There we go: yet another nootropic stack! Awaken Gold is the one I'm reviewing this!
I already hear you thinking: "Nootropic stack?"
Well, a "nootropic" is a Greek word for "mind-supporting" compound. "Stack" denotes the fact that such supplements include several different ingredients to achieve that effect.
Awaken Gold is thus such a supplement...
In previous blog posts, I've extensively talked about how I think that so-called "nootropic stacks" are going to change education and work environments. The reason is that such products have very big upsides to your cognitive performance without much if any downsides.
As most people get paid for using their brain and their pay directly depends on that brain functioning well, improving brain function is highly lucrative. The better your brain works, the higher your income becomes in today's work environment.
So should you load up on nootropics? Maybe not because such nootropic stacks are costly. Awaken Gold sets you back about $100 for a bottle and $85 with a subscription. One bottle lasts about two months though if you only use the supplements on working days.
So the next question is: "should YOU?"
Let's find out:
I've divided this blog post into several sections, all of which can be read on their own:
The Awaken Gold bottle looks great which immediately gives the impression that the producing company, Awakened Alchemy, has put lots of time into development. But in today's world, shiny bottles and hype marketing rarely live up to their claim.
So let's, therefore, begin with my (quantified) experience with this product:
I've divided my experience with Awaken Gold into two domains:
The reason for that distinction is that you'd want to take both personal experiences as well as independent data into account.
So, for instance, you may feel on top of the world when taking a supplement that purports to enhance your brain's performance -- but if you don't actually perform better it's no good. Alternatively, you may feel like crap even though you're performing better.
Both outcomes aren't the best as you want both your well-being as well as your cognitive performance to go up, ideally.
So let's find out what happened:
Let's first take a step back and describe how I measured my cognitive performance. So let's begin at the beginning:
I've frequently used a program called "i3 Mindware" to train and test my cognitive performance over the years. That i3 Mindware software is specifically targeted towards a brain training game called "dual-n-back".
During dual-n-back, you have to memorize 1) locations; 2) numbers; 3) sounds a few steps backward.
The "n" in dual-n-back stands for "number". So if you're playing 3-back, then you have to memorize the locations, numbers, and sounds 3 steps backward.
The game looks like this:
Notice that in the bottom, the green dot is emphasized as well as the "A" which denotes sound. So in this game, you need to focus on the green location and sound matches and ignore the numbers and yellow dot location.
Also, the logic symbol at the top shows the "=" sign, meaning that both location and sound must match at the same time.
In this case, if the green dot is in the left corner and I hear the letter "F" in my ear, and 2 steps forward the green dot is in the left corner again and I also hear an "F" in my ear, I push both the button on my laptop.
Incorrect pushing of buttons even though the location, numbers, or sounds don't match, is penalized though.
The end result is that you have to think several steps backward with dual-n-back. If you want an example of a 2-back game then look at the sequence below:
During my testing of Awaken Gold, I also played the game on some difficulty settings such as double speed (which demands more processing speed in your brain) and interference (sometimes making it look like there's a match even though there's a very slight difference).
Let me simplify.
We'll move straight to the outcome:
I've used dual-n-back training for several days and added a red circle around the times I used Awaken Gold:
As you can see, on a couple of days my n-back scores were slightly higher when using Awaken Gold.
With Awaken Gold, I scored an average of 3.3-back. Without Awaken Gold, I scored an average of 3.15. That's an instant 5% difference in performance!
How do I know?
Let's explore my reasoning in some more detail:
On days I used Awaken Gold, I ingested the supplement first thing in the morning on an empty stomach. About 60-90 minutes later I carried out the dual-n-back test.
There are some limitations to this methodology though:
You may also think: "why n-back training?"
N-back training is currently the gold standard of IQ improvement methodologies (96; 97; 98). The reason is that you train several dimensions of IQ, such as "working memory", "processing speed", "fluid intelligence", etcetra, all may improve.
I say "may" because improvements in I.Q. are still met with strong skepticism in the scientific community. I personally do think such improvements are possible in the same way that changes in brain structure after adulthood were met with skepticism in the past.
(Keep in mind that some scientists also think "IQ" is invalid as a scientific construct (99).)
Again, overall, my cognitive performance was about 5% higher with Awaken Gold.
Keep in mind that those performance increases are instant -- I didn't need any training or effort to reap those benefits.
So is a 5% increase in performance worth it? You bet!
