Written by James Dixon – fact checked by Jason M & the editorial team
James Dixon is one of the key players in the SOMA Analytics’ team. He is a personal trainer and is educated to Masters level in Philosophy. He is a published author and is a keen advocate of high quality nootropic supplements.
This article complies with the SOMA Analytics editorial policy. Full details of which can be found here
We all struggle from time to time. Modern life can be pretty hectic, full of stress and distractions, packed with too much to do. Cognitive health and wellbeing can suffer. Cognitive performance can take a hit. Though there is plenty you can do to combat this – changing up your lifestyle for less stress, more rest, eating an antioxidant-rich diet, and greater meaningful interactions, to name just a few – supplementation can be a big help.
There are plenty of good quality nootropics in today’s market – NooCube, Mind Lab Pro, Alpha Brain. However, there is also one particular nutrient that bears closer scrutiny. We are, of course, talking about citicoline.
What Is Citicoline?
So, what exactly is citicoline? In short, it’s a nutrient that is particularly important for brain health and healthy cognition. Or, rather, it is a precursor to both acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine, both of which are vital compounds for the brain.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are signaling molecules that aid and enable basic cognitive functions. Phosphatidylcholine, meanwhile, is a phospholipid. This means that it is a fatty acid containing molecule. It is key for maintaining cell membrane health.
It is therefore unsurprising that choline levels have a direct impact on cognitive health, function, and performance. It feeds metabolic pathways both for brain structure and function.
Citicoline is the ingredient form of CDP-choline (or cytidine-diphosphocholine) – the two are chemically identical. The only real difference is that our bodies produce CDP-choline. Choline isn’t an essential nutrient. This means that our bodies can produce it, largely in the liver. However, we don’t produce enough to meet our bodies’ needs.
We must therefore take it in exogenously, through our diet. Plenty of foods contain it, including eggs, salmon, certain mushrooms, sprouts, and almonds. However, many of us don’t take in enough. This is where citicoline supplementation comes into play.
Citicoline is where we get our choline in supplement form. It’s been widely used in the Western world since the early nineties. It can be taken as a single source supplement, where it works incredibly well. Alternatively, it can be taken as part of a broader nootropic regime, either as an ingredient in a nootropic supplement, or taken alongside one.
As you may imagine, there are some profound benefits to be gained from taking citicoline and closing the gap that your natural diet may contain. As a fundamental component of the two separate compounds acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine, it can work wonders for your brain.
Firstly, it supports healthy memory. Specifically, it can aid what we may think of in terms of your random access memory in computer speak (or RAM). This is because of its key role in phosphatidylcholine metabolization. As we have seen, phosphatidylcholine is found in the brain’s tissue and plays a vital part in maintaining healthy brain structure and function. Greater levels of citicoline can increase phospholipid membrane components.
In turn, this will aid membrane plasticity and fluidity, fortify cell structure, including membrane integrity, and bolster neuron communication. Phospholipid turner aids neuron structural integrity in addition, which improves their healthy functionality. One of the key areas this improved functionality benefits is the memory.
We tend to lose phospholipids from our twenties onwards. By the time we are in our eighties, we can expect to have lost between 10 to 20 percent (if we are lucky and healthy). Citicoline may help to mitigate this decline, boosting phospholipid levels in both the short- and long- term, aiding both short- and long- term cognitive health.
The clinical data are strong in support of citicoline’s effects on memory. A 2021 study published in The Journal of Nutrition showed that a 12 week course of citicoline supplementation (in the form of Cognizin, dosed at 500 milligrams daily) benefitted overall memory. It especially benefitted episodic memory and has additionally been shown to aid older adults’ verbal memory.
Phosphatidylcholine makes up 30% of your brain’s phospholipids. Phospholipids are the bricks that make up your cell membrane integrity. You may also think of them as gatekeepers – they help to regulate what flows in and out of the cells.
If you decide to take citicoline for no other reason, make it the benefits it grants your neuronal health and function.
