QUALIA FOCUS combines 14 ingredients that have been carefully selected to support alertness, attention, focus, memory, mood, and motivation. These cognitive skills can collectively be thought of as “thinking.” Thinking requires an investment of mental energy—the brain uses roughly 20% of the daily energy budget for the body. Mental activity, like physical work, requires energy and uses resources. And, the more demanding, effortful, or sustained the thinking, the more energy that’s required.
When scientists talk about mental energy, they usually refer to a triad of (1) feeling energetic, (2) being motivated, and (3) having a greater capacity for focused attention. We formulated QUALIA FOCUS to support the ability to expend mental energy and deliver in these areas. When choosing ingredients to include, Neurohacker Collective relied on scientific research, the N of 1 experiences of biohackers and the nootropic community, and our own pre-launch research. In this blog post, we’ll share some of the reasons why we included each ingredient and how individually they contribute to the overall nootropic experience.
A Few Notable Studies
Don’t just take our word for it. These are a few publications from scientific journals highlighting some of the QUALIA FOCUS ingredients.
A low dose of caffeine supported cognition and mood (Pubmed 7675951).*
L-theanine supported attention and visual reaction time (Pubmed 26869148).*
The combination of caffeine and L-theanine supported reaction time and focus (i.e., decreased mind wandering) (Pubmed 29420994).*
The combination of morning caffeine and L-ornithine was complementary for both concentration and mood later than morning and extending into the late afternoon (Pubmed 25580405).*
Ginger root extract supported working memory and reaction times (Pubmed 22235230).*
Ginkgo biloba extract supported cerebral blood flow (Pubmed 21061003).*
A low dose of American Ginseng supported working memory, reaction time, and calmness (Pubmed 20676609).*
Qualia Focus Ingredients
Caffeine is found in the seeds, fruits, nuts, or leaves of a number of plants native to Africa, East Asia, and South America. These include coffee beans (as well as coffee cherry fruits), cocoa beans, guarana berries, kola nuts, and leaves from tea, guayusa, and yerba mate. Caffeine is the most widely used, and possibly the most studied dietary supplement ingredient for both brain and exercise performance. Why?
Neuroscientists group specific cognitive tasks into larger categories. One of these is called “complex attention.” Complex attention includes much of what a person means when they say they’d like more focus. It’s our ability to direct our cognitive resources where we want, for however long we want, while blocking out distractions. It also includes the capacity to respond quickly (i.e., reaction speed). Caffeine excels in promoting alertness and for tasks in the complex attention category.*
Because of its role in alertness and complex attention, caffeine is a keystone ingredient for Qualia Focus, a nootropic stack centered on alertness, attention, mental energy, and motivation. We selected the dose of 100 mg, because: (1) this is within the nootropic range for caffeine—it’s been most commonly studied in a range of 50-200 mg for cognitive performance; and (2) a 100 mg dose of caffeine has been complementary with the doses of both L-theanine and L-ornithine contained in Qualia Focus.*
L-Theanine is a calming amino acid that naturally occurs in green tea. We included it in Qualia Focus because it supports alpha brain waves, focused attention, mental alertness, and feelings of calm, relaxed energy.* L-theanine may also help with adaptation to mentally fatiguing or stressful circumstances, since it promotes alpha brain waves (α-waves)—an increase in α-waves is associated with relaxation, focused attention, mental alertness, and reduced perception of stress.* L-theanine is used as a brain supplement both because of what it offers and because it complements caffeine.
Neurohackers use the combination of L-theanine and caffeine to support a more centered feeling of mental energy, alertness, and focus than what a person may experience with caffeine on its own. This can show up as experiencing a sense of flow and enhanced productivity, while feeling calmer and less stressed.* When used as a nootropic combined with caffeine, research studies have commonly selected the L-theanine dose to be in a ratio from about 1:1 to 2:1 theanine to caffeine. We included a dose of theanine (200 mg) to be in a 2:1 ratio with the amount of caffeine (100 mg) in Qualia Focus.
