Alpha Brain (Review)

I decided to give Alpha Brain a shot after hearing about it on the Joe Rogan Podcast a short while ago. The CEO of Onnit Labs (a fellow Austinite) was on the podcast talking about his product and discussing a recent spiritual journey to Peru. Seemed like a cool cat. Joe also seemed to allude to the idea that he tried it and saw some positive gains, and some of the early reviews from people were going as far as to say it made them feel like the guy from Limitless - figured that’s either one hell of a placebo or there might be something to it :)

Personal Background

I’m a software developer by trade, working with complex large scale data models, so my job pretty much demands a fair amount of focus and clarity.  Both of these are not things I normally have issues with. I pretty much fire on all cylinders, almost to fault, on a daily basis.

From a sleep standpoint, I only need roughly 5 hours of sleep to feel rested. If my workouts for the day (I do P90x 6 days a week) is particularly tiring, I am prone to sleeping closer to 7-9 hours, especially on the weekends.  I dream from time to time, and naturally remember a fair amount of details about them when I wake.  The only lucid dreaming I have experience with occurs during the AM if I awake for a short while, then return back to sleep without fully waking up.  I tend to slip into vivid dreams then, where my observations are increased and I can often willfully affect the dreams as they occur.

Given that, my expectations weren’t really all that high. Not because I doubted the product, but more that I was hoping for it to super-charge my focus above normal levels.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I figured the science doesn’t really work that way – sort of like believing that adding Premium gasoline to an engine that doesn’t call of it will somehow increase performance.

Day 0 – 8/19/2011

Product arrives in the mail – prompt delivery. It’s already afternoon (1pm) so I decided to take a single cap to ease into it having no previous experience with Nootropics. I admittedly sat around for a bit, hyper aware of my breathing, nerves, etc in preparation for changes or reactions.  Becoming hyper aware of your own body naturally brings with it a sensation of change, so I was trying to filter out that base feeling and detect other subtle changes in a positive or negative direction.

Nothing either way. After 30 min I decided to return to working.  I observed no real changes (positive or negative) during my session. Rest of the day went through like normal. No affect on my workout.  Slept that night, soundly, nothing notable about the sleep, no dreams that I can recall.

Day 1 – 8/13/2011

First “official” day of usage. Decided to do 2 caps in the AM to ease into dosage. No noticeable changes in mental focus or clarity during the day.  In the PM, I took 1 additional cap.  Again no noticeable changes either way throughout the evening and into the sleep cycle.  As it was Saturday, it wasn’t like I was doing a whole lot of activity that demanded focus.

Day 2 – 8/14/2011

Decided to go “all out” on maximizing dose and absorption. Did my morning cardio workout, followed by the full AM dose of 3 caps along with my after-workout breakfast.  Only remotely observable change was a slightly elevated contrast in vision (things seemed brighter/clearer for roughly 30 min after a 5-10 min delay after taking them), but no real sense of increased clarity or mental acuity to note.

Waited until after my PM workout session, then took the max 2 tablets post-workout along with my protein shake.  Slept like a baby as usual. Had a dream I did recall this morning, but it was not “lucid” in the sense that it was vivid and able for me to interact with. Just a regular dream that I happened to remember, the details of which are already starting to fade 2 hours from being awake (normal).

Day 3 – 8/15/2011

3 caps again this morning with breakfast after AM cardio. Again nothing to report. Took 2 caps within an hour of bed (latest dosage time yet: 11:00pm), woke up like normal, nothing interesting to report, no dreams that I recall. This was also my first full day on them while working – nothing of note to report there.

Day 4 – 8/16/2011

Hectic morning, had to scramble out the door for an early meeting, so no AM cardio or dosage. ~ 3pm observed slightly blurry peripheral vision which lasted roughly 30 min. Decided to drink a soda for caffeine figuring I just needed a pick-me-up.  I don’t honestly believe the vision issue is attributed to a lack of dosage but it was the only thing out-of-the-ordinary to report.  Focus levels and cognitive abilities otherwise unaffected – had several change requests which I was able to assess and implement without issue.

Not sure if I will take the 2 tonight and maybe let things reset for a day or so. Found the Onnit Labs facebook page with another individual noting no net effect, with a note that 4 caps is not unheard of.

Day 5 – 8/17/2011

After deciding to not take any additional caps the night before, today I tried an elevated dosage of 4 caps.  After an hour or so of being at work, I realized it was having an effect.  Best I can describe it is… serene? zen-like?   Normally, even during focused states, there tends to be streams of ancillary thought going on – other possibilities in problem solving, preparations for the next meeting, etc.  I noticed I didn’t have any of these other streams going on. I was pretty much just working on the task at hand.

Guess technically this is an increase in focus, so cool?   The feeling lasted until around 4-5pm, took 2 more with dinner. No recollection of dreams.

Day 6 – 8/18/2011

I’m reluctant to push the am dosage to 5, went for 4 again.  So far, same serene focus effect during the day (worked from home).  No recollection of dreams.

Day 7 – 8/19/2011

Riding out the remaining pills with a 4 in the am, 2 in the pm dosage.  Did have pretty vivid dreams this night – woke up remembering them pretty well – but again pretty much on-par with how well I remember dreams normally.  Roughly 2 days worth of caps left in the bottle which will take me through the weekend.

If I have anything out of the ordinary to report I will update this page, otherwise the plan is to finish out, then wait a day or so to observe the come-down, then provide a final review.

Final Update – 6/11/2012

Better late then never I guess – as I posted back in 2011 I did finish out the rest using the 4 am, 2 pm dosage cycle.  Once out, there were no issues… no withdrawals or anything.  Here now some 10 months later, I can say my sleep/dream cycle is as “normal” as it’s ever been.

Another thing I should have focused more on was documenting my environment.  My sleep schedule hasn’t really fluctuated - roughly 5 hours a night – which might generally be considered deprived over a long term. Also, other than caffeine from sodas & energy drinks, I can at least say I had no other medications or interactions that would have been in play.  Finally, being a bigger bloke, I do tend to have higher ingestion tolerances, and the instructions do call out weight/size as a dosage factor.

Would it have been different if I drank plenty of water, limited my caffeine intake, and slept 8-10 hours a night? I’m no scientist, but I’m sure that factors like these have an effect on the brain’s state and may promote the performance of the supplements, or limiting them in my case.

In the end, I personally decided that there may be something beneficial going on with the Alpha Brain, however the dosage required for me to see benefits was significantly more than the posted dosages, which then also made it cost prohibitive to continue.

My final recommendation? As the results vary from person to person – I can at least say that it felt safe enough to try out, and that I experienced no adverse side effects to even the elevated dosages. Long term results will probably take a while to compile from the general population – so if you do decide to make it a part of your daily life, don’t be afraid to work with your doctor to conduct regular check-ups!