Qualia Focus: Excellent Economical Everyday Nootropic?

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:

 

Qualia Focus Review Summary:

Pros:

  • Extremely well-crafted product that is priced lower than its Qualia Mind counterpart. Qualia Focus is affordable on a monthly prescription for many people.
  • Very good subjective mood-boosting effects - I personally feel great on this stack
  • For me, personally, Qualia Focus leads to a huge 16% quantifiable increase in cognitive performance. My brain also "feels" sharper
  • Ingredients are reasonably scientifically validated, perhaps as good as can be expected for any nootropics stack.

Cons:

  • Contains caffeine. I'll rather have the option to add caffeine if I wish so, but not to be forced into that decision.
  • The supplement is "maximalist", in the sense that many different ingredients are included. I know that when I gave a bottle to someone as a present, they had trouble understanding what's inside. Maximalism can also be a benefit for some, however.
  • Due to the boosting of many different neurotransmitters (brain signaling substances), you might get small withdrawals quitting this stack.

 

Interested in learning more? Read below: 

 

Qualia Focus: Excellent Economical Everyday Nootropic?

I've divided this blog post into four sections:

Each of these sections can be read individually or together...

Ready?

Let's dig into my experience:

 

 

1. My Experience Taking Qualia Focus

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:

 

Personal Experience Taking Qualia Focus

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:

 

 

Cognitive Testing And Qualia Focus

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?"

Great question!

"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")

Video Explaining N-Back:

 

 

 

My Explanation Of How N-Back Works:

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.

 

Testing N-Back Yourself

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...

 

Making N-Back Even More Difficult

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).

 

Methodology And Outcome 

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:

  • Sessions without Qualia Focus had outcomes 3.2; 3.7; 3.7; 3.7 - an average 3.6
  • Sessions with the supplement had outcomes 4; 4.3; 4.4; 4 - an average 4.2

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:

  • Testing was not fully placebo-controlled nor double or triple blind. As a result, the extraordinary outcome on the cognitive testing can still be explained as a placebo effect. A counterargument against a full placebo effect is that you can really feel the mood-boosting effects of the supplement.
  • The many studies I list in the next section should also convince you that the results of taking a supplement like Qualia Focus is not placebo-based.
  • With more days of testing, potentially a month on and off, I might have gotten slightly different results.
  • Other people might have different results using this product because their biology interacts differently with the ingredients. Of course, that statement is true for any n=1 experiment.
  • The status of n-back testing is somewhat controversial, mostly regarding the possibility of whether n-back testing can increase intelligence (210; 211; 212; 213).
  • I've alternated days with Qualia Focus and without to avoid the learning effect. It's reasonable to expect that you get better at n-back the more you try. In fact, I got up to 7-8 back a few years ago.
  • Nonetheless, I think my n=1 experiment still holds value because results were quantified for my unique circumstances. The outcome demonstrates that real cognitive performance gains can be had with Qualia Focus, whether partially explainable through a placebo effect or not...

 

Moving on to the next topic: a review of all of Qualia's ingredients:

 

2. Qualia Focus Scientific Ingredient Review 

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:

 

A. Vitamin C (As Ascorbic Acid), 100 Milligrams (Mg), 111% of Daily Value (DV).

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. 

Vitamin C may protect your brain cells, for instance, as demonstrated in animal studies (1; 2; 3).

As a result, vitamin C protects the brain against neurodegenerative disease (4; 5).

Additionally, it's less well-known that vitamin C also influences neurotransmitter levels in your brain (6; 7). Neurotransmitters are brain-signaling compounds such as "serotonin" and "dopamine".

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.

 

B. Vitamin D3 (As Cholecalciferol), 25 Microgram (Mcg), (1,000 IU), 125% of DV.

Vitamin D, aptly called the "sunshine vitamin"! 

Why?

Your skin synthesizes vitamin D when the sun is high up the sky and the rays of light hit your skin.

The problem, however, is that many people are vitamin D deficient nowadays. To be more precise, 25-50% of people in developed nations are currently deficient (8; 9).

Should you care about deficiency?

A resounding yes!

