You probably know we're a big fan of Qualia Mind at Alexfergus.com.
So I was really happy to learn that Neurohacker has come out with a budget version of Qualia Mind called "Qualia Focus".
No longer costing 100+ USD, Qualia Focus only costs $69 per bottle without subscription and $59 with subscription. Discounts such as discount code FERGUS can lower that number even further.
Why Qualia Focus?
Simple: an effective all-around nootropic that's affordable for a much bigger audience than Qualia Mind. Here's my summary of this product:
Interested in learning more? Read below:
I've divided this blog post into four sections:
Each of these sections can be read individually or together...
Let's dig into my experience:
I must be 100% honest: Qualia Mind is one of my favorite supplements, simply because I feel truly amazing using the product.
Qualia Focus, moreover, looks surprisingly much like Qualia Mind. Most of the ingredients found in Qualia Mind can also be found in Qualia Focus. Hence, I was very much looking forward to experimenting with this supplement.
I know that many of the ingredients of Qualia Focus work very well with my physiology - such as Rhodiola Rosea, theanine, Mucuna Pruriens - and thus expected many great benefits from taking Qualia Focus.
Only a few ingredients are missing from Qualia Focus that can be found in Qualia Mind, such as Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ), phosphatidylserine, Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), and citicoline.
If you regularly consume fatty fish then you're getting sufficient DHA and even phosphatidylserine, and hence, citicoline and PQQ are the only two truly missing ingredients from Qualia Focus.
Other ingredients are dosed somewhat lower in Qualia Focus as well though. Examples are Acetyl-l-Carnitine, Rhodiola Rosea, and Artichoke extract.
I've divided my personal experience into 1) my personal experience, related to my feelings on this product, and; 2) under cognitive testing, which is quantified.
I'll start with the more qualitative "feeling" approach:
I feel damn good on Qualia Focus.
The reason is probably the combination of many dopamine-enhancing compounds (phenylalanine, N-Acetyl-Tyrosine, Uridine, Mucuna Pruriens, Theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, and several others), as well as compounds that make me calmer (theanine, Rhodiola Rosea, taurine).
On days I'm taking Qualia Focus my mood is significantly better, comparable to the difference of a sunny day compared to a darker winter day.
(Light has a huge influence upon my personal mood.)
Why won't I take Qualia Focus 365 days a year then? Simple: Qualia Focus contains caffeine and there's no Qualia Focus supplement without the caffeine, as is currently possible with Qualia Mind.
My physiology reacts very strongly to caffeine and I regularly lose 30-45 minutes of deep sleep on days I use higher dosages of coffee.
Lower doses have less of an effect, and yet, because I'm a slow metabolizer of caffeine, 90 milligrams of caffeine in the morning will still translate into a quarter to a half cup of coffee before bedtime.
In other words, any caffeine is (almost) fatal for me.
Make no mistake, caffeine makes me feel great and significantly boosts my mood--but that doesn't mean ingesting caffeine is a good thing for me. Quite the contrary...
But then there's the cognitive testing:
As always, I've used dual-n-back testing to assess my cognitive performance. The reason for dual-n-back testing is that I can measure several domains of cognitive performance in a small amount of time within one day (188; 189; 190; 191; 192).
N-back training possibly measures working memory (as opposed to long-term memory), processing speed, spatial intelligence, and more.
But you might think: "what is n-back?"
"N-back" is a memory program whereby you have to remember sounds and locations several steps back.
(If you don't want to learn about n-back and just learn about my quantified results, click HERE. The description below is somewhat technical, but oversimplifying a bit, n-back is a bit like "memory")
It's easier to imagine if I simply give an example. Dual n-back looks like this:
As you can see, there are 9 locations (circles) on the screen, 3 on top, 2 in the middle sides, and 3 in the bottom.
Those locations show a number between 1 and 9.
Additionally, there's a sound, such as "A", or "M", or "Q".
At each n-back, two colored dots (green and orange) fill a location (circle) with a number. In the case of the listed screen above, a green 1 fills the bottom location and an orange 2 fills the lower right location.
Additionally, there's a sound which I cannot show on a picture.
