Citicoline as a Nootropic

citicoline as a nootropic

Citicoline (AKA, CDP-Choline) is naturally present in every cell in your body. As a nootropic, it’s of vital importance for your brain health – increasing focus and motivation, improving cognition, and reducing mental fatigue.

Citicoline is a source of choline, which is a nutrient you’ll find in foods like eggs.

Human research shows that Citicoline acts as a brain-energizer. And is shown to have neuroregenerative and cognitive-boosting effects – helping to support overall brain health.

The three biggest nootropic benefits of Citicoline are:

  1. Improves brain performance – Citicoline provides your brain with uridine. In the brain, uridine helps repair neurons and rebuild them after suffering damage from oxidative stress. When your neurons are healthy and able to send signals efficiently, you’ll experience optimized memory, cognition, and recall.
  2. Recharges mental energy – Citicoline works to increase ATP production in your brain cells. ATP is your energy currency, and having more of it leads to better mental clarity and less brain fog.
  3. Boosts feel-good brain chemicals – Citicoline effectively raises levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine in the brain. These affect pretty much every area of your psychological health, including mood.

Now here’s the bad news:

Insufficient choline intake can lead to memory loss, brain fog, and other cognitive problems. Not only that, low choline diets are known to cause fatty liver.

How? Find out below, along with the answer to why choline could be the most beneficial nootropic for your brain health and performance.

What is Citicoline?

As I’ve said in the beginning, Citicoline is one of the sources of choline.

Just like you have magnesium oxide, magnesium citrate, and so on. You also have different types of choline, including:

  • Citicoline (or also called CDP-Choline)
  • Choline Bitrate
  • Alpha GPC
  • Choline Citrate

Each source of choline has a different structure. And, most importantly, some forms of choline absorb well in your brain while others don’t. Be sure to read on as I’ll explain below which form of choline you want to take for maximal brain benefits.

Generally speaking though, choline is a water-soluble nutrient. It’s closely related to B vitamins. You can get it from eating organ meats such as liver.

Choline is essential for your brain health. This is because your brain uses it up faster than your body can make it. So you either need to get plenty of choline through food or supplementation.

Who is Citicoline For?

Is Citicoline for you? Should you supplement it?

As we age, things like brain chemistry and energy metabolism change. The fact of life is that this can happen at any age once you enter adulthood.

  • Recall, memory, and reaction time diminish
  • Brain cell membranes lose integrity
  • Acetylcholine levels decline
  • Mood drops

Again, all of these changes can happen early. How fast they will occur for you comes down to a number of factors, including your diet, lifestyle, genetics, and even the air you breathe.

Citicoline can help offset this cognitive decline in the aging brain, but also help support a student or a busy professional who’re looking to do better at work or school. Via the action of boosting dopamine and acetylcholine – and rebuilding your neurons.

So who is Citicoline for? Anyone who’s looking to maintain peak cognitive performance, really.

Why It’s Important

Much like you need basic material to build a house. Your brain needs choline to make the vital neurotransmitters like acetylcholine and dopamine. Along with phosphatidylcholine (PC), which helps build your brain cell membranes.

So what happens when there’s not enough choline for your brain to use?

The answer might be a little shocking, but the brain will start eating its own cell membranes to get choline.

This can, over time, lead to acetylcholine deficiency and later, neuron breakdown. In other words, it results in poor memory, inability to recall words, difficulty learning new information, and even having trouble with orientation.

Choline is so critical for brain health that without it, you wouldn’t be able to think, remember, sleep, or move.

Citicoline, in particular, is unique among other sources of choline because it converts to cytidine and choline after it absorbs in your gut. After crossing the blood-brain barrier, it turns back to Citicoline.

The remaining cytidine left in your blood converts to uridine. Your brain uses uridine to repair its cell membranes.

When you think hard, or try to solve a problem, your brain uses Citicoline to get more energy for sustained mental focus and effort.

Related: Boost Your Neurogenesis Naturally With These Herbs

Roles of Citicoline in Brain Function

  • Used in creating and repairing DNA and brain cell membranes
  • Increases phosphatidylcholine (PC), a building block of neural tissue
  • Protects neurons from detriments of aging and oxidative stress
  • Enhances neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine
  • Optimizes mitochondria for healthy brain energy levels

Nootropic Benefits of Citicoline

  • Boosts focus, recall, attention, and thought fluidity
  • May aid in supporting aging brain
  • Nourishes brain cells for stable mental energy and performance (without the ugly stimulant crash)
  • Aids overall brain function

How Citicoline Works in Your Brain

Citicoline (CDP-Choline) affects a number of your brain’s pathways. Including:

Brain Cell Repair

Citicoline aids in the creation and function of healthy brain cell membranes. As a cholinergic compound, Citicoline directly raises brain levels of PC, a phospholipid that makes up about 30% of your total brain mass.

