When it comes to boosting brainpower, there’s quite a list of supplements capable of doing so. Omega-3s, antioxidants, B vitamins, ginseng, caffeine, CoQ10, and the list goes on. But there’s one nutrient we rarely hear about that has massive potential to benefit your brain.
When you look through shelves now, you’ll find loads of brain supplements categorized under what are called nootropics. They’re powerful supplements that help boost brain function, and today that’s what we’re talking about.
We’re giving you a rundown of one of the most potent nootropics for health, memory, and mental clarity.
Let’s talk about choline.
What Is Choline?
For most people, choline hasn’t hit their radar, but as it’s an essential nutrient, it needs to. Choline is actually a vitamin-like macronutrient that’s often lumped in with B vitamins but isn’t officially categorized as a B vitamin 1.
It is essential to the function of the liver, muscular tissue, and also acts as one of the fundamental building blocks for your brain, given that it’s the precursor for two essential compounds:
- Acetylcholine (ACh): A key neurotransmitter that facilitates communication between neurons in the brain, as well as being the primary neurotransmitter at neuromuscular junctions 2.
- Phosphatidylcholine (PC): One of the most abundant phospholipids in cell membranes and acts as a reservoir of choline for the synthesis of acetylcholine 3.
By supporting levels of acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine, in addition to other brain chemicals, choline plays a critical role in supporting cognitive function, especially learning and memory, attention, focus, cognitive regeneration, and muscular performance.
One of the major selling points for choline is with respect to brain health. It’s one of, if not the, most powerful nootropics but also offers a host of other benefits.
Learning and memory
Because of its role in producing acetylcholine, a protein that transmits signals among brain cells, it’s an essential nutrient that’s important for learning and memory.
Acetylcholine release supports and modulates different components of memory—working memory, long-term memory, memory formation, and memory consolidation and retrieval.
But in order for these memory processes to unfold, cholinergic activation in specific brain areas associated with memory retention and consolidation—the hippocampus, amygdala, and cerebral cortex—is required 4, 5.
While there isn’t a lot known about the causes of Alzheimer’s Disease, deficits in cholinergic function are associated with age-related declines in memory due to loss of cholinergic neurons (nerve cells that make and release acetylcholine) and a decreased ability to synthesize acetylcholine 6.
Acetylcholine is also important for memory formation and consolidation due to its role in supporting hippocampal and cortical synaptic plasticity—the ability to shape signaling between neurons to alter learning and memory.
Studies suggest that abnormalities in choline availability and acetylcholine production may increase the risk of developing memory disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease 7.
And there’s a bonus: Higher amounts of choline available to your brain also means less brain inflammation, which is beneficial for learning, memory, and focus.
It may not be the first supplement you think about for mood, but good size body of evidence suggests that the cholinergic system plays an important role in mood regulation; both hyper- and hypocholinergic states appear to induce depression and mania, respectively 8.
Brain and nervous system function
For both adults and babies, choline is essential for the brain and nervous system. For pregnant women, it becomes critical for supporting proper fetal growth and development; the area of the brain most sensitive to choline levels is the hippocampus, which is the region of the brain playing key roles in memory and learning 9.
And interestingly, it’s one of the few areas of the brain where nerve cells continue to multiply throughout life. Maternal levels of choline (sufficient or low) can cause permanent changes to the developing fetal and infant brain that will last a lifetime.
For adults, choline is essential for the normal function of all cells. As a critical component of all cell membranes, choline supports the structural integrity and signaling functions of every cell in the body, but also plays an essential role in neurotransmissions—the method that cells use to communicate—and transportation of lipids to the liver 9.
It’s important to keep in mind that only a small amount of dietary choline is actually metabolized to form acetylcholine, which is essential for the nerves that regulate and control breathing, heart rate, and skeletal muscle movements. This is part of the reason supplemental choline is key.
As an essential building block for acetylcholine, choline is required for the proper function of muscles. While acetylcholine operates as a chief neurotransmitter in several areas of the body, it’s most commonly associated with the neuromuscular junction 10.
This junction is where motor neurons synapse with muscles in the body to activate them and cause contraction.
It may seem a little strange, but choline is needed to help your body utilize fat through its role in transportation. Phosphatidylcholine is an essential part of very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL), which functions to transport fats out of your liver 11.
Without sufficient amounts of choline, phosphatidylcholine levels are subpar, and the exportation of excess triglyceride from the liver in lipoproteins is limited.