Let's look into some of the effects of vitamin D deficiency:

  • Overall brain health is affected by vitamin D (10; 11; 12; 13). Not only will your risk of diabetes and heart disease increase with vitamin D deficiency, but that of stroke, Alzheimer's and cognitive impairment as well! 
  • Some (conflicting) evidence suggests that vitamin D plays a role in cognitive performance (14; 15; 16; 17). Your memory, for instance, may be affected by vitamin D.
  • Mental health is also influenced by your vitamin D levels (18; 19; 20). With vitamin D deficiency your risk for depression, Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder increases, for instance.

Convinced?

I am!

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.

 

C. Thiamine (As Thiamine Hcl), 50 Mg, 4167% of DV

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.

That metabolic process is also supported by thiamine in the brain (21; 22; 23).

Additionally, thiamine might have direct nootropic effects (24; 25; 26). Neurohacker made me aware of that fact as a response to my review of Eternus, their anti-aging supplement. 

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.

Lastly, thiamine may also be neuroprotective (26; 27; 28).

Verdict: thiamine is a great ingredient that has reasonable scientific backing as a nootropic. The dosage is perfect.

 

 

D. Niacin (As Niacinamide), 50 Mg, 313% of DV

Vitamin B3 or "niacin" is hot today. 

The reason for that hotness is simple: recent studies indicate that different forms of niacin affect "NAD+", a compound involved with energy metabolism (29; 30; 31; 32; 33; 34).

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. 

Fortunately, supplementing with different types of vitamin B3 may improve cognitive functioning (35; 36; 37; 38; 39; 40). That effect has mostly been demonstrated in animal studies though.

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:

Megadosing Nicotinamide Riboside Or Nicotinamide Mononucleotide: Dangerous Or Smart?

The 50-milligram dosage included in Qualia Focus is decent although much lower than what is used in many clinical trials.

(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.

 

E. Vitamin B6 (As Pyridoxal 5'-Phosphate), 20 Mg, 1,176% of DV.

Another B-vitamin!

Why?

Well, it turns out that vitamin B6 has significant effects on how well your nervous system functions (41; 42; 43).

Some studies also show that vitamin B6 affects cognition--although evidence is not of the highest standard (44; 45; 46; 47).

Fortunately, the vitamin is not overdosed - as higher doses of vitamin B6 lead to problems in the nervous system in the long-run (48; 49).

Verdict: nothing special but good that this ingredient was added. 

 

 

F. Vitamin B12 (As Methylcobalamin), 1,000 Mcg, 41,667% of DV.

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:

  • keeps your nervous system healthy (52; 53; 54). With vitamin B12 deficiency your reaction times will be slower, for instance, and sensory experience changes for the worse.
  • lowers "homocysteine". Homocysteine is a byproduct of a process called "methylation". High homocysteine levels are associated with cognitive impairment and poor mental functioning (55; 56; 57).
  • (indirectly) improves oxygenation (58; 59). Without sufficient vitamin B12, your red blood cells won't form properly. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body and if that process is impeded, almost any process in your body is -- including thinking.

My take?

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).

 

G. Pantothenic Acid (As Calcium Pantothenate), 50 Mg, 1,000% of DV

The last B-vitamin on the list: B5.

Pantothenic acid is also the least well-known of the mix. Just like vitamin B1, pantothenic acid is involved with energy metabolism (60; 61).

Additionally, the vitamin is involved with mental health (62; 63).

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.

 

 

H. Artichoke Leaf Extract (4% Cynarin And Related Flavonoids), 300 Mg

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". 

Artichoke affects an enzyme called "PDE". Lower levels of PDE are associated with increased cognitive performance, such as memory, wakefulness, and brain health (64; 65; 66; 67).

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.

 

 

I. Bacopa Monnieri Leaf Extract, 300 Mg

Bacopa Monnieri can be found in many nootropic stacks nowadays, such as Plato or Mindlab Pro.

