Here at BrainReference, we will provide you with the information you need to find the best brain supplements to fit your needs. Our brain supplement reviews include unbias information regarding allergen-free ingredients, non-synthetic ingredients, clean label initiative, and 3rd-party tested products to help you choose the right brain supplement.
It’s time to find out the truth about your brain, how it works, and which supplements may fit your health the best through our in-depth research and editorial reviews on countless of popular brain supplements from around the world. Understand, our nutritional team has dedicated countless years in education and instruction they have used to conduct each and every brain supplement review you’ll find on this website. That is one of the reasons BrainReference has quickly become the leading resource for evaluating many of the top brain supplement products in the industry today.
Next, it’s important to understand how we rated each brain reference product. Why? Because our rating criteria are yours. It’s based on our principles and your feedback for years from thousands of product users on thousands of brain supplements.
Customers can now use our selected rating criteria to quickly see how each product may compare to other top brain products currently on the market (“N/A” is used for all non-related items).
Our Quality Ranking Criteria
1. Non-synthetic ingredients
The main issue with synthetic ingredients is that you don’t always get what you pay for. In reality, synthetic ingredients are well known for their low absorption, poor bioavailability, and the fact that they drain the body’s reserves of other minerals and vitamins (e.g., cofactors) required for proper absorption of other nutrients. Moreover, it is possible that, in long-term, you are not only NOT getting what you expected, but you may also lose some of what you already had. So here is our sincere advice: next time you are in the market for a quality supplement, skip any formula filled top to bottom with synthetic ingredients and pick a supplement that is made using whole-food ingredients gathered from food sources that occur in nature.
Our Strong Argument Against the Use of Synthetic Ingredients
Vitamins and minerals are vital nutrients that must be taken either from a proper, healthy diet or through quality supplements because the body cannot synthesize them in the amounts needed to sustain optimal health. For instance, each vitamin has a precise role in the body (a physiochemical activity if you want). Due to this unique property, one vitamin cannot be used to compensate for the deficiency of another.
Remember: Nature does not make synthetic ingredients. Companies do!
According to Ensminger et al. (1993), vitamins are found mostly in plant tissues. Synthetic vitamin isolates are in the exact opposite situation. These are created in laboratories and have not been shown to have the same physiochemical activity as natural ingredients. Consumers must understand that USP vitamins are NOT food. Most companies will often refer to synthetic ingredients as natural vitamins, but that assumption is incorrect. Unlike natural ingredients that are always available naturally in the form of food-vitamin complexes, USP vitamins, without exception, are standardized chemical isolates,
While many supplement manufacturers (and possibly individuals) may claim that consuming synthetic ingredients is better than not taking a multivitamin at all, we beg to differ. Because synthetic vitamin isolates can cause nutrient depletion and, in some cases, adverse reactions/outcomes, not consuming a multivitamin is better than using one that is chock-full of synthetic ingredients manufactured using industrial solvents and chemicals.
At BrainReference, we believe that the best sources of essential nutrients are all-natural, organic foods plucked at the peak of freshness and ate mostly fresh. When all-natural nutrients are not an option, for whatever reasons, the next best thing is to choose nutrients collected from natural food sources. If that too is not an alternative, then whole-food nutrients (vitamin isolates cultured in probiotics/yeast and available as a component of a vitamin-food matrix) are an agreeable alternative.
The common sense argument against supplements filled with synthetic ingredients is quite simple. Every consumer should prefer, without hesitation, food-sourced vitamins over artificial vitamins isolate every single time if they were provided with the information on the source of the synthetic ingredients in a multivitamin supplement.
Choose Your Supplement Carefully
We believe that, when informed on his options, any responsible individual would prefer the natural source for every single vitamin, mineral, or any other nutrient available. But what would happen if the individual is told that synthetic ingredients have the same chemical structure as natural vitamins from food? Would that persuade him to rethink his preferences? Would his perspective be shifted if told that supplements with synthetic vitamin isolates are far less expensive than supplements with ingredients obtained from 100% natural sources? We believe that the informed individual will still see and understand the difference between synthetic ingredients and non-synthetic ingredients.
