(Full disclosure: this review contains affiliate links.)
Nootropics are substances that can boost cognitive functioning, i.e. they can make you think better, faster, possibly even help you perform better on an IQ test. They’ve been around awhile, but have been getting renewed emphasis and publicity lately, especially in the tech world. Silicon Valley types understand the level of competition out there, and want that extra edge to allow them to out-think and out-work the other guy. A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle, for example, ‘Nootropics’ gain momentum as ‘smart pills’, outlines just that dynamic, tech workers boosting their thinking power. Tech Crunch says that nootropics aren’t just for tech millionaires, and the Huffington Post asks whether smart drugs will soon sweep the nation.
The other day I came across a company called truBrain, which makes a line of nootropics in both capsule and liquid (drink) form. Their tagline is (re)Designing Focus, and they say that their “UCLA-trained neuroscientists set out to set out to solve the problem that energy drinks do not- genuine focus.” So I asked them to send me some of their products for review, which they did.
The capsules come in rather high-end design small envelopes or packets, the capsules in one packet to be taken in the morning, the capsules in another packet for the early afternoon. Each packet contains five capsules, five identical ones for morning, four of the same plus one different one for the afternoon. truBrain refers to these as the “loading phase”, and state that one should notice more of an effect after taking them for several days. I’m actually unsure why they call it a loading phase, since it appears that you’re supposed to take the same combination every day, even after you’ve “loaded”.
The main reason so many capsules are needed is because the total content of two packets includes four grams of piracetam (and other ingredients, discussed below), and I would guess that each capsule contains only about 500 mg of material.
Piracetam has been used as a cognitive enhancer for several decades. According to Examine.com, “Healthy people supplementing piracetam do experience little to no cognitive benefit. Though piracetam supplementation in healthy people is understudied, preliminary evidence suggests that piracetam is most effective for older people.” If you’ve read much of this blog, you already know that physical and cognitive decline starts a lot earlier than most people think; for example, muscle loss begins when people are in their 30s, and cognitive decline as well. So while piracetam may not help the average college student get better grades, it seems that it could benefit many of the rest of us who are no longer in our prime. Like me, for example, or maybe a tech worker in his 40s looking for an edge.
The afternoon packet contains one capsule with 200 mg of DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid that’s been linked to cognition. Neuronal cells contain large amounts of DHA (but not EPA, the other main omega-3 fatty acid from fish oil), and there’s some evidence that DHA can improve cognitive function in the elderly, as well as improve mood in depression. DHA needs to be incorporated into cell membranes to have an effect, and that takes time, so this could be one reason truBrain asserts that effects will increase with the time taking their product.
The morning and afternoon packets contain a total of 585 mg acetyl carnitine, which boosts mitochondrial energy production, including in the brain. Flagging energy from poorly functioning mitochondria is a prime correlate of aging, and in the brain, of cognitive decline.
The packets also contain L-tyrosine to the tune of 450 mg. Tyrosine is used to produce the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and dopamine, and according to Examine.com, has been shown to improve cognition during stress.
The packets contain CDP-choline at 345 mg. CDP-choline can improve memory. Choline, by the way, is a required nutrient, with egg yolks being the best source.
Theanine at 300 mg is included; one would be taking 150 mg in the morning, the same in the afternoon. Theanine effectively reduces anxiety and increases focus, as well as aiding in fat loss. Of all the ingredients listed so far, this is the first that I normally take with some regularity.
Finally, magnesium at 80 mg is included. Although that dose is not negligible, I would not recommend depending on this supplement for magnesium, since magnesium is just too important. Nevertheless, there are solid grounds for magnesium’s role in cognition, through better mitochondrial function and neural connections.
I’ve been taking these each morning and afternoon for several days now, and I do notice a difference. Whether my IQ has increased I couldn’t say, but I do feel more focused on my work and my head feels clearer. If I were working in the tech industry or something similar, these capsules could give one the needed boost. As it is, they appear to work well for writing, which is what I want. They have no stimulant effect that I can feel, and in fact I feel calmer and less anxious, which may be largely due to the theanine in them. Naturally, I take a fair amount of caffeine when I work, and truBrain seems to accompany that well.
The truBrain drinks offer a quick nootropic dose. The ingredients are somewhat different. For example, the drink they call “Boost” uses oxiracetam and uridine monophosphate, has higher doses of magnesium (200 mg) and theanine (also 200 mg), contains vitamin C at 468 mg, as well as caffeine at 100 mg. Interestingly, the Boost packet contains only 1 fluid ounce of liquid, so you can pour it all into you in one swallow – maybe that facilitates furtive use and then hiding the packet from your coworkers. They’ll never know what hit them.
Boost tastes good enough, a bit like Tang, and in any case with the low volume it doesn’t matter much anyway. One of the other drinks is a caffeine-free version, which may be better for afternoon or evening use – and the Original is similar to Boost, but with 80 mg caffeine instead of 100. If you sign up for a subscription, the drinks come to just under $3 a drink (slightly more for a one-time purchase) which seems reasonable enough given that people spend that much and more for a Starbucks.
After I drank the Boost drink, I felt like I entered a zone of concentration. I had been feeling a bit run down at the time I drank it, and the drink definitely boosted me, although with 100 mg caffeine, about the amount in a small cup of coffee, one would expect that. But the other ingredients must have been doing their job too, as it felt like more than just caffeine. The effect lasted maybe three hours and during that time I was able to get a fair amount of work done.
My overall impression is that both capsules and drinks work well; they improve focus and concentration. More rigorous testing would be needed to determine whether they would boost scores on an IQ test. Whether they work well enough to justify the cost will be an individual decision based on one’s circumstances, but I can see that someone in a high-paying job that requires an edge would happily pay for these. That would seem to apply not just to tech workers but to doctors and lawyers and finance types.