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:

  • Boosts your overall memory (68; 69; 70; 71; 72)Simply put, new information you learn is stored more easily in your long-term memory. This benefit even affects younger people, which is great as cognitive performance benefits are harder to establish in that age group.
  • May lower anxiety (74; 75). Long-term measurement of anxiety by the "STAI" questionnaire showed decreased in some people who took Bacopa.
  • Decreases impulsivity (which can be both a good or bad outcome)
  • Boosts processing speed (69; 73). That result entails that your brain can perform more "labor" in the same amount of time.
  • Lowers your brain exposure to free radicals by acting as an antioxidant (76; 77; 78). Free radicals are damaging compounds created as a (necessary) byproduct of energy production. Lowering the damage of free radicals by consuming antioxidants may slow down the aging process and keep you healthy. In other words, Bacopa is "neuroprotective".
  • May decrease stress (79; 80). Unfortunately, study quality is very low in this case.
  • Boosts neurotransmitter function (71). Neurotransmitters such as "dopamine" and "serotonin" are essential to feeling good and having the ability for complex thought. Imagination, reasoning ability, and planning are examples of complex thought.

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.

 

J. Alpha GPC, 300 Mg

"Alpha-GPC" is a choline form. Choline, in turn, is a precursor for the "acetylcholine" neurotransmitter.

Overall, alpha-GPC:

  • May improve overall cognitive health, in conditions such as Alzheimer's or other cognitive impairments (85; 86; 87).
  • Boosts acetylcholine levels. Acetylcholine plays a major role in learning, memory, and focus (81; 82). Some studies suggest that alpha-GPC boosts brain choline levels better than other alternatives such as citicoline.
  • May also affect other neurotransmitters such as "dopamine" though (83; 84). High dopamine levels are linked to abstract thought, long-term planning, and negation of immediate sensory experience (and pleasure).

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.

 

 

K. Di-Phenylalanine, 300 Mg

"Phenylalanine" is an "amino acid". Amino acids are building blocks of proteins. 

Phenylalanine converts to "tyrosine" and finally to "dopamine" in the brain (86; 87). 

Again, dopamine is the neurotransmitter involved with abstract thought, planning, and impulse control, among others. Phenylalanine improves dopamine function in the brain (88; 89; 90; 91).

(Read my blog posts on why dopamine matters and methods to increase and decrease dopamine to learn more about this brain signaling compound)

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.

 

L. Acetyl-L-Carnitine HCL, 250 Mg

One more compound that has significant effects on energy metabolism, just like vitamin B1 and B3 did.

The reason?

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.

 

 

Q. Rhodiola Rosea Root Extract (3% Rosavins; 1% Salidrosides) 150 Mg

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:

  • may lower both physical and mental fatigue (127; 128; 129; 130). Although study quality is not perfect, indications exist that Rhodiola can alleviate stress. Contrary to what many people believe, stress does not make you perform better -- stress saps your higher-level thinking abilities such as impulse control and creativity.
  • improves cognitive performance (131; 132; 133; 134; 135). Overall blood flow, as well as that in the brain, improves, for instance. Improved mood, decreased anxiety, probably also contribute to enhancements in memory and learning. The worse your cognitive abilities are at baseline, the better the outcomes seem to be. But even in healthy young people reaction times improved with Rhodiola.
  • can boost mood (136; 137; 138; 139). Especially if you're depressed, Rhodiola seems to have very strong mood-boosting effects. Win!

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.

 

 

R. Organic Coffeeberry® ( 90 mg caffeine) Whole Coffee (Coffea Arabica) Fruit Extract, 129 Mg

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.

The effects of caffeine are too complex to fully dive into right now. Nonetheless, thousands of studies have investigated the effects of caffeine in the last few decades (140; 141; 142; 143; 144).

Some of the effects of caffeine are:

  • Suppressing the binding of adenosine to its receptors, so that you feel more awake. Of course, chronically using caffeine comes at a price as you need higher and higher levels of the drug (caffeine) to feel awake.
  • Gives a huge boost to your dopamine levels. In fact, coffee is one of the most dopaminergic drugs out there. Other neurotransmitters and hormones are affected as well in certain contexts, such as cortisol and adrenaline (making you jittery and stressed!).
  • Decreases fatigue and improves performance. Whether caffeine increases performance above baseline if you're very well rested is still topic of debate though.

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.

(For some people, caffeine stays very long in their system (145; 146; 147).

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.

 

S. Velvet Bean (Mucuna Pruriens) Seed Extract, 100 Mg

Just like coffee with its caffeine, Mucuna Pruriens is also one of these magical unique plants. What makes Mucuna unique is the high amount of L-Dopa naturally found in the plant (148; 149; 150).

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.

Recall that dopamine improves your impulse control, the ability for abstract thought, planning, and creativity. Mucuna thus improves your brain's dopamine function (151; 152; 153).

