Did you ever wish you were smarter? Dream of being able to think and learn faster, remember more for a longer time? This article compares two products, nootropics, that promise significant benefits such as improved cognition and memory. No, it’s not NZT 48, the designer drug from the movie Limitless, which gives Bradley Cooper perfect memory and maximizes his cognitive abilities. Rather, it’s two products in the nutraceutical space that claim to improve various aspects of brain function: Alpha Brain from Onnit Fitness and Nutrition and Focus Factor from Synergy CHC Corporation.
Nootropics are not only for older adults with declining cognitive abilities and those with impaired cognitive function. Healthy individuals are also interested in these over-the-counter products promising to improve brain function and memory and increase intelligence.
In this article, we compare the two products and declare a winner after reviewing the ingredients, formulations, dosages, and price value relationships. We also delve into the companies that produce the products, their testing and certifications, and evaluate their clinical trials. Your brain is the central computer that controls all your body’s functions. So, when considering a “smart drug,” we want you to have all the facts – enabling you to make an informed decision.
The Products – Nootropics
The nootropics, or “smart drugs” in our review, are dietary supplements in the natural products space that claim to support brain functions, such as clarity, focus, memory, and mental processing. Several crucial notes about these supplements:
- Although dietary supplements are not “approved” by the FDA, the industry is “regulated” by the FDA and FTC.
- These over-the-counter supplement products do not require a physician’s prescription.
- There are also prescription nootropics, such as Adderall. These medications typically have stimulant effects and treat a medical condition like ADHD.
Alpha Brain from Onnit
Alpha Brain is a dietary supplement in capsule form that helps support the following cognitive functions:
- Cognitive processing speed
The product is comprised of Vitamin B6, Cat’s Claw Extract, and three proprietary and trademarked blends: Flow Blend, Focus Blend, and Fuel Blend. Featured ingredients include L-tyrosine, L-theanine, Phosphatidylserine, Alpha GPC, Bacopa, Huperzine, Pterostilbene, and L-leucine. There are clinical studies on each component in Alpha Brain and its benefits to brain health, plus Onnit has conducted clinicals on the finished product, which have been published in scientific journals.
The Alpha Brain formulation is scientifically developed to activate your brain to make more alpha waves and support the production of neurotransmitters – chemicals that relay information in and from the brain.
Alpha Brain is tested as part of the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group) Certified Drug Free supplement certification program – the gold standard for banned substance testing. The product is caffeine, dairy, and gluten-free and is supported by the Onnit Keep-It Money-back guarantee.
Alpha Brain, which started as a single product in 2010, is now a brand of its own within Onnit Fitness and Nutrition. The company has created line extensions to include:
- Alpha Brain Instant
- Alpha Brain Black
- Alpha Brain Focus Shot
- Alpha Brain Pre-Workout
The recommended serving size is two capsules, taken daily, preferably with a light meal.
Focus Factor Original from Synergy CHC Corporation
For over twenty years, Synergy has marketed Focus Factor Original, a clinically tested nootropic dietary supplement in tablet form. Its primary benefits are to improve mood, energy, concentration, and focus. In addition to its 640 mg proprietary blend, the patented formula includes twelve vitamins (each at more than 100% of the Daily Value) and twelve minerals. Featured compounds in the Blend include DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol), Ginko Biloba Extract, L-Glutamine, Bacopa, Phosphatidylserine, and Huperzine.
Like Alpha Brain, the parent company, Synergy CHC Corporation, has created a brand unto itself in Focus Factor nootropics with numerous line extensions:
- Extra Strength
- Brain & Vision
- Max Strength
- 2 Varieties for Kids
- Energy Drinks
- Three different Shots
- Sports Pre-Workout
Focus Factor Extra Strength is a patented, advanced formulation that takes the original Focus Factor formula and increases the level of key neuro-nutrients, upping the proprietary blend to 798 mg. Synergy products are made in the U.S. in a federally registered and GMP-certified facility.
Focus Factor Original contains no artificial colorings or sweeteners and is milk, egg, gluten, and wheat-free.
