SmartX, a nootropic supplement made by Cerebral Success, is all about efficiency. It's a formulation designed around a proprietary blend of nootropics. Some of them are common, found in many other supplements as well, while others are unique to SmartX.
It's also famous for winning the ABC reality show Shark Tank. But is a panel of venture capitalists really qualified to comment on the efficacy of a nootropic? To get a better idea of how it might work, we'll take a look at the label.
Like several of its competitors, SmartX starts out with a strong B vitamin complex blend. The formulation includes vitamins B3, B6, B9, and B12. These are provided in amounts ranging from 100 to 500% of your recommended daily intake.
The rest of the supplement (over 1000 milligrams' worth of ingredients) is made up of a proprietary blend of other supplements. Parsing out the ingredients this way is tricky because we can't actually tell how much of each ingredient is included.
The main ingredient in the proprietary blend is Cognizin, a commercial preparation of citicoline, a precursor chemical to choline. Choline is found everywhere in the human body, but is thought to be connected to brain development.
In addition to citicoline, SmartX also includes the amino acids theanine and tyrosine (precursors to neurotransmitter chemicals), as well as glucuronolactone, which is an obscure biochemical precursor that is not particularly well researched.
As with many nootropics, SmartX includes caffeine. Again, because it's part of the "proprietary formulation," we don't know how much caffeine is in it. This is a problem, because some people are far more susceptible to the effects of caffeine—positive and negative—than others.
The formulation also includes some more obscure bioactive compounds not found in other many other supplements, like schizandrol-A, a Chinese herb initially studied for use as a tranquilizer and antipsychotic.
Some more common nootropic ingredients in the SmartX blend also show up, like the omega 3 fatty acid DHA, bacopa extract, huperzine A, and vinpocetine, along with "brain food" like alpha lipoic acid, glutamine, and phosphatidyl serine. These latter ingredients are precursors for, or are directly used in, biochemical processes that are important for the brain.
Evidence for benefits related to B vitamins in nootropic supplements is equivocal. On one hand, a 1996 study by K.M. Riggs and other researchers found a statistically significant correlation between blood levels of B vitamins—especially vitamin B6—and cognitive performance among men aged 54 to 81. The lower the levels of B vitamins in the bloodstream, the worse the subjects tended to perform (1).
However, a review study by scientists at Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center found no conclusive proof that vitamin B supplementation improves cognitive function, either in healthy or cognitively impaired subjects (2).
As for the ingredients in the proprietary nootropic blend, the level of evidence is widely variable.
For Cognizin, the commercialized form of citicoline, a 2014 review article by four neurologists at Narayana Medical College in India looked at the evidence so far (3). They found that citicoline has been used successfully to prevent brain damage and slow the decline in cognitive performance in Alzheimer's disease and in cases of stroke. There have also been some trials in healthy individuals—a 2002 study by researchers at three institutions in Boston, Massachusetts found evidence that citicoline administration might actually reverse age-related changes in brain functioning (4). From these studies, it seems that citicoline is a solid nootropic ingredient.
Caffeine is another solid ingredient, and is sure to boost your alertness and reaction time, especially in trying conditions. However, because we don't know how much caffeine is in SmartX, it's hard to estimate the magnitude of the effect! This is a recurrent problem with the ingredients in SmartX—you need to assume the supplement designers chose the optimal dose for you, which isn't always a given.
The amino acids theanine and tyrosine appear to be effective ways to boost relaxed alertness and advanced cognitive skills like map reading and logical reasoning, according to a study by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (5). Adding to the known efficacious ingredients, both bacopa extract and huperzine A have been studied for their neuroprotective and memory enhancing effects (6, 7).
Beyond these effects, the usefulness of the rest of the ingredients is questionable. Glutamine, for example, is more often used for treating musculoskeletal problems, and vinpocetine has some promise but is unproven.
SmartX's side effect profile is difficult to characterize because we don't know how much of the most potent ingredients are included. Caffeine, for example, can have some profoundly negative side effects at high doses, but is very well-tolerated at low doses. Because we don't know how much is in one tablet of SmartX, it's hard to say what the risk level is.
Citicoline (Cognizin), for what it's worth, appears safe. A 1997 study noted "minimal" side effects compared to placebo (8)
One important thing to highlight is the untested and unproven supplement schizandrol-A. It's included in SmartX, but it has also been used in weight lifting supplements linked to stroke and cardiac arrest in young men (9, 10). In these cases the supplements contained many other ingredients, like DMAA and caffeine, which are more likely to be the culprit, but the presence of schizandrol-A can't be overlooked.
The Bottom Line
SmartX is a potent and mysterious brew. It's got some ingredients that have definite nootropic potential, but because their actual amounts are locked behind the "black box" of the proprietary blend, it's a roll of the dice as to whether you're getting a safe and effective dose. If it does work for you, SmartX will be best suited for improving your alertness, acuity, focus, and performance on cognitively challenging tasks in the short-term.