Next up for review is another brain-boosting supplement from Irwin Naturals, in this case their Brain Awake supplement (click for best price). It has a significantly different ingredient profile than Ginkgo Smart, another Irwin Naturals product we reviewed recently. Most interesting is the addition of MCT oil in place of fish oil.
MCT/medium chain triglyceride oil has come to prominence in recent years largely because of the exploding popularity of Bulletproof Coffee, and the sustained energy many users claims it gives them. Brain Awake also contains caffeine, and we wondered if the ingredient list would give a Bulletproof Coffee-like experience. We had our testers try Brain Awake to see if it gave a similar boost. Read below to see what we found out.
- Vitamin B6 – 10 mg
- Vitamin B6 is a water-soluble essential vitamin, involved in the production of neurotransmitters. Studies show that when taken in conjunction with Magnesium, B6 improved school attention in children diagnosed with ADHD.
- Vitamin B12 – 500 mcg
- An essential vitamin B nutrient, B12 plays an important role in numerous bodily functions, including neurological function and development.
- Folate (as Quatrefolic) – 200 mcg
- Another B vitamin linked to brain health and function.
- MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil – 1000 mg
- Medium chain triglycerides, normally in the form of refined coconut oils, have become very popular in recent years for numerous health benefits. They’re a primary ingredient in Bulletproof Coffee, and Bulletproof/Upgraded self claims they provide sustained energy to the brain without the crash of stimulants. Research indicates MCT oil creates more ketone bodies when metabolized than most other fats, and these ketone bodies can be quickly utilized by the brain for energy. Their consumption in place of other calories sources has also been linked to increase fat loss.
- Acetyl-L-Carnitine – 500 mg
- This compound pairs very well with choline; when combined, the two form the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Having both in the same supplement is a good hedge in case the body is deficient in either compound.
- Bacopa extract (50% bacosides)(whole plant) – 300 mg
- Bacopa Monnieri is an herb used as an antidepressant and a cognitive booster. While performing stressful cognitive tests, subjects taking Bacopa Monnieri experienced the herb’s nootropic effects and reduced both stress and cortisol levels. This is actually the highest concentration of bacosides in the extract we’ve seen in a nootropic product.
- Holy Basil extract (2% ursolic acid) (leaf) – 200 mg
- A noted adaptogen, Holy Basil extract helps reduce the negative effects of stress. Ursolic acid is one of several active compounds in Holy Basil, with others including ocimarin and the ocimumosides, two substances linked to adaptogenic effects. Note: In high dosages, research indicated ursolic acid may actually be an anti-fertility agent and could reduce reproductive capability in the short term. We’ve had good experience with adaptogens before, but wonder if it would have been a good idea to leave this one out given its potential side effects. We didn’t formulate this supplement, but generally our testers prefer adaptogens like Rhodiola rosea.
- AlphaWave L-Theanine – 100 mg
- L-Theanine is an amino acid known to support a calm mood without inducing sleepiness. When used in conjunction with caffeine, it has been observed to reduce error rates while performing tasks.
- InnovaTea Natural tea Extract (standardized to 95% caffeine) – 52 mg
- Caffeine is a stimulant acting on the central nervous system. One of the better-researched mental and physical performance enhancers, caffeine is proven to have acute effects on cognitive function and mood when used in conjunction with L-Theanine.
- Lemon Balm Extract – 30 mg
- Also referred to as Melissa officinalis, lemon balm extract is linked to inducing calmness and boosting cognition, especially in stressful situations.
- Rosemary extract (3% rosmarinic acid) – 6 mg
- The active compound in rosemary is Rosmarinic acid, a noted antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
- Bioperine Complex – 6 mg
- BioPerine is a common ingredient in Irwin Naturals products, as well as products from other general supplement manufacturers. Research suggests BioPerine/black pepper extract in the form of piperine helps the body more efficiently absorb a variety of nutrients through the digestive tract. If effective, it’s a good compliment to this supplement’s stack of nootropic ingredients.
- Other Ingredients: Flaxseed oil, gelatin, purified water, glycerin, beeswax, soy lecithin, St. John’s bread, silicon dioxide and titanium dioxide.
Take three liquid soft-gels daily with a meal and a full glass of water. If caffeine keeps you up at night, do not take this product in the evening since it contains natural caffeine. Do not use if you may become pregnant, are pregnant or nursing. State of California Prop 65: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm.
What Our Testers Say
“I think the MCT oil gave me a physical boost as well as a mental boost, maybe even more of a physical kick. I felt the energy, but I think it was a shade less than I’ve had when drinking coffee with grassfed butter and MCT oil in the morning.”
“I cycle off and on Bulletproof Coffee, and I was hoping this would give me a similar kick. It did, but in a milder form. Also, one of the capsules must have popped during shipping, because when I opened my bottle everything was covered in a slimy brown film, and it made it difficult to swallow the pills. I’ll probably stick to Bulletproof Coffee if I want sustained energy for a long day or need to go longer than normal between meals.”
“This one caused some nausea for me (I usually take my supplements in the morning on an empty stomach and eat once I get to work). I wasn’t expecting this; I normally have an iron stomach. It gave me more energy throughout the day, but it’s a serving I’d have to time better in the future and plan my morning around.”
“I enjoyed the energy from this supplement, paired with a light breakfast, I felt like I could go until the late afternoon without needing a significant food break. I felt clear headed throughout that time, though I don’t think I was tons more productive than normal.”
- Take with a full glass of water and/or meal to avoid any stomach cramps; this is often true of MCT or fish oil-containing supplements.
- People have varying sensitivity to MCT oil; if you’ve never tried it before, it might be best to start with a smaller dosage to gauge your digestive system’s response.
- As with any supplement regime, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider before making any changes. This supplement contains an ingredient that’s been associated with reduced sperm fertility in males.
Brain Awake did have a similar effect to Bulletproof Coffee, but it wasn’t quite as pronounced, and the focus our testers felt wasn’t nearly as sharp as other supplements in recent memory. We’d suggest gauging your tolerance for MCT oil carefully from the start to avoid digestive issues. The inclusion of Holy Basil extract as the adaptogen of choice also has us scratching our heads a little bit, as there are similarly effective choices in existence without the same potential side effects.
If you like the effects of Bulletproof Coffee but aren’t a coffee drinker, Brain Awake is a zero-prep-required substitute. Overall, our testers reached for other supplements after their trial of Brain Awake was over.