The goal is to remember the locations, sounds, and numbers several steps back. Every second or so, the green and orange dot move to a different location and there's a new letter spoken through the speaker.
2-back means you have to remember the location, number, and sound 2 steps back.
Let me give an example of a 2-back hit:
If at the first step, the location in the bottom left has number 3, then at the second step, the upper right corner has number 5, and at the third step, the lower right location has number 3, then there's a 2-back match for both location and number at that point.
In 2-back, if the location or sound or number matches the one you remembered 2 steps back, you then have to press a button on the keyboard. Overall, the exercise places significant demand on your cognitive performance because it can always get more difficult.
If 2-back becomes easy, 3-back might be hard. And if 5-back is easy then you might still fail at 8-back.
But it gets even more complicated.
Let me give an example:
Now, at this point I was playing n-back at n=5 (signified by the red circle):
To reiterate, 5-back thus means you have to remember the data (location, sound, and number) 5-steps back and hit the buttons on the keyboard when there's a match.
Additionally, during this session, the goal was to focus on the orange dot and sound, thereby ignoring the numbers and the green dot:
See my red emphasis around the orange dot and letter "A" (which signifies that this session focuses on sound).
Some sessions focus on the numbers, so that you have to ignore the sounds. Other sessions focus on the sound, meaning that you have to ignore the numbers.
The best way to find out how this works is to try it out. Here's a free more simpler n-back that only focuses on numbers and sounds. This free version starts with 1-back, which is really easy but drives my message home.
Obviously, the higher the n-back becomes, the more difficult the exercise is. With 2-back, you need to remember a streak of 2 locations and sounds while ignoring useless information. With 5-back, you need to remember all info 5 locations and sounds back, and enter the keys for a number, location, or sound match at the right times.
In order to correctly hit the buttons at 10-back, you thus need to remember a streak of 10 numbers, locations, and sounds, while ignoring distracting information. Achieving 10-back is very difficult for most humans...
To complicate matters further, the n-back training program I used makes the exercise even more complicated because there's also a "logic modifier":
The sign circled above means that a location, sound, or number match only counts if there's not both a location or sound match, or location and number match.
The "=" sign means that only if location and sound, or location and number both match, I need to press the buttons.
And for the ". ." logic modifier, it means that location, sound, and number matches should be counted individually as well as together. So either a location or a sound or number match can be counted.
This sounds more complicated than it is, in reality. If you're interested then the best way to find out more is to test i3 Mindware yourself, the program I'm using for my cognitive testing (and training).
My methodology was to use n-back testing each and every day, alternating between one day with Qualia Focus, and the next day without Qualia Focus.
I'd take the Qualia Focus on an empty stomach in the morning and perform the cognitive testing 1-2 hours later.
The results are somewhat unbelievable and perhaps even attributable to a placebo effect - because I do feel very good on Qualia Focus:
The final outcome?
The sessions with the red circles showed when I used Qualia Focus. The sessions without a red circle were without Qualia Focus.
Let's compare the two outcomes quantitatively:
The difference between those two scores is an average 0.6 higher n-back with Qualia than without.
The outcome is almost too good to be true because it implies 16% higher cognitive performance from baseline.
To be 100% honest, I'll probably try some more testing in the future with a higher number of rounds of n-back to attain more certainty. Nonetheless, the current outcome is extremely promising.
Some caveats and limitations also exist with this testing though:
Moving on to the next topic: a review of all of Qualia's ingredients:
Qualia Focus contains 25 different ingredients which all have different roles in enhancing your overall cognitive performance.
Let's explore these ingredients from a scientific perspective:
Interesting ingredient choice. I think the main reason for including vitamin C might not have to do with directly enhancing cognitive performance but creating adequate preconditions.
The dosage used is good.
Verdict: adding vitamin C to a nootropic stack can very well be justified because overall brain health does partially depend on vitamin C status. Dosage is good.
Vitamin D, aptly called the "sunshine vitamin"!
Your skin synthesizes vitamin D when the sun is high up the sky and the rays of light hit your skin.
Should you care about deficiency?
A resounding yes!
