Choline is an essential nutrient. It is needed for several bodily processes, the most important being proper brain cell function and development. The central role choline plays in the functioning of the brain is why practically every nootropic on the market today contains some form of choline or choline analogue (we call these substances cholinergics).
But what is the best form of choline to take? Which is the best choline supplement to take for enhancing cognitive function?
There are, after all, dozens of nootropics out there claiming to contain the best possible sources of choline. All of the top nootropics and smart drugs claim to use the highest-quality form of choline you can buy. They can’t all be telling the truth, right?
In this article, we are going to take a deep dive into choline supplements. We will look at the most popular form of choline used in nootropic supplements today – Alpha-GPC, Citicoline, and Choline Bitartrate – to find out which is right for you. We will then give you our recommended stack for boosting acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine.
Our Current #1 Rated Choline Supplement: NooCube
NooCube is our top rated nootropic stack right now, and it is the single best complete daily nootropic our review team have ever tried. This nootropic combines 13 powerful cognitive enhancers to deliver a single stack for total brain optimization. Each serving provides a large dose of both Alpha-GPC and Huperzine A. Together, these natural nootropics rapidly increase acetylcholine levels in the brain, leading to increased focus, working memory function and processing speeds. NooCube also increases phosphatidylcholine levels, which promotes brain cell health.
The ingredients in NooCube have been proven to:
- Sharpen focus and concentration
- Improve memory retention and recall
- Boost motivation and mood
- Protect brain cells from oxidative stress
- Increase procesisng speeds and reduce reaction times
- Promote brain cell repair and development
NooCube is an all-in-one daily nootropic and a fantastic choline supplement. We think it is ideal for people who want a single brain supplement stack to take care of every aspect of cognitive enhancement and brain health. But perhaps the best thing about NooCube is the price.
NooCube offers the best value for money of any nootropic supplement on the market today. Each bottle of NooCube costs just $29.99 when you opt for the multibox deal. Other nootropics with similar ingredients and dosages (e.g. Mind Lab Pro or Alpha Brain) will set you back up to $70 a month!
What Does Choline Do?
Choline is a really important nutrient for the human body. It is needed for the metabolism of phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, two phospholipids used to create cell membranes.
Choline has a range of other functions in the body, such as helping to remove fat from the liver. But its most important job from our perspective is actually as a building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter, and an extremely important one at that. It is the main neurotransmitter in the parasympathetic nervous system (which runs the “feed and breed” body functions), the sympathetic nervous system (the “fight or flight” system), and by extension is a major neurotransmitter for the autonomic nervous system.
Acetylcholine is also the main executive neurotransmitter in the human central nervous system. This is the area that we are most interested in when it comes to nootropic enhancement. So what does that mean exactly?
It means that acetylcholine is used to carry out all of the brain’s executive cognitive functions, which include:
- Muscle contraction
- Information processing
- Decision making
- Focus and attention
- Learning and memory formation
Because acetylcholine acts as both a neuromodulator and neurotransmitter at various different places in the brain, it has a wide range of effects on cognition. Aside from executive cognitive functions, acetylcholine is also thought to affect arousal and motivation (as the areas of the brain responsible for these things have cholinergic areas which respond to acetylcholine).
Increasing choline levels in the brain is known to correlate with an increase in both phosphatidylcholine and acetylcholine. But what do these increases in brain chemicals actually mean for you and your day-to-day mental performance?
Nootropic Benefits of Choline
What are the actual, observed effects of elevated choline levels in the brain?
We’ve spoken about what choline does in the body and how it interacts with the brain, but we haven’t really touched on the benefits associated with increasing choline levels in the brain and how it relates to cognitive impairment.
So what do the best choline supplements actually do? What are the benefits of choline supplementation for healthy adults? What can choline supplementation do for older adults?