Regardless of whether or not their chemical structure is identical to vitamins from food or that they are a heck of a lot less expensive than concentrated and cultured vitamins, there is no compelling argument to defend the idea that synthetic ingredients are qualitatively identical to vitamins from food. In fact, we at BrainReference think it is absurd, if not downright irresponsible, to pretend that synthetic ingredients are used in much the same way as natural ingredients from foods given that the substances used to synthesize them are known toxins.
2. Allergen-Free Ingredients
Today’s consumer expects dietary supplements to be a less expensive, safer, and more accessible approach to health management with negligible risks of potentially dangerous adverse effects and unwanted reactions, and for the most part, their expectations are justified. However, the current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMPs) suggested by the Food and Drug Administration only cover the bare minimum safety and quality standards that supplements must meet before they can be approved for sale. Because of this, the potential for a dietary supplement to produce an undesirable side effect, as in the case of allergens, or an unexpected reaction is still high.
Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) explicitly states that allergen labeling requirements apply only to those foods regulated by the FDA under the Federal Food, Drug, & Cosmetics Act. In other words, for manufacturers of dietary ingredients and supplements is NOT mandatory to list allergens that may be included in the supplement nor provide any statutory warnings regarding the potential for allergic reactions from taking the supplement.
At BrainReference we recognize that dietary supplements – and here we can include many types of foods – can be the source of many allergic responses either due to cross-contamination with high-allergen compounds during the manufacturing process or because they incorporate ingredients obtained from high-risk allergenic foods (for instance milk, eggs, or fish). With this in mind, even though the FDA doesn’t require supplements to include allergen warnings on supplement labels or test for most common allergens (“The Big 8”), we believe that testing for allergens should be standard practice in the supplements industry.
Given that half of the United States population uses at least one dietary supplement AND ingredients derived from high-risk allergenic foods are consistently available either as an active ingredient or as an additive in most nutritional supplements, we believe that an “Allergen-Free Ingredients” quality check is mandatory.
Additives in Supplements – A Hidden Danger
Raw ingredients used in many dietary supplements, particularly those from a herbal source, may vary from one manufacturer to another and even from lot to lot. There can be differences regarding stickiness, moisture, and tapped density, and all these introduce various challenges during the manufacturing process. Because of this, supplement makers use “additives” to help overcome manufacturing challenges and ensure end product overall quality and integrity.
Companies claim that these additives are “inactive” or “inert” components added to raw ingredients to ensure overall product integrity and achieve the desired consistency. The truth is, however, there is no such thing as an “inactive” ingredient. If manufacturers want to stay faithful to their fundamental ethical, professional, and moral obligation to look out for the consumers’ well-being, they should pay as much care and attention to their additives as they do to the active ingredients in their dietary supplements. It is both irresponsible and incorrect to assume that additives are inactive and have no positive or negative interactions in the body, and therefore, manufacturers can choose whichever ingredient they want as an additive without worrying about potential unwanted negative effects.
There are over 10,000 synthetic additives in processed foods, and over 7,000 of those food additives are not needed to be independently listed on product labels, which means that companies have considerable flexibility in not only determining which additives to use but also how those additives should be declared on labels.
Our Proven Ingredients and Quality Ranking System
Our Proven Ingredients and Quality Ranking System means you’ll know everything you are putting into your body when you take a dietary supplement. If you don’t see what’s on an ingredient label, you probably shouldn’t consume it. The Proven Ingredients and Quality Ranking System also means the product is made in the United States and scores highly on categories such as Vegetarian, GMO-Free, Gluten-Free, Lactose-Free, Free of Soy, Dairy, Nuts, Wheat, and have No Additives, No Artificial Dyes, Sweeteners or Colors.
