Citicoline: An Impressive Brain Protector and Enhancer

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Last updated January 24, 2024.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

As a brain supplement, citicoline helps raise levels of important neurotransmitters, increase mental energy, and protect the brain from damage and aging.

Citicoline is a nutrient commonly sold as a brain supplement to improve overall mental performance.

But it does much more than that.

Citicoline can boost levels of important neurotransmitters, increase the energy available to the brain, and protect it from foreign substances.

What Is Citicoline?

Citicoline is a naturally occurring compound found in every cell of the body, but it’s particularly important for the brain.

It’s found in very few foods and the best sources are foods not often served in the Western diet, mainly liver and brain.

Some citicoline can be synthesized from the choline found in choline-rich foods like eggs, beef, and seafood. 

But if you want the therapeutic brain benefits of citicoline, you can’t count on getting more from food beyond what your body normally manufactures.

You’ll need to take a supplement.

" Citicoline is so effective at increasing circulation to the brain that doctors throughout Europe have been prescribing it for this reason for years.

When you take a citicoline supplement, it gets broken down into choline and cytidine which are readily absorbed in the intestines

These substances then easily cross the blood-brain barrier where they are re-formed into citicoline. 

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CDP-Choline, Cognizin, and Other Names for Citicoline

Citicoline (cytidine 5’-diphosphocholine) is sold as a supplement in over 70 countries and goes by hundreds of brand names — it can get confusing! 

The most common synonym for citicoline is CDP-choline.

If you search for citicoline supplements online, you’ll find that several contain Cognizin®.

This is the brand name of a patented, highly bioavailable form of citicoline used in some of the better brands of brain supplements.

Cognizin, unlike other sources of citicoline, has been clinically tested in humans.

So far, it has been found to increase motor speed, improve attention, increase energy to the brain, encourage the formation of brain cell membranes, and reduce the impulsiveness of ADHD. 

If you are not in the US, you can find a list of international citicoline brand names on Drugs.com.

Now let’s get on to the exciting stuff — 7 benefits of citicoline for your brain and mental health.

1. Citicoline Raises Levels of Important Brain Chemicals

Brain cells communicate with each other via brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.

Citicoline raises the levels of several important neurotransmitters, including acetylcholine and dopamine

Acetylcholine is the brain chemical associated with memory and learning.

You need acetylcholine to turn short-term memories into long-term ones.

Unfortunately, many prescription drugs are anticholinergic which means that they block the action of acetylcholine.

A good rule of thumb is that any medication that starts with “anti,” such as antihistamines or antidepressants, is likely to affect your acetylcholine levels.

This includes over-the-counter remedies like the antihistamine Benadryl.

If you take any anticholinergic medications, supplementing with citicoline will help normalize your levels of acetylcholine. 

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Dopamine is called the “motivation molecule” since it increases motivation, productivity, and focus.

A low dopamine level can leave you feeling depressed and “blah” with little enthusiasm for life.

People low in this brain chemical often self-medicate with caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants.

They are prone to substance abuse and engage in other risky behaviors to get a dopamine boost.

Taking citicoline is a safe way to increase dopamine naturally.

It works in two ways — by raising the level of dopamine and by increasing the number of dopamine receptors in the brain. 

2. Citicoline Increases Energy Available to the Brain

The brain uses a lot of energy — 20% of the entire body’s daily calorie and oxygen intake. 

But the brain can’t store energy, so it needs a constant supply.

It gets energy, usually in the form of glucose, from blood flowing to the brain.

Citicoline enhances glucose metabolism and increases blood flow to the brain. 

Poor circulation to the brain can cause neurological problems, including memory loss, fatigue, vertigo, and stroke. 

Citicoline is so effective at increasing circulation to the brain that doctors throughout Europe have been prescribing it for this reason for years.

Another way that citicoline increases brain energy is by firing up brain cell mitochondria.

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Taking quality nutritional supplements:
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Every cell in the body and brain gets energy from these cellular powerhouses.

Citicoline specifically increases mitochondrial energy production in the frontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for language, thinking, decision-making, and planning.

3. Citicoline Is a Nootropic

Citicoline is considered a nootropic and is often sold as either a single-ingredient supplement or included in many nootropic brain supplement formulas.

The term nootropic originally meant a substance that enhances learning and memory, is neuroprotective, and is very safe with few side effects. 

Related on Be Brain Fit —
Cognitive Enhancers Compared

But the definition has grown broader to now include any substance, pharmaceutical or natural, that improves mental functions such as memory, intelligence, motivation, attention, and concentration.

One study that compared citicoline to several popular nootropics found that it improved memory and cognition as well as the study drug piracetam

Studies have found that citicoline can significantly improve memory, motor speed, focus, and attention

4. Citicoline Protects the Brain From Harmful Foreign Substances

Every brain cell has a semipermeable membrane that acts as a gatekeeper.

This membrane lets in the nutrients, water, and oxygen that brain cells need to survive, while filtering out harmful foreign substances.