The main benefits associated with using good quality choline supplements are:
- Increased focus and concentration
- Improved learning capacity
- Faster decision making
- Accelerated information processing speeds
- Better working memory function
- Increased mental energy
These are the central benefits associated with taking choline analogues or cholinergics as they are also known. These nootropic benefits largely come from having elevated acetylcholine availability in the brain, which leads to improved overall executive cognitive function. More acetylcholine means more raw brainpower – simple as that!
There are also long-term benefits associated with choline. As mentioned above, choline is also used to make phosphatidylcholine, which is a key component of brain cell membranes. More choline therefore means you can make new brain cells faster, and take better care of your existing brain cells when their membranes are damaged.
There are then other, ‘peripheral benefits’ associated with different cholinergics. Each choline supplement has its own unique benefits and adverse effects that result from its particular structure.
Here is a more detailed look at the benefits of choline supplementation:
Taking a high-qualty choline supplement is known to rapidly increase focus and concentration. This happens because supplementary choline allows the brain to make more of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Elevated acetylcholine levels invariably means faster mental processing, better working memory, and much better focus.
The effects on memory of choline supplementation are well documented by clinical trials. Cohort studies have found that people with choline-rich diets perform better in memory tests than control groups. Supplemnts with a high choline content have enormously beneficial effects on memory performance. This effect is most pronouncd in elderly adults and those showing signs of mild cognitive impairment, but it is also observed in healthy adults.
At least one study on Citicoline found that the cholinergic increased brain energy levels by 13-14%. Citicoline appears to acutely increase mitochondria in your brain cells. This makes your brain cells more efficient at metabolizing energy.
Choline is essential for brain development. As well as during pregnancy (see below), choline is needed for brain cell maintenance and development throughout life. Choline is needed for brain cell membrane formation. As well as boosting production of acetylcholine, choline supplements increase phosphatidylcholine production. This is a vital component of brain structures. Many of the long-term mental performance benefits of choline supplementation are the result of increased phosphatidylcholine production.
Choline For Pregnant Women?
Many dietary supplements created for pregnant women contain a lot of choline. Choline is needed for many vital bodily functions, but it is even more important during the earliest stages of life when the nervous system and organs are first developing. Most pregnant women eat a diet with little choline content, which can hinder brain development of the fetus. This is why choline supplements are strongly recommended for pregnant women.
In fact, recent studies have found that prenatal choline supplementation improved sustained attention in 7 year old children. So choline supplements clearly have a lasting impact!
Which choline supplement you use is really something for your doctor to help you decide. We strongly recommend using a prenatal multivitamin which contains a sensible dose of choline. Do not use nootropics designed for cognitive enhancement to get your choline while pregnant.
Choline For Fatty Liver Disease?
A link has been found between choline deficiency and fatty liver disease. People with low daily choline intake have a higher incidence of fatty liver disease, and taking supplementary choline has been found to protect against liver damage and prevent fatty liver disease.
However, if you already have impaired liver function or a fatty liver, choline supplements likely will no help unless prescribed by your doctor. Choline supports good liver health but it cannot reverse liver damage.
Let’s go through some of the most popular sources of choline used in nootropics and as standalone choline supplements. Below are what we blieve to be the three best sources of choline to use in a nootropic stack today.
Comparing Different Types of Choline Supplements
As we have already said, choline is an essential nutrient. It is naturally occurring in food, but many people fail to get enough choline every day to maintain optimal brain health and cognitive performance. Thankfully, choline supplements are there to make up the difference.
Of course, not all choline supplements are the same. Some types of choline supplements are far superior to others in terms of their quality, purity, price, and how they promote cognitive function and brain health.
We have identified three cholinergics which we believe to be the most effective forms of choline you can take for enhancing cognition, promoting brain health, and boosting mental energy. These are Alpha-GPC, Citicoline and Choline Bitartrate. Below is a breakdown of each choline supplement and their main benefits (and negatives).
Citicoline is, in our opinion, the single most effective nootropic for quickly enhancing overall cognitive function. Also known as CDP-Choline, Citicoline is the most efficient cholinergic for raising acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine levels in the brain. There are dozens of randomized trials (using human subjects) which show that Citicoline use significantly improves focus, learning, mental energy and processing speeds.
