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It took a lot of research and experimentation before I could formulate my own nootropic stack. The Neurohacker Collective team took a similar scientific approach in creating Qualia Mind, a blend that supports mental performance and brain health. In this post, I review the science of its 28 ingredients and how they work to support brain function.
Neurohacker Collective rigorously reviewed the scientific literature to formulate Qualia. And that’s exactly the approach I took to create my own stack a while back.
The brain is an extremely complex organ with many unique networks and connections. Cognition does not arise from just one part of the brain or biochemical reaction. It takes reading and analyzing many scientific studies (on humans whenever available, other times in animals), understanding how the brain works, and addressing the mechanisms.
It’s equally important to look at all the data together and understand how one thing affects another. Nothing in the brain happens in isolation. I realized several natural substances should be combined to affect most of the important pathways and processes in the brain. Any single substance, lifestyle, or dietary intervention won’t do the trick [R].
All the ingredients in Qualia have been individually researched and are safe. As long as each ingredient that goes into a supplement is generally safe, you don’t really need a clinical study to confirm the combined effects. This can be useful to understand synergies, but in the end, it often depends on how each person will react.
Many SelfHacked readers struggle with brain fog and fatigue, problems originating in several areas and pathways in the brain. It takes many interventions to resolve them, including advanced supplements that target the underlying issues in the brain.
That’s why I was so curious about Qualia, which contains 28 ingredients that support brain health and cognition. I decided to review all of them, the research behind each ingredient and their synergies.
What is Qualia?
Qualia is a natural nootropic stack formulated by Neurohacker Collective, a San Diego-based company with a mission to create products that improve human performance by supporting our natural complex physiology rather than overriding it.
Qualia Mind is a premium supplement formulated to support brain health, cognition, mental energy, and performance. The formula contains selected nootropics, neuro-vitamins, antioxidants, adaptogens, amino acids, and choline donors.
In a recent pilot study, 23 people who took Qualia Mind did much better at cognitive tests from Cambridge Brain Sciences [R]. After 5 days, Qualia significantly improved concentration and focus (by 85%), planning skills, visual representation, verbal reasoning, and episodic and verbal short-term memory.
How Qualia Supports Your Brain Function
1) Improving Mitochondrial Health and Energy Production
As an energy-intensive organ, the brain heavily uses the mitochondria. Poor mitochondrial health is linked to brain fog and neurodegenerative diseases, while improving mitochondrial function may reverse these conditions [R, R, R].
If your mitochondria don’t function properly, your cells will struggle to produce energy. With insufficient energy being produced, you’ll feel constantly tired and unable to focus [R].
The mitochondria also initiate the production of steroid hormones, including cortisol and all sex hormones. That’s why malfunctioning mitochondria can cause hormone imbalances [R].
Another key function of the mitochondria is to commit cellular suicide — known as apoptosis — in response to excess stress, damage, or mutations. Evolutionarily, it is better for the damaged cells to commit suicide than to spread more oxidative stress, go on to damage other cells, or develop into cancers [R].
However, if too many cells commit suicide faster than the body can replace them, important tissues can start losing function. This is the case in Alzheimer’s disease, when brain cells commit suicide faster than the brain can compensate, which triggers and worsens symptoms [R].
Supporting the mitochondria and reducing oxidative stress generally protects the neurons by preventing apoptosis. In a small clinical study, a comprehensive natural approach (supplements, diet, lifestyle) sustainably reversed cognitive decline in 10 elderly patients. The program focused on reducing brain inflammation, supporting the mitochondria and brain plasticity [R].
Qualia contains several ingredients that work together to improve mitochondrial function. These include PQQ and ALCAR (Acetyl-L-carnitine). It has several other ingredients that also support the mitochondria by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.
2) Reducing Brain Inflammation and Oxidative Stress
Excessive oxidative stress damages the mitochondria. Likewise, poor mitochondrial function increases oxidative stress, which can further damage the mitochondria and cells if left uncontrolled. However, controlled oxidative stress is sometimes beneficial — it’s needed for reactions that help immune cells kill off pathogens. Therefore, balance is key.
