CDP-Choline (aka Citicoline) and Alpha-GPC are two of the most popular choline supplements on the market today.
Alpha-GPC and Citicoline have different benefits and effects in the brain. Alpha-GPC works faster than CDP-Choline in some studies, while CDP-Choline is likely more effective for enhancing focus, learning and mental energy. Citicoline may also protect the brain from injury, while Alpha-GPC appears to be highly effective for promoting brain cell development and repair.
CDP-Choline is used as a central ingredient in many of today’s most powerful and effective nootropics; you will see it listed variously as CDP-Choline, Citicoline, Cognizin (a branded form), and Citicoline sodium. Alpha-GPC is also an extremely popular and widely used ingredient in pre-made nootropic stacks. It is one of the main active ingredients in both Alpha Brain and NooCube, and like Citicoline it is frequently used as a standalone supplement for enhancing brain health and cognitive performance.
Today there is much debate about the relative effectiveness of CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC. But is one ultimately better than the other? Is Citicoline better than Alpha-GPC? Which is the best natural nootropic for promoting brain health and cognitive function? Do Citicoline and Alpha-GPC have different benefits?
In this article, we are going to compare Citicoline and Alpha-GPC. We will look at each nootropic compound individually, exploring the benefits, dosages and side effects, before comparing CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC directly. We will then tell you which wins the battle of Citicoline vs Alpha-GPC. Please post your questions in the comments section at the end.
What is Citicoline?
Citicoline, also known as CDP-Choline, cytidine diphosphate-choline or cytidine 5′-diphosphocholine, is a naturally occuring brain chemical. It is produced when the brain turns choline into phosphatidylcholine, and as a byproduct is itself used to create acetylcholine.
For those of you who don’t know, choline is an essential nutrient. It is vitally important for several different bodily functions, from the creation of brain cell membranes to controlling the autonomic nervous system and muscle movement.
There are many different forms of choline used as supplements to support healthy choline levels. Of these, Citicoline is the single most bioavailable and, in our opinion, the most broadly effective.
The actual choline content of citicoline is only about 20-25%. However, the compound is more effective at raising levels of choline in the brain than simple choline itself. This is because choline does not readily cross the blood brain barrier, whereas citicoline does.
The other part of Citicoline, aside from the choline, is cytidine. Cytidine is a building block of RNA. As such, it is essential for the creation of new cells and the nucleus within them. Supplementing with cytidine has its own benefits which we will come to below.
You may see Citicoline listed as Cognizin on the ingredients list of some nootropics. This is a patented, branded form of Citicoline. In reality, there is minimal difference between Cognizin and generic Citicoline in terms of bioavailability.
What is Citicoline used for?
Citicoline is used for cognitive enhancement, although it has many other uses. Citicoline may help memory loss due to aging, enhance focus and learning in adolescents, improve vision in people with glaucoma, and help with recovery in stroke patients. Citicoline is also used for the treatment of Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, bipolar disorder, lazy eye, and other conditions of the brain.
What are the main benefits of Citicoline?
Most of the benefits associated with the use of Citicoline come from its effect on the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
As mentioned in our article on the best choline supplements, acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter in the autonomic and sympathetic nervous systems (responsible for things like muscle movements, digestion, breathing, etc), and it is the main executive neurotransmitter in the central nervous system.This means it is responsible for things like speech, working memory, focus, information processing, and decision making.
We know from clinical trial after clinical trial that Citicoline effectively raises acetylcholine availability in the brain. This is why randomized trials have found that Citicoline is a powerful cognitive enhancer, esepcially with regard to executive cognitive functions.
More specifically, Citicoline