On the ‘net you’ll find a lot of hype about Natural Stacks’ CILTEP® (“CILTEP” being a registered trademark of Natural Stacks LLC, and not just a generic acronym).1
If you aren’t familiar with the “CILTEP” stack, it’s a reportedly nootropic blend of herbs and nutrients first devised at the Longecity forum by Abelard Lindsay with contribution from its members. The Natural Stacks product has been blessed by the likes of Tim Ferriss and David Asprey (the guy who made the butter coffee thing popular) and has consequently garnered the stack a lot of publicity in the “self-hackosphere” and self-improvement web entrepreneur circles.
Given all of the fanfare and wonderful reviews, is the stack all that it’s made up to be, and are there humbler and more affordable alternatives?
In this post, I’ll compare the labels of the two products: Natural Stacks’ CILTEP and Powder City’s Artichoke Extract and Forskolin stack. I will admit that I have not tried Natural Stacks’ product as the price is out of my range for this type of supplement.
I personally bear no ill will toward Natural Stacks or their product, nor do I think their specific CILTEP® formula is poor or inferior, just a little overpriced and overhyped for me. They quite credibly bill themselves as an “open source supplement company”, not relying on “proprietary blend” to skimp on ingredients, so they don’t appear to be without any merit.
Is there a bias in my post? None other than personal opinion and tastes. I do earn affiliate commission with Powder City for any product you purchase from them through any of my links to them, but otherwise I have no personal or professional ties to them. (See my Affiliate Disclosure) If I wanted, I could affiliate with Natural Stacks and make more. I stand to gain little here other than free expression of my opinion.
- 1 Comparing CILTEP and Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
- 2 What are CILTEP / Artichoke Extract and Forskolin supposed to do?
- 3 Nootropic Potential of CILTEP and Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
- 4 My experience with Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
- 5 Final comparison
Comparing CILTEP and Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
If you look up Natural Stacks’ products, you’ll find they come in some pretty sharp-looking blue bottles with some excellent looking graphic design. By contrast, when you order a bottled supplement from Powder City, it comes in a plain opaque white plastic bottle with a screw-top lid and a printed label.
Personally the packaging is not something I’m too concerned with as long as it has a label, an intact safety seal when it reaches me, and that it keeps out light, moisture and bugs.
But what about the ingredients?
The proof is in the pudding, or in this case, on the supplement facts labels:
Natural Stacks’ CILTEP Supplement Facts
Powder City’s Artichoke Extract and Forskolin Stack
The stacks may be similar, but there are minor differences in terms of supplement quantities. Powder City’s take on the stack has no Vitamin B6, 150 mg less of the standardized artichoke extract, and has about half as much ALCAR.
However, the most obvious difference not shown on these labels is the price.
Natural Stacks’ CILTEP® costs $42.95 for 20 doses (60 capsules).
Powder City’s Artichoke Extract and Forskolin costs only $9.99 for the same number of doses.
Here’s a tough question: for the cost of Natural Stacks’ product, are you paying 75% more money for the fancy packaging, the label design and the marketing and advertising, or are the quality of this product and its ingredients so great that they are somehow worth $42.95?
I’m not implying that Natural Stacks skimps on quality. Based on their site, they seem to have high standards for quality, above and beyond most supplement producers and sellers.
Natural Stacks does indeed state the following on their site:
All Natural Stacks products are manufactured under the guidelines of the United States Pharmacopoeia (U.S.P.) and Current Good Manufacturing Practices (c.G.M.P.). Production takes place in an FDA registered facility that is licenced [sic] by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
We guarantee the purity and potency of our products by testing every batch under the rules and procedures set by the FDA, state, and federal health departments.
When all’s said and done, if I were honestly concerned about purity or allergens, I would go with Natural Stacks’ product. However, I’m still not sure I would want to pay the $40 for it.
What are CILTEP / Artichoke Extract and Forskolin supposed to do?
“CILTEP” as an acronym stands for “Chemically-Induced Long Term Potentiation.” As I explained, the stack itself was originally devised by Abelard Lindsay and members of the Longecity.org forum before Natural Stacks registered it as a trademark.
