts. If you really want to benefit from pterostilbene, we recommend taking it as a supplement. That Alpha Brain contains some pterostilbene is definitely a positive. However, as with all the other ingredients, we would much rather known how much pterostilbene is in Alpha Brain. There could be 59mg, there could be 0.01mg. We just don’t know.
Our analysis: Is Alpha Brain’s formula any good?
To read the Alpha Brain reviews currently on the internet, you’d think this was still a market-leading brain supplement.
Well, it isn’t.
We are not at all impressed with Onnit Alpha Brain. We see several problems with the formula, but we’ll focus on only the most important here.
Our number one problem with this stack is the use a proprietary blends. Every mind-enhancing supplement worth its salt displays its formula, in full, on the label and on the website. All of the best-selling nootropics today have completely transparent formulas…apart from Alpha Brain that is.
It is tempting to think that Onnit hides dosing information because this is what everyone did back when Alpha Brain was launched. But this is a mistake. They could easily start showing every ingredient’s serving size on the label, yet they choose not to. Are they hiding low doses in key areas? We think so.
The other major problem is Alpha Brain’s ingredients themselves.
There are several ingredients in this nootropic which do absolutely nothing for your cognitive performance. Leucine, cat’s claw, oat straw – none of these substances have any place in a premium brain supplement.
Instead of wasting your money on these useless substances, Onnit could drop them altogether and give you larger doses of the ingredients that matter. But as it is, you’re left paying good money for several ingredients which give you no benefit whatsoever.
The final issue is to do with what is lacking from Alpha Brain.
There’s nowhere near enough Bacopa monnieri in this nootropic for you to experience its full potential. We aren’t given an extract potency for the Bacopa, which makes us think it’s less than the standard 20% bacosides. In that case, 100mg is nowhere near enough.
There are other things missing from Alpha Brain too. There’s nothing to promote neuroplasticity and lasting brain development. This is now something we expect from cutting-edge nootropics, and it is conspicuously lacking from Alpha Brain.
All-in-all, not an impressive nootropic at all!
In our opinion, this is a low quality nootropic. Whatever way you look at it, Alpha Brain is an unattractive offering. When you compare it to some of the nootropics on sale right now, the difference is staggering – no proprietary blends, no useless ingredients, and completely transparent formulae.
If you are looking for a genuinely effective brain supplement to give you a serious edge – be it at work, on the field, or in college – there are far better options out there right now than Alpha Brain.
Side effects: Is Alpha Brain dangerous?
There are some things we think you should be aware of before you start using Alpha Brain.
This nootropic does pose some side effect risks. While mild, it is likely that using Alpha Brain for a long period of time without a break will cause significant side effects. This is due to the Huperzine A content.
As we explained in the Alpha Brain ingredients review, Huperzine A inhibits acetylcholinesterase. This causes a steady build up of acetylcholine in the brain, which leads to enhanced learning, better concentration, and faster reaction times (along with better mind-muscle connection).
However, more acetylcholine is not always better. Past a certain point, it starts to hinder your cognition, not help it.
Too much acetylcholine in the brain causes:
- Memory impairment
- Muscle cramps
- Lack of focus
- Low mood
- Lack of motivation
If acetylcholine concentrations continue to increase, then these symptoms get progressively worse. If you keep taking Huperzine A – leading to a continuing build-up of acetylcholine n the brain – you will inevitably experience more severe side effects, including:
- Severe muscle cramps
- Muscle spasms
- High blood pressure
- Slowed heart rate
- Blurred vision
- Severe cognitive impairment
As Alpha Brain contains a meaningful dose of Huperzine A, there is a chance that you will experience these side effects if you fail to use the supplement properly.
It is vital that you take regular breaks from Huperzine A use, cycling it on and off every 3-4 weeks. We recommend never using Huperzine A for longer than 4 weeks without a break, and never for more than three 4-week cycles back to back (with 2 week breaks in between each cycle).
CAUTION – Disclaimer
It is crucial that you do your own research thoroughly before using any nootropic, including Alpha Brain. We don’t know anything about you, and every individual is different. Please speak with a qualified medical professional if you have any concerns, and let your doctor know you are going to be using nootropics before you begin.
Review summary: Does Alpha Brain really work?
If you’ve read our full Alpha Brain review then you’ll know that we aren’t exactly impressed with Onnit’s flagship nootropic.
There are several problems with this brain supplement.
For starters, Onnit don’t give us individual ingredient serving sizes. Instead, they divide much of the formula up between multiple proprietary blends.
In our opinion, proprietary blends are always a clear sign that you’re being ripped off. There’s no good reason to use them; manufacturers only employ them to hide the fact that they’re skimping on the best ingredients and stuffing the formula with the cheap stuff.
There are other problems that are no less serious: low doses, poor ingredient quality, useless and unproven ingredients, and missing components to name a few. But the fact that Onnit still hides the formula specs from us is enough to put us off this stack completely.
Alpha Brain was well ahead of the competition when it was launched many years ago. But the nootropics market has moved on a lot since then. Today this stack looks old and tired.
Is there a better nootropic on sale today? Absolutely. There are several.
Regardless of what your particular needs are – whether it’s enhanced focus, better memory function, or long-term brain development – there are far superior options on offer. We don’t see why anybody would still opt for Alpha Brain today.
How long does Alpha Brain last?
How long Alpha Brain lasts is an incredibly difficult thing to predict. Alpha Brain combines several nootropics that all have a different half-life, potency, and different levels of bio-availability. Different ingredients will therefore have their peak effects at different times. We also have to account for the lack of dosing information with Alpha Brain.
We therefore have to turn to anecdotal data. Most Alpha Brain users report experiencing the first noticeable effects after about 2 hours, with this peak lasting for an hour or so, before slowly tapering over the next 4-6 hours.
Where can I buy Alpha Brain?
Alpha Brain can be bought from several places. However, we always recommend buying directly from the manufacturer. This protects you from the many pitfalls that come with buying from third-party retailers. Onnit also regularly have deals on their merchant site.
What can I achieve with nootropics?
Many people are surprised to learn that you can see tremendous improvements in cognitive function in as little as a few hours through the use of nootropics. Studies have shown that certain nootropics can significantly improve memory function, concentration, focus, information processing speeds, and more. Using nootropics doesn’t make you any more intelligent, but they can make you a faster learner, more focused, and less stressed, all while promoting good brain health.
Johan Theorin is an author, editor, and competitive cyclist. He is the author of most of the content on this website, and he is the site editor. Johan has spent years researching joint health, sports performance and recovery. He is a leading biohacking expert and an experienced physiotherapist.