BrainStack is a Nootropic made by Maven Labs which contains several effective brain-boosting ingredients as well as a few that are somewhat questionable.
Alpha GPC is widely considered the most bioavailable Choline source, and is often supplemented to preserve/enhance cognitive function. Like all cholinergic compounds, Alpha GPC’s mechanism of action is via increasing Acetylcholine levels in the brain. Acetylcholine is the neurotransmitter primary associated with learning, memory formation, as well as certain aspects of concentration and focus (though Noradrenaline and Dopamine play strong roles as well). Alpha GPC has been shown to increase Acetylcholine levels in rat brains with oral supplementation and, given the high oral absorption rate (compared to other Choline sources), this effect likely translates into humans as well.
BrainStack contains 175mg of Alpha GPC per serving, less than what is traditionally used for cognitive enhancement, but still within the range of potential benefit, especially when combined with Huperzine-A, as the two are theoretically quite synergistic.
Huperzine-A is commonly extracted from Huperzia Serrata, and acts as a potent Acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. Acetylcholinesterase is the enzyme primarily responsible for the degradation of Acetylcholine (discussed above), so inhibition of this enzyme indirectly increases levels of Acetylcholine.
A 2002 study, published in the “European Journal of Pharmacology”, found that Huperzine-A had a similar potency to reference drugs, tacrine, donepezil, and physostigmine.
Combined with the above-mentioned Alpha GPC, Huperzine-A may very well increase Acetylcholine levels in the brain, leading to enhancements in certain aspects of cognitive function (i.e. memory formation, learning ability, etc.). At 150mcg per serving, BrainStack contains enough Huperzine-A to convey some meaningful benefit.
Caffeine has long been established as a cognitive enhancer/energizer, oral consumption of which triggers the release of Catcholamines (Noradrenaline, Dopamine, Adrenaline, etc.), generally inducing a state of increased alertness, focus, and perceived energy. For some, Caffeine is highly effective for getting things done, so it makes sense to include it in a cognitive enhancement formula.
BrainStack contains a modest 60mg dose of Caffeine, just enough to provide non-habitual Caffeine users with a slight kick, but nowhere near enough to cause negative side effects in most people. Individuals who drink Coffee daily or consume other forms of Caffeine may not be noticeably impacted.
Theanine is a non-dietary amino acid found almost exclusively in Green Tea, where it is believed to synergistically enhance the effects of Caffeine, resulting in a state which can best be described as “calm alertness”, despite Caffeine tending to increase anxiety and jitters in some. Indeed, the research regarding the cumulative effects of Caffeine and Theanine indicates a strong synergy exists between these two substances.
In a 2008 study, published in “Nutritional Neuroscience”, researchers investigated the cognitive effects of a combination of Theanine and Caffeine compared to Caffeine alone on various measures of cognitive performance. Participants received either 50mg of Caffeine or 50mg of Caffeine and 100mg of Theanine before completing various tasks including word recognition, visual image processing, and attention switching. While Caffeine was able to increase alertness and accuracy during the attention switching tasks, the combination of Caffeine and Theanine was able to improve both performance and speed, while reducing the subjects’ susceptibility to distraction.
Another 2008 study from “Biological Psychology” found that, while 150mg of Caffeine increased alertness and improved (decreased) reaction time, adding 250mg of Theanine further improved reaction time, alertness, and decreased the number of headaches reported from Caffeine.
A 2010 study, also from “Nutritional Sciences”, found that the combination of 97mg of Theanine combined with 40mg Caffeine significantly improved focus and attention on various cognitive tests, compared to placebo.
Another 2010 study, this one published in “Appetite”, noted an improvement in task-switching ability using the same 97mg Theanine/40mg Caffeine combination.
BrainStack contains 120mg of L-Theanine and 60mg of Caffeine, completely consistent with the 2:1 ratio of Theanine to Caffeine which has been shown to synergistically enhance cognitive function.
BACOPA (50 % BACOSIDES):
Bacopa is an herb (and herbal supplement) with a well-documented history of use as a cognitive enhancement agent (nootropic). The primary active components responsible for the herbs effects on various aspects of cognitive function are known as Bacosides, and the particular form of Bacopa that Maven Labs uses for BrainStack is standardized to 50%.
A 2011 study, published in the “Journal of Ethnopharmacology” noted a roughly 110% increase in Acetylcholine levels of rats treated with Bacopa compared to placebo. These findings were consistent with those of an earlier (2002) study from “Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior” in which Bacopa was shown to inhibit Acetylcholinesterase (similar to Huperzine-A) in the brains of rats.