Patented forms of Citicoline, such as those found in my favorite nootropic formula Mind Lab Pro, are shown to aid in brain renewal.

Researchers suggest that Citicoline stimulates phospholipid creation, and may as such help fight age-related brain changes. Another human study suggested that Cognizin®, a patented form of Citicoline, can speed up new neuron growth by up to 26%. (1, 5)

Mental Energy

Citicoline helps your brain create electrical impulses by supporting the function of your mitochondria: the cell’s powerhouses that make energy.

The more mitochondria you have, and the healthier their function, means you’ll have higher levels of ATP in your cells, which in turn fuels the brain to perform demanding tasks. A human study found that a patented form of Citicoline (Cognizin) increased brain energy levels in the frontal lobe by 13.6%. (1)

Neurotransmitters

Citicoline increases the levels of acetylcholine, which is a neurotransmitter that governs your memory, learning, and thought processing.

As acetylcholine goes down with age, and its low levels are linked to loss of memory and cognition, Citicoline is suggested to help with age-related cognitive decline.

Citicoline also enhances dopamine and norepinephrine production. These two brain chemicals are linked to more direct benefits on mood and mental function.

Brain Protection

Citicoline strengthens your brain’s antioxidant defenses. It helps with the neutralization of toxic free radicals that can damage your brain cells. But it also boosts the creation of phosphatidylcholine, which further strengthens and repairs your neural tissue.

Brain Blood Flow

As a supplement, Citicoline is shown to enhance cerebral circulation. In an analysis of patients with memory loss and mental decline, their left temporal brain blood flow returned back to normal after taking Citicoline and phosphatidylserine (PS). (2)

Citicoline Studies

There’s lots of research around Citicoline and its nootropic effects on the brain.

The most impressive benefit is seen in stroke survivors. After supplementing with choline, these people were reported to see a decrease in the negative effects of stroke. Some of them even reported no longer having muscle spasms, weakness or paralysis.

On the other hand, healthy nootropic users say Citicoline helps them focus better and think clearer. In fact, many people report no longer needing ADHD medication after taking choline supplements.

This is just anecdotal evidence, keep in mind. And it’s important to know that you should always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your supplementation or medications (if you take any).

With all of that said, let’s have a look at what the science says about Citicoline’s brain benefits:

Study #1 – Choline Boosts Focus and Reduces ADD 

A study that took place in Utah, USA, recruited 75 male teenagers and split them into three groups. The first group took 250mg of Citicoline, the second group took 500mg of Citicoline, and the third group took a placebo (sugar pill) every day for 28 days.

After this period, each group took a series of cognitive tests.

The study found that the teenagers who took Citicoline had a much higher focus, psychomotor speed, and concentration levels.

Their impulsive behavior reduced too.

By contrast, the placebo group saw no changes in their mental performance.

This study just goes to show the nootropic benefits of choline on people with ADD. It also shows that you don’t necessarily have to be past your 50s to take this compound. Even younger age groups can massively benefit from it as well. (4)


Key Takeaway: Citicoline benefits people with ADHD and ADD by reducing their impulsive behavior, improving attention, and increasing focus.


Study #2 – Citicoline Improves Memory

A study done in Japan recruited a group of men and women, giving them either 500mg or 2000mg of Citicoline every day for 6 weeks.

At the end of 6 weeks, both men and women took MRS brain scans. The results showed that both groups saw a 14% increase in the production of ATP in their brain cells. (5)

What’s more, their phospholipid levels, including PS and PC, also increased by over 26%.

These improvements occured in areas of the brain that control cognition. In other words, Citicoline boosted these people’s brain function in all the key areas. Leading to better learning, focus, and memory.

The surprising finding was that the benefits of Citicoline were stronger in the group that took 500mg. Suggesting that more isn’t better in this case.


Key Takeaway: Taking Citicoline may boost your brain energy levels and reduce mental fatigue.

Study #3 – Citicoline Improves Cognitive Function

A study released in the Journal of Food and Nutrition Sciences looked into the cognitive effects of Citicoline in 60 healthy adult women. Their ages were between 40-60 years old.

They were split into three groups; one received 250mg of Citicoline, another received 500mg of Citicoline, and the last group received a placebo. The trial period lasted 28 days.

Both groups of women that took Citicoline showed significantly improved overall cognitive function.


Key Takeaway: Citicoline may improve cognitive function in middle-aged women. Along with eliminating attention deficits and other symptoms of ADD.

What Happens If You Don’t Have Enough Choline?

It wasn’t long ago that choline wasn’t considered an essential nutrient.

The scientists found that our bodies produce it on their own. So they concluded that we don’t need it in our diets. But in the 1990s, it became clear that they were wrong.