Let's look into some of the effects of vitamin D deficiency:
One downside of including supplemental vitamin D is that you're forcing everyone to take 1,000 International Units (IU) whenever they take this supplement. I personally already create vitamin D through light exposure so I don't need more than I already have.
Adding vitamin D is a bit like adding caffeine -- you're forcing the user's hand.
Verdict: adding vitamin D can be justified as many people are deficient in this nutrient. Vitamin D also has demonstrable effects on cognitive health. I dislike oral vitamin D supplements though.
Thiamine, or vitamin B1, is essential for basic metabolic processes. Metabolism is the process of chemistry and electromagnetism that supports life.
In plain English, for instance, your body uses food from your environment to stay alive. Without adequate thiamine, your body cannot adequately process carbohydrates, for instance.
One study found the following effects:
"An improvement in thiamine status was associated with reports of being more clearheaded, composed and energetic. The taking of thiamine had no influence on memory but reaction times were faster following supplementation." (25).
Reaction speed is a measurement of what is called "processing speed" in science. Processing speed is a very basal measurement that attempts to capture your IQ. The reason for that conclusion is that the quicker your brain can process information, the higher your cognitive performance will be.
Verdict: thiamine is a great ingredient that has reasonable scientific backing as a nootropic. The dosage is perfect.
Vitamin B3 or "niacin" is hot today.
Every single process in the human body is dependent on energy, and the higher your energy levels, the smoother the human "machine" will run.
Unfortunately, NAD+ levels go down with age and your energy levels, therefore, do so as well.
Now, research regarding different forms of niacin is still in the beginning stages -- although promising. If you'd like to learn more then I recommend reading the guide I contributed to on the topic:
(In defense of Neurohacker, the Qualia supplement is meant to be combined with Eternus, which does contain a higher niacin dose.)
Moral of the story?
Very simple B-vitamins can affect your cognitive performance and likely have some benefit even if they're supplied at way higher levels than you'd normally get from diet alone.
Verdict: vitamin B3 (niacin) likely has an effect on your overall energy levels. Energy levels likely influence cognitive performance, and hence, niacin is a good addition. The dosage is relatively low.
Verdict: nothing special but good that this ingredient was added.
Vitamin B12, the only B-vitamin which you can primarily get from animal foods.
Not that many people are actually deficient in this vitamin though, although it's more prevalent in the elderly. The regular complete blood panel testing, however, may have led to under-reporting of B12 deficiency (50; 51).
Why take this vitamin? Once again, this vitamin influences cognition too. Vitamin B12:
Adding B12 is nice but the dosage is sky-high. The counterargument against that claim is that there's no known excessive level of B12 right now.
Verdict: adding vitamin B12 can be justified as an insurance policy of people under-consuming this vitamin (which is rare).
The last B-vitamin on the list: B5.
I could make the explanation about why vitamin B5 is important more elaborate but suffice it to say that if you're deficient, you'll want to ingest more.
Verdict: adding vitamin B5 is nice even though deficiencies are not widespread. If you do have a deficiency, then it almost certainly affects brain function.
Time to bring out the big guns:
Finally we've arrived at the actual plant compounds that purport to increase your cognitive performance.
First up: artichoke leaf extract.
Artichoke leaf extract has become really popular for a few years because it was added to a supplement called "CILTEP".
The 300-milligram dosage used here is relatively low though. I'd like to have seen 500 - 1,000 milligrams as that number is usually found in most nootropic stacks.
In Neurohacker's defense though, some people do get tired after using high doses of artichoke (plus enhancers such as forskolin) for a longer period of time.
Verdict: adding artichoke is great because it has wide-ranging cognitive enhancement benefits. Dosage is debatable.
Great reasons exist for including Bacopa though, as lots of circumstantial evidence as well as personal experience shows this compound works for cognitive enhancement.
Let's look at a few Bacopa Monnieri benefits. Bacopa Monnieri:
The 300-milligram dose is also good - some studies use 150 milligrams while others go as high as 450.
Verdict: Bacopa Monnieri has potentially amazing all-around nootropic effects. The dosage is also very good.