L-Ornithine is an amino acid found in meats, nuts, rice, eggs, fish, soybeans and dairy. It plays a role in several important brain functions. L-Ornithine sits at the crossroads, so to speak, for the GABA and glutamate neurotransmitter pathways. It can cross the blood-brain barrier and be taken up by the brain, but may also have a gut-brain support role—some probiotic bacteria produce L-ornithine and preclinical research suggests a role for L-ornithine in gut vagal nerve signaling to the brain. And, L-ornithine supports brain protein synthesis and neutralization of some waste products of metabolism (through the urea cycle).
We included L-ornithine in Qualia Focus for a few reasons. One reason is that human studies on this amino acid have been on physical and mental fitness. Another reason is that L-ornithine supports a healthy stress response. The last reason is that L-ornithine has complemented caffeine in a human study, prolonging the attention-related nootropic responses to caffeine up to 8 hours, while supporting mood, vigor, and willingness to work to a greater degree than caffeine alone.* We included a dose of 200 mg of L-ornithine, because this was the amount that complemented a 100 mg dose of caffeine.
Celastrus paniculatus Seed Extract
Celastrus paniculatus is native to India, where it’s used by local healers primarily as a brain tonic for reasons that are consistent with one of its common names, “the intellect tree.” These uses include supporting brain performance in areas related to mental sharpness, memory, mental fatigue, and stress. It was believed by native healers that people eating the seeds of this plant would be able to learn new information more quickly, and more accurately and efficiently recall it later.* Today we’d recognize these traditional uses as being consistent with a nootropic.
Neurohacker Collective was instrumental in introducing Celastrus paniculatus seed extract into the broader nootropic community when we launched Qualia Mind. Both during the original development of Qualia Mind, and more recently during the development of Qualia Focus, we tested versions of the product with and without Celastrus. What did we find? In both instances, the inclusion of Celastrus made a difference users could feel when it came to attention, focus, energy, and motivation.* The dose, and ultimately its inclusion was driven by its traditional use and the positive feedback we received during development when we’ve tested nootropic formulations with and without it.
American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) Root Extract
American ginseng is a variety of ginseng native to forested regions in North America. It is the same genus as Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and prized for the same reasons: both are considered adaptogens that help support resistance to a variety of different types of stressors. As an adaptogen, American ginseng is used as an energy tonic in times of higher stress or greater demands to support the capacity for mental and physical work. As a nootropic, American ginseng extracts have supported working memory (a cognitive skill in the executive function category) and a calm mood.* This combination of adaptogenic and nootropic qualities is why we included it in Qualia Focus.
We use an American ginseng root extract standardized for ginsenosides—these compounds are thought to be responsible for many of the adaptogenic (i.e., stress and fatigue support) and health-promoting properties. For nootropic and mood purposes, American ginseng has not been a “more is better” herb in human studies. In fact, best overall nootropic responses have occurred at the lowest dose used in studies that have compared different dosage amounts.* American ginseng is not alone: lower doses of quite a few nootropic compounds outperform higher doses. We selected our dose based on this principle, opting to include a 100 mg dose.
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Root Extract
Ginger has a long history of use as a food spice and in traditional healing systems including Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda. It was used for a number of reasons in these systems (one of which we’d consider to be as a bioenhancer supporting the bioavailability of other ingredients). Modern human clinical studies have tended to focus on ginger primarily in areas such as supporting healthy blood sugar, calming an upset or nauseous stomach (which, by the way, involves gut-brain communication), and joint health.* It’s typically not thought of as a nootropic. It should be. Here are a few reasons why.
