Ahead of the Brain Game

By Shannon Smith – December 1, 2016

“Man is not going to wait passively for millions of years before evolution offers him a better brain,” said Romanian chemist and psychologist, Corneliu E. Giurgea in 1972. Now 44 years later, his premonition has manifested itself into a niche market of the American supplement industry, last wholly valued at $37 billion in 2015. This growing market caters to athletes, businessmen, students, and busy parents alike that are looking to better feed their brains and seek improved cognitive ability in the process. The idea of taking a daily vitamin is anything but new, yet right here in Austin three different companies are redefining wellness and proactive health through their plant-based supplements.

In order to further delve into the science of these local products, it’s necessary to understand the categories in which they function. Nootropics, also referred to as smart drugs or cognitive enhancers, are simply substances that affect cognitive functions. If you’ve ever drank a cup of coffee, you’ve already encountered nootropics, as the caffeine in this morning drink provides your body with energy and increases productivity; but, oftentimes is associated with a crash later in the day. Researchers and scientists have now come to recognize nootropics in more than just caffeine, but also in earth-grown compounds that, when combined, directly and proficiently enhance memory, mental speed, and clarity—without that dreaded crash later in the day. Two Austin-based companies have taken advantage of this science to create unique supplements that are helping clients not only locally, but also around the world.

AlternaScript, a health tech company founded in 2013, is on a mission to advance the human species by relying on natural ingredients and herbs. Their daily cognitive enhancing supplement, OptiMind, offers users a two-pill a day regimen designed to increase energy, focus, mental clarity, and memory. The secret behind their supplement? High concentrations of bacoside, an active compound found in bacopa—an herb that’s been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years.

“Most supplement companies have small concentrations of the active ingredient and they just sprinkle it in so they can have it on the label, without having the clinically effective dosage,” said co-founder and CEO of AlternaScript, Lucas Siegel. He stressed the importance of being a smart consumer and understanding exactly what you’re putting into your body; it’s often easy to get lost in the jargon of over-complicated supplement labels.

With a rapidly growing customer base and clinical studies supporting all ingredients, Siegel believes he and his team have created a product that is backed by science and of the highest quality. The future of his company lies in its strong connection to the scientific world, and the goal of helping people achieve whatever they want to do or be with the aid of natural ingredients. In the next year, the public can expect to see the release of weight loss supplements, and a unique online automated platform for personal yet virtual dietician appointments.

On the other side of town, Aubrey Marcus, founder and CEO of Onnit, has created his own unique nootropic concoction in AlphaBrain.

Growing up, Marcus remembers starting each day with a napkin of different vitamins and supplements, presented by his nutraceutical stepmother. He began to notice the difference in napkins on test day versus game day, and got used to feeling the effects of those different supplement combinations. His interest in nootropics, this ability to better feed the brain, was sparked. Through his research, he found neurotransmitters were the key to an effective nootropic. Unlike other companies, he wanted to focus on upregulating the neurotransmitters, rather than stimulating the entire body through use of caffeine and comparable compounds. Dialing in on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, he combined other nutrients and botanical compounds to create AlphaBrain’s special formula.

“The beauty of relying on largely botanical and earth-grown nutrients is that they have a history of use that is a thousand years old. So interaction with humans has been well documented,” said Marcus. He also noted that there have been no negative effects associated with the supplement.

Beyond the positive user testimonials of AlphaBrain’s effectiveness, Marcus is most proud of the double blind clinical trials that yielded statistical significance, letting the science do the talking. Through the trials, AlphaBrain showed improvement in focus, executive functions, and reaction times. According to Marcus, this hard data sets them apart in the market.

“Eventually nootropics are going to be akin to having a cup of coffee, it’s going to be fully integrated into everyone’s lives and people are going to be able to really accept the brain—not just as the mind—but as an organ that can be supported, upregulated, and altered in a way that can help performance.” 

Aubrey Marcus, CEO of Onnit

As for the future of the nootropic industry, both Siegel and Marcus feel the surface is just beginning to be scratched, and there is much more ahead for the world of cognitive enhancement.