I believe that inflammation and oxidative stress, especially in the brain, are the most common causes of brain fog (cognitive dysfunction) and fatigue. Inflammation in the brain can shut down wakefulness-promoting orexins [R, R], while the oxidative stress can hamper and damage the mitochondria [R].
Some ingredients in Qualia increase orexin activity indirectly by increasing dopamine and cellular energy (through cyclic AMP) [R].
3) Enhancing Neuroplasticity and Learning
Neuroplasticity is your brain’s ability to change and adapt to various circumstances. This mental flexibility allows for new experiences and learning, while also compensating for traumatic experiences and injuries.
The main factors that increase neuroplasticity include Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) and Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) [R, R]. Called neurotrophins, these growth factors help make new brain cells and connections. They help the brain better adapt to new challenges, reduce age-related cognitive decline, and prevent neurodegenerative diseases and depression [R].
4) Increasing Brain Circulation
Energy production in the mitochondria requires sufficient oxygen to function well. As an organ that greatly depends on the mitochondria, the brain is exceptionally sensitive to oxygen levels. The blood that reaches the brain also brings glucose as its main fuel and removes waste.
The body has several sensors and mechanisms to maintain balance and ensure enough blood is pumped to the brain [R]. But poor circulation, high or low blood pressure, stress, oxidative damage, and lack of sunlight can all reduce brain blood flow [R, R, R, R].
Living at a high altitude, toxic mold syndrome, obstructed breathing, and anemia can reduce the amount of oxygen available to the brain. While this sub-clinically poor brain circulation and oxygen availability may not be life-threatening, it can reduce cognitive function and contribute to the development of mental and neurological disorders [R, R].
To optimize your cognitive and mental capacity, the brain needs to be well-nourished. Several Qualia ingredients act together to improve blood flow to the brain. These include vinpocetine, Ginkgo biloba, citrulline, carnitine, ginseng, and bacopa.
5) Protecting Cell Membranes and Myelin
Nerve communication uses electrical signals that resemble waves. Positively or negatively charged particles (ions) travel through the cell membranes either to enter or exit the cell, creating a current. Healthy cell membranes help properly pass signals, which is why they are critical for your nervous system to function optimally.
Myelin sheaths are insulating fat layers that wrap around the nerve endings and allow the nerve signals to jump rather than walk. As myelin sheaths speed up signal transmission, having more myelin makes you smarter and more agile.
Qualia supports your myelination at many levels: indirectly by providing myelin building blocks, supporting BDNF and NGF levels, and increasing choline levels, and directly by stimulating myelination.
6) Optimizing your Neurochemistry
Qualia helps optimize your neurochemistry by providing the essential building blocks, vital minerals and vitamins your body needs to produce all neurotransmitters and their levels balanced. These include DL-phenylalanine, choline, phosphatidylserine, and vitamins in this formulation.
Why the Qualia Formulation is More Effective?
1) Targeting Multiple Processes that Affect Brain Function
Your brain health depends on numerous factors, which is why improving cognitive function should involve a well-rounded approach. The scientists at Qualia mapped out all the factors that affect brain function to ensure that the formulation addresses them all.
2) Synergistic Ingredients
Synergy is when a combination of ingredients produce an effect greater than the sum of its parts. Most natural nootropics have more than a single positive effect and when you stack them together, some effects become stronger than if you had taken either one alone. Some well-known synergies include:
- Caffeine and theanine, which together improve focus, visual attention, reaction time, alertness, simple and numeric working memory [R]
- Uridine, choline, and DHA, which work together to improve synapse formation [R]
- Forskolin and luteolin both increase cAMP, which enhances wakefulness, and boost the strength of cellular signaling within neurons [R, R]
- Cholinergic ingredients, including alpha-GPC, Huperzine A, ALCAR, and citicoline
- Adaptogens, which help counter the harmful effects of stress and maintain performance during periods of increased stress. Qualia contains both stimulating and calming adaptogens, so it’s balancing and will not cause you to crash.
