Brain Toniq Review: The Science Behind the Think Drink

Reading time: 10 – 17 minutes

The ability to multitask and mentally juggle multiple demands is essential in today’s fast-paced world. At the same time, we’re bombarded with information that can both distract and overload our focus and attention.

Many of us need a caffeine “boost” in the morning or throughout the day to maintain mental focus. However, drinking too much coffee or tea leaves you feeling like you need to do a couple of laps around the building.

brain-toniq

And although coffee consumption offers a number of potential health benefits, many of us drink more than enough of it on a daily basis. Energy drinks are an alternative option. However, their effects on cognitive performance are principally related to the presence of caffeine [1].

Enter Brain Toniq

Brain Toniq bills itself as the world’s first and only botanical-based, non-caffeinated functional “think drink”, specifically designed to increase mental focus, function and clarity. According to the Brain Toniq website:

Formulated out of plant extracts and natural compounds, the ingredients in Brain Toniq have a long, proven history for their effects on increasing brain power and cognition.

I’d previously heard about Brain Toniq and was intrigued at the idea of an energy drink designed to increase cognitive performance. Additionally, the Brain Toniq website references peer-reviewed research studies that examine many of the ingredients. When I contacted the company, they were kind enough to send me a sample to review.

The ingredients

Brain Toniq contains zero caffeine and zero chemical preservatives. Reading over the ingredients list, notably absent was high-fructose corn syrup, which seems to be found in everything these days. Instead, Brain Toniq uses agave nectar (the same cactus that is used for tequila), a natural syrup that has the lowest glycemic index of any other sweetener. In fact, it’s certified by The Glycemic Research Institute as “Friendly to Diabetics”.

Brain Toniq contains a proprietary blend of choline, eleutherococcus extract, rhodiola rosea extract, DMAE and blue-green algae. Other ingredients include carbonated water, natural citrus extracts and citric acid. More on this below.

The taste test

When I opened the first can, a citrus scent reminded me of grapefruit. Brain Toniq has a unique, complex taste that wasn’t sour; it was actually quite good with just a hint of carbonated zing. And although there isn’t any fruit in the drink, it really did taste fruity with hints of orange, grapefruit and lemon. The aftertaste was light and sweet, without being sugary. I liked that a lot, since most energy drinks have a funky aftertaste. Subsequent cans were quite enjoyable as the taste is very pleasing — I can see why they chose agave nectar. It’s really unlike anything I’ve tasted before: a subtle sweetness with a clean finish.

The effect

After drinking a can, did I feel any smarter? Well, no, but then again that’s not the point is it? What I did notice was that it was much easier to get in “the zone”. Indeed, there was a evident improvement in concentration over three different days. Absent were the jitters and restlessness that normally accompany my morning cups (yes, cups) of coffee. I was able to achieve mental focus without the side effects of caffeine. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Brain Toniq touts itself as the “smart antidote to head fog”, and I found it to be just that.

Needless to say, I’m critical of health products that can’t backup their claims with scientific study. Let’s review the scientific research associated with each of the ingredients in Brain Toniq (skip the science and get to the summary).

The scientific research

Alpha Glycerylphophorylcholine or choline

Choline is an essential nutrient found in many foods, including eggs, beef and oats, and is usually classified in the Vitamin B complex. Choline released from membrane phospholipids (fat-soluble molecules) is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, a chemical that transmits signals between neurons in the peripheral and central nervous systems and is involved in memory, learning, recall and thought processes. Brain Toniq contains L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha-GPC), a rapidly absorbed source of choline. alpha-GPC increases free plasma choline and is incorporated into brain phospholipids with 24 hours of absorption [2]. Experiments indicate that the drug reaches the brain following either injection or when taken orally [3]. In rats, the drug scopolamine decreases brain acetylcholine levels and induces amnesia (tested using a fear-motivated avoidance task) [4]. alpha-GPC partially counteracts the neurotransmitter decrease and with oral administration reverses scopolamine-induced amnesia.

In 1994, the clinical efficacy and tolerability of alpha-GPC was tested in an Italian open multicenter trial on 2,044 patients suffering from a recent stroke or transient ischemic attacks (TIA, meaning a warning stroke or mini-stroke that produces stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage) [5]. Patients were given injections of alpha-GPC for one month followed by five months of oral dosage, and then evaluated for psychic recovery using the Mini Mental State Test (MMST), the Crichton Rating Scale (CRS), and the Global Deterioration Scale (GDS). All tests demonstrated statistically significant changes. The MMST mean reached the “normality” score at the 3rd month of assessment. By the end of the trial, the GDS score corresponded to “no cognitive decline” or “forgetfulness” in 71% of patients. This study demonstrated a therapeutic role for alpha-GPC on the cognitive recovery of patients with acute stroke or TIA.