"Alpha-GPC" is a choline form. Choline, in turn, is a precursor for the "acetylcholine" neurotransmitter.
The crazy part?
In some subgroups of the population, a whopping 95% don't meet their daily choline needs through diet (85).
Hence, including choline into Qualia Focus is a great choice because so many people are under consuming choline.
Verdict: excellent ingredient that has huge implications for all-round cognitive performance. Dosage is very good.
"Phenylalanine" is an "amino acid". Amino acids are building blocks of proteins.
Additionally, phenylalanine may also boost your mood and lower your risk of depression (92; 93; 94). In fact, sometimes depression is treated just as well with phenylalanine than regular antidepressants.
Different phenylalanine versions are offered on the market today, and the D-phenylalanine form is synthetic that is converted into the usable form by your body.
Verdict: great compound once again that's dosed appropriately.
One more compound that has significant effects on energy metabolism, just like vitamin B1 and B3 did.
Carnitine is an essential nutrient for your mitochondria's ability to burn energy. Mitochondria are the energy-producing factories of your cells.
Acetyl-L-Carnitine, or "ALCAR", has specific benefits for brain function that its regular counterpart doesn't have (95; 96; 97; 98; 99). ALCAR protects brain cells, improves brain function if that's inhibited, and may boost neurotransmitter levels.
ALCAR may also protect against brain disease such as Alzheimer's
The 250-milligram dosage is very low though: studies use up to 2-3 grams per day. However, due to side-effects, Neurohacker may have lowered the dosage. Side-effects of taking carnitine is rare yet possible. Hence, 250 milligrams may be used to be safe rather than sorry. If multiple grams were used in this supplement then continuous Qualia Focus use over time may not have been possible.
(Qualia Mind does have a slightly higher dose of carnitine though!)
Verdict: good ingredient that has reasonable scientific backing. Dosage is good because of safety concerns, especially long-term.
Rhodiola Rosea, one of my favorite compounds because it vibes really well with my personal physiology.
I'm naturally a type-A person (and sometimes joke that I'm a type triple-A person), so anything that calms and relaxes me helps me.
Rhodiola also has a wide array of benefits described in the scientific literature. Rhodiola:
The downside? The 150-milligram dose used here is a little low. If I were Neurohacker then I'd remove the taurine from this stack and double the dose of Rhodiola, for instance.
Verdict: great ingredient that almost certainly has cognitive enhancement effects. The dose is arguably too low, but, is higher in Qualia Mind so you pay for what you get.
Don't be fooled:
"Coffeeberry" is very different than pure isolated caffeine. The coffee plant contains many other ingredients besides just caffeine, such as polyphenols, that enhance its health-stimulating properties.
Some of the effects of caffeine are:
Now, personally, I dislike caffeine being added to any nootropic stack. The reason for that statement is simple: 1) caffeine is almost universally available at every street corner of this planet; 2) my physiology doesn't work well with caffeine.
And yes, I've tried many different configurations of drinking caffeine, such as cycling on and off, drinking caffeine on an empty stomach or with calories (lots of sugar or lots of fat, or after a meal), cutting caffeine out after 10 AM, etcetera.
The fact of the matter remains that by bedtime I've still got some caffeine in my system. Caffeine before bedtime reduces your overall sleep quality, so I'm not a fan.
Verdict: caffeine arguably has tons of cognitive benefits and is very well studied. The problem, however, is that not everyone's physiology tends to do well with caffeine.
In fact, Mucuna contains between 0.6 and 6% L-Dopa. L-Dopa, in turn, is a precursor for the "dopamine" neurotransmitter you've heard so much about.
All of those dimensions are usually taken up in IQ tests, except for creativity perhaps.
Additionally, mucuna also literally contains small amounts of psychoactive compounds as well as serotonin (149).
Verdict: excellent ingredient that doesn't have great scientific backing yet, but arguably has profound effects on cognitive performance.
Theobromine is a caffeine-like compound found in chocolate.
A 100 milligrams is used in Qualia Focus, while 250 milligrams might have given a better overall effect (154). However, I think that Neurohacker is intentionally keeping the dose low in this case to deal with heart disease. Excess theobromine can be over-stimulating and will increase your heart rate (155).