Choline was soon introduced as an essential nutrient. Experts started advising to people to eat more foods rich in choline: including egg yolks and organ meats.

If you have problems with constant brain fog, poor focus, memory loss, and lack of motivation – well, you might be lacking choline.

The range of symptoms of low choline link from mood swings all the way to the fatty liver disease.

The point is, choline deficiency is real, and can cause the following problems:

Mental Decline

Studies show that when there’s not enough choline in your diet, your brain gets it from the outside of your brain cell membranes. The brain starts eating its own phosphatidylcholine (PC) reserves, in essence.

As your neurons keep losing choline, they lose their integrity. Leading to nerve impulse breakdown and cognitive decline. (3)

Related: 14 Natural Supplements For Rumination & Negative Thinking – The Definitive Guide

Anxiety

Choline deficiency can impair how your neural network workouts. Brain cell integrity falls apart and mood swings start to occur. As choline helps create dopamine, a lack of choline can lead to suboptimal levels of this neurotransmitter. And by extension: anxiety.

To quote a study at NCBI:

“There are evidences that dopamine plays an important role in anxiety modulation in different parts of the brain. Some evidence has shown that the mesolimbic, mesocortical and nigrostriatal dopaminergic system are involved in anxiety. Both dopamine D1 and D2 receptor mechanisms are important in mediating anxiety.” – NCBI

Depression

I’ve explained how choline (and by extension, Citicoline) affects your neurotransmitters. As such it has a pretty big impact on your mood. Anxiety is just one of the issues that can happen as a result of choline deficiency. Depression is another one.

Studies link dopamine dysregulation with depression disorders. The same findings were observed in people with low serotonin levels. Not to say that these findings apply to all people; in some cases, it was shown that high serotonin can cause anxiety.

The point is, lack of choline can cause mood problems. And is not something to be played with.

Fatty Liver

As promised, here I’ll explain how choline deficiency affects your liver.

See, choline helps bring fat out from your liver. These fats then go into the bloodstream where your body can use it for energy, to aid in the absorption in fat-soluble vitamins, and make myelin sheath which encases your brain cells.

Choline deficiency causes fat to build up in the liver. Which can, over time, lead to fatty liver disease. This condition further leads to fatigue, the enlargement of the liver, a build-up of toxins, and liver pain.

However, an interesting study found that people whose livers were damaged by choline deficiency reversed their condition after adding 2 grams of choline per day to their diet. (7)

Citicoline Nootropic Dosage

The general recommended dosage for Citicoline as a nootropic is 250-500mg per day. Split into no more than two daily doses. Ideally, you should take half of your daily Citicoline in the morning, and another half in the early afternoon.

If you’re new to choline supplements, I’d suggest starting with just 150mg or less to asses your tolerance. Then slowly build your way up from there. The reason being, Citicoline can cause headaches, especially in higher dosages – luckily though, these headaches go away once you get used to it.

Best Nootropic Source of Citicoline

As I’ve said in the beginning, Citicoline is just one source of Choline.

Other sources include choline bitartrate, choline citrate, and Alpha GPC.

So, which one is the best…?

The short answer: Both Alpha GPC and Citicoline are great and absorb well in the brain. Choline citrate and choline bitartrate, on the other hand, can’t pass the blood-brain barrier that easily, which is why they’re cheaper. These cheaper versions of choline can still be useful for liver and general health purposes, though.

But here’s why Citicoline is my favorite choline source…

Citicoline (CDP Choline)

This form of choline is highly bioavailable. Having 18% of choline by weight, Citicoline easily passes your blood-brain barrier and helps rebuild fatty neuron membranes, along with increasing acetylcholine levels for memory, mood, and cognition.

One key advantage of Citicoline is that it also contains cytidine. Your body needs cytidine to produce uridine, which has its own roles in protecting and rebuilding your nerves.

Uridine is often combined with fish oil for benefits like faster thinking, vivid memories, and elevated mood. That’s why the combination of fish oil+uridine is called ‘the happy stack’.

My favorite nootropic formula Mind Lab Pro uses a patented form of Citicoline, called Cognizin. Another professional nootropic formula that uses this premium ingredient is Performance Lab Mind.

Alpha GPC

Alpha GPC is derived from sunflower lecithin. Interestingly it’s also found in small amounts in your brain.

Alpha GPC contains about 40% choline by weight. Much like Citicoline, Alpha GPC is highly bioavailable and easily enters your brain.

However, some users prefer Citicoline because Alpha GPC gives them headaches.

Choline Bitartrate

If your budget is tight, then choline bitartrate could be the one to go for.

This is an economical source of choline. While it has 40% choline by weight, it’s much less bioavailable. Very little of it actually gets absorbed in your brain.

So while it’s still great for liver health, it’s nootropic benefits are highly diminished compared to other sources of choline.