Basically, the forskolin in the stack is intended to help produce cAMP (cyclic adenosine monophosphate) in the brain while the artichoke extract is intended to inhibit PDE4, an enzyme that is meant to degrade cAMP. Together these substances are meant to potentiate each other, or at least this was the original theory held in esteem by its creator. This is supposed to be the long-term potentiation that the name CILTEP® refers to.
On the Natural Stacks product page2, their CILTEP is touted to improve focus, motivation and memory.
Is it placebo?
Recently however, others at /r/nootropics3 held that the effects attributed to any synergy between the ingredients in the stack are either the dreaded placebo or that the positive effects are merely misattributed, with sources to back it up, noting that the artichoke extract loses its alleged effects in vivo after digestion. However, the stack CILTEP® is based on may not be total malarkey.
The actual heavy-hitters in the stack may be the forskolin, the ALCAR, phenylalanine and the vitamin B6. At varying prices, you could get your ingredients together and make your own blend. This revelation may put an end to the idea of “chemically-induced long term potentiation” through artichoke extract, but may still be a viable idea worth exploring in any case.
Nootropic Potential of CILTEP and Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
Right now, any true nootropic potential of CILTEP or the similar Artichoke Extract and Forskolin is up in the air. The theory as to how the “CILTEP” stack works is there, but it may not necessarily be “nootropic” in the ideal sense of the word.
Based on my rudimentary tests on the Artichoke Extract and Forskolin stack, there doesn’t seem to be a significant difference in cognitive ability compared to my control that one couldn’t possibly improve with a few healthy lifestyle changes and some practice.
In any case, more tests are required to be closer to certainty.
There is a post on the Natural Stacks blog by a purported memory expert4 who scored more 100% in a placebo-blinded test, but calculating for certainty and given the limited number of tests (10 in total), you can’t really say for sure if CILTEP helped him or not. He is, after all, an expert at memorization and it is on their blog for selling their product.
My experience with Artichoke Extract and Forskolin
My subjective experience tells me that when taking Artichoke Extract and Forskolin, there is a marked difference in awareness and focus, like a gentle eugeroic. The popular comparison to modafinil may be exaggerated, but at least it’s within the same ball park. Since it’s only $10 for a bottle of extracts and vitamins compared to $50+ for a pack of modafinil/armodafinil, and considering that the latter are prescription strength pharmaceutical drugs, I’m not complaining.
I have taken adrafinil though, and I feel the effects of Artichoke Extract and Forskolin are cleaner yet milder in comparison.
When I take the Artichoke Extract and Forskolin stack, I typically feel more driven to do my work and my mind is generally just “on” more than normal. With coffee or some caffeine and theanine, the benefits became more apparent. Effects peak after an hour or so, and remain noticeable up to 4 hours.
To reap this alleged benefit to focus and wakefulness however, you have to consume it on an empty stomach and not eat for at least a half hour after taking it. Also, there were some occasions where Artichoke Extract and Forskolin did not help much (subjectively) after a mild hangover or a mediocre night of sleep. It also seemed to lose its steam after a few consecutive days of dosing. To reap the full benefits I think that you already need to be living optimally and healthily.
Could these alleged benefits be placebo? Possibly, even though my subjective experience was much greater than any placebo. Blinded testing will be required to be certain. However at this point am convinced that Artichoke Extract and Forskolin is worthwhile, and considering the cost, warrants further testing.
Natural Stacks CILTEP
- Starts at $42.95 for 20 doses
- Sleek packaging and strict quality control in manufacturing
- Contains Vitamin B6
- Allergen-free and vegan/vegetarian
Powder City’s Artichoke Extract and Forskolin stack
- $9.99 for 20 doses
- Powder City’s standard label on white plastic supplement bottle
- 3rd party lab tested Certificate of Authenticity available on demand
In conclusion, if you want the nice labeling, the packaging, and you believe in everything that Natural Stacks is supposed to stand for, check out their product at NaturalStacks.com (no affiliate link here). Unfortunately I can’t speak for the quality of their product or brand as I have never tried it.
If you don’t care for the packaging, the labeling, the marketing and so forth, or you just want to “try before you buy” at an affordable price, I’d recommend Powder City’s Artichoke Extract and Forskolin stack. I take their products almost daily and if for some reason there is a problem with the product, they will refund you.
The stack itself hasn’t been proven to have any obvious or significant nootropic benefits, but subjectively I’ve found it to be worthwhile.