Choline is one of the most important nutrients for healthy brain function. When it comes to buying choline in a nootropic supplement, there are several forms and options to choose from.
This guide discusses and compares three of the most popular choline sources – Citicoline vs. Alpha-GPC vs. Choline Bitartrate – and then reveals the best choline source to look for in nootropic stack supplements.
The Nootropic Guide to Choline
You don't want to put just any choline supplement in your head. You want the BEST nootropic choline type for the job.
One of the most frequently asked questions by nootropic newcomers and veterans alike is: Which cholinergic nootropic is the best?
And there's a good reason for the frequency of this question: the cholinergic biopathway is arguably the most important brain pathway for enhancing cognition, due to the brain's high demand of choline. So much so that choline and acetylcholine levels are often viewed as reliable biomarkers of long-term cognitive health.
There are numerous substances and practices that benefit the cholinergic pathway through direct and indirect biomechanisms. For example, Bacopa may help reduce acetylcholine breakdown, and intermittent fasting seems to enhance acetylcholine efficacy.
However, what we're primarily concerned with here is which direct, raw nootropic choline source is the best for cognition?
And most importantly, which nootropic choline form should you look for in the best nootropic supplements?
To answer these questions, let's first learn more about what choline is.
Choline is one of the most important nootropics for brain health, memory and mental clarity.
Choline is a vitamin-like macronutrient essential to the functioning of the liver, muscular tissue, and, yes, the brain. Think of it as one of the basic brain building blocks to cognition itself, given its precursor status to the following compounds:
- Acetylcholine (ACh) - a neurotransmitter that facilitates communication between neurons as well as within the neuromuscular junction.
- Phosphatidylcholine (PC) - a key component of the cellular membrane and a conditional reservoir of choline for acetylcholine production.
By improving ACh, PC, and other brain chemicals, raw choline donors benefit cognition by supporting memory and learning, attention and focus, brain energy, brain regeneration, and muscular performance.
However, within the cholinergic biopathway, there are numerous choline analogues, each with a distinct interrelationship with each other:
The diversity of interrelationships in this diagram illustrates the complexity of choosing the right choline supplement, as not all choline types are equal. And according to U.S. statistics, with 90% of the U.S. population estimated to be deficient in choline, it should be apparent why supplementing choline is important.
While supplementing a quality, effective cholinergic nootropic is important to maintaining healthy cognitive patterns, establishing a solid diet of choline-rich foods is equally important to ensure there's a cognitive base with which to make cognitive enhancement a possibility.
Foods Rich with Dietary Choline
A deficiency in choline levels often begins with a deficiency in dietary choline consumption.
According to the National Institutes of Health, the five most choline-rich foods, in terms of milligrams of choline per serving, include:
- 3 oz. Beef Liver, Pan Fried - 356 mg choline per serving
- 1 Egg, Hard Boiled - 147 mg choline per serving
- 3 oz. Beef Top Round, Braised - 117 mg choline per serving
- 1/2 cup Soy beans, Roasted - 107 mg choline per serving
- 3 oz. Chicken Breast, Roasted - 72 mg choline per serving
Adding choline-rich foods to your diet is a smart move to lessen the risk of choline deficiency. However, given the inefficiency of most dietary cholines' abilities to cross the blood-brain barrier, many nootropic users take their choline-rich diets even further with potent cholinergic nootropics.
Of all the choline-related supplements, the three most popular are choline bitartrate, alpha-GPC, and citicoline.
We'll cover each in the list below, one-by-one, before issuing our final judgment on which nootropic choline source is the best for brain health and cognition. Check it out:
Swap "X-" with the radical C4H5O6, and there you have it: Choline Bitartrate – the simplest, cheapest form of supplementary choline.
Many nootropic supplements opt for choline bitartrate as their source of choline, and in doing so they compromise quality for cost. By weight, this ingredient contains 41% choline, which is a sizable density when compared against other nootropic choline sources.
However, in terms of cognition enhancement, there's a major problem with choline bitartrate supplement: this form is very ineffective at crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Put simply: choline bitartrate does not work.
More specifically, choline bitartrate doesn't work in humans.
In rats, the influence of dietary choline on free choline levels was found to be significant. One rat study found choline supplementation to promote circulating choline levels by 52% as compared to the choline-free control group – although acetylcholine synthesis was not significantly improved.1 In a separate rat model of brain injury, the supplementation of choline bitartrate was found to improve spatial memory and histological neuronal impairments.2
The healthy, young, human model, on the other hand, demonstrated no acute effects on memory performance and learning following 2 - 2.5 g of choline bitartrate supplementation.3 Again, this is likely due to choline bitartrate's inefficiency at crossing the blood-brain barrier.
As such, choline bitartrate may qualify as a commendable choline form for bodily choline levels but not for nootropic brain performance.
L-alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine (alpha-GPC or α-GPC) nearly matches choline bitartrate in density but has one major significant advantage over standard choline supplements.
That advantage being the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier.
By weight, alpha GPC carries 40% choline, allowing for a potential 40 mg choline per 100 mg alpha-GPC. While sold as a synthesized supplement, alpha-GPC is a naturally occurring compound, found as a natural nutrient in red meats and organs. However, to achieve nootropic effects through this pathway, you'll need to consume a lot of red meat.
And we're certain the non-nootropic side effects of heavy red meat consumption is likely to nullify any potential benefits of its alpha-GPC content.
