What is Choline?
Choline is an essential macronutrient that is critical for brain function and development, liver health, energy levels, nerve and muscle function, and fat metabolism.
It is a water soluble compound that is related to the B vitamin complex. It’s found in a wide variety of foods, particularly meat and dairy, and is a very common supplement to support general health and as an addition to many nootropic stacks.
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of choline varies by age, gender, and whether or not you are pregnant. For men the RDA is 550 mg/day, and for women it is 425 mg/day. In the US, most men and women do not consume sufficient choline from their diet and could benefit from an added supplement.
Choline and Brain Health
If you have ever taken a nootropic from the racetam family, you no doubt are aware of the importance of choline when it comes to optimal brain health and function.
Choline is used in the synthesis of acetylcholine (ACh) in our brains. ACh is a neurotransmitter that is important for memory and learning abilities, mental energy, focus and concentration, a proper stress response, and even creativity.
When we consume choline, some of it will end up crossing the blood-brain barrier. This choline is then taken up by nerve terminals in a process known as high affinity choline uptake (HACU). HACU is believed to be the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of ACh.
If not enough choline is available to cross over the blood brain barrier, less ACh will be created, and cognition can suffer.
Additionally, choline is used in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine (PC), the phospholipid that makes up the majority of our cell membranes. PC is critical for healthy neurons as well as communication between nerve cells.
If you are looking for optimal brain health and a supplement that can help you reach the top of your mental game, choline is a must.
Nootropic Choline Sources
With so many choline sources on the market today, it is important to understand how each one works so that you can choose the supplement that will best benefit your health and well-being.
When it comes to choline sources for nootropic purposes, one of the most important things to consider is how bioavailable it is for your brain specifically: some supplements allow more choline to cross over your blood-brain barrier than others.
1. Alpha GPC
Alpha GPC is a powerful nootropic known to help improve learning, memory, concentration, mood, protect against age-related cognitive decline, and even enhance energy, power output and muscle gain in athletes.
Of all of the choline supplements, Alpha GPC is best known for its ability to cross over the blood-brain barrier. Thanks to this ability, it is one of the best choices for a source of choline for your nootropic stack.
Many of its nootropic benefits are thanks to its acting a cholinergic compound, increasing brain levels of ACh.
Usually ACh is produced through a synthesis process from choline that crosses over into the brain. Alpha GPC is unique in that it is broken down and converted into ACh. It even protects our cell membranes, as Alpha GPC is produced in our brains when choline-containing cellular membranes break down.
It is known to help boost dopamine levels, another important neurotransmitter, increase fat oxidation in the liver, and enhance nonheme iron absorption. (1,2,3)
The only drawback to this supplement is that it is one of the more expensive choline sources. If you are looking to simply increase your dietary intake of choline, rather than chase the nootropic benefits, there are options that are more affordable.
Also known as CDP-Choline, Citicoline is known to improve memory, learning, and attention (1,2,6). It has even been shown to reduce appetite and protect from stroke and other brain injuries. When it comes to age-related cognitive decline and related diseases, Citicoline has been found to protect the brain here as well.
This drug works through enhancing the synthesis of neurotransmitters, boosting blood flow to the brain, protecting brain cells from damage, and improving cell membrane health and function.
When taken orally, Citicoline breaks down into cytidine and choline. This choline source is highly bioavailable for use by both the brain and body. In the brain, this choline is used as a precursor to ACh. Studies have also found this nootropic to boost the levels of dopamine in animal studies.
It plays a role in phospholipid metabolism, both reducing the breakdown of phospholipids and increasing phospholipid synthesis. Phospholipids are used in the creation of cell membranes, helping to protect neurons and promote communication between them.
When administered with choline, the cytidine portion of this supplement has been found to increase the production of phosphatidylcholine, the phospholipid that is also involved in the production of ACh. Because of this component of the drug, CDP-Choline is a highly bioavailable and active form of choline for brain health and nootropic function.
The cytidine portion also converts into uridine, which has its own benefits as well.
In comparison to some forms of choline, this supplement is a bit more expensive. If you are looking for nootropic benefits or to add to your nootropic stack, the extra money is likely worth the effect. If you are just looking to up your dietary choline, there are some less expensive options.
As one of the oldest and most well-studied nootropics, Centrophenoxine has shown efficacy in numerous studies when it comes to both its neuroprotective and nootropic actions. It is also known as Meclofenoxate, Meclofenoxate HCl, and Lucidril.