There have been quite a few animal studies where ginger extracts have supported brain neuroprotection functions.* Ginger is well-known for supporting digestive and gastrointestinal health and function.* It’s less well known that it supports the gut-brain axis. Ginger supports healthy blood sugar regulation.* The brain uses a lot of energy. Its preferred fuel source is sugar (glucose specifically). Do you think the brain might perform better if blood sugar levels were healthier? And, lastly, a human clinical study investigated ginger as a nootropic. Over an 8-week period, ginger supported attention, working memory, and cognitive processing efficiency, with nootropic responses continuing to accrue the longer it was taken.*
Supports neuroprotective functions...gut-brain axis ...healthy blood sugar (important for both body and brain energy) ...nootropic ...put simply, ginger checked many boxes for how we wanted Qualia Focus to work and for what we wanted this nootropic formulation to do. We used a standardized extract and included a dose we believe is sufficient to support the brain and the gut-brain. But keep in mind that ginger is more like the tortoise than the hare in Aesop’s fable (“slow and steady wins the race”): Ginger should be thought of as being a spice that supports the brain through continued use over longer periods of time.*
Ginkgo biloba Leaf Extract
Ginkgo biloba is one of the most widely used herbs for brain health. Ginkgo has been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for several hundred years. Researchers began studying standardized extracts of G. biloba during the mid-1960’s. Research suggests ginkgo extracts may help a number of functions involved in healthy brain function. These include supporting several neurotransmitter systems and neurogenesis, while promoting healthy vascular function and blood flow to the brain. G. biloba is best known for supporting cognitive skills related to attention, concentration, memory and mood. It’s also been studied with ginger or ginseng extracts in studies.* These mechanisms and cognitive skill areas, as well as complementing other ingredients, are why we included it in Qualia Focus.
We use a Ginkgo biloba extract standardized to contain 24% flavone glycosides and 6% terpene lactones. We chose a 120 mg dose, because this dose has supported brain health on it’s own in some studies, and is at the upper end of what’s most commonly used when a standardized ginkgo extract is combined with other nootropic herbs. Similar to ginger, ginkgo should be thought of as being more of a tortoise than the hare. While it can support attentional processes quickly, it primarily supports brain health and function through continued use over longer periods of time.*
Thiamine (as thiamine HCl)
Thiamine was the first member of the B-complex family of vitamins—a group of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cellular metabolism and energy production—found by scientists, hence it’s designation as B1. The body concentrates thiamine in metabolically active tissues. The brain is not only one of the most metabolically active tissues in the body, but it uses more energy than any other human organ, accounting for up to 20 percent of the body's daily energy turnover. The brain also relies heavily on glucose (a simple sugar) as a source of energy, and thiamine is an essential vitamin for the conversion of sugars to energy.*
We included thiamine in Qualia Focus because vitamin B1 supports brain energy production, neuron health, and neurotransmission; at higher doses it supports reaction times and working memory.* We selected a dose of thiamine significantly greater than the daily value, because vitamin B1 is an important nootropic vitamin for producing mental energy from carbohydrates and for supporting a more clear headed, composed and energetic experience.*
Riboflavin was the second of the B-family discovered by scientists, hence it’s designation as B2. Like the other B-complex vitamins, it plays an essential role in cellular metabolism and energy production. Riboflavin is necessary for the performance of the linked mitochondrial processes that result in the generation of ATP—the brain is a big user of ATP. Riboflavin is also needed for the activation and/or utilization of several other brain-essential vitamins (e.g. vitamin, B3, vitamin B-6, folate), and plays a role in supporting the function of one of the body’s major antioxidant and detoxification molecules—glutathione.*
The brain performs best when it has sufficient energy to do required work and is able to protect itself adequately. We included riboflavin in Qualia Focus, because it’s involved in both energy and protective functions. It works in conjunction with vitamin B3 to produce the ATP the brain relies on to do mental work. Riboflavin metabolic derivatives have direct antioxidant properties, and because it is an essential cofactor in the glutathione redox cycle, it also supports the brain’s own antioxidant defenses. We selected a dose of riboflavin that has been sufficient to normalize functional markers of healthy riboflavin status.*
Niacin (as Niacinamide)
Niacinamide is a non-flushing form of vitamin B3. It is best known for its role in making a molecule called NAD, which plays a central role in cellular energy (i.e., ATP) production, cellular defense functions, cellular repair and stress response functions, and several pathways linked to healthier aging. Both NAD and other vitamin B3-dependent molecules are absolutely essential for healthy brain function and nerve health (mental confusion is one of the signs of a vitamin B3 deficiency).
We included niacinamide in Qualia Focus because two of the things we were interested in supporting were mental energy and nerve cellular protective functions. We included enough to supply 100% of the daily value for this vitamin (so high enough to maintain healthy vitamin B3 status), but which is low enough to be below an amount that places a burden on betaine and choline stores—high doses of niacinamide may stress these other nutrients.