Working memory -- the amount of info you can actively keep in your mind at the same time, such as a phone number. Theobromine is also neuroprotective and increases blood flow. In humans, visual and arithmetic abilities may improve as well.
Verdict: great ingredient that may turn out to be an impressive cognitive enhancer in the future. Dose is arguably too low for positive effects.
Celastrus paniculatus is a relatively unknown plant and even I had to admit looking into scientific studies of this compound for the first time.
Oxidative stress can be defined as free radicals produced as a byproduct of energy-production that damages tissues over time. Oxidative stress almost certainly play a role in aging as well...
Verdict: nice compound, kudos for the creative thought, although not much research is available on Celastruc Paniculatus right now.
Back to known territory: Ginkgo Biloba is well-studied and in widespread use. Heck, I almost never watch television but even I saw some commercials for this plant during commercials in the past.
Let's look at some of Ginkgo's benefits. Ginkgo Biloba:
Overall, that picture looks very good.
The dosage of Ginkgo is very low though. Why? Well, in some cases this plant does give side-effects (170). Side-effects include GI symptoms, headaches, skin problems, and even bleeding.
In Neurohacker's defense though, the dosage may be good in conjunction with other ingredients such as theanine, which have similar effects.
Verdict: great plant compound that has been reasonably well-studied. Dosage is too low, however, even if you want to prevent side-effects.
Remember that artichoke affected what is called "long-term potentiation" - the strengthening of neural connections. Due to that effect, you'd improve memory, wakefulness, and overall brain health.
The 20mg 20% forskolin extract is too low though: frequently 100-250 milligrams at the same percentage are used.
Verdict: good ingredient that supports the artichoke choice in this stack. I do recommend upping the dose.
I'm a big fan of Huperzine A because it not only has cognitive enhancement benefits, it may also have huge impacts on sleep quality at night.
Huperzia Serrata is a relatively common Chinese plant. the main mechanism of Huperzine A is that it puts your "acetylcholine" system in the brain in overdrive by keeping acetylcholine levels high (177; 178; 179; 180).
Huperzine A is one of the most interesting compounds I've come across in the last few years, simply because of the huge effects it can have at a very low milligram dose. Another compound that has such a profound effect is "noopept" -- which is included in Awaken Gold.
For huperzine A, the dosage needed is even lower as only 7% of the 5 milligrams is an active ingredient. Hence, that's 350 micrograms in this case.
What's really interesting is that people who have experimented with higher doses of huperzine A really enter a state of hyper-focus.
At higher doses, huperzine A even has active psychedelic effects and may cause nausea, throwing up, etcetera -- similar to side-effects you'd get from Ayahuasca (although effects are dissimilar).
My theory is also that huperzine A is responsible for the increases in sleep quality that Alex has been experiencing with Qualia Mind.
Fortunately, huperzine A also has cognitive enhancement effects (181; 182; 183; 184). Several dimensions of memory improve, for instance, as well as visual recognition, and spatial abilities. Again, unfortunately, animal studies were used.
Verdict: perfect compound that's dosed appropriately. Research on Huperzine A is promising and I think that it will be included in many more nootropic stacks due to its great effects at a low microgram dose.
Let me give an overall verdict:
Overall, Qualia Focus is an excellent product and can be counted among the top-5 nootropic stacks of the world right now. Whether you should try this substance depends on your preference and/or biology.
To be frank: Qualia Focus offers a perfect value to price proposition. Without discounts, you pay $59 per month (first month is $34.50).
Buying a single bottle of Qualia Focus sets you back $69.
With discount code FERGUS you can get "Qualia Focus" for an even lower price.
(Again, discount code FERGUS gives you an even lower price!)
As mentioned before, with Qualia Focus you're not missing that many ingredients. The only three ingredients missing from Focus are:
I think the absence of PQQ, phosphatidylserine, and citicoline make Qualia Focus slightly less effective.