There are many additives used in supplement manufacturing, but some of the most common include:
Fillers are a type of additive used to fill the space in a capsule or add volume to a tablet. Because most encapsulation and tableting machines offer only a limited number of capsule or tablet sizes, fillers are included to either ensure a perfect fit of the ingredients to a particular capsule size or a specific size mold for tablet compression.
Commonly used filers: Magnesium Stearate, Dicalcium Phosphate, Talc, Silica, Stearic Acid, Corn Starch, Corn Maltodextrin, Dextrose, Citric Acid, or Cellulose Powder.
Binders are additives that are added in powdered formulations to increase the volume of low-dose active ingredients, make these ingredients more cohesive, and help bind ingredients together during tableting. Binders are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) by the FDA, but even vegetable-sourced binders like gum arabic or acacia have the potential to cause mild to severe allergic reactions in some people.
Commonly used binders: Cellulose and Cellulose derivatives, animal gelatin (usually from pork), Polyethylene Glycol, modified food starch (usually corn derived), Sucrose, honey, Lecithin, Sorbitol, and Xylitol.
Coatings, also called pharmaceutical glaze, natural glaze, aqueous enteric coating, natural vegetable coating, vegetable coating, or natural protein coating, are additives that are used to coat softgels, capsules, and tablets to protect the active ingredients from being destroyed by stomach acids, facilitate swallowing, or control the release of the active ingredients (e.g., time-release and controlled-release formulations).
Commonly used coatings: Tallow, Carnauba wax, Phthalates Sodium Alginate, and Shellac.
Preservatives are added to dietary formulas to help maintain the freshness and the nutritional quality of the supplement and prevent unwanted chemical changes that may render the supplement unsafe for consumption. Antioxidant preservatives are used to minimize degradation of potency and freshness due to oxidation, and antimicrobial preservatives are used to inhibit microbial growth. Preservatives can be natural or synthetic, and the decision to use artificial preservatives over natural ones almost always indicates cost-cutting to boost profits.
Commonly used preservatives: Sodium Benzoate, Nitrates, Nitrites, Sulfites, Sodium Ascorbate, Ascorbyl Palmitate, Ascorbic Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Propionate, Vitamin A, Vitamin E (natural and synthetic forms), Sodium Citrate, Citric Acid, and Parabens.
Emulsifiers are additives used to help form or maintain a homogeneous, consistent mixture of two or more [immiscible] ingredients, prevent separation of ingredients during encapsulation, and minimize the risk of variations in composition between capsules in a product.
Commonly used emulsifiers: soy lecithin, sunflower lecithin, polyglycerol ester, Polysorbate 80, guar gum, acacia gum, brominated vegetable oil (BVO), ammonium phosphatides, diphosphates, triphosphates, cellulose
Lubricants, also called flow agents, are used to facilitate the smooth flow of raw material through the machine. They help prevent the raw ingredient(s) from caking or clumping during extraction and storage and from sticking to the machinery during tableting and encapsulation.
Commonly used lubricants: magnesium stearate, vegetable stearin, calcium stearate, stearic acid, fumed silica, talc, citric acid, cellulose powder
Anti-caking agents are mostly a type of synthetic additive used in supplements to prevent the formation of lumps, making tableting, encapsulation, and consumption easier. Anti-caking agents work by absorbing excess moisture, preventing ingredients from sticking to each other as well as the tableting and encapsulation machines, and protecting the contents of a capsule from hardening or clumping.
Commonly used anti-caking agents: aluminum silicate, bentonite, bone phosphate, calcium silicate, magnesium silicate, silicon dioxide, sodium bicarbonate, sodium ferrocyanide, stearic acid, tricalcium silicate, talcum powder, tricalcium phosphate
Disintegrants are usually included in tablet formulations to help break them down and release the active ingredients at the appropriate site in the digestive tract. Disintegrants expand and dissolve when wet, and this causes the tablet to break apart into smaller fragments, thereby facilitating both dissolution and disintegration of the active ingredients.