A similar multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study in 2003 assessed the efficacy and tolerability of alpha-GPC in the treatment of cognitive impairment from mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease [6]. Patients were treated with alpha-GPC or placebo capsules 3 times daily for 180 days and then evaluated for efficacy outcomes using a variety of tests. Patients taking alpha-GPC showed consistent cognitive improvement compared to patients taking a placebo. Taken together, these clinical studies demonstrate the efficacy of alpha-GPC on cognitive enhancement.

Eleutherococcus extract (root)

Eleutherococcus senticosus, commonly called eleuthero, is a species of small, woody shrub native to Northeastern Asia that was previously marketed in the United States as Siberian Ginseng. Studies suggest that the active component of eleuthero called syringin increases the release of acetylcholine from nerve terminals [7]. Neurons treated with amyloid beta (a small protein that is the main constituent of amyloid plaques in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients) were protected against neuron degeneration and cell death following exposure to eleuthero extracts [8].

Aphanizomenon flosaquae or blue green algae

Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA, blue-green algae) is a fresh-water microalgae that is consumed as a nutrient-dense food source. Blue-green algae products are commonly consumed in the United States, Canada and Europe for their putative beneficial effects, including increased energy and elevated mood. However, published scientific evidence supporting those benefits is lacking. After talking with the folks at Brain Toniq, I was directed to two studies — neither of which are published, peer-reviewed studies — briefly described below:

  1. In their doctoral research for the University of Central American, Sevulla and Aguirre (1995) studied 1,567 school children that were given one gram of AFA daily [9]. After 6 months of intake, mean academic scores increased by 81%. In addition, teachers reported major improvements in behavior, class room attendance and participation.
  2. The Center for Family Wellness in Harvard, Massachusetts conducted a study of 142 children who ate between 1/2 to one gram of AFA daily for ten weeks [10]. Parents reported improvements in their children’s mood and behavior.

I was also referred to a book by Dr. Jeffrey Bruno entitled “Edible Microalgae: A Review of the Health Research”. However, when I cross-referenced citations from the section “Enhanced Brain Function, Behavior, and Learning” in PubMed, none of the studies were in fact published.

Brain Toniq uses Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA, blue-green algae) harvested from Upper Klamath Lake in Southern Oregon, and is tested for purity. Microcystis aeruginosa, another blue-green algae that produces toxic compounds called microcystins, is a regularly occurring contaminant of AFA that can be inadvertently collected during the harvesting process. A study in 2000 assed the potential health risks from microcystin toxins in AFA dietary supplements isolated specifically from Upper Klamath Lake, tested blue-green algae products for the presence of microcystins and established a regulatory limit of 1 microgram/gram for microcystins in blue-green algae-containing products [11]. This level was adopted by the Oregon Department of Agriculture as a regulatory standard for blue-green algae products over ten years ago in 1997. External laboratories perform a number of tests on every batch of blue-green algae used in Brain Toniq to ensure that it is safe of contaminants.

Rhodiola rosea extract

Rhodiola rosea is commonly called golden root, a plant that grows in the cold regions of the world (e.g. the mountains of Central Asia, the Rocky Mountains, the Arctic, etc.). A 12-week drug monitoring study to evaluate the efficacy and safety of golden root extract given in combination with vitamins and minerals to 120 adults with physical and cognitive deficiencies identified a statistically significant improvement in both areas of deficit [12]. Global assessment of efficacy revealed that treatment was “very good” or “good” for 81% of patients, as reported by physicians, and for 80% of patients, as reported by patients.

More recently, a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study with parallel groups assessed the efficacy of golden root extracts in the treatment of individuals suffering from stress-related fatigue [13]. Significant effects with repeated administration of the extract were observed relative to placebo. The researchers concluded that golden root extract exerts an anti-fatigue effect that increases mental performance, particularly with the ability to concentrate, in burnout patients with fatigue syndrome.

