Popular podcaster and influencer Joe Rogan has been accused of cashing in on brain health supplements that are based on ‘false’ and ‘deceptive’ studies.

Rogan, who has 14.5million subscribers to his podcast, helped to develop a pill said to ‘promote focus’ with the pharma company Onnit in 2010. 

But more than a decade later, the firm is being sued by a New York customer who alleges that the $30 supplement, called Alpha Brain, is based on bogus science. 

Alpha Brain is advertised as a nootropic — a class of supplements claiming to improve brain function. It is taken as a capsule and recommended twice a day. Onnit claims it ‘supports memory’ and ‘promotes focus’ to help you feel ‘in the zone.’

The company, founded by holistic health guru Aubrey Marcus, says its statements are backed by a study it funded in 2016, which saw the supplement ‘significantly improve’ performance on memory tests.

However, the lawsuit, brought in the state of New York, alleges the trial was ‘flawed’ and, in fact, the clinical study actually showed Alpha Brain does not improve memory or focus.

This misleading advertising means consumers could be owed millions in restitution, the lawsuit suggests.

It’s unclear what will happen if the complainant, named Jean Paul Lotz, wins the lawsuit. 

However, previous settlements of these types of supplements, known as nootropics, have seen firms shell out billions of dollars to customers who were ‘deceived’ by company claims. 

And scientists have their doubts over Alpha Brain, as well as other similar supplements. 

Dr Victor Henderson, a professor of neurology who specializes in brain aging at Stanford University, told DailyMail.com: ‘I think for this product and others like it, the evidence is not strong. So save your money. Do something more useful with it.’

Despite the skepticism, nootropic supplements are incredibly popular and Onnit is far from the only company that claims its products boost brain function.

Onnit, bought by UK-based giant Unilever for between $250 and $400million in 2021claims it has sold more than 3million bottles – which, at $80 per bottle, would represent $240million in sales.

The global market for brain health supplements hit an estimated $5.8billion in 2023 – with approximately 25 percent of Americans over 50 years old taking some form of the pills. 

Onnit sells a 90-count pack of Alpha Brain for $79.95 – roughly $1.13 per pill – which would last 45 days. The suit estimates this helped Onnit generate approximately $100million in revenue since 2021 – $18 million in New York alone.  

Alpha Brain says it works by providing the body with more of the nutrients it can use to produce neurotransmitters – the chemical signals that run the brain. 

The pills contain an amino acid called L-theanine, which is found naturally in mushrooms. In the body, L-theanine can be turned into the neurotransmitter dopamine. 

Dopamine, known as the pleasure hormone, plays a role in motivation, focus and mood control. 

The theory is that eating more L-theanine will allow you to increase dopamine production. 

The right balance of dopamine in the brain is important for mood, learning and productivity. 

However, too much of this hormone has been linked to aggressive behavior and trouble controlling impulses.  

Onnit’s other supplements include a Vitamin D3 spray for bone health and heart function, a ‘mood’ pill to promote daily mood and relaxation and a supplement to support a healthy immune response. 

However exciting the scientific claims are behind various nootropics, none of these supplements have been proven to actually do what they claim, Dr Barry Gordon, a cognitive neurologist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told WebMD.

Right now, most of the nootropic claims only work ‘theoretically,’ Dr Henderson told DailyMail.com. 

He said: ‘I think a lot of people have tried [studies] and the evidence behind a lot of it is not very good.’

Onnit is quick to point to their clinical trial as evidence their supplement isn’t like others on the market. Their trial proves Alpha Brain isn’t ‘horse sh** or snake oil or placebos,’ Mr Rogan said in a clip from his podcast featured on Onnit’s YouTube

And while Dr Henderson noted it’s great Onnit funded those studies – the conclusions they draw from them aren’t as significant as the company makes them seem.

Nearly all of the measures of cognitive improvement looked at in the study showed no difference between the people taking Alpha Brain and the people not taking it, he explained. 

And in the one area of memory that Alpha Brain seemed to improve cognitive function – verbal recall – Dr Henderson said the difference between the groups was so small it was likely just due to chance.

‘It could have been a chance finding, and there was no internal consistency in terms of other memory results to really have confidence in that finding,’ he said. 

It’s not that the whole study was bad, but ‘it’s a bad interpretation of the results of one small clinical trial,’ he added.

According to Henderson, you might be better off drinking a cup of coffee and getting caffeine to boost your brain, rather than taking what Mr Rogan is promoting.

It’s not clear from public information what role Mr Rogan has played in Alpha Brain. In some videos, he’s credited as a founder of Onnit, in others a collaborator in making Alpha Brain, and in others, a partner in the company. 

In a Q&A posted by Onnit in 2014, Mr Marcus, a wellness guru and podcaster, said he consulted Mr Rogan in the early days before making Alpha Brain. 

In an advertisement on Onnit’s YouTube channel posted in 2022 with a clip from Mr Rogan’s podcast, Mr Rogan said ‘Aubrey and I started Onnit’. 

In a separate video talking about Onnit’s marketing strategy, former Chief Marketing Officer Mike Spadier seconded that Mr Rogan ‘helped develop the original formula for Alpha Brain.’ 

Mr Spadier also said, ‘early on in their discussions, Aubrey agreed to make Mr Rogan a partner,’ meaning he would make money should Onnit ever get popular enough to be bought out by a bigger company.

Which occurred when Onnit was sold to Unilever in 2021. 

Representatives for Onnit, Unilever and Joe Rogan did not reply to multiple requests for clarification from DailyMail.com

As for the recent lawsuit, previous court cases against other companies selling brain-boosters have had to pay up big time in court for misleading claims.

Quincy Bioscience agreed to pay $36million in claims and restitutions for making ‘misleading memory claims’  in their advertisements while marketing its nootropic, called Prevagen. 

British consumer goods company Reckit Benckisser settled a suit over its nootropic called Neruiva for $8million in July of 2021. 

However, the New York court case against Onnit isn’t necessarily a slam dunk for the lawyers. 

A similar suit was brought against Onnit in California in 2023 by a person who took Alpha Brain.  

The unnamed Californian was seeking damages because she felt the ‘false claims’ made by the company duped her into buying the product. 

The suit claimed the company ‘has illegally collected millions of dollars from unsuspecting consumers,’ but it was ultimately dismissed.

In the sixteen-page class action suit filed in a New York federal court on April 23, the lawyers detailed the plaintiff, Mr Lotz was living in Manhattan and purchased Alpha Brain five times in 2021 – spending about $400.

Mr Lotz reportedly bought the supplement because of it’s ‘misleading claims to improve memory, focus and mental processing speed.’

Had he known the evidence was scarce, he would not have purchased the supplement, the suit said.

Mr Lotz also intends to seek restitution for the supplements, as well as lawyers fees.

Right now, Mr Lotz is the only person on the suit, but the lawyers write that anyone in the state of New York who bought these products could be eligible for damages.

The prosecuting law firms also did not reply to multiple requests for comment. 

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