Please remember that most people who have cognitively demanding jobs or education are not having a very easy time:
And so forth...
The better your brain works, the better you'll perform under pressure. And if you're not under pressure, a better working brain still helps you get more stuff done in almost any way.
So almost anyone can benefit from increased cognitive performance almost regardless of background.
Now that I've claimed that a 5% boost in performance is significant and important, let's consider my personal experience with Awaken Gold:
Awaken Gold feels very different than most nootropics out there. I tend to choose nootropics that are low on stimulants because I'm already a type-A personality. Anything that ramps me up even further doesn't actually improve my cognitive performance most of the time -- such as coffee.
Now, as you'll be able to read the science review of the ingredients in Awaken Gold, you will see that this stack contains ingredients that can be deemed either outright a stimulant or very stimulating.
The "Beta Phenylethylamine HCL" comes to mind -- that ingredient made me feel somewhat amped up. That ingredient isn't included in other nootropic stacks either, such as Qualia Mind or Mindlab Pro.
(Noopept may also be responsible for that "amped-up" jittery feeling.)
Fortunately, other ingredients in Awaken Gold, such as "theanine" or "ashwagandha" took the sharp edges off the stimulating effect.
So let's consider the overall effects I experienced:
The bottom line? Awaken Gold is very much worth it in my opinion.
Of course, always observe how you respond to any nootropic stack. Everyone's biology works somewhat differently, so no one-size-fits-all recommendations can be given in that regard.
Tired of hearing about my personal experience? Want to dive deeper into some hardcore science? Let's go:
In this section I've reviewed all 11 ingredients in Awaken Gold from the perspective of the currently published medical literature:
Vitamin B12, nothing special, and yet, highly essential.
If you're deficient in this vitamin your brain will certainly not perform the way it should. And yet, not that many people are B12 deficient if you're eating a high-quality diet. In the third world or in elderly people the percentages are much higher though (1; 2; 3).
Hence, B12 in this stack is more of an insurance policy...
Some effects of vitamin B12 deficiency are an inability of red blood cells to carry oxygen throughout your body, overall nervous system health, and optimal functioning of the "methylation pathways" -- the single-carbon metabolism of your body (4; 5; 6; 7; 8; 9).
Methylation has all kinds of roles in the body, ranging from cognitive performance to liver detoxification and emotional well-being.
The dosage used for this vitamin is great.
Takeaway: vitamin B12 is a prerequisite for basic energy metabolism and nervous system functioning.
β-phenylethylamine, or "PEA" in short, has been used as a natural alternative to amphetamine or methylphenidate (Ritalin, a prescription drug) (10; 11).
The choice of including this compound in Awaken Gold is very interesting and shows me that the creators of this project are not simply regurgitating ingredients that have already been included by other nootropic stack producers.
Let's look at some of its effects:
The dosage of PEA is good -- perhaps even on the high side! Normal PEA dosages are 100 - 500 milligrams daily, depending on tolerance and body weight. 400 milligrams as a standard dose is thus quite high!
Anecdotally, however, I've also seen people experiment with 1,000 milligrams (1 gram) doses online without much if any adverse side effects. Of course, the 1 gram dosage is for experienced users so 400 milligrams is quite a high starting dose.
Takeaway: β-phenylethylamine, or "PEA", can be a mood booster because of its stimulative properties. I do wonder how many people feel jittery taking this compound.
CDP choline, citicoline, or "cytidine-5-di-phosphocholine", are all names for the same compound.
CDP choline is a form of "choline" which is a precursor for the "acetylcholine" neurotransmitter (or brain-signaling compound). Acetylcholine is involved with focus, memory, and relaxation, for instance (18; 19; 20).
Choline is also an essential nutrient and its frequently considered a B-vitamin. Many people are also deficient in choline or have inadequate intake (21; 22).
Let's look at some of the effects of taking citicoline:
The inclusion of citicoline can very well be justified. The dosage is very good as well.
Takeaway: citicoline supports the acetylcholine system of the human brain, and aids in memory formation and access, impulse control, and processing speed of your brain.
Ashwagandha is generally used because it de-stresses you and promotes relaxation.
So here's where you know that the Awaken Gold nootropic stack is very well put together:
Ingredients that counterbalance stimulants such as PEA that was listed earlier are also included. Just like experiencing caffeine is totally different if you take it together with other compounds such as theanine (more on that one in a second), the same is also true for other stimulations.
