Theacrine is Garbage
Theacrine is a commonly used ingredient in dietary supplements, specifically pre-workout stimulants and fat-burners. However, based on the available scientific evidence, it’s both unlikely to aid fat loss and unlikely to produce a stimulant effect (or provide energy/focus). In fact, it’s far more likely to be a sedative.
In more practical terms: Theacrine is unlikely to do anything that supplement manufacturers claim. Theacrine is garbage.
A National Institute of Health (aka the NIH or pubmed) search reveals a grand total of 21 studies that mention theacrine. When we limit our search to only those studies that mention the word theacrine along with stimulant, we’re down to nine.
Most of them are irrelevant. And I’m not scouring the internet to find a bunch of nonsense studies that aren’t indexed by the NIH or only published in pay for play journals — nor putting much faith in ones published in journals run by people selling the stuff. I’ll leave that to the shills.
Those facts notwithstanding, there is a study indexed by the NIH where theacrine is shown to be a stimulant…when you inject 48mg/kg…into rodents…
However, in another study when theacrine was administered to rodents orally at 10mg-30mg/kg (i.e. closer to the way humans take the stuff) it was shown not to be a stimulant at all, but to be more of a sedative…
Quoting from that study:
“Although theacrine did not exhibit an obvious stimulant effect…it remarkably prolonged the pentobarbital induced sleeping time of mice…”
“….10 mg/kg of theacrine [was] able to produce a remarkable reduction in the [ambulatory] activity….30 mg/kg… did not lead to any significant effect…”
“…Neither dose of theacrine had notable effects on the rotatory locomotor activity…”
One of the remaining studies looked at body composition in humans and found that theacrine had no effect; people using theacrine neither lost fat nor gained muscle. Two additional papers examined the role of theacrine as a stimulant in humans…but one study focused on a multi-ingredient product that included caffeine (and whose manufacturer funded the study).
Interestingly, in that paper it was found that theacrine did not boost cognitive performance (despite industry claims that it does). The multi-ingredient product elevated mood better than 150mgs of caffeine and placebo (respectively) but again, it was a multi-ingredient blend…and it contained ingredients already proven to elevate mood (allowing us to draw no conclusions about the effectiveness of theacrine per se).
Unfortunately, the study in question was performed by someone well-known to the supplement industry, out of the University of Memphis. I’ll be completely honest when I say that I don’t put much faith in his scientific integrity. When he performed studies on DMAA funded by USP Labs, he gave them advanced drafts to edit before he submitted them for publication. And nowhere in those papers is this fact disclosed. Therefore, I believe anything produced by this man or his lab is suspect until proven otherwise.
A toxicological study (also funded by a company selling the ingredient) managed to show that theacrine reduced food intake and weight gain in rodents. But the dose used to achieve this effect was higher than the dose where it started killing some of them. So there’s that.
[Note: One company claims their toxicological work and data is actually more rigorous than required for a successful application to the FDA for a New Dietary Ingredient — which seems questionable as they’ve conspicuously failed to apply.]
Finally, I think it’s fair to say that it’s not worth anyone’s time to delve into the other studies lurking out there (hint: if a study is summarized on an Instagram placard and posted by someone selling the stuff, you can probably disregard it — and I’m especially not getting into any more funded by people selling the product, for the reasons previously stated — I just don’t feel they’re trustworthy — not just because of the proven dishonestly of the people funding them or selling the stuff, but because they also lack statistical power (they just aren’t large enough to draw conclusions from).
So at this point we are left with an unavoidable fact: the only studies showing robust positive results from theacrine have been funded or performed by the people selling it, or whose names are on the trademarks/patents. Without reservation I can tell you that as a consumer you’ve got no reason to trust their work.
Ok, so there’s some rodent data that says theacrine probably does the opposite of what everyone is claiming. And some other studies that we probably shouldn’t put much faith in. What about the rest of them?
Sadly, this is where things go from bad to worse.
Remember the brown seaweed that was supposed to inhibit myostatin and turn everyone into super-jacked Belgian blue bulls? Yeah, one of the guys pushing theacrine (actually one of the patent applicants) was part of that nonsense too. And as you might suspect, he’s done studies on theacrine…
Remember the strap? The necklace that was supposed to make you stronger? Yeah, the same dude’s name is on a study showing THAT worked also…
When he was working for another company and a study didn’t turn out the way they wanted, he said to the client:
“As far as rewriting the abstract, since I am not recognized as a co-author on the study I am not allowed to do it…In this case the best I can do is try to carefully nudge [the study’s author’s] interpretation/writing in [the client’s] favor…since [the author] has no control over the use of data in ads, use percentage changes there to impress consumers.” (Note: the company in this story ended up losing a $12.5 million dollar false advertising case over this product)
And how do you think the studies he performs on his own ingredient turn out?
Not surprisingly, his paper shows that theacrine works. However the metrics showing that teacrine “works” were all subjective. So for cognitive enhancement, instead of measuring it by an objective standard (i.e. a test), the subjects filled out questionnaires (“yah, I feel smarter already, doc…”).
And for every objective standard that we would measure a stimulant by (heart rate, respiratory exchange), it didn’t do anything. At least the study was so absurdly small that it lacked even the most remote semblance of statistical power from which to draw any conclusions whatsoever.
Can it get even worse? Sure it can.
One of the other doctors promoting theacrine lost his license to practice medicine for awhile (no worries, he got one in another state until they found out it had been suspended elsewhere).
I could go on, but you get the point. As a result of past conduct that includes a slew of products and ingredients that didn’t work, plus a general commitment to abject deceptiveness, this isn’t the crew to put your faith in.
As for the ingredient itself, I just can’t recommend anything that relies entirely on biased and subjective data from people who have previously shown unabashed willingness to distort the truth.
The track record of these people and groups fail to warrant the benefit of the doubt; instead, extreme skepticism is warranted for any ingredient or product associated with them, and certainly every study bearing their names.
I’ll beat the dead horse again and say that regardless of how many studies these dudes fund (3…?…5…? who cares?), I’m just not convinced.
The paucity of positive independent research speaks volumes.
Finally: I would think very little of the theacrine on the market in dietary supplements is natural, as it accounts for <3% of the total weight of Camellia assamica, the most common source. Regarding the products using a synthetic version, they are most likely running afoul of the FDA, as no successful NDI notifications have been submitted (or at least none that I could find) for synthetic theacrine.
[Updated on July 21st, 2017: A Freedom of Information Act request filed with the FDA has revealed that the required NDIN for synthetic theacrine has not been filed. You can see the request here, along with their response.]
If you’re a consumer, you’ll want to avoid his ingredient — by this point it’s probably obvious to you that it’s complete waste of money. If you’re a supplement company owner you may want to avoid it for the same reasons — or at very least find out if you’re using a synthetic version, and if so, if there is a successful NDIN for it. Because if not, you’re almost certainly using an ingredient that could get you in trouble with the FDA.
Update: Within the first day of publishing this article, numerous people have come forward to defend theacrine’s use as an effective ingredient.
All of them sell it.