As a neuroprotective drug, it has been shown to help protect the brain from damage. This damage can come from a variety of sources, such as environmental toxins, unhealthy foods, and brain damage that can lead to oxidative damage in the brain. This damage is believed to play a role in the pathogenesis of numerous age-related diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease.
As a nootropic this drug acts as a stimulant, increasing mental energy, a memory enhancer, a concentration booster, and provides overall improved cognitive function.
Centrophenoxine works through its cholinergic benefits, ability to stimulate both brain glucose uptake and oxygen consumption, and by providing a source of DMAE, which is known to protect cells from oxidative damage.
This drug is DMAE bound to pCPA (p-chlorophenoxyacetic acid), a compound that acts to improve the ability of DMAE to cross the blood-brain barrier. In a study on rats it was found that Centrophenoxine boosted choline levels in the CNS by twice that of DMAE alone. (7)
It is this boost in choline in the brain that is thanks for many of the cognitive enhancing effects.
You will want to avoid taking this drug if you’re pregnant or may become pregnant, have bipolar disorder, or epilepsy. It is a stimulant, so you also do not want to take it late in the day.
This nootropic is a good choice for many thanks to the abundant research and low cost.
4. Choline Bitartrate
Choline Bitartrate is one of the least expensive forms of supplemental choline on the market. It is a great option if you are looking to simply increase your dietary choline intake.
While some of this choline will cross over your blood-brain barrier, it is not as bioavailable for your brain as many of the other choline-containing nootropics. (8) Because of this, there have not been too many studies on this supplement specifically and nootropic benefits.
Those that have been conducted have found some promise when it comes to using Choline Bitartrate for bipolar disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and improved visuomotor performance. (9,10,11). These were very small human studies that were not replicated.
Even though it is not as bioavailable as some forms of choline, some of this choline has still been found to cross over the blood-brain barrier. (8) Additionally, this choline is readily available for other parts of your body, such as your liver. If you are looking for a reasonably priced choline source, this may be a good option for you.
DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol, also sold as Deaner and Deanol) is a nootropic supplement with a chemical structure similar to that of choline, but with one fewer methyl groups. DMAE is found in our diets in fatty fish, and small amounts are produced endogenously in the human brain.
DMAE has been used successfully for treating those with ADHD and to help improve the brain health of those with Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.
As a nootropic, it has been used to help provide mental clarity, boost concentration, increase energy, and improve memory.
It is thought to work through three main pathways (12,13,14,15):
- Increases brain levels of choline and ACh
- Antioxidant activity reduces lipofuscin (“age pigment” associated with Alzheimer’s disease)
- Changes in brain wave activity
The biggest downfall with DMAE is its low bioavailability. If you are looking for a more bioavailable form of DMAE, you may want to look at Centrophenoxine.
Phosphatidylcholine (PC) is a compound found in every cell in the human body. When we consume choline-rich foods or supplements, some of the choline will be used in the synthesis of PC.
This PC is critical for brain cell health, communication between brain cells, and the synthesis of ACh. It also plays a role in our fat metabolism and is important for liver health.
Limited studies have found efficacy of PC supplementation for improved memory in humans, mostly for those who are slow learners. (16) Other studies have found promise for inflammation, cardiovascular disease, bipolar disorder, and liver health.
There have been fewer human studies on the benefits of supplementing with PC instead of with its precursor, choline, in some of the other forms listed above. Other supplements appear to be more bioavailable, particularly when it comes to crossing over the blood-brain barrier.
7. Soy Lecithin
Soy lecithin is a common choline supplement, especially for vegans and vegetarians, who often do not get enough choline through their diets.
This supplement provides a source of choline, although not a highly bioavailable one, or one that easily crosses the blood-brain barrier.
It is known to expedite the breakdown of fats, and may be helpful in promoting weight loss.
As an inexpensive and safe form of choline, soy lecithin is a good choice, however if you are wanting to experience strong cognitive effects, there are better options.
8. Uridine Monophosphate
While most nootropic users understand the importance of including a high-quality choline supplement in their nootropic stack, few understand the benefit of including uridine.
Uridine is found in many foods, including beer, broccoli, and fish.
It is involved in the synthesis of phospholipids, including PC, and neurotransmitters, such as ACh and dopamine. It also increases synaptic plasticity.