Commonly used disintegrants: modified cellulose, crospovidone, croscarmellose sodium, sodium starch glycolate
Colors, flavors, and sweeteners
Colors, flavors, and sweeteners are some of the more dangerous additives as they are included in dietary supplement formulations for aesthetic reasons only. Colors make capsules and tablets look more attractive by masking the composition of active ingredients and additives. Flavors help mask unpleasant taste and offensive odors, while sweeteners are used to improve taste profiles. Unlike other additives that serve a functional purpose by helping ensure finished product integrity and overall quality, the inclusion of this group of additives is mostly optional, and most manufacturers choose synthetic forms of these additives instead of the natural alternatives to minimize cost, and consequently, boost profits.
Commonly used colors, flavors, and sweeteners: caramel, titanium dioxide, carmine, ferrous oxide, limonene, vanillin, citric acid, tartaric acid, fumaric acid, aspartame, sucrose, fructose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and saccharin.
3. Clean Label Ingredients
Today’s savvy consumers are not passive buyers. Fueled by a push towards healthier lifestyles built around high quality, non-processed or genetically modified foods and consumables, today’s consumer wants to know everything about the products they consume. At BrainReference we applaud this proactive approach to your health and safety. We believed in “Clean Label” before it was a buzzword or trend. We are not trend-friendly, we are science-driven and passionate about your health and well being. Clean label and full transparency are about you fully understanding what you are putting into your body.
Companies with less integrity will use dangerous fillers as a “grease or lube” to aid in easier and faster production. Artificial dyes and colors are used to make supplements more appealing to the eye. Coatings are added to make capsules easier to swallow. How do these fillers impact your body and health? Just like processed foods being loaded with additives and fillers, the same goes for supplements. Any supplement that has additives and fillers will be harmful to your health in the same way those processed foods are.The body doesn’t need or want these ingredients so don’t put them in there. They also block the absorption of nutrients that are good for you.
A few common and dangerous additives you should be aware of:
Magnesium stearate is obtained by adding a magnesium ion to stearic acid, which is usually derived from animal fats but can be from plant sources as well. The resulted compound (the magnesium stearate) has lubricating properties, which is why it’s commonly used in the making of dietary supplements. Because of the magnesium stearate, the production machinery can operate faster and smoother, and capsules don’t stick to each other. However, recent research has revealed that stearic acid suppresses and kills T cells, your natural defense cells, which are a pivotal component of your immune system. According to that study, stearic acid causes the collapse of cell membrane integrity, which ultimately can destroy cell function.
Magnesium stearate is not only excellent for manufacturing purposes, but it also makes the capsule easier to swallow and move down the gastrointestinal tract. Magnesium stearate is also a standard excipient, which means it helps enhance the therapeutic effect of the active ingredient of various medications to promote drug absorption and solubility.
Given that most companies list the magnesium stearate in their supplements as originating from a vegetable source, we will restrict this analysis to the stearic acid obtained from herbal sources. Vegetarian sources of the stearic acid include palm oil, canola oil, and cottonseed oil. There are many shortcomings to using any of these sources.
- Palm Oil – Leaving the sustainability concerns aside, palm oil contains large amounts of palmitic acid. The World Health Organization has identified palmitic acid (which is a saturated fatty acid) as a notable contributor to the risk of cardiovascular disease. Relatively to the high concentration of palmitic acid, palm oil contains much lower amounts (less than 5%) of stearic acid, the fatty acid commonly used as a lubricant in supplement production. And although stearic acid may be a naturally occurring fatty acid in palm oil, the form that is used in supplements is deodorized, refined, and bleached. The end-result that can hardly be described as “natural.”
- Canola Oil – Commonly referred to as rapeseed oil, canola oil is obtained from a high-risk GM crop.
- Cottonseed Oil – Cottonseed oil is obtained from cotton, a high-risk GM crop and one of the most heavily sprayed crops with massive levels of residual pesticides.