Citicoline is about 18% choline by weight. So in each 100 milligrams of Citicoline there are about 18 milligrams of choline. This may not seem like a lot, but Citicoline is the most bioavailable form of oral choline supplement. As little as 150mg of Citicoline per day is known to have significant effects on cognitive performance and brain health.
Some studies have shown that Citicoline can help prevent brain damage resulting from traumatic brain injury. The cytidine content in Citicoline promotes proper RNA formation, which supports healthy brain cell generation and maintenance.
The most effective citicoline supplement on the market is Cognizin. This is the purest, most potent Citicoline supplement in existence. However, all Citicoline is generally high-quality and effective for cognitive enhancement.
Like Citicoline, Alpha-GPC is a highly bioavailable choline supplement. Alongside Citicoline is it the most bioavailable form of oral choline supplement you can currently buy on the market.
Numerous clinical trials have shown that taking Alpha-GPC significant improves several different measures of cognitive performance, including focus, learning, mental energy, and information processing speeds. People who take Alpha-GPC usually find that they can take in information faster, process it more rapidly, and make decisions quicker.
Like Citicoline, Alpha-GPC supports long-term brain health, and some research suggests that large doses of Alpha-GPC (1000-1200mg per day) may be effective for ayttenuating cognitive decline in the elderly.
Alpha-GPC is about 40% choline by weight. This means that every 100mg of Alpha-GPC delivers 40 milligrams of choline. Similar to Citicoline, Alpha-GPC has many ‘peripheral’ benefits stemming from the non-choline component of the compound. Alpha-GPC is, effectively, a phospholipid with choline attached. The phospholipid content of Alpha-GPC can be used to create new brain cell membranes, thereby supporting long-term brain health and cognitive performance.
While Alpha-GPC contains more choline than Citicoline by weight, it it not more bioavailable. Taking 200mg of Citicoline will produce far greater results than taking the same dose of Alpha-GPC. The difference is in how each compound crosses the blood-brain barrier, how it is metabolised within the brain, and how the other parts of the compound are used by brain cells.
In terms of enhancing cognitive performance, choline bitartrate is the least effective of our three chosen choline supplements. It is not a particularly bioavailable choline supplement, as evidenced from the larger minimum active dose and the fact that users typically feel fewer effects than they do when using Citicoline or Alpha-GPC. However, this is not to say that choline bitartrate is not a good supplement for boosting choline levels.
Several clinical trials have found that supplementing with choline bitartrate results in rapid increases in concentration, focus, learning, and processing speeds. In larger doses, choline bitartrate is thought to help prevent the onset of age-related cognitive decline (although much more research is needed here).
The problem with choline bitratrate is that it is nowhere near as powerful as Citicoline or Alpha-GPC on a gram for gram basis. As a rule of thumb, you typically need to take about 600mg of choline bitartrate to get the same effects as 150mg of Citicoline.
Choline bitartrate also lacks the kind of secondary, peripheral benefits you get with Citicoline and Alpha-GPC. For example, there’s no extra brain cell health support like we get from the other choline supplements. Nor do any studies show rapid increases in mental energy like we see with Citicoline.
Can You Just Take Regular Choline?
In an ideal world, dietary sources would make up all of your daily choline intake. With a diet packed full of choline-dense foods, your choline intake should be sufficient to maintain healthy levels of choline in the brain.
In reality, you are highly unlikely to get enough choline to support optimal cognitive performance from dietary choline alone. Trying to drastically increase your choline intake from food alone can actually be harmful to health for a number of reasons.
Some of the richest dietary sources of choline include beef liver, eggs, shrimp, pork chops, and organ meats. Eating more of these foods every day will raise blood levels of choline, but it will also raise your cholesterol levels, sodium levels, saturated fat levels, and heme iron levels – none of these things are good!
The choline found in food is also not particularly bioavailable. You do not digest and absorb every bit of choline that you consume. What you do absorb may not find its way to the brain, as choline is also used by the enteric nervous system in the gut.