Pantothenic Acid (as calcium pantothenate)
Pantothenic acid is vitamin B5, which is a member of the B-complex family of vitamins—a group of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cellular metabolism and energy production. Vitamin B5 may help with stress resiliency and support the healthy adrenal function needed for the adaptation to stress. We included pantothenic acid in Qualia Focus because a main emphasis of the formula is supporting mental energy and the neurotransmitter molecule acetylcholine: These cellular functions require pantothenic acid.*
Neurohackers often supplement with much higher amounts of pantothenic acid when it’s used in combination with choline and acetyl-L-carnitine (ALCAR). This is largely based on self-experimentation (N of 1) within the neurohacking community. Because of this, you may notice that Qualia Mind (which has both choline and ALCAR) includes a much higher amount of pantothenic acid than Qualia Focus (which contains 5 g supplying 100% of the daily value). The reason for the difference is that Qualia Focus does not contain these other ingredients (so doesn’t require a high-dose of pantothenic acid as a complement). When thinking about the dose of pantothenic acid, we don’t view it in isolation. Instead, we consider vitamin B5 (as well as other ingredients) in terms of how much might be warranted based on the other ingredients being included.
Vitamin B6 (as pyridoxal 5'-phosphate)
Pyridoxal 5'-phosphate (P5P) is a coenzyme or active form of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is a cofactor involved in over 4% of all enzymatic activities, including many metabolic pathways important for cellular energy generation and the production of neurotransmitter molecules involved in motivation and mood, including dopamine, catecholamines, and serotonin.*
We included vitamin B6 in Qualia Focus to support the production of brain energy and neurotransmitter molecules. We used the P5P form, because it is the bioactive form of vitamin B6, requiring less metabolic “work” to be used as coenzyme in vitamin B6-dependent enzyme reactions.* We chose a 2 mg dose (supplying just over 100% of the daily value) because this amount has been sufficient to maintain vitamin B6 status in healthy adults and complements other B-vitamins—it’s also the amount the Linus Pauling Institute recommends supplementing in healthy older adults.
Folate (as L-5'-methyltetrahydrofolate calcium salt)
Folate (or vitamin B9) is part of the B-complex family. Folate got its name from the Latin word for leaf (folium), because leafy green vegetables (e.g., lettuce, spinach) are one of the better food sources. Folate can be thought of as a brain-essential vitamin. It’s needed for myelin production, nerve function, and the production of a number of neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine). It’s also complements other B vitamins, especially with vitamin B12 and vitamin B6 for neurological function and brain health.
We included folate as L-5'-methyltetrahydrofolate (L-5-MTHF) because this is the folate form found in circulation and transported across the blood–brain barrier. The most common form of folate used in food fortification and most supplements is folic acid. We did not use the more common folic acid, and instead opted for L-5-MTHF because: (1) L-5-MTHF is the more metabolically active form (some folic acid may not be fully metabolized), (2) persons with some gene variants may use the L-5-MTHF better than the folic acid form, and (3) some experts strongly believe the L-5-MTHF to be the best form to give when supplementing the diet. When used as a nootropic, doses of up to 500 µg are used by neurohackers. Since there’s some contribution of folates from the diet, our dosing is selected to ensure that the combination of what we provide, and what’s found even in a diet that’s low in folates, will provide at least the advised intake, but not an excessive amount of folates.
Vitamin B12 (as methylcobalamin)
Methylcobalamin is a member of the B-complex family of vitamins and is the coenzyme or active form of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is an essential vitamin for supporting the health and function of neurons, brain volume, mood and memory. And, like other members of the B-complex family, it plays a role in converting fats and sugars into energy.* Vitamin B12 is included in Qualia Focus because, in addition to being essential for the healthy function of brain and nerve cells, it’s an important vitamin for energy, mood, and memory.*
We used methylcobalamin as the form of vitamin B12, as opposed to cyanocobalamin, because methylcobalamin is the bioactive form, requiring less metabolic “work” to be used as coenzyme in vitamin B12-dependent enzyme reactions in the brain and nervous system. The dose of methylcobalamin we used (10 µg) is about 400% of the daily value. We chose this amount because it is sufficient to correct insufficiency and sustain vitamin B12 status in most healthy adults,* and is within the range suggested by the Linus Pauling Institute.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.
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