Thanks to these effects, studies have found that supplementing with uridine can help to improve many of the same cognitive functions as choline, including memory, learning, mood, attention, and stress. It may even encourage a healthy libido, sleep, and help to protect against age-related cognitive decline.
This drug is especially useful when it comes to its synergistic effects with other drugs, such as those that contain choline or omega-3 fatty acids, such as DHA. These three compounds have been found to boost cognitive functions better together than apart. (17,18,19)
Best Choline Supplement
So what are your best options when it comes to choosing a choline supplement source? If you are looking for a supplement that provides strong nootropic benefits, there are three clear choices:
These three choline sources are the best at crossing the blood-brain barrier. This is where they can boost the synthesis of the learning neurotransmitter, ACh, and help to keep brain cells healthy and communicating with one another well.
If you are looking to add choline to your racetam nootropic stack, you ideally want a highly bioavailable form that will provide sufficient choline to avoid the side effects that can come from these nootropics if you do not have enough choline in your system.
Additionally, each of these supplements is known to provide their own, unique nootropic benefits.
Good Food and Natural Dietary Sources of Choline
Whether or not you supplement, it is a good idea to try and attain choline through your diet as well. Below is a list of some of the best food sources of choline along with the mg choline per serving:
- Beef liver (3 ounces): 356 mg/serving
- Hard boiled egg (1 large): 147 mg/serving
- Roasted soybeans (½ cup): 107 mg/serving
- Roasted chicken breast (3 ounces): 72 mg/serving
- Ground beef, 93% lean (3 ounces): 72 mg/serving
- Atlantic cod (3 ounces): 71 mg/serving
- Shiitake mushrooms (½ cup): 58 mg/serving
- Red baked potato, with skin (1 large): 57 mg/serving
- Toasted wheat germ (1 ounce): 51 mg/serving
- Canned kidney beans (½ cup): 45 mg/serving
- Cooked quinoa (1 cup): 43 mg/serving
- 1% Milk (1 cup): 43 mg/serving
- Nonfat vanilla yogurt (1 cup): 38 mg/serving
- Brussels sprouts (½ cup): 32 mg/serving
- Broccoli (½ cup): 31 mg/serving
- Glycerophosphocholine enhances growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation in young adults https://www.wellnessresources.com/studies/glycerophosphocholine-enhances-growth-hormone-secretion-and-fat-oxidation-i
- L-alpha-glycerophosphocholine contributes to meat’s enhancement of nonheme iron absorption https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18424594
- Modulation of monoaminergic transporters by choline-containing phospholipids in rat brain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23244432
- Therapeutic applications of Citicoline for stroke and cognitive dysfunction in the elderly: a review of the literature http://archive.foundationalmedicinereview.com/publications/9/1/17.pdf
- Evidence that 5’-cytidinediphosphocholine can affect brain phospholipid composition by increasing choline and cytidine plasma levels. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7616250
- Effects of cytidine-5’ diphosphocholine on norepinephrine, dopamine and serotonin synthesis in various regions of the rat brain. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/485720
- Increases in choline levels in rat brain elicited by meclofenoxate https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6806676
- Decreased brain choline uptake in older adults. An in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/389632
- Improved human visuomotor performance and pupil constriction after choline supplementation in a placebo-controlled double-blind study https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4536529/
- Choline bitartrate treatment of Alzheimer-type dementias http://psycnet.apa.org/record/1981-28577-001
- Choline in the treatment of rapid-cycling bipolar disorder: clinical and neurochemical findings in lithium-treated patients https://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/0006-3223(95)00423-8/abstract
- Electron spin resonance spectroscopic demonstration of the hydroxyl free radical scavenger properties of dimethylaminoethanol in spin trapping experiments confirming the molecular basis for the biological effects of centrophenoxine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6099712
- New insights on dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) features as a free radical scavenger https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22300295
- Effect of centrophenoxine on acetylcholine release in perfused cerebral ventricles of cats under dynamic electrophysiological control https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/120108
- Efficacy of dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) containing vitamin-mineral drug combination on EEG patterns in the presence of different emotional states. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12844472
- Effect of phosphatidylcholine on explicit memory https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9377589
- Role of phosphatidylcholine during neuronal differentiation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21818839
- Nutritional modifiers of aging brain function: use of uridine and other phosphatide precursors to increase formation of brain synapses https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00344.x
- Dietary uridine enhances the improvement in learning and memory produced by administering DHA to gerbils https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2574024/