My Brain Pills Experiment
As reported on the page "Brain
Supplements," I ordered a month supply of Constant
Focus - one of the many brain-enhancement products out
there. I did a quick mental test before starting to take the
pills around the start of April 2009. It consisted of mentally
multiplying ten sets of two two digit numbers (64 x 96, etc).
I generated the digits randomly using 1 through 9 (including
0 would have made it too easy). I did not allow myself pen or
paper except to write down the solutions.
I recorded both the time it took to do the ten equations and
the accuracy. I did two tests (20 equations total) before and
two after taking the pills for 30 days. Both of the latter tests
were more accurate and completed faster than the first two. Here
is what the results looked like:
Control Test 1: (8:17 to complete - 70% correct)
Control Test 2: (6:47 to complete - 80% correct)
Results Test 1: (5:24 to complete - 80% correct)
Results Test 2: (5:20 to complete - 90% correct)
Constant focus claims their product can help you "Boost
the efficiency of your work," and "Realize your full
mental potential." The tests I did might measure these vague
claims in part. I didn't test for other claims like increased
attention span. Unfortunately, I do not consider the results
very good evidence for a variety of reasons. First, too many
factors affect one's mental performance on a day-to-day basis.
More specifically, my wife and I had already planned a cleansing
diet for a two-week period that happened to be in April. I suspect
that this and my heavier-than-normal mental workload got my brain
functioning better. This points to the difficulty of this kind
of self-experimentation. It is tough to stop life and control
all variables in order to have a more accurate test. For what
it is worth, I didn't feel like there was a dramatic difference
in my thinking, although the test results surprised me.
As I mentioned in the Brainpower Newsletter, brain pills may
often work solely because of the vitamins and minerals that are
put in them, since most of us probably have some deficiencies.Also,
if they are packed full of cheap vitamins, how much room is left
in the capsules for the true brain-improving elements? I chose
to try Constant Focus because the web site listed
just seven ingredients: ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine (biovinca),
huperzia serrata (huperzine A), gotu kola, choline, carnosic
acid (rosemary leaf extract), phosphatidyl serine (LECI-PSR).
In fact, after the list of ingredients, the site said this:
"Of course, we could add more ingredients. We could turn
Constant Focus into a 50-ingredient multivitamin like some of
our competitors offer. But we believe that if you want vitamins,
you'll take vitamins. If you want to enhance your mental performance,
to take yourself to the next level, you'll try Constant Focus."
Unfortunately, when I looked at the ingredients listed on the
actual bottle, there were ten vitamins and minerals included.
Furthermore, I bought a 30-day supply - that's how it was
described on the site. But the bottle says to take three capsules
in the morning, and then adds, "an additional three capsules
can be taken in the afternoon." That would make it a fifteen-day
supply, which comes to almost $4 per day at the price I paid
I don't care for that kind of misleading marketing, and I
am not sure how much of an effect these brain pills had in any
case. Since I have tried vinpocetine (one of the ingredients)
before and seemed to get a brain boost from it, and I can use
that for the equivalent of ten cents-per-day, I am inclined to
try that along with a vitamin supplement. The total cost might
be as high as 30 cents daily for possibly the same small effect.
That's less than a tenth of the cost of the product I tried.
My recommendation? There are cheaper products to try, and
I think we shouldn't encourage those who use misleading marketing,
so skip the Constant Focus.