So what about taking straight oral choline supplements?
Unfortunately, supplementing with straight choline is not associated with the same benefits as those associated with the cholinergics listed above.
It seems that taking a supplement of plain choline does not signficiantly raise choline availability in the brain. This is because choline does not easily cross the blood brain barrier; the brain wants to keep all of its choline from leaving! That’s why we use cholinergics like Citicoline and Alpha-GPC.
What About Choline From Food?
Can’t you just source your choline from food?
Food sources of choline are plentiful. Very large doses of choline are found in eggs, nuts and dairy products, as well as fish and certain meats. Extremely high choline concentrations are found in organ meats.
However, no foods can raise plasma choline concentrations in the brain enough to produce measurable nootropic benefits. To reach adequate choline levels in the brain to see improvements in focus, learning and attention, you need to use high quality choline supplements.
On top of that, eating lots of extra dairy products, rare steak and organ meats is not going to be very good for heart health!
Choline Dosage: How many milligrams of choline per day?
What is the best choline intake for brain health and cognitive enhancement?
This is a very interesting question without a single, clear, fixed answer. How many milligrams of choline per day you need to consume to maintain optimal cognitive performance and long-term brain health is a hotly debated topic. One thing is for certain though: dietary intake of choline is unlikely to be sufficient to support optimal cognitive development.
For that reason, most people will need to use choline supplements to maximize their choline levels.
The ideal intake of choline per day that you should aim for depends on your circumstances, your goals, and your diet, as well as the type of choline supplement you are using.
Obviously, if you think you have a choline deficiency, you need to dramatically increase your intake of choline, ideally through supplements. Taking 200-300mg of Citicoline (providing about 50mg of bioavailable choline) is an effective way to mitigate the negative effects of choline deficiency, such as impaired brain health and cognitive decline.
If you are using Citicoline, the single most bioavailabel choline supplement, you can expect significant improvements in brain function with 200-250mg per day. People using Citicoline daily should stick to the lower end of the dosing recommendation (200mg) so as to avoid excessive buildups and side effects.
The recommended dose for Alpha-GPC is 300-400mg per day. The slighlty larger dose is needed to produce similar effects as 200-250mg of Citicoline as Alpha-GPC appears ot be slightly less bioavailable. Using more than 400mg of Alpha-GPC per day produces diminishing returns and significantly increases the chances of side effects.
For choline bitartrate, even larger doses are needed to obtain the same effects. The minimum active dose of choline bitartrate appears to be around 400-500mg. To see significant improvements in focus, learning and memory, users are recommended to take 750-1000mg per day. Some clinical trials have used doses up to 3000mg, but this does not seem to produce meaningfully better results than 750-1000mg.
What is the Best Source of Choline?
So what is the single best source of choline? What is the best form of choline to take?
To raise intakes of choline, the most effective thing to do is to prioritize the use of the most bioavailable cholinergics.
As explained above, consuming regular choline (either through supplements or through food) will raise choline levels, but nowhere near as efficiently as cholinergics. This is how bioavailability works; you can consume thousands of milligrams of choline, but if it can’t get into your brain, it is of no use for cognitive enhancement!
The single most effective supplement for raising brain choline availability is Citicoline.
A close second is Alpha-GPC. Either of these cholinergics will quickly increase acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine levels in the brain.
If you are looking to enhance overall cognitive performance and brain health, then you should look for a nootropic supplement which delivers a large dose of Citicoline, or at least Alpha-GPC. The best nootropics on the market today all provide large doses of Citicoline or Alpha-GPC. Using these supplements is the best way to supplement with choline for cognitive enhancement.
Brian Johnson is current Editor of Vagarights.com and a long-time writer for VAGA. A former psychologist, Brian is passionate about improving mental health and finding ways to stave off cognitive decline. He is an expert on nootropics, cognitive enhancement and biohacking more broadly. You can see his work on Google scholar.