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What is brainwave optimization?

In our investigation into the brain training industry, we found that clinics across Canada are offering something called brainwave optimization as a solution for a long list of problems including depression, obesity, addiction, chronic pain and dementia.

Brainwave optimization is based on electroencephalography (EEG), a tool that’s been used in neurology for decades to measure electrical activity in the brain. During a brainwave optimization session, EEG electrodes are placed on a person’s head and their brain’s electrical activity is converted into musical tones, which are played back to the person through earphones.

One clinic explained that the process “guides the brain back to its natural, healthy, balanced state."

But the doctors we spoke to aren’t so sure. Several told us that anything that claims to treat such diverse physical and mental conditions with one solution should raise big red flags. And the experimental technology is not supported by evidence that it works.

"It sounds intuitively sexy to people: I can rebalance my brain and that sounds like a good thing. But no real neuroscientist that I know of really thinks that their technology is actually doing that," says behavioural neurologist Dr. Alex Henri-Bhargava, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at University of British Columbia.

Who is administering brainwave optimization?

In Canada, while EEG technologists who work in a hospital have to graduate from a two-year program and be certified, brainwave technologists don’t.

Instead, they only need five weeks of training to become certified. The certification is offered by Brain State Technologies, the Arizona-based manufacturer who makes the device. For four weeks, students spend 10-15 hours/week online learning how to operate the machine, assess and read brain waves, take care of clients and market their business. After passing an online exam, they travel to Arizona for a week of hands-on training.

The company’s website says “naturopaths, psychologists, physical therapists, medspa owners, athletic trainers, yoga instructors, life coaches, and healthcare professionals have added brain optimization as a new profit center.” It also says the system can be purchased or leased for as low as $10,000.