In other words, ashwagandha takes the edge off some of the other more stimulating (noopept, PEA) ingredients in this stack.
So let's consider why to take ashwagandha in the first place:
The 200-milligram level is at the low side of the range I would recommend. I've seen doses of up to 1,500 milligrams being used with great effects.
Moreover, the choice for the KSM-66 standardized extract is very nice though.
Takeaway: including ashwagandha, especially the standarized extract, is a great choice. The dose could have been somewhat higher though.
Another "relaxant": theanine.
The purpose of this compound is to take off the "sharp edges" of other compounds like PEA. Theanine is well-known for its effects on damping the jittery and anxious effect you can get when taking caffeine (50; 51; 52).
Nonetheless, theanine also has a couple of independent effects:
The 150-milligram dose is on the low side although valid: I would have liked a 200-milligram dosage which is used in many studies.
Takeaway: great ingredient for anti-stress and relaxation purposes but slightly underdosed. Executive function is also supported with theanine.
Tyrosine is an important "amino acid". Amino acids are building blocks of proteins and your body needs them in a balanced fashion to perform at its best.
If you've got specific amino acid imbalances then your brain won't perform optimally. A deficiency in "tyrosine", for instance, leads to an inability to create brain signaling compounds such as "dopamine".
Remember that you need dopamine for abstract thought, impulse control, creativity, and more.
Hence, a poor diet can really impede your ability to feel and perform well.
N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine, or "NALT" in short, can increase your brain's performance in several situations -- although in some people (mainly the elderly) cognitive performance deteriorates instead of improves (57; 58; 59).
The upside is that NALT does have some proven benefits, such as your reactivity to changes in the environment, cognitive control, and memory (60; 61)
Takeaway: N-Acetyl-L-Tyrosine can support dopamine function in your brain which may boost several domains of cognitive performance.
Another compound that supports dopamine function: "Uridine 5' Monophosphate" (U5M). The benefit of this form of uridine is that it is more bioavailable than the regular form found in your food.
Although only tested in animal studies, U5M does improve the functioning of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine (62; 63; 64). The end result is enhanced mood and brain performance (e.g. memory, reasoning ability, etcetera).
Other benefits may include improvements in "neuroplasticity" - the ability of your brain to change over time. In the past, it was always believed that the human brain is static and that it doesn't change over time. Now it has become clear that you can always restructure your brain, even into old age.
The dosage of 150 milligrams is great.
Takeaway: Uridine 5' Monophosphate can improve neurotransmitter function and neuroplasticity (the restructuring of your brain over time).
Another one of my favorite compounds: phosphatidylserine. My reason for liking this compound is because it also has stress-lowering effects.
Let's explore how phosphatidylserine:
Other effects on neurotransmitters and antioxidant status (which can reduce brain aging), as well as keeping nerve cells in your body healthy, also exist.
Now here's where Awaken Gold fails somewhat: the phosphatidylserine dosage is only 100 mg but studies frequently use doses of up to 800 milligrams in one sitting. In that regard, this ingredient is thus underdosed.
If you ingest animal foods on a consistent basis, especially organ meats and fatty fish, then you'll already ingest hundreds of milligrams of this compound on a daily basis. 100 milligrams will thus not have a huge effect.
Takeaway: great ingredient that has a wide array of mental and cognitive benefits. The only downside is that it's underdosed.
Noopept: I still remember ordering this ingredient online and receiving a sachet of white powder with a small scoop for microdosing this nootropic.
The problem? You only need very tiny dosages of noopept to get a great effect. The upside, however, is that you get a lot of bang for your buck.
One huge advantage of noopept is that it increases "Brain-Derived Nootropic Factor" (BDNF) in your brain (78; 79; 80; 81) BDNF helps you build new brain cells over time as well as being protective for current brain cells
Noopept may also enhance memory (82; 83; 84) and is neuroprotective - although only demonstrated in animal studies once again (85; 86; 87; 88).
Anxiety-countering effects have also been found.
Dosing? Great, even a bit on the high side as 10 milligrams is a regular human dose for noopept. However, as doses up to 30 milligrams don't produce adverse effects Awaken Gold is doing great here.
Takeaway: great compound for brain health, memory, and other domains of cognitive performance. Dosed perfectly.
Pyrroloquinoline Quinone or "PQQ" is a compound that's really different than anything else included in this stack.