The serving size is four tablets daily with food. To accommodate body weight, activity or stress level, or an inadequate diet, the company recommends you take additional tablets up to a maximum of eight per day.
Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor: Which is Better?
Rarely do we present one product as the more obvious choice. In this comparison, we recommend Alpha Brain as the preferred brand for myriad reasons. Bigger is not always better; however, being owned by Unilever, a $130 billion consumer product giant, has advantages. Advertising, research and product development, and third-party certifications are expensive. Unilever owns over 400 brands, including some of the best-known products in the world. Their sales organizations can gain product placement at virtually any retailer, and their legal team will ensure every I is dotted and T is crossed. Hence, there is no room for error in formulations, ingredients, advertising, or structure-function claims. We are discussing a product for your brain. We only get one, and we trust the brand with the most resources and the most to lose if anything is misstated, mislabeled, or done improperly. This is not to accuse Focus Factor of any infractions.
We review the formulations below, employing a slightly different approach in our chart. We consider the price-value relationship, again, digging deeper than simply the cost per unit. We discuss convenience in accessing the products and, importantly, how to take the products and dosing. We compare the companies behind the brands and recognize the company these brands keep, i.e., other brands in the company’s stables. Another major differentiator is third-party testing and certifications. Finally, we compare claims related to clinical trials; Alpha Brain’s studies are quoted by scientific journals and the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), while Focus Factor has one in-house test it quotes. All of this, and more, is detailed in the segments below.
Proprietary Blends & Dosages
Proprietary blends make it difficult, near impossible, to determine the exact dosage of ingredients. Beyond knowing that compounds in a proprietary blend must be listed in descending order, the ingredient with the largest dose is listed first, second largest next, and so on, multi-ingredient blends become blurred. Both products in our comparison utilize proprietary blends. With fewer total ingredients, segmented into three blends, plus Cat’s Claw at 350 mg, we can better guess the strength of ingredients in Alpha Brain. For instance, the Focus Blend (240 mg) has three components, with Bacopa identified at 100 mg and Huperzine stated in micrograms (400 mcg), we can then deduce that the lead ingredient, Alpha GPC is dosed at 140 mg.
So, we used the following exercise to attempt a more direct comparison of compounds in the blends, not including the vitamins or minerals in the formulas:
|Proprietary Blend||Size of Blend/Compound||Number of compounds||Average Dosage per Compound|
|Alpha Brain – Flow Blend||650 mg||4||162.5 mg average|
|Alpha Brain – Cat’s Claw||350 mg||1||350 mg|
|Alpha Brain – Focus Blend||240 mg||3||Alpha GPC 140 mgBacopa 100 mgHuperzine 400 mcg|
|Alpha Brain – Fuel Blend||60 mg||2||30 mg average|
|Focus Factor – Proprietary Blend||640 mg||17||38 mg average|
|Alpha Blend Total||1300 mg||10||130 mg average|
Why is this relevant? Few compounds in either formulation are efficacious at what seems an inadequate 38 mg per ingredient in Focus Factor. Most of these ingredients have been clinically tested at significantly higher dosages.
One area where Focus Factor may have an advantage is in its Vitamin and Mineral profile. The NCBI tells us that vitamins have been shown to benefit cognition, spatial memory and have been linked to better cognitive health. A good, stand-alone MVM multivitamin/mineral will meet this need at a far more reasonable price.
From a price value perspective, Focus Factor is significantly less per serving; however, when we factor in the dosages, the cost per milligram of active compounds is almost too close to call, a slight advantage to Alpha Brain. A word of caution when purchasing Focus Factor anywhere but on its site. The Supplement Facts panels differ from the company’s web page to Amazon to brick-and-mortar stores, with the proprietary blend fluctuating from 620 mg to 698 mg to 798 mg. This may be due to older or incorrect images displayed on retailer’s sites.
|Alpha Brain||Focus Factor|
|Thirty-day Supply *||$53.29||$30.00|
|Cost per Serving||$1.78||$1.00|
|Serving Size of Blends (less Vitamins/Minerals)||1300 mg||640 mg|
Convenience & Accessibility
From a convenience and accessibility perspective, both brands are available online, with subscription services and discounts for multiple purchases, and broadly available in physical retail stores.