DMAE (Dimethylaminoethanol)

DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is an organic compound related to choline. Animal studies show that taking DMAE results in increased levels of choline in the blood and brain [14]. Additionally, in a randomized, group-parallel, double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that daily intake of a vitamin-mineral drug combination containing DMAE induced a psychophysiological state of better feeling or well-being on both levels of mood analysis and brain activity electrical pattern in subjects suffering from borderline emotional disturbance [15].

In summary, all of these ingredients, save for blue-green algae, have scientific data supporting an effect on cognitive function; increased production of brain neurotransmitter, increased neurotransmitter signaling, protection from neuron degeneration, increased mental performance, etc. (review the science).

Brain Toniq: Get thinking again

As I wrote above, Brain Toniq promotes itself as the “smart antidote to head fog” and scientific research supports their claim. Thus, Highlight HEALTH is happy to endorse Brain Toniq. In fact, I liked it so much and am so convinced of its cognitive effects, Highlight HEALTH is now an affiliate. Many hours were spent researching the studies listed above, so if you find this article useful, I’d appreciate it if you’d use our affiliate link to order Brain Toniq and get thinking again.

References

  1. van den Eynde et al. The effects of energy drinks on cognitive performance. Tijdschr Psychiatr. 2008;50(5):273-81.
    View abstract
  2. Abbiati et al. Absorption, tissue distribution and excretion of radiolabelled compounds in rats after administration of [14C]-L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine. Eur J Drug Metab Pharmacokinet. 1993 Apr-Jun;18(2):173-80.
    View abstract
  3. Trabucchi et al. Changes in the interaction between CNS cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons induced by L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, a cholinomimetic drug. Farmaco [Sci]. 1986 Apr;41(4):325-34.
    View abstract
  4. Lopez et al. Effect of a new cognition enhancer, alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, on scopolamine-induced amnesia and brain acetylcholine. Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1991 Aug;39(4):835-40.
    View abstract
  5. Barbagallo Sangiorgi et al. alpha-Glycerophosphocholine in the mental recovery of cerebral ischemic attacks. An Italian multicenter clinical trial. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1994 Jun 30;717:253-69.
    View abstract
  6. De Jesus Moreno Moreno M. Cognitive improvement in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia after treatment with the acetylcholine precursor choline alfoscerate: a multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Ther. 2003 Jan;25(1):178-93.
    View abstract
  7. Liu et al. Release of acetylcholine by syringin, an active principle of Eleutherococcus senticosus, to raise insulin secretion in Wistar rats. Neurosci Lett. 2008 Mar 28;434(2):195-9. Epub 2008 Jan 31.
    View abstract
  8. Tohda et al. Inhibitory effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus extracts on amyloid beta(25-35)-induced neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss. J Pharmacol Sci. 2008 Jul;107(3):329-39. Epub 2008 Jul 8.
    View abstract
  9. Sevilla and Aguiree. Study on the Effects of Super Blue-Green Algae on the Nutritional Status and School Performance of First-, Second-, and Third-Grade Children Attending the Monsenor Velez School in Nandaime, Nicaragua [dissertation, in Spanish]. Universidad CentroAmericana, Nicaragua, 1995.
  10. Jarratt et al. The Children and Algae Report. The Center for Family Wellness, Harvard Massachusetts, 1995.
  11. Gilroy et al. Assessing potential health risks from microcystin toxins in blue-green algae dietary supplements. Environ Health Perspect. 2000 May;108(5):435-9.
    View abstract
  12. Olsson et al. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study of the standardised extract shr-5 of the roots of Rhodiola rosea in the treatment of subjects with stress-related fatigue. Planta Med. 2009 Feb;75(2):105-12. Epub 2008 Nov 18.
    View abstract
  13. Fintelmann and Gruenwald. Efficacy and tolerability of a Rhodiola rosea extract in adults with physical and cognitive deficiencies. Adv Ther. 2007 Jul-Aug;24(4):929-39.
    View abstract
  14. Jope and Jenden. Dimethylaminoethanol (deanol) metabolism in rat brain and its effect on acetylcholine synthesis. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1979 Dec;211(3):472-9.
    View abstract
  15. Tohda et al. Inhibitory effects of Eleutherococcus senticosus extracts on amyloid beta(25-35)-induced neuritic atrophy and synaptic loss. J Pharmacol Sci. 2008 Jul;107(3):329-39. Epub 2008 Jul 8.
    View abstract
About the Author

Walter Jessen is a senior writer for Highlight HEALTH Media.