As an alternative, alpha-GPC supplements are available and backed by promising research, including:
- Study #1 - Among healthy, young volunteers with scopolamine-induced memory impairment, alpha-GPC supplementation alleviated impairment on attention and memory, as compared to placebo.4
- Study #2 - This review on 13 clinical trials, encompassing a total of 4,054 human subjects, found significant improvements in memory and attention impaired by cognitive decline with alpha-GPC supplementation.5
Alongside the brainy biohackers, athletes and bodybuilders have also taken a liking to alpha-GPC for its sports nutritional benefits, likely due to the cholinergic compound's suggested links with enhanced growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation.6
As a nootropic choline source, alpha-GPC is spot-on. But, believe it or not, there's an even better choline source for nootropic brain enhancement.
Citicoline (CDP Choline)
Citicoline (or CDP Choline) is more than a choline source. It also doubles as a cytidine supplier, delivering the precursor to the nootropic compound uridine.
Citicoline is a powerhouse nootropic for two reasons:
- Choline - By weight, citicoline carries 18% choline, allowing room for:
- Cytidine - The precursor to nucleotide uridine, a key factor in synaptic strength and neural connectivity, a powerful nootropic on its own.
While citicoline possesses less choline per serving than alpha-GPC, the combination of choline and cytidine is a potent, powerful tool of cognitive enhancement that exceeds the standard benefits of choline, namely within the realms of brain energy and repair.
Altogether, citicoline's two-in-one design seems possess three key bio-benefits:
- Neurotransmitter Synthesis - citicoline potentially improves ACh production while increasing dopamine release.
- Synaptogenesis Promotion - uridine may promote and sustain the creation of neural synapses, alleviating neurodegenerative conditions.7
- ATP and Phosphocreatine - MRS testing revealed a 14% ATP increase and a 7% phosphocreatine increase with citicoline supplementation.8
Citicoline's diverse biomechanisms qualify the nootropic not only as an acute cognitive enhancer but a long-term brain repair nutrient, granting it a unique status as a universal nootropic compound.
Other Cholinergic Nootropics
Aside from these raw choline donors, there are other nootropic compounds that benefit the cholinergic pathways through other direct and indirect biomechanisms, most notably:
- Bacopa Monnieri - believed to inhibit acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme responsible for the breakdown of acetylcholine.10
- Phosphatidylserine - a phospholipid constituent within the cholinergic pathway, and a key component in brain cell membrane fluidity.
Which Choline Source is Best?
Strictly in terms of nootropic outcome, which choline source is the best?
Quick summary of the contestants covered in this review:
- Choline Bitartrate - 41% choline density; cheap and ineffective.
- Alpha-GPC - 40% choline density; able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
- Citicoline - 18% choline plus cytidine, a two-for-one mental charger.
If we're going by choline density, choline bitartrate takes the cake. But thankfully this isn't the case as we're primarily measuring the value of these ingredients based on nootropic outcome. Thus, the best nootropic source of choline is citicoline.
While alpha-GPC provides the densest choline source able to cross the blood-brain barrier, citicoline supplies one of the most effective nootropic combos available on the market: choline and cytidine – essentially providing similar cholinergic benefits as alpha-GPC and then some.
Both supplements benefit attention and memory, enhancing ACh activity, yet citicoline holds a tremendous advantage over alpha-GPC with its unique, research-backed, acute and long-term support on brain structure and function.
Any good nootropic supplement must include one of the aforementioned choline sources.
Cognizin® is the best available choline source on the market in 2018.
- Cognizin® is superior-quality, patented Citicoline known for its safety, absorption and stability.
- Ultra-pure: Cognizin® is 99%+ pure citicoline verified by precision analytical testing.
- Human research shows Cognizin® may increase ATP brain energy by 13.6% and boost brain cell membrane formation by 26%.
The quest for the best choline source may end with citicoline, but to get the most out of the supplement, you'll need to stack it with other effective cholinergic compounds, as well as non-cholinergic compounds, to achieve the best mental performance benefits.
As a standalone ingredient, citicoline accomplishes a substantial degree of synergy with its 1-2 combo of choline and cytidine. Mixed with the right ingredients, this foundation nootropic can accomplish even more.
Mind Lab Pro® stacks the best choline source for nootropics in superior Cognizin® form with 10 additional nootropics to unleash 100% Brainpower™.
- Wecker L. Influence of dietary choline availability and neuronal demand on acetylcholine synthesis by rat brain. J Neurochem. 1988 Aug; 51(2): 497-504.
- Guseva MV et al. Dietary Choline Supplementation Improves Behavioral, Histological, and Neurochemical Outcomes in a Rat Model of Traumatic Brain Injury. J Neurotrauma. 2008 Aug; 25(8): 975-983.
- Lippelt DP et al. No Acute Effects of Choline Bitartrate Food Supplements on Memory in Healthy, Young, Human Adults. PLoS One. 2016 Jun 24; 11(6): e0157714
- Canal N et al. Effect of L-alpha-glyceryl-phosphorylcholine on amnesia caused by scopolamine. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1991 Mar; 29(3): 103-7.
- Parnetti L et al. Choline alphoscerate in cognitive decline and in acute cerebrovascular disease: an analysis of published clinical data. Mechanisms of Ageing and Development. 2001 Nov; 122(16): 2041-55.
- Kawamura T et al. Glycerophosphocholine enhances growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation in young adults. Nutrition. 2012 Nov-Dec; 28(11-12): 1122-6.
- Álvarez-Sabín J, Román GC. The Role of Citicoline in Neuroprotection and Neurorepair in Ischemic Stroke. Brain Sci. 2013 Sep; 3(3): 1395-1414.
- Silveri MM et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 2008 Nov; 21(10): 1066-75.
- McGlade E et al. Improved Attentional Performance Following Citicoline Administration in Healthy Adult Women. Food and Nutrition Sciences. 2012 Jun; 3(6): 769-773.
- Aguiar S, Borowski T. Neuropharmacological Review of the Nootropic Herb Bacopa monnieri. Rejuvenation Res. 2013 Aug; 16(4): 313-326.