The current formulation of Qualia boasts 28 Ingredients, all in reasonably high dose. They transparently list all the ingredients. Here is a rundown of all the ingredients and how they work.
Alpha-GPC is a natural cholinergic substance that can readily reach the brain to increase choline. acetylcholine, and to protect the neurons [R]. Alpha-GPC may even help with cognitive symptoms in people with stroke, senile dementia, and Alzheimer’s based on clinical studies [R, R].
Artichoke extract contains luteolin, which inhibits the enzyme that degrades cAMP (PDE4) [R]. By increasing cAMP levels, luteolin promotes alertness. Forskolin also increases cAMP and acts in synergy with luteolin.
cAMP is also crucial for increasing the growth of neurons and their connections. Strengthening the synapses between neurons improves long-term potentiation, which helps with learning and memory.
Benfotiamine is a synthetic, more fat-soluble, and more potent version of vitamin B1 (thiamine). It is also a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that protects the brain [R, R]. In a small clinical study, benfotiamine helped improve cognitive function in 5 Alzheimer’s patients [R].
Carnitine is an amino acid that boosts energy production. It helps turn fatty acids into energy using the mitochondria. Acetyl-L-Carnitine is particularly good for improving brain and cognitive function, since he acetyl group added to carnitine also increases acetylcholine in the brain [R, R].
6) Celastrus paniculatus Seed Extract
Celastrus is also known as the “intellect plant”. It improves cognitive function by increasing acetylcholine [R]. It also protects the neurons from oxidative damage and toxins. In rat studies, it reduced depression, anxiety, pain, and inflammation [R, R, R]. Plus, it might also support myelination [R].
7) Coffee Fruit Extract
Coffee fruit extracts contain a lot of antioxidant polyphenols, especially chlorogenic acid [R]. It contains much less caffeine than coffee beans. In a small pilot study, whole coffee fruit extract increased BDNF by 143%, suggesting that it can enhance cognition [R].
8) Cognizin Citicoline
Citicoline, or CDP-Choline, is made of choline and cytidine. Once CDP-Choline is broken down into choline and cytidine, the cytidine is converted into uridine [R]. Choline provides both the backbone of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine and also support myelination, along with uridine [R].
Although widely known as a weight loss supplement, forskolin is also a cognitive enhancer. It stimulates energy use by increasing cAMP, which increases energy production in every cell, including those in the brain [R]. In addition, it lowers inflammation and supports blood sugar control [R].
DHA is an important component of the myelin sheath and cell membranes in the brain. It’s used as an important building block for the nervous system and is also a strong anti-inflammatory [R]. DHA supplementation improves memory and attention, mood, and blood flow to the brain [R, R, R].
11) DL-Phenylalanine (DLPA)
DL-phenylalanine is a mix of two forms of phenylalanine that are mirror images of each other. L-phenylalanine provides the chemical backbone for making dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. D-phenylalanine activates the opioid system by inhibiting enzymes that break down opioids [R]. D-phenylalanine also reduces stress and improves symptoms of depression [R, R]. The DL-phenylalanine mix enhances the communication between neurons by activating the AMPA receptors, which are important for learning and memory [R].
12) Ginkgo Biloba
13) Huperzine A
Mucuna pruriens is a legume with adaptogenic effects that reduces cortisol and neutralizes free radicals. It’s a natural source of L-DOPA [R], supports healthy dopamine, noradrenaline, adrenaline, and serotonin levels [R]. L-DOPA also increases growth hormones [R].
PQQ is a potent antioxidant and a coenzyme for the mitochondria. It increases the number of mitochondria, which is linked to longevity, improved energy use, and better antioxidant defense [R]. It also supports brain health by increasing NGF [R].
