Alpha Brain is a tablet offered as a dietary supplement by Onnit. They make many claims about its ability to help cognitive function:

The idea behind the Alpha Brain™ dietary supplement was to create the first ever fully balanced nootropic. Alpha GPC and Huperzia Serrata maximize acetylcholine levels while other ingredients assist in elevating dopamine and GABA levels, crucial components to remaining calm, focused, and mentally driven. Our vinpocetine assists in delivering oxygen and nutrients to the brain via increased blood flow, and the combination of neuro-specific antioxidants, led by our proprietary AC-11® helps to clear away mental fog and reduce free radical burden. The result experienced by many of our satisfied customers is an extraordinary combination of lucid dreams, mental drive, focus, memory, and mental acuity.


A buddy at the office just recently tried it, and is claiming it is real. It apparently is able to increase your memory recall and cognitive abilities, but I don't know if this is placebo or not.

I can't see how it is for real, but if it is, I wouldn't mind trying it.

2 Answers 2


The only ingredient that stands out to me is Huperzine A:

Clinical trials in China have shown it to be effective in the treatment of Alzheimer's disease[4] and enhancing memory in students.

Wikipedia cites the study Huperzine-A capsules enhance memory and learning performance in 34 pairs of matched adolescent students.:


Using double-blind and matched pair method, 34 pairs of junior middle school students complaining of memory inadequacy were divided into two groups by normal psychological health inventory (PHI), similar memory quotient (MQ), same sex and class. The Hup group was administrated orally 2 capsules of Hup (each contains Hup 50 micrograms) b.i.d., and the placebo group was given 2 capsules of placebo (starch and lactose inside) b.i.d. for 4 wk. RESULTS:

At the end of trial, the Hup group's MQ (115 +/- 6) was more than that of the placebo group (104 +/- 9, P < 0.01), and the scores of Chinese language lesson in the Hup group were elevated markedly too.


The Hup capsules enhance the memory and learning performance of adolescent students.

So the Huperzine A seems legit. No clue if any of the other ingredients are useful though.

  • 10
    That is a very small trial from which to judge something that is actually very hard to measure. I'd refrain from judgement until someone does a large trial with randomisation.
    – matt_black
    Aug 10, 2012 at 15:22
  • 1
    Did they test the groups before the administration of the placebo/drug? If not, they haven't really controlled for the variances in the allocations of people to groups. One group could have had members with good memories to begin with, making the results essentially meaningless.
    – John Lyon
    Aug 21, 2012 at 4:54
  • @jozzas The full text of the study is free (it's the small green button in the top left corner on the page I linked to). Aug 21, 2012 at 14:36

Bacopa Monnieri is also an effective nootropic with a lot of research (both for memory formation [1], reducing anxiety [2], and particularly mental performance [3]).

The only problem is that Alpha Brain does not have bacopa monnieri in adequate dosages [4]. The L-theanine could also be an effective dosage and it is a cognitive enhancer with a lot of research [5].

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22747190
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18611150
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21892534
  4. https://www.nootropedia.com/bacopa-monnieri/
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18681988
  • 2
    You should elaborate more on how these links demonstrate your claims, because they don't seem to. e.g. [3] does not show that Bacopa Monnieri improves mental performance (in humans). It apparently shows that it causes changes to the brain in rats.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 9, 2016 at 4:09
  • 1
    [4] doesn't show that Alpha Brain doesn't have adequate dosages, and isn't a reliable resource - it provides no evidence to support its claims.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 9, 2016 at 4:10
  • 2
    Describing [5] a single (n=27) experiment as "a lot of research" is stretching it. It combines L-theanine with caffeine to get short term (60/90 minute) effects. It isn't clear from the abstract alone that it is significantly different to drinking a coffee, just for the caffeine.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 9, 2016 at 4:14
  • 1
    This tells us nothing about Alpha Brain except that it is perhaps worse than some other product, with zero relevance and marginal evidence.
    – Nij
    Nov 10, 2016 at 7:09
  • @Nij: Alpha Brain contains 250mg of bacopa monnieri. Presumably the OP is arguing that a supplement containing an ingredient will give the health effects of that ingredient.
    – Oddthinking
    Nov 10, 2016 at 8:09

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