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.

 

T. Theobromine, 100 Mg

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).

The upside?

Theobromine does have studies supporting increases in cognitive performance -- although study quality is poor and often concerns animals (156; 157; 158; 159

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.

 

U. Celastrus paniculatus Seed Extract, 60 Mg

Celastrus paniculatus is a relatively unknown plant and even I had to admit looking into scientific studies of this compound for the first time.

The main benefit of this plant is that it retains cognitive performance under stress - at least in animal studies (160; 161; 162). The compounds in this plant also reduce "oxidative stress". 

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.

 

V. Ginkgo biloba Leaf Extract (24% glycosides), 50 Mg

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:

  • May influence neurotransmitter levels, specifically dopamine and adrenaline (163; 164; 165).
  • Acts as an antioxidant (166; 167; 168; 169). Hence, in theory, Ginkgo is neuroprotective and may slow the aging process.
  • Improves cognitive performance (170; 171; 172; 173). What's most interesting is that these cognitive performance benefits exist in both healthy people as well as if you're cognitively impaired (due to age, for example). Blood flow in the brain increases, for instance, which generally improves cognitive performance. 
  • Lowers anxiety and stress (174; 175; 175; 176). This benefit is always welcomed!

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.

 

W. Coleus Forskohlii Root Extract (20% forskolin), 20 Mg

Remember artichoke in the ingredient list? Forskolin is specifically included in Qualia because it combines really well with artichoke (188; 189; 190).

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.

Additionally, some limited research suggests that blood flow may also be improved by forskolin (191; 192).

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.

 

 

X. Huperzia Serrata Leaf Extract (7% Huperzine A) 5 mg

Great ingredient!

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.

Moreover, huperzine A might also affect the dopamine levels in your brain in addition to just acetylcholine (185; 186; 187).

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.

 

My Overall Verdict

Let me give an overall verdict:

  • Qualia Focus has a wide spectrum of high-quality ingredients that almost certainly affect cognitive performance in one way or another.
  • Some of the ingredients are "underdosed", but, honestly, it's impossible to demand Neurohacker to increase the dose as it's a budget version of Qualia Mind.
  • The value proposition of Qualia Focus - as only a few ingredients are missing and a few ingredients are dosed lower than in Qualia Mind - mind be better than Qualia Mind for most people.
  • I would like to see the addition of a low dose of folate to this stack, the only missing B-vitamin that's also extremely important for cognitive performance on many levels.

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.

 

 

3. Comparing Qualia Focus To Other Offerings On The Market

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.

 

 

Qualia Focus Versus Qualia Mind

Qualia Mind, costs $119 for a subscription (without discounts) to $59 per month for Qualia Focus.

(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:

  1. Pyrroloquinoline Quinone (PQQ), a compound found in vegetables that supports "mitochondrial biogenesis" - the creation of new mitochondria in your cells (193; 194; 195)
  2. Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA), a compound found in high quantities mostly in fatty sea food, which generally supports great overall (brain) health (196; 197; 198). 
  3. Citicoline, which is a cholegenic nutrient that supports the acetylcholine neurotransmitter (brain signaling) system primarily in your brain. You need acetylcholine for focus, among others. Citicoline is proven to speed up your reaction times and brain's processing speed, protects the nervous system, may improve energy production in the brain, and enhances memory  (199200201202203204205206207208209).
  4. Phosphatidylserine, which aids neurotransmitter function, boosting several domains of cognitive performance while lowering stress (214215216217218219220). 

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:

  1. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is dosed at 250 milligrams instead of 500 milligrams
  2. Rhodiola Rosea is dosed at 150 milligrams instead of 300 milligrams
  3. Artichoke leaf at 300 milligrams instead of 500 milligrams
  4. Uridine at 200 milligrams instead of 250 milligrams
  5. Huperzine A at 5 mcg instead of 5 milligram (although I'm not sure about this one, the difference may be explained through different labeling)

 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.

 

Qualia Focus Versus Awaken Gold

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.

 

Qualia Focus Versus Mindlab Pro

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.

 

Qualia Focus Versus Other Nootropics

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:

 

 

4. Finishing Thoughts: Bring The Nootropic Revolution

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.

Why?

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!

 

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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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