“Eventually nootropics are going to be akin to having a cup of coffee, it’s going to be fully integrated into everyone’s lives,” said Marcus, “and people are going to be able to really accept the brain—not just as the mind—but as an organ that can be supported, upregulated, and altered in a way that can help performance.”

Siegel also predicts that these special supplements will become mainstreamed in the next few years. “I think 90 percent of Americans will be actively and knowingly taking nootropics, because if they don’t, they’re getting left behind in human evolution,” he said.

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While the idea of nootropics continues to gain popularity and press, an Austin-based company merely eight months old is pioneering a new niche supplement market with the science of phytocannabinoids.

Phytocannabinoids are plant-based compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system (ECS), a group of receptors known for maintaining overall health and homeostasis. The science behind phytocannabinoid supplements lies in the idea that you can feed your body these plant-based compounds that are biologically similar to the ones already produced in the body, benefiting stress response and inflammation.

Mineral Health, with the launch of its first product, ELISE, aims to create a multi-product line that features plant-based cannabinoids. When co-founders Evan Caron and Matthew “Mills” Miller founded their company in May, both were going through rough times, dealing with anxiety and stress. Together they began looking for natural products using calming cannabinoids to cope with this; they were unimpressed by what they found—essentially a space that had no dietary supplements to offer. They took advantage of this and created their own brand. As far as legality of cannabinoids go, Caron and Miller assured their product is 100 percent legal in all 50 states.

Both Caron and Mills saw a need for their supplement to be immediately effective; in certain cases, you have to take supplements for years to even begin to see the effects. They found that with high dosages of phytocannabinoids, energy levels could be affected. They combined this with the compound pterostilbene, known for benefiting the central nervous and cardiovascular systems, and a stress response compound known as Ashwaganda. Together these ingredients create a day-long lasting supplement that provides enhanced energy levels, followed by mental clarity and sense of calmness. Although everyone is different, the supplement typically kicks in within five to ten minutes of ingestion.

While considering themselves pioneers in the industry, Caron believes cannabinoids will start to be put into everything within the next two years.

“I think you’ll see them in coffee, beer, wine—I think the industry is moving toward, rather than treating illness, keeping your body positioned for wellness,” said Caron. “Rather than waiting to get sick, you’re supplementing your body with things it needs so you can age gracefully, and be healthy throughout the aging process.”

Although they currently only offer one supplement, both founders already have ideas in the works for future cannabinoid-based products. The feedback from their first shipment of ELISE received glowing feedback, from users all around the world, although a majority of the orders came locally. It’s no surprise that a community as health and wellness focused as Austin is providing Mineral Health with the support it needs to get going.

The city as a whole tends to focus on health as a lifestyle, but the Austin community is also educated and willing to experiment with benefits of newfound health concepts.

“The cannabis plant is very science-based and if you understand the science of inflammation, you’ll understand why you should be taking ELISE everyday. We feel like Austin is a very informed community that’s willing to accept new ideas in the market rather than just taking pharmaceutical industry and medicine’s word for it,” said Caron.

“I think you’ll see them in coffee, beer, wine—I think the industry is moving toward, rather than treating illness, keeping your body positioned for wellness.” 

Evan Caron, co-founder of Mineral Health

Mineral Health was not the only company that received love from its hometown. All three companies specifically credited Austin as being a place that is concentrated on health, well-being, exercise and mental clarity. Further, all of the founders felt like Austin was a smart city, with a myriad of educated people, which made hiring employees and laying down business roots easy.

Whether experimenting with nootropics or phytocannabinoid supplements, it’s evident that there is a social and intellectual movement of using earth-grown nutrients to improve the mind, body, and overall well-being, and that Austin is playing a major role in promoting it. If you can improve mental clarity, cognitive functions, and relieve stress… why wouldn’t you?

Siegel said it best: “We used to champion the Gladiators and the Spartans; the people that used their bodies to find glory. Now that we’ve evolved, the mind is the next frontier of glory for the human species.”


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