Again, to my mind, DHA is not an issue if you regularly consume high-quality fatty seafood such as mussels, oysters, mackerel, herring, sardines, anchovies, wild salmon, etcetera. More DHA is not better either, so if you're loaded up, you're set to go. The same is true for phosphatidylserine, which can be found in muscle meats from land and sea animals...
I will say that PQQ and citicoline have very good demonstrable benefits so if you've got the cash, I'd certainly recommend taking the Qualia Mind Caffeine-Free version.
And once more, I will say that the caffeine in Qualia Focus is a big detriment for me, thereby favoring Qualia Mind.
Next, as stated before, a couple of ingredients are dosed lower in Qualia Focus than in Qualia Mind:
So contrary to my earlier expectations, there's a significant difference between Qualia Mind and Qualia Focus. Qualia Mind is clearly the better product although it is very much impressive in its own right.
From an economic perspective, Awaken Gold was always superior to Qualia Mind for me.
I've written an extensive review of Awaken Gold in the past where I also demonstrated that this supplement increased my dual-n-back performance.
Would I choose Qualia Focus over Awaken Gold? The comparison is very complex because the ingredients are so extremely different, so I'll have to go off personal experience mostly.
For me, right now, Awaken Gold is the superior supplement. However, if and only if Qualia Focus would come in a caffeine-free version, I'd give the slight upper hand to that supplement over Awaken Gold.
Having said that, the ingredients in Awaken Gold are very well researched and valid for increasing cognitive performance, and it can easily be argued that the team of Awakened Alchemy is on par with Neurohacker in terms of the brain-performance substances they sell to the market.
In another sense, the comparison is somewhat unfair because Awaken Gold is a slightly pricier product so it's more likely that the costlier product comes out on top.
Mindlab pro is yet another great offering in the $50-70 range that I've reviewed - both are amazing products.
Mindlab Pro is a bit more minimalist with fewer ingredients than Qualia Focus - although not necessarily inferior.
Personally, I feel that Qualia Focus shoots my neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, acetylcholine, and GABA, more in "overdrive" while Mindlab Pro offers a more subtle and cleaner focus and mood boost.
Neither is good or bad, you just have to try for yourself to see what works best. I therefore highly recommend testing both. For me, personally, the boost in mood and quantifiable cognitive performance benefits are significantly better with Qualia Focus, and hence, I regard the latter option as having more value for me personally.
By no means is the list of nootropics I compare Qualia Focus against exhaustive. There are some other nootropics on the market, such as Plato, that are so fundamentally different that it's hard to compare the two.
I do think the overall price to value proposition is much worse for Plato, even though the overall supplement may be great for some people. If you want very subtle effects that don't necessarily target the receptors or availability of neurotransmitters directly then Plato is the way to go.
For a more maximalist approach - as should become evident now - Qualia Focus is the way to go.
Also, I'm fully aware that there are many, many companies on the market today offering nootropics. For the scope of the argument in this blog post, I've only compared Qualia Focus to the best offerings on the market.
Exhaustively treating this topic would also bore the reader to death, moreover. Nevertheless, Qualia Focus is a tremendous offering in my mind and should be tried by almost anyone.
Let's, therefore, take the 30,000-foot view and conclude:
I've stated before that I think that nootropic use will become very widespread in the coming 10 years.
Qualia Focus is an excellent supplement to lead in that transformation.
Well, you notice the effects quite quickly. Quick results with a product that's priced perfectly will convince many people that there's "something to" nootropics.
Students, instead of chugging down modafinil or Ritalin will probably use nootropic stacks in a few years? Why? Well, there are no real side-effects with nootropic stacks and the argument can be made that your brain will become healthier with these products.
Secondly, the effects are profound enough right now that they can match the effects of prescription medication such as off-label modafinil use for cognitive performance. Once you know better you will do better, right?
Viva la revolución (in nootropics)!
Or course, nootropics are no replacement for a healthy lifestyle nor are they a "magic pill". If you don't support your overall health by eating a healthy diet, living in a good environment (with good air and light, among others), move a lot, and more, then nootropics won't make your brain work as well as they could.
So nootropic stacks are only a small piece in a much bigger equation - although, a potentially effective piece!
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 a health consultant at Alexfergus.com.
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