Phosphatidylserine is made by adding a phosphate group to the amino acid serine. It is an important component of the brain cell membranes, improves the communication between brain cells. It increases NGF activity while reducing cortisol in response to acute physical stress [R, R].
17) Rhodiola rosea
Rhodiola is a well-known adaptogen with nootropic effects. It inhibits the enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) that breaks down neurotransmitters, increasing dopamine, noradrenalin, adrenalin, serotonin, and melatonin levels [R]. It improves mood by increasing beta-endorphin [R]. It also protects neurons, helps them recover, and grow after injury [R].
L-theanine is a calming amino acid commonly found in green tea. It increases alpha brain waves, which promotes attention and relaxation without causing the jitters or drowsiness [R]. It acts in synergy with caffeine to increase concentration, motivation, and memory. Importantly, it can reduce the side effects of caffeine [R].
Theobromine is a caffeine-like substance from the cacao beans. It works similarly to caffeine, blocking the adenosine receptor, but is more gentle and lasts longer than caffeine [R]. It boosts cAMP, which increases cellular energy [R].
N-acetyl-L-tyrosine is the amino acid tyrosine with an added acetyl group, which increases its ability to cross into the brain [R]. It’s used to make dopamine and noradrenaline, which helps us better deal with stress [R].
22) Uridine Monophosphate
Uridine is a naturally occurring nucleic acid that has nootropic effects. It supports phospholipid synthesis, thus supporting myelination [R]. It functions as a neurotransmitter and also increases NGF and dopamine levels [R, R, R]. Uridine synergizes with choline, DHA, and other phospholipids, which are also present in this formula [R].
23) Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, C, and D3
Pyridoxal-5-Phosphate (active vitamin B6) is essential for cellular energy production [R]. It improves the health of brain cells and aids the production of key neurotransmitters, such as acetylcholine, dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline, and melatonin [R, R].
Methylcobalamin (vitamin B12) is an important cofactor for several enzymes. It helps provide the methyl group to homocysteine in the brain and turn it to SAMe [R]. It also improves memory and executive function [R] and the regeneration of neurons and their impulse-conducting endings (axons) [R, R, R].
Cholecalciferol (vitamin D3) is converted to the active form, calcitriol, by the liver. Calcitriol then activates the vitamin D receptors, which are found in several regions of the brain [R]. It enhances brain communication and synaptic plasticity, and increases glutathione [R, R].
Potential Qualia Side Effects
Qualia has a caffeine-free formula (Qualia Mind Caffeine Free) for those who cannot handle caffeine. However, given the long list of ingredients, it is possible that some people will experience side effects.
Good Side Effects
While we didn’t mention throughout this post, the ingredients in Qualia have several positive side effects. Qualia can reduce heart disease risk and improve overall health due to the antioxidant effects components. Some other ingredients, such as forskolin and caffeine, may boost fat burning, while chlorogenic acid from coffee fruit extracts increases insulin sensitivity. Several ingredients, such as DLPA, curcumin, and rhodiola may even reduce pain.
Bad Side Effects
Common negative side effects include:
- Sleep disturbance, especially if it’s taken late in the day
- Muscle tightness
- Upset stomach
If you know that you react negatively to one of the ingredients in Qualia, then this product is not for you.
For example, one of our team members experiences negative mood changes in response to forskolin. She also experienced the same side effect with Qualia.
Who is Qualia For?
Qualia is created for hard-charging professionals who need to maximize cognitive function and do not have a lot of time to spend on improving brain health. It’s also formulated to help with brain fog or mild mood issues due to stress. Several of its ingredients can help with chronic pain, improve cardiovascular and overall health.
If you’re interested in improving your cognition and brain health, I highly recommend you try it. In addition, eating a healthy diet, good sleep, sufficient sun exposure, and regular exercise will synergize with Qualia and give you even better results.
- Neurohacker Collective Use coupon code SELFHACKED to get 15% off first order and 10% off subsequent orders.
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