A 2013 study from “Phytotherapy Research” found that Bacopa was able to increase cerebral blood flow in rats without effecting blood pressure, and this effect was alleged to be the result of increased Endothelial Nitric Oxide.
The general consensus recommendation for Bacopa is about 150mg Bacosides, but unfortunately, BrainStack contains just 40mg and no research currently exists demonstrating benefits with such a low dose.
Mucuna Pruriens is generally standardized for the compound L-Dopa, a direct precursor to the neurotransmitter, Dopamine. L-Dopa is able to effective cross the blood-brain-barrier and raise Dopamine levels, as demonstrated in a 2009 study from “Fertility and Sterility”. Because Dopamine plays an important role in various aspects of cognitive function (i.e. concentration, mood, etc.), L-Dopa is alleged to convey some cognitive enhancement benefits, and while its mechanisms may be theoretically sound, there are currently no studies upon which to draw conclusions.
BrainStack contains 200mg of Mucuna Pruriens standardized to 40% (80mg) L-Dopa, which may subtly increase Dopamine, but likely won’t cause a drastic change.
Pterostilbene is a derivative of the popular anti-oxidant compound, Resveratrol. Though it has a relatively wide variety of potential health implications, BrainStack is primarily concerned the preliminary findings that indicate it may be a cognitive enhancement agent. A 2008 study, published in the “Journal of agricultural and food chemistry”, found that aged rats fed a diet containing Pterostilbene experienced an improvement in cognitive function over a period of 12 weeks, which correlated with the accumulation of Pterostilbene in the brain. Clearly, more studies are needed, preferably in humans, as there really isn’t sufficient evidence yet to conclude that Pterostilbene is an effective nootropic in humans.
Gaba is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain, as opposed to Glutamic Acid, which is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter. These two neurotransmitters balance each other out and an excess of GABA is generally alleged to induce a state of relaxation. However, supplemental GABA has difficulty crossing the blood-brain-barrier so the true efficacy of oral supplementation is unknown. Furthermore, its not quite clear why GABA would be beneficial in the context of a pre-workout, since it is generally used as an anxiolytic/relaxation agent. There are anecdotal reports of supplemental GABA being an effective nootropic, but no documented studies investigating these claims.
Carnitine is an amino acid which is heavily involved in energy metabolism, and also possesses anti-oxidant properties. Though Carnitine is found in many different supplements for a variety of different reasons, BrainStack contains Carnitine primarily because of its implications for cognitive health.
A 2001 study, published in the “Journal of Neuroscience Research”, found that ALCAR was able to improve learning capacity in older mice (subject to cognitive decline), and these findings were further corroborated by those of a 2012 study from the “Journal of Behavior and Brain Science” in which ALCAR attenuated the cognitive decline in mice over their lifetime.
A 2003 systematic review, which sought to determine the effects of ALCAR in dementia, concluded that in doses of 1-3g daily, ALCAR can preserve cognitive function in those subject to cognitive decline (elderly individuals), but that insufficient evidence exists regarding its effects in younger, healthier subjects.
Brain Stack contains 300mg of ALCAR, 1/3rd -1/10th the doses used in the bulk of the research. Given the low dose, it is not likely that ALCAR provides much benefit in the context of the BrainStack formula, but it certainly doesn’t hurt either.
Hericium erinaceus, also known as Yamabushitake, is a species of mushroom which is alleged to be a cognitive enhancement agent, and preliminary evidence suggests it is. A 2009 study from “Phytotherapy Research” concluded that individuals suffering from cognitive decline, who supplemented with 3g Yamabushitake daily, experienced significant improvement in overall cognitive function. Similar findings were obtained in a 2010 study from “Biomedical Research” in which 2g Yamabushitake daily was shown to reduce anxiety and depression, leading to better concentration and less irritability, in human subjects.
BrainStack contains 300mg of Yamabushitake, far less than what was used in the above mentioned studies, but since doses this low have not been studied, potential benefit cannot be ruled out.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
The ingredient profile of BrainStack is pretty solid, with a thorough blend of proven (and some questionable) cognitive enhancers. However, the doses of some of these ingredients may be lower than what research suggests is adequate. That being said, several of the ingredients are dosed appropriately and may lead to improvements over time, with Caffeine and Theanine being the only ingredients that may be acutely felt upon consumption. At slightly over $2 per serving, BrainStack is priced at a slight premium, but is not grossly over-priced considering the cost of reconstructing the formula from scratch.
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