PQQ creates an effect called "mitochondrial biogenesis" -- in plain English that means "the creation of new mitochondria". Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells and by creating more of them you'll thus have more energy (89; 90; 91; 92).
Many people taking PQQ state that they feel more clear-headed and get a very natural boost in their cognitive performance.
Additionally, PQQ is another compound in the Awaken Gold stack that's neuroprotective (93; 94; 95). Even if you've got a traumatic brain injury, PQQ may help you recover quicker, for instance. The reason for that outcome is that PQQ may act as an "antioxidant" - a compound that fights potentially damaging "free radicals" which are created as a byproduct of energy production.
The 10-milligram dose is good.
Takeaway: PQQ does have indirect cognitive performance benefits os its inclusion is warranted.
"Bioperine", a compound found in black pepper, is a great addition to many stacks because it increases the potency of many ingredients found therein.
The most famous instance is adding Bioperine to turmeric which increases absorption of its active ingredients with more than 1,000%.
However, except for ashwagandha, there aren't any compounds which I suspect increase their effectiveness based upon Bioperine. If the creators of Awaken Gold read this review I would be very interested in learning about that mechanism!
That's it - a review of all the ingredients found in Awaken Gold. Next up is to compare this nootropic stack to other offerings on the market:
Fortunately, I've tried many nootropic stacks to this very day. I can therefore easily compare the effects of many of these products.
Qualia Mind still remains my most-favored nootropic stack of all time.
For me, personally, Qualia Mind has huge mood-boosting effects. The product also significantly aids my overall cognitive performance.
Awaken Gold compares reasonably well for me because it also gives me a mood boost and a good uptick in cognitive performance.
I will tell you this: Awaken Gold is the product that most closely approximates Qualia Mind in terms of comprehensiveness and uniqueness of the ingredients.
Having said that, let's compare price:
For convenience sake, I'm considering the full retail price here, without subscription or affiliate discounts and not including shipping.
Qualia Mind is priced at $139 for 22 servings. Awaken Gold is priced at $99 for 45 servings. For Qualia Mind that's $6.3 per serving and for Awaken Gold that's $2.2 per serving. That's an almost 3-fold difference in price.
Whether that price is justified depends on your circumstances in life, in my opinion. If you've got a great income and you rely on your brain for your income then Qualia Mind is still a no-brainer.
But if you're a student who wants an edge once in a while during a presentation or test, then Awaken Gold is the way to go.
Mindlab Pro is a personal favorite of mine specifically because it doesn't contain any stimulants and yet, still boosts my cognitive performance.
The price per serving of Awaken Gold ($2.2) and Mindlab Pro ($2.1), without shipping or potential discounts, is roughly equal.
I must admit that this decision is difficult for me. The ingredient quality and quantity is also very similar in both products, so it's impossible to differentiate that way.
Right now, it's a draw for me between these two products -- both have their advantages and disadvantages.
These two products are very hard to compare. Plato is a very minimalist supplement of 4 ingredients that is very safe and non-stimulating.
Awaken Gold tries to improve cognitive performance through many different angles and is quite stimulating (although not too much).
The price point of Awaken Gold per serving ($2.2) and Plato ($1.5), again, without including shipping or possible discounts, are somewhat similar.
And if I had to choose between the two I would choose Awaken Gold within a heartbeat. Even though this may be my personal opinion, I do feel that I get a lot more bang for my buck with Awaken Gold than I do with Plato.
I'm very excited to see so many new nootropic stacks entering the market these days.
The biggest winner of that trend? You, the customer!
Over time prices will come down while quality will go up. Hopefully, in 5 years' time, you can buy nootropic stacks such as Awaken Gold like you can buy energy drink from a vending machine today.
Because why not supply your brain with the best ingredients for performance?
Well, there's one huge caveat that I always bring up in my blog post about supplements. Supplements are just that: supplements. If you're living in a toxic environment with tons of low-quality air, or you never see the morning sun, or you're exposed to all types of toxins indoor, then it's almost certainly best to fix that issue first.
You cannot out-supplement a poor diet, lifestyle or environment. So please don't see nootropic stacks such as Awaken Gold as a magic pill -- even though technically can be!
This is a post by Bart Wolbers. Bart finished degrees in Physical Therapy (B), Philosophy (BA and MA), Philosophy of Science and Technology (MS - Cum Laude), and Clinical Health Science (MS), and is currently the chief science writer at Alexfergus.com.
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