Artificial colors are some of the more dangerous additives used in many dietary supplements. These additives have been linked to problems from hyperactivity in children to cancer. Artificial colors are added to nutritional supplements to make them more appealing to the buyer in hopes this will encourage the sale. Some of these artificial colors are derived from toxic coal tar. Coal tar is used for a variety of purposes some of which are outdoor sealants, roofing, heating, exterior paints, and so on. Nothing you want in your body.
The Food and Drug Administration regulations around labeling artificial colorings in the United States are quite confusing. Some artificial additives are exempt from labeling. More details are available on the official FDA website, under “labeling regulations” category.
In simple terms, most synthetic color additives in food, drugs, and cosmetics will appear on labels. Colorants are either in the lake form (used to disperse in oils) or dye form (soluble in water). Most artificial coloring in food is labeled with the prefix “FD&C” which means it is certified for use in prescription medication, foods, and cosmetics. The colors with prefix “D&C” are allowed for use in cosmetics and prescription medication, but cannot be used in foods. The list of D&C colors is far more inclusive than the FD&C list. The pharmaceutical industry has an additional index of available dyes. For products where we have access to study the labels, we can avoid specific colors such as FD&C Red 40, FD&C Blue #2 Lake, and FD&C Yellow #6 Lake.
It’s been found that partially hydrogenated soybean oil is one of the major fillers in the majority of supplements sold on the market today. Partially hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils damage the body in numerous ways. They encourage heart problems, strokes, nervous system problems, block the absorption of essential fatty acids, upset blood sugar regulation and more. You don’t want these oils in your food let alone your supplements.
Stearic acid (or octadecanoic acid) is a saturated fatty acid, usually found in animal derivatives like poultry, meat, milk products, fish, and eggs. Stearic acid can also be obtained from vegetables. It works as an emulsifier and emollient and is often used as a base for the production of other fatty acids and as a main ingredient in making candles, plastics, wax oil crayon, dietary supplements, and rubber softeners.
Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring oxide of the element titanium. This widely used mineral is used in supplements as a pigment. It is also used for this same reason in many cosmetics. However, evidence suggests that it may induce toxic effects in your brain and cause nerve damage, and some may also be carcinogenic. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classifies titanium dioxide as a Group 2B carcinogen, which means it’s “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
4. Independent 3rd-Party Tested Product
According to current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), companies are responsible for ensuring that a finished supplement meets established specifications for claimed amounts of the active ingredients on the label and purity using proven and reliable methods. However, the Good Manufacturing Practices do not specify or define what methods would be considered “proven” and “reliable,” which gives companies enough flexibility and wiggle room when it comes to finished formula validation. While some companies have their own production facility and in-house lab where all the testing is conducted, others work with contract manufacturers who either perform the testing in their in-house lab or outsource the testing to contract labs.
Why Independent, 3rd-Party Labs?
Independent testing labs are not associated with the producing company, ingredients supplier, the company whose name appears on the product, or with the consumer. This means independent testing labs have no vested interest in the result of the testing and are less likely to “dry lab” or manipulate test results for self-serving reasons. In addition to lending objectivity to the process of ensuring finished product integrity and quality, using an independent, third-party lab has other key advantages as well. Some of these advantages include:
- The time to get test results can be shorter because independent labs specialize in testing and have competencies and efficiencies that cannot be matched by in-house labs.
- Personnel working in specialized testing laboratories often have excellent certifications, credentials, accreditations and a lot of experience.
- There is no commercial bias present, so both manufacturers and consumers can have greater confidence in test results.
Independent, third-party testing organizations often have specialized facilities with state-of-the-art testing equipment that are suitable for even the most challenging assays.
Once you understand our rating system, it’s then easy to get lost in thousands of brain supplements. So don’t, review the products that fit your needs best and then dig in deeper with your research. Choose one of our categories: Memory Disorders, Movement Disorders, Depression Disorders, Hormone Disorders, Attention Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Autism Disorders, Addictive Disorders, Pain Disorders, Other Disorders, Disorders Tools, Disorder Ingredients, and Disorder Research, and get started!