Alpha Brain, with a smaller serving size, two per day versus four for Focus Factor, is a bit more convenient, particularly for people who dislike swallowing tablets. Alpha Brain is delivered via vegetable capsule, while Focus Factor is a tablet.
A minimal requirement of any product we review is that they are cGMP (current Good Manufacturing Practices) compliant. However, we prefer brands that are GMP-certified, such as Onnit. Additional certifications for Onnit and Alpha Brain include:
- BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group) Certified Drug Free
- Informed Sport
- Rainforest Alliance
- UTZ Certified
Focus Factor states that they are GMP certified but provides no reference as to the company certifying its facilities. They do not mention third-party quality and purity testing or safety certifications.
We detail the procedures and findings of clinical trials on the two finished products in a segment below. In our opinion, the advantage in this area goes to Alpha Brain as their studies are quoted in scientific journals and referenced by the NCBI. In contrast, Focus Factor used a third-party lab to conduct their trial. While this is better than no testing at all, supplement companies pay to have these studies performed, and due to the potential for bias, this is not necessarily evidence of efficacy.
We reviewed each of the compounds in the products, and every ingredient has been clinically studied and shown to play some role in brain health, many addressing the signs of cognitive decline due to aging. Other trials indicate a preventative benefit, prevention against vitamin deficiencies, or staying hydrated, such as the electrolyte concentrate in Focus Factor.
An issue applicable to both products is that the dosages in the single-ingredient clinical trials were significantly larger than those found in these formulations. Obviously, both companies have researched their formulation, assuming a synergistic effect when combining the compounds.
Our recommendation in this comparison is Alpha Brain. For a more in-depth look at our analysis, please read on.
The Health Claims of Alpha Brain and Focus Factor
The purported benefits of a nootropic focus on mental cognition, clarity, focus, memory, and mental processing. Specific claims by brand are as follows.
Alpha Brain benefits:
- Supports memory
- Promotes focus and clarity on complex tasks
- Aids mental processing
- Think more clearly under stress
- React more quickly
- Helps with flow state
Focus Factor benefits:
- A complete source of vitamins and minerals.
Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor: The Companies and Their Practices
Onnit Fitness & Nutrition
Onnit was founded in 2010 in Austin, Texas, by CEO Aubrey Marcus, with a concept for “total human optimization” through physical fitness, mental performance, and emotional wellness. In July 2011, the company introduced its first product, Alpha Brain, a cognitive enhancer. In a stroke of genius, Mr. Marcus enlisted Joe Rogan, of podcast fame, as his sole influencer. As Rogan’s reputation soared, so did Alpha Brain’s sales.
In April 2021, Unilever acquired Onnit, the holistic wellness and lifestyle company. Today, the company’s sophisticated website, with over one million monthly visitors, markets some 250 products, including an expanded supplement line, unique nutrient-dense foods, strength and fitness equipment, digital content, informative and motivational articles, and fitness programs.
Onnit uses an omni-marketing approach, making its products broadly available online and in brick-and-mortar retailers. Alpha Brain products can be purchased on the company website, other online retailers, and physical stores nationwide.
The company’s best-in-class practices include FDA-registered and cGMP-certified manufacturing facilities in Austin, Texas. Onnit products are tested as part of the BSCG (Banned Substance Control Group) Certified Drug Free supplement certification program and Informed Sport, another third-party testing program.
Focus Factor – Synergy CHC Corporation
Dr. Kyl Smith developed Focus Factor in 1997 and sold it through the Creative Health Institute until 2000. The brand was subsequently sold to Synergy CHC Corporation and relaunched in about 2015 with an expanded lineup including Original, Extra Strength, Kid’s, and Brain & Vision varieties.
Synergy’s strategy has been acquiring proven brands in Nutraceuticals, Cosmeceuticals, Beauty, and Marketing Tech. The company is headquartered in Van Nuys, California, and products are made in the U.S. in a GMP-certified facility with globally sourced ingredients. The Focus Factor Original formula is patent-protected and has been clinically tested in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study.