This could potentially change your life. It will certainly greatly enhance it.
In supporting the formation of phosphatidylcholine, it ring fences your neurons’ long-term health – it protects the nerve cells within your brain. Low levels of phospholipids can impair brain cell function, thus slowing it down.
Citicoline can also improve your mental energy, supporting optimal energy and clarity, which will be of great benefit to anybody struggling with the rigorous cognitive demands that modern life presents.
Again, the clinical data are pretty solid here. A recent study published in NMR in Biomedicine showed that a six-week course at a daily dose of 500 milligrams of Cognizin increased the reserves of energy held within the brain, alongside that energy’s utilization within the brain.
The study showed a 14% increase in ATP (adenosine triphosphate, or cellular energy) within the brain.
Citicoline has also been shown to support mitochondria health. Mitochondria are our cells’ energy producing units. The brain uses a whopping one fifth of the body’s energy at rest. Improving this energy production and utilization gives it a far larger pie from which to take that 20% slice.
All of these benefits come together to support learning. By improving memory and mental energy, your brain’s ability to absorb and process new information is greatly improved with citicoline use. A study published in Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior underlines this fact, showing CDP-choline’s ability to aid verbal learning.
Another study published in Nature Communications showed that a six week course at a daily dose of 500 milligrams of citicoline could improve older adults’ results on a learning test. The authors of the latter study attributed these results to the rise in phospholipids prompted by the citicoline intake.
The benefits are also far less general than the above examples. Citicoline has been shown to improve overall cognitive performance. It boosts neurotransmitter levels, of course, so this is hardly surprising. Specifically, or at least notably, it raises acetylcholine levels in the brain.
Acetylcholine plays a key role in cognitive function regulation, affecting areas such as attention, focus, and concentration. Citicoline has also been shown to help in maintaining healthy activity across nerves related to acetylcholine. This will serve to improve the brain’s communication circuits – its ability to communicate with itself and process information.
The benefits are also incredibly long-term, as we have seen. It isn’t just about supercharging your cognitive performance today. Citicoline is a vital nutrient for the brain. It promotes proactive cognitive support on a lifelong basis, thus promoting brain longevity and keeping your cognitive health young and well cared for into older adulthood.
Citicoline Side Effects
There are no known serious side effects associated with citicoline use. In fact, it is remarkably well tolerated. Side effects noted with it are the same in placebo groups, suggesting that they are not in any way inherent to citicoline use.
Side effects, including mild transient headaches and a minor tingling sensation have been shown to seldomly occur. They have also been shown to be mild, manageable, and very temporary, as well as being resolvable without any kind of medical intervention.
You should always consult your doctor or healthcare provider before beginning any new course of supplementation, especially if you have any kind of pre-existing medical conditions or complications. However, citicoline is largely safe and free from side effects. You will likely benefit from it without having to suffer any ill consequences.
Citicoline: The Verdict
Citicoline is surprisingly profound. Surprising because it’s a single, humble ingredient, easily accessible over the counter. Surprising too because, though it only directly effects a couple of aspects of brain health (acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine production), the benefits are incredibly far-reaching and potent.
In simply boosting acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine production, your brain will benefit by pretty much every measure going. Your focus and concentration will improve, making citicoline one of the more potent nootropic ingredients available.
Pairing it with something like NooCube or Mind Lab Pro will lead to some really quite drastic benefits. In tandem with this, you will also see improved cognitive energy, processing, learning, and long-term cognitive function.
Note the long-term aspect. Citicoline isn’t simply about giving your brain a quick hit today. It should ring fence your cognitive health and physical brain architecture for years to come, mitigating some of the worst effects of cognitive aging by keeping your acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine optimized to a younger person’s levels.
500 milligrams daily seems to be the optimal dose. It is by far the most widely studied dose. Look out for a supplement that gives you this much daily and take it for at least six weeks to see the benefits. Take it long-term, pretty much permanently forever more, to really gain the best of the benefits on offer.