Choline Citrate

This is a combination of choline and a citric acid ester. The citrate part has about 50% choline by weight.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier that easily either. But, it can help with muscle performance. That’s because choline citrate gives the building blocks for acetylcholine which is known for preventing muscle fatigue and soreness post-training.

Basically, this form of choline is more like a post-workout supplement than a nootropic.

Citicoline Foods

You’ll have a hard time finding Citicoline in foods. However, many people take it as a supplement because of its high bioavailability. Choline in general can be found in foods, including eggs, beans, liver, meat, and some cruciferous vegetables.

Choline Side Effects

When taken in recommended dosages, choline (including bitartrate, citrate, Alpha GPC and Citicoline) is non-toxic.

However, that doesn’t mean you can take as much choline as you want.

Excess choline intake might lead to headaches, insomnia, nausea, blurred vision, and other problems. That happens when it’s taken in extremely high doses – ones that are well above the recommended limit.

If you do have any concerns about choline or any other supplement, be sure to talk to your doctor before adding it to your regimen.

Anything Else to Consider?

The brain burns a lot of fuel to maintain peak performance and regenerative processes. Although it only makes up about 2% of your total body weight, the brain accounts for about 20% of your total energy expenditure.

Poor energy supply to the brain can lead to brain fog, memory problems, and the risk of degenerative conditions later in life.

Patented forms of Citicoline like Cognizin® are shown to optimize brain health at a cellular level. Citicoline nourishes the brain with the building blocks it needs to conduct maintenance, repair, and growth of brain cells – all of which are critical for peak cognitive function.

Add to that the brain protection, neurotransmitter support, and brain circulation. Citicoline is a single nootropic that optimizes multiple brain pathways for all-round health & performance.

FAQs

Can you take Citicoline with caffeine?

If you normally tolerate caffeine well, then yes, you can take it with Citicoline. In fact, taking Citicoline with caffeine can enhance the nootropic benefits of both compounds; improving memory, focus, and mental alertness.

How long should Citicoline be taken?

According to WebMD, Citicoline supplements can be safely taken up to 90 days. While long-term effects aren’t yet studied enough, Citicoline is considered a non-toxic and safe compound for most people.

Does Citicoline work immediately?

In terms of its perceivable nootropic effects, Citicoline doesn’t work immediately. Most users report experiencing Citicoline benefits after a few days, with the full scope of effects being most noticeable after a few weeks of supplementation.

Does Citicoline affect sleep?

According to research, Citicoline doesn’t appear to affect or interfere with sleep. Still, if you’re concerned, avoid taking Citicoline too close to bedtime.

Conclusion on Citicoline as a Nootropic

As a nootropic, Citicoline improves your mental clarity, elevates mood and energy levels, and helps you encode memories.

While there are other sources of choline out there – such as Alpha GPC, Choline Bitrate, and so on – Citicoline is my favorite form of choline to use as a nootropic. It enters the brain easily and also provides you with uridine, which is essential for nerve function, repair, and maintenance.

Citicoline as a nootropic is needed for the creation of acetylcholine. A brain chemical that regulates your memory, thought fluidity, and cognition. Citicoline also helps boost the success-driving motivation molecule dopamine.

Alongside the brain, your liver is another organ that absolutely needs choline to get rid of excess fat and work as it should.

Choline deficiency is real, and can lead to anxiety, depression, neuron degeneration, and fatty liver.

You can easily prevent choline deficiency by eating foods such as eggs, Brussel sprouts, or organ meats. But if you want to experience its full scope of nootropic benefits, you may want to look into Citicoline supplementation – Cognizin being my favorite form of Citicoline for brain health.

References
  1. Neural membrane phospholipids in alzheimer disease. (source)
  2. Effect of Phosphatidylserine on Cerebral Glucose Metabolism in Alzheimer’s Disease. (source)
  3. Choline metabolism as a basis for the selective vulnerability of cholinergic neurons. (source)
  4. The Effect of Citicoline Supplementation on Motor Speed and Attention in Adolescent Males. (source)
  5. Cognizin® Citicoline Increases Brain Energy (ATP) by 14% and Speeds up Formation of Brain Membranes by 26% in Healthy Adults. (source)
  6. Sex and menopausal status influence human dietary requirements for the nutrient choline. (source)
  7. Apoptotic PC12 cells exposing phosphatidylserine promote the production of anti-inflammatory and neuroprotective molecules by microglial cells. (source)

 

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About Valentino Muza 53 Articles
Valentino is a nutritionist, author, spiritual practitioner, and health coach. He's been researching nutrition and brain health since 2015, and has launched Valentino's Naturals to help people maximize their cognitive performance. When he isn't writing, Valentino loves to travel around Europe, spend time recharging in nature, and research topics within his field of expertise. More...

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