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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.

Other Problems

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 with shipping.

An Alternative

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.

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