Via Twitter on Monday, I learned about truBrain, a California company who sell “think drinks”. As they put it:
Our team of UCLA trained neuroscientists set out to solve the problem that energy drinks do not – genuine focus… Crafted with the perfect amounts of active nootropics… Loaded with amino acids to fuel the thinking process.
My interest was moderately piqued by this, but then TruBrain blocked a fellow neuroblogger on Twitter. This got my attention.
So what is truBrain? It’s a range of drinks – or alternatively capsules – containing a combination of several nutrients plus a nootropic (‘smart drug’), principally piracetam or the related oxiracetam (in ‘turbo’ packets.)
Of the ingredients, all except oxiracetam and piracetam are the kind of stuff you might find in a health food shop – such as magnesium, L-tyrosine, and DHA. Piracetam is a bit different. truBrain call it the ‘frontman’ of their group of molecular musicians:
John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin. Every band needs a frontman and this gaba derivative is ours. This ingredient leads our blend because of its decorated resume and established reputation within the neuroscience community. It is designed to boost information processing, attention, learning, and memory. This is the premium branded name of our popular blend driver, 2-oxo-1-pyrrolidine acetamide.
As Our “Neuro Nerds” Say…
…it’s designed to enhance the brain’s metabolism and boost information processing, attention, learning, and memory. It may increase neurotransmission, mitochondrial function, blood flow, oxygen consumption, cell membrane fluidity, and may have neuroprotective benefits.
So what does piracetam do to you? truBrain seem to be noncommittal on that issue. Their above-quoted description makes no direct claims about piracetam’s efficacy. We’re told that it’s designed to boost memory, and may increase neurotransmission – but does it?
There have been plenty of studies on piracetam and other nootropics. These compounds have a devoted fan-base, many of whom can be found online debating the merits of different drug and nutrient combos (or ‘stacks‘). truBrain is itself a stack. Is there any evidence that this particular stack has particular benefits?
truBrain say that
At truBrain, we demonstrate efficacy with quantitative data – it is in our DNA and what drives our Neuroscience team
However, the only data they present that I could see is a within-subject, non-placebo-controlled study of 7 people who had an EEG at baseline and again after one week on truBrain. They’ve run a larger study, but I couldn’t find the results, which don’t seem to be out yet.
On their ‘The Science’ page, truBrain highlight results from the n = 7 study, such as increased alpha waves and ‘dramatically’ stronger beta waves – but these are within individual subject comparisons. At the group level, the differences were ‘not quite significant’ (p = 0.079 for increased alpha, p value unstated for beta.) Some self-reported mood and cognitive effects are also described, but again with no p values.
If truBrain does increase, say, alpha wave amplitude, can we assume that this is a good thing? Neuroscientists are still debating what alpha waves are and where they come from. I note that some studies have reported that alcohol intoxication increases alpha power and so does being a crack cocaine addict or having PTSD. My point is not to make a case that stronger alpha waves are bad, but rather, to suggest that it is problematic to interpret them as straightforwardly good.
I note something else: all of the ingredients in truBrain have been around for decades, as truBrain themselves point out. In fact, in a (rather good) Reddit AMAfrom last year, Andrew Hill, lead neuroscientist at truBrain, said that “I have been taking these ingredients [truBrain’s] semi-regularly for over 5 years.”
This raises the question: if you believe that truBrain’s stack is effective, could you just buy the key molecules yourself – as Hill seems to have done previously? Could you buy them on eBay, for instance?
I decided to take a quick look. truBrain’s capsules are sold for $85 per month’s supply (if you buy a year’s worth; it’s more if you pay monthly). So how much would it cost to buy comparable products on eBay? I went through the list of truBrain ingredients given here, molecule by molecule:
Piracetam – I couldn’t find any dose information on the website, but according to
TruBrain provides 3 grams per day and
it’s stated as 3.2 g.
1000 g of piracetam (a kilo) on USA eBay for $73, a price of $0.073 per gram. 30 x 3.2 x 0.073 = $7 per month.
For the others the doses are given on truBrain’s website. It’s not clear if these amounts are per day or per pack (you get 44 packs per month). I will assume it’s per pack, as this assumption is more favorable to truBrain.
CDP Choline 375 mg – 50 grams
$40 or $0.80 per gram. 44 x 0.375 x 0.8 = $13.20 per month
DHA 200 mg – 180 capsules with 500 mg each
$26.7 or $0.30 per gram. 44 x 0.2 x 0.30 = $2.64 per month
L-carnitine 375 mg – The only ingredient I didn’t find sold on US EBay, but in the UK, 100 g
£6.98 which is $9.80 or $0.098 per gram. 44 x 0.375 x 0.098 = $1.67 per month
L-theanine 300 mg – 100 grams
$15.11 or $0.151 per gram. 44 x 0.3 x 0.151 = $2.00 per month
L-tyrosine 375 mg – 100 grams
$14.25 or $0.143 per gram. 44 x 0.375 x 0.143 = $2.35 per month.
Magnesium 120 mg – 100 tablets containing 500 mg
$9.95 or $0.20 per gram. 44 x 0.12 x 0.2 = $1.05 per month.
Oxiracetam 800 mg (but only 4 doses are provided each month) – 30 tablets containing 750 mg
$30 or $1.33 per gram. 4 x 0.8 x 1.33 = $4.26 per month.
These figures should not be taken as representative: they are just the result of an hour on eBay. Nonetheless, if I have done all my sums correctly, one could buy the above products which, I believe, constitute the key ingredients in one month’s supply of truBrain, for $34.08, whereas truBrain’s lowest stated monthly cost is $85.