It does this so elegantly and intelligently that it’s been called the “brain of the cell.”

But brain cell membranes can get leaky, letting metabolic waste, heavy metals, toxins, pathogens, and other unwanted invaders into the brain.

Citicoline plays an important role in cell membrane integrity.

It’s the precursor of phosphatidylcholine, a phospholipid that is a major component of brain cell membranes. 

It is also a natural cell membrane stabilizer, which is one of the reasons it’s so useful for treating strokes. 

5. Citicoline Slows Down Brain Cell Aging

Two major underlying causes of cellular aging are free radical damage and inflammation.

Citicoline can offset the harmful effects of both

The brain is under constant attack from free radicals, unattached oxygen molecules that attack cells in much the same way that oxygen attacks metal, causing it to rust.

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Since the brain uses so much oxygen, it’s particularly susceptible to free radical damage (also called oxidative stress).

Free radicals trigger inflammation, a major cause of cellular aging.

Brain inflammation contributes to a wide variety of brain-related conditions, including: 

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • anxiety
  • bipolar disorder
  • brain fog
  • depression
  • memory loss
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • schizophrenia

6. Citicoline Is Used to Treat Serious Neurological Disorders

Since citicoline is sold as a supplement, it may seem like a lightweight remedy, but it was initially used as a prescription medication.

Citicoline was originally synthesized in Japan where it was first used to help stroke victims.

Later, doctors throughout Europe prescribed citicoline for cognitive problems, although it’s now available as a supplement there as well.

Citicoline shows promise in treating a wide variety of neurological conditions, including: 

  • age-related memory loss
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • dementia
  • glaucoma
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • stroke

It can reduce the severity of symptoms resulting from traumatic head injuries.

Healthcare professionals sometimes administer it by injection for enhanced stroke recovery and other cerebrovascular diseases

Here are some of the mechanisms by which citicoline can help even serious neurological disorders: 

  • increases blood flow to the brain
  • protects the brain from further damage
  • builds healthy cell membranes
  • increases neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to continually renew itself
  • increases neurogenesis, the capacity to grow new brain cells
  • increases acetylcholine levels

Acetylcholine plays a key role in Alzheimer’s.

Alzheimer’s patients typically have acetylcholine levels well below what’s considered normal. 

This is why drugs that treat Alzheimer’s, like Aricept, are designed to block the breakdown of acetylcholine.

7. Citicoline Aids Mental Health Disorders

Citicoline positively impacts brain function in some interesting and diverse ways.

It shows promise for treating substance abuse.

By increasing dopamine, citicoline reduces drug cravings in cocaine addicts. 

It helps repair brain cell membranes damaged by cocaine use.

Citicoline changes the brain’s response to food stimuli, which can significantly decrease appetite, making it useful for eating disorders

In patients with schizophrenia, citicoline has improved numerous cognitive functions like processing speed, working memory, verbal learning, and verbal memory. 

Citicoline also exhibits antidepressant properties, especially in early-onset Alzheimer’s patients. 

Citicoline Supplement Dosage, Side Effects, and Interactions

There is no Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for citicoline, but a typical therapeutic dose is 250-2,000 mg daily. 

The tolerable upper intake level (UL) for adults is 3,500 mg per day.

The best citicoline supplements often contain Cognizin, a patented form of citicoline that has been studied in clinical trials.

Brands that contain Cognizin include Mind Lab Pro, BestVite, Jarrow, and Swanson.

Citicoline supplements are well-absorbed and highly bioavailable. 

Citicoline is considered safe for both adults and children.

Reported side effects are unusual, but include insomnia, headache, digestive upset, change in blood pressure, blurred vision, and chest pains. 

High doses over 7,500 mg can cause a fishy body odor

Talk to your doctor before taking citicoline with levodopa, a medication used to treat Parkinson’s disease. 

Citicoline can enhance this drug’s effectiveness and so may require a change in medication dosage. 

Citicoline in Energy Drinks and “Brain” Drinks

Energy drinks which are designed to increase both physical energy and mental alertness have become a multibillion dollar industry

A relatively new subset of energy drinks are “think” drinks which claim to enhance cognitive performance by improving memory, focus, and concentration.

A surprising number of these drinks contain citicoline.

5-Hour ENERGY Shot and C4 Smart Energy Drink are examples of energy drinks that contain citicoline.

NeuroSONIC is a “brain drink” that lists citicoline as a brain-enhancing ingredient, along with caffeine, l-theanine, and alpha-GPC. 

However, energy and brain drinks are not the most reliable or cost-effective ways to get a daily dose of citicoline.

According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, any performance enhancement from energy drinks comes from sugar and caffeine, not from other added ingredients. 

Additionally, there’s a growing concern about the safety of these drinks.

Commonly reported side effects of energy drinks include insomnia, headache, heart palpitations, irritability, chest pain, and digestive upset, mainly due to too much caffeine. 

For these reasons, we recommend getting citicoline from a supplement, rather than from a bottle or can.

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