Choline Explained

June 12, 2021

The world is moving faster and more stressful than it has ever been. People are living longer and need their brain functions to remain intact as they go through the aging process. As such, it is important to maintain the health of the brain and central nervous system to maintain a high quality of life. Recently, a subset of dietary supplements known as nootropics have grown tremendously in popularity. Sometimes referred to as “smart drugs”, the term broadly applies to synthetic compounds, including prescription drugs, as well as naturally derived substances available in the aforementioned dietary supplements. Nootropic supplements contain a wide variety of ingredients with different benefits for the brain. Many of these supplements contain choline or choline-boosting ingredients. In this article, we will discuss what choline is, why it is important, and the best forms to take to boost brain function and brain health.

What is Choline?

Choline is an essential micronutrient that is available in certain foods and as a dietary supplement. Choline is so important to proper functioning that choline and acetylcholine levels are often used to assess long-term cognitive health. The body can synthesis small amounts of choline within the liver, but not enough to avoid a deficiency. Choline provides methyl groups for many steps in the metabolic process. The body needs choline to synthesize phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, two phospholipids essential for cellular membranes. Phosphatidylcholine also acts as a storage molecule of choline for acetylcholine production. Choline can also be directly converted into acetylcholine for use as a neurotransmitter. Acetylcholine is involved in memory, mood, muscle control, and other brain and nervous system functions. Acetylcholine one of the main neurotransmitters in the brain and facilitates communication between neurons and within the neuromuscular junction. Other uses of choline include gene expression, cell membrane signaling, lipid transport, and metabolism. Individuals likely to suffer from choline deficiency include endurance athletes, alcoholics, postmenopausal and pregnant women. Adequate choline intake is especially important for pregnant women as choline is vital in the early stages of brain development.

What are Sources of Dietary Choline?

As previously mentioned, humans can synthesis a small amount of choline in the liver (mainly as phosphatidylcholine) but not enough to prevent a deficiency. The need for choline also increases if the body is deficient in the B-vitamin folate as choline becomes the primary methyl donor. As such, humans need to turn to dietary sources for choline intake. Choline can be found in a wide variety of foods such as beef (especially liver), chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, cauliflower, broccoli, and soybeans. Adding choline-rich foods to your diet is a smart move to lessen the risk of choline deficiency. This dietary choline can fulfill the choline needs of the body, but most dietary choline sources are not able to cross the blood-brain barrier. This, and for other reasons including food availability and dietary restrictions lead many to dietary nootropic supplements to satisfy the choline requirements in the brain. When it comes to choline in nootropic supplements, there are several forms to choose from. The most popular choline sources are choline bitartrate, citicoline, and L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, more commonly known as Alpha-GPC.

The first form of choline is choline bitartrate. It is the simplest, cheapest, and most choline-dense form of supplemental choline. This ingredient is very popular but suffers from one major downfall. Choline bitartrate is not effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier. It may be a good source of choline for bodily functions, but for the brain, its effectiveness is so poor that for all intents and purposes this ingredient simply does not work.

Second on our list is Alpha-GPC. Similar to choline bitartrate, Alpha-GPC is a very choline-dense form of supplemental choline. In fact, Alpha-GPC is only 1% less dense (40% vs. 41%) than choline bitartrate. However, Alpha-GPC differentiates itself from choline bitartrate in that it is very effective at crossing the blood-brain barrier. Alpha-GPC is a naturally occurring compound that can be found mostly in red and organ meat. The amount of Alpha-GPC present in food sources is very small so it is often consumed instead from dietary supplements. This form of choline is also very popular with athletes. There is evidence that Alpha-GPC increases growth hormone secretion and fat oxidation. This ingredient is often included in pre-workout and sports nutrition supplements.

The third source of choline on our list is citicoline. Citicoline (cytidine diphosphocholine) not only supplies choline that is able to cross the blood-brain barrier, it is also a source of cytidine, a precursor to the nucleotide uridine. Uridine a key factor in synaptic strength and neural connectivity, a powerful nootropic on its own. While citicoline is less choline dense than alpha-GPC (18% vs. 40%), the combination of choline and cytidine (uridine) provide significant cognitive enhancement that go beyond that of choline itself. Citicoline potentially improves acetylcholine production and dopamine release. Uridine may aid in the proliferation and maintenance of neural synapses, potentially reducing the occurrence and severity of neurodegenerative conditions. Additionally, supplementing with citicoline has been shown to increase ATP and phosphocreatine production.

Products That Contain Choline

Now that we’ve reviewed the three main sources of dietary choline, you may be asking yourself which one you should be taking. If your diet already consists of choline-rich foods, it’d be best to steer clear of choline bitartrate. If you could only choose between Alpha-GPC and citicoline, citicoline offers more bang for your buck in terms of overall brain-boosting benefits. Fortunately, we see the benefits of both Alpha-GPC and citicoline so we’ve included them both in our Brain Food nootropic supplement. This supplement includes 500mg of Alpha-GPC (50%) and 500mg of Cognizin, a patented, proven form of citicoline. We also include 500mg of Alpha-GPC (50%) in our Initiate pre-workout supplement to take advantage of benefits to athletes.