As such, you have lower energy reserves, poor nutrient absorption (of fat-soluble vitamins), and a lack of substrates available to synthesize brain components like myelin.
Best Sources Of Choline
Humans naturally synthesize choline in the liver, primarily as phosphatidylcholine, but the amount that the body naturally produces is not sufficient to meet human needs.
As such, supplementation or a diet rich in choline becomes essential to proper body function. Some of the best sources (from the most concentrated to the least) include:
- Beef liver
- Eggs (yolks)
- Red potatoes
- Kidney beans
- Brussels sprouts
Because many of the key sources of choline come from animal foods, vegans and vegetarians must use a high-quality choline supplement.
Choline Deficiency: Is It a Real Issue?
Deficiency of any nutrient is possible, but when it comes to choline, it’s actually quite rare. Studies find that even in people who haven’t eaten in a week, choline levels rarely drop below 50% 12.
But because of its roles in human metabolism, from neurotransmitter synthesis to cellular integrity, it’s suggested that choline deficiency is linked to health conditions like liver disease, atherosclerosis, and potentially even neurological disorders 13.
As well, because phosphatidylcholine is an essential component of very-low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), which transport triglycerides out of the liver, one of the first and most prominent signs of choline deficiency is the development of fatty liver (hepatosteatosis) 9; this develops due to insufficient phosphatidylcholine needed to package and export VLDL.
Despite its rarity, some of the most common symptoms of choline deficiency include:
- Ongoing tiredness or fatigue
- Reduced ability to think things through or problem solve
- Difficulty picking up new information
- Emotional swings or mood disorders
- Memory trouble
- Muscle aches
- Nerve pain or tingling
Note that some populations are at greater risk for choline deficiency, specifically pregnant women and people with genetic disorders affecting choline, folate, and methionine metabolism.
What Is The Best Form Of Choline?
Like all other supplements, there’s more than just one choline supplement. There are a couple that stand out of those to choose from: choline bitartrate and Cognizin citicoline.
Choline bitartrate is one of the most common forms of choline used for nootropic supplements. It’s not a bad form to get, per se, but the general problem with this form is that you sacrifice quality for cost.
By weight, it’s about 41% choline, but it’s one of the most ineffective forms of choline for crossing the blood-brain barrier. If it can’t get into the brain, it can’t work.
Effective human studies are pretty limited where choline bitartrate is concerned, but in rodent studies, supplementation of choline helps to increase levels of choline by 52% compared to the control group not supplementing choline 14.
Another rodent study found that supplementing choline bitartrate in rats with traumatic brain injury improved spatial memory and neuronal impairments 15.
In humans, however, choline bitartrate supplementation has shown no promising effects for cognitive function. Studies show that choline bitartrate does not improve visuospatial memory performance compared with a placebo, visuospatial working memory, declarative retrieval, or verbal working memory performance 7. This is likely due to inefficiency with crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Simply put, if you’re looking for choline to support cognitive function and memory, you’re not going to find it with choline bitartrate.
Citicoline, the less technical name for cytidine 5′-diphosphocholine (CDP-choline), is the powerhouse of choline supplements. It functions as an essential intermediate in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine and plays a vital role in cognitive function 16.
It’s one of the best and most effective forms you can get because it converts to two key compounds upon ingestion:
- Choline: 18% choline by weight
- Cytidine: The precursor to uridine, a nucleotide that plays a major role in synaptic strength and neural connectivity
Combining these two makes for a powerful cognitive enhancer that well surpasses the standard functions of a sole choline supplement.
It’s been used to treat traumatic brain injuries, stroke, vascular dementia, Parkinson’s disease, and brain aging, where it stabilizes cell membranes and reduces the presence of free radicals that exacerbate damage. But it’s also suggested to play a role in releasing dopamine in the brain 16.
Here’s why citicoline is the best choice:
- Boosts neurotransmitter synthesis—Improves synthesis of acetylcholine while potentially increasing release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward
- Promotes synaptogenesis—Possesses substantial neuro regenerative potential and enhances both brain neuroprotective and neuro repair mechanisms 17
- Increases ATP and phosphocreatine—Studies show a 7% increase in phosphocreatine levels and a 14% increase in ATP levels with citicoline supplementation, which increases energy reserves and utilization, as well as amounts of phospholipid membrane components needed to synthesize and maintain cell membrane integrity and function 18
Basically, citicoline covers all your cognitive bases. It supports attention and mental performance, while also enhancing memory and learning, making it one of the most effective nootropic supplements on the market.