Like Onnit, Synergy follows an integrated omni-channel approach. Its products are available on the company website, other e-commerce sites such as Amazon.com, and physical retail stores, Vitamin Shoppe, Target, Walmart, and CVS Drug.
The Company They Keep
As emphasized earlier, Alpha Brain is owned by the $131 billion conglomerate Unilever. Other products in Unilever’s portfolio of some 400 brands are personal care items, Dove, Lifebuoy, Vaseline, Pepsodent, and Axe. In the food aisles, you have Hellman’s Mayonnaise, Knorr Sauces, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream, and Liquid I.V., and Smarty Pants in natural products. These are some of the most trusted names in consumer products. Conversely, Focus Factor, owned by Synergy CHC, has brand siblings Flat Tummy, Hand MD, The Queen Pegasus, and Sneaky Vaunt.
Our bias for bigger might be better is showing; however, larger corporations typically have more resources to fund expensive things such as legal teams, research and development, and certifications to ensure they operate ethically and protect their reputations.
Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor: The Formulations
The company’s products have four ingredients in common:
- Vitamin B6 – regulates levels of homocysteine in the blood – high levels of homocysteine are associated with a greater risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s.
- Phosphatidylserine – mitigates the effects of stress by lowering cortisol.
- Bacopa – a calming cognitive enhancer that improves learning, memory, and reduces anxiety.
- Huperzine – helps prevent the breakdown of acetylcholine.
All other unique ingredients and their function are highlighted below.
- Cat’s Claw Extract has anti-inflammatory properties that may improve blood flow to the brain, particularly in the elderly.
- The Flow Blend (650 mg): Promotes alpha brain wave production.
- L-theanine – an amino acid that promotes the release of dopamine and serotonin in the brain – has been clinically proven to improve learning, memory, and cognitive function.
- L-tyrosine – an amino acid that helps the body produce adrenalin and dopamine to prevent cognitive decline in stressful situations.
- Oat Straw Extract – promotes cognitive function and improves concentration and focus, particularly in older adults.
- The Focus Blend (240 mg): – Optimize acetylcholine levels.
- Alpha GPC – acts as a precursor to acetylcholine – aids in its production in the body.
- Huperzia Serrata
- The Fuel Blend (60 mg): – Optimal nervous system communication.
- Pterostilbene – aids cognitive function and memory by increasing the levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF)
- L-Leucine – a BCAA (branched chain amino acid) that helps the body synthesize proteins
- Multivitamin/Mineral profile – may improve cognitive function in older adults; multivitamin use improved free recall memory.
- Proprietary Blend – 798 mg/17 ingredients:
- Dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) – prevents the build-up of the “age pigment,” which impairs brain function and increases acetylcholine.
- L-glutamine – an amino acid with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
- L-pyroglutamic acid – helps maintain important levels of three brain neurotransmitters.
- Docosahexaenoic acid concentrate (DHA) – fish oil, known to be vital for normal brain function.
- Inositol increases serotonin levels in the brain.
- N-acetyl tyrosine – a derivative of L-tyrosine useful for cognition in stressful situations.
- Bilberry Fruit Extract – thought to improve long-term and working memory in older adults.
- Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) – helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
- Grape skin and Grape Seed Extract – may slow cognitive decline in older people.
- Vinpocetine – improves blood flow to the brain as a vasodilator.
- Trace-Lyte electrolyte concentrate – helps maintain appropriate fluid levels in the brain and body.
- Boron – a brain “nutrient” that helps with task performance.
- Vanadium – helps prevent neuron degeneration.
Alpha Brain – Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo Controlled Study
As reported by NCBI, the National Center for Biotechnology Information.
“The goal of this study was to investigate the efficacy of this self-described cognitive enhancing nootropic on cognitive functioning in a group of healthy adults by utilizing a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled design.”
Results: “Compared with placebo, Alpha Brain significantly improved on tasks of delayed verbal recall and executive functioning. Results also indicated significant time-by-group interaction in delayed verbal recall for the Alpha Brain group.”
Per the company website:
- Focus Factor was clinically tested in a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study.
- The study was sponsored by Factor Nutrition Labs, LLC.
- The study was conducted at Cognitive Research Corporation.
The study showed those who took Focus Factor for six weeks improved their memory, concentration, and focus.
The NCBI’s only comment regarding Focus Factor is, “Focus Factor, a highly advertised product for memory enhancement, is the most expensive of all the products at $75. It contains many vitamins and proprietary homeopathic ingredients”.
Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor: Price/Value Comparison
Alpha Brain Memory & Focus retails for $79.95 for 90 servings, a forty-five-day supply, or $1.78 per serving. The subscription option (auto-ship every forty-five days) is $67.96, or $1.51 per serving – a 15% savings. There are also special offers for multiple purchases of the thirty-count bottle, which include a gift with purchase – Joe Rogan’s The Facts of Life with Joe Rogan.
Also available on Amazon.com, Memory & Focus retails for $67.28 for ninety capsules, equating to $1.49 per serving, the lowest price we found.
Pricing is as follows in brick-and-mortar stores:
- GNC – $34.99 for thirty capsules- $2.33 per serving
- Vitamin Shoppe – $79.99 for ninety capsules – $1.78 per serving
- Walmart – $76.49 for ninety capsules – $1.70 per serving
- Walgreens – $30.99 for thirty capsules – $2.06 per serving
- CVS – $34.99 for thirty capsules – $2.33 per serving
The best value on a per-serving basis is Amazon.com or the Onnit website using the subscription option.
The lead item on the Focus Factor web page is the 60-count, priced at $14.99. At first blush, this seems reasonable; however, the suggested serving size is four tablets, with the recommendation, “to accommodate body weight, activity level, stress level, and inadequate diet, take additional tablets up to a maximum of eight tablets per day.” Sticking with the four-tablet serving size, a 60-count bottle lasts fifteen days. You will need 120 tablets for thirty days, or two bottles, for $30.00. This equates to a cost per serving of $1.00. The ‘Subscribe and Save” price saves 10%, and product is shipped every 30 days. There are also “Bundle and Save” options for multiple bottle purchases.
Prices on Amazon.com and in brick-and-mortar stores are as follows:
- Amazon.com – $13.99 for 60 tablets – $.932 per serving
- Vitamin Shoppe – $23.99 for 90 tablets – $1.06 per serving
- Walmart – $29.99 for 180 tablets – $.666 per serving
- Target – $16.99 for 60-count – $113
- CVS Drug – $24.69 for 60-count, or $34.63 for 90 tablets – $1.646 or $1.53 per serving, respectively
The best value is Walmart for the 180-tablet product.
Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor: Are They Safe?
Nootropics are generally safe for healthy adults when used as directed. Potential side effects include headaches, nausea, anxiety, jitters, diarrhea, and insomnia. Both brands have an excellent safety profile, and neither reports any serious adverse reactions. These products are not recommended for pregnant or lactating women or those with underlying conditions or on prescription medications, as ingredients may interact. Although no prescription is required, we highly recommend consulting your healthcare professional before adding a nootropic to your supplement regimen.
In Summary: Alpha Brain vs. Focus Factor
Alpha Brain and Focus Factor both contain an impressive list of ingredients clinically evidenced to be effective for cognition. Although our pick for the more appropriate option is Alpha Brain, Focus Factor has garnered a loyal following, and reviews are generally positive.
While researching nootropics, we found an interesting article stating that there are two safer, more natural approaches for healthy adults not experiencing cognitive decline. Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventative and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan, proposed 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione as a safe, natural, and cost-effective cognitive aid – caffeine. He goes on to say, “If you’re really looking to boost your brain function in a way that is absolutely, 100% proven to be safe and effective, the answer is clear: get some exercise”.
As is often the case, if you truly want to optimize the effectiveness of your nootropic – a healthy diet, physical fitness, and emotional wellness will elevate your mental performance – but perhaps not quite to the level of NZT 48.