Not to mention that it’s ultra-pure—99%+ pure citicoline verified by precision analytical testing, and it is superior-quality known for its safety, absorption, and stability.
How Much CDP-Choline To Take?
Now that you know what to take, how much is needed to get all the benefits?
The dose of CDP-choline may differ based on what you’re trying to achieve, but the standard dose recommended is 500-2,000mg divided into two doses with 8-12 hours between.
However, while sometimes a higher dose is thought to elicit better effects, there doesn’t appear to be any added benefit to a higher dose in this case; a single dose of 4,000mg elicited no additional benefits compared to one of 2,000mg.
Most studies looking at choline for cognitive health range from 500-2,000mg dosages, with the latter providing more statistically significant benefits than lower doses 17, 19.
And in terms of safety, many clinical trials with citicoline have confirmed it’s safe for consumption, but in rare cases, it may cause mild digestive and nerve issues.
If you’re ready to get your hands on one of the best cognitive boosters around, Mind Lab Pro is your go-to. It supplies citicoline as Cognizin®—one of the best choline sources for nootropic supplements.
But while citicoline may be the best source for choline, if you’re looking to maximize your brainpower, it’s necessary to stack it with other compounds to achieve the best mental performance benefits.
Mind Lab Pro® stacks the cleanest and most effective choline source available with ten additional nootropics to boost all aspects of cognition—especially for those whose active lifestyles demand dynamic brainpower.
- CB Hollenbeck. An introduction to the nutrition and metabolism of choline. Cent Nerv Syst Agents Med Chem. 2012;12(2):100-113.
- Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, et al., editors. Neuroscience. 2nd edition. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001. Acetylcholine. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK11143/
- JN van der Veen, JP Kennelly, S Wan, JE Vance, DE Vance, RL Jacobs. The critical role of phosphatidylcholine and phosphatidylethanolamine metabolism in health and disease. Biochim Biophys Acta Biomembr. 2017;1859(9 Pt B):1558-1572.
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- MG Blake, MC Krawczyk, CM Baratti, MM Boccia. Neuropharmacology of memory consolidation and reconsolidation: Insights on central cholinergic mechanisms. J Physiol Paris. 2014;108(4-6):286-291.
- TH Ferreira-Vieira, IM Guimaraes, FR Silva, FM Ribeiro. Alzheimer's disease: Targeting the Cholinergic System. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2016;14(1):101-115.
- DP Lippelt, S van der Kint, K van Herk, M Naber. No Acute Effects of Choline Bitartrate Food Supplements on Memory in Healthy, Young, Human Adults. PLoS One. 2016;11(6):e0157714.
- JD Barchas, M Altemus. Acetylcholine Mechanisms Have Been Implicated in Mood Disorders. In: Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28139/
- LM Sanders, SH Zeisel. Choline: Dietary Requirements and Role in Brain Development. Nutr Today. 2007;42(4):181-186.
- C Sam, B Bordoni. Physiology, Acetylcholine. [Updated 2021 Feb 7]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557825/
- SH Zeisel. Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults. Annu Rev Nutr. 2006;26:229-250.
- SH Zeisel. Choline. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:136-43.
- SH Zeisel, KA da Costa. Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. Nutr Rev. 2009;67(11):615-623.
- L Wecker. Influence of dietary choline availability and neuronal demand on acetylcholine synthesis by rat brain. J Neurochem. 1988;51(2):497-504.
- MV Guseva, DM Hopkins, SW Scheff, JR Pauly. Dietary choline supplementation improves behavioral, histological, and neurochemical outcomes in a rat model of traumatic brain injury. J Neurotrauma. 2008;25(8):975-983.
- M Fioravanti, AE Buckley. Citicoline (Cognizin) in the treatment of cognitive impairment. Clin Interv Aging. 2006;1(3):247-251.
- J Alvarez-Sabín, GC Román. The role of citicoline in neuroprotection and neurorepair in ischemic stroke. Brain Sci. 2013;3(3):1395-1414.
- MM Silveri, J Dikan, AJ Ross, et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 2008;21(10):1066-1075.
- A Dávalos, J Alvarez-Sabín, J Castillo, et al. Citicoline in the treatment of acute ischaemic stroke: an international, randomised, multicentre, placebo-controlled study (ICTUS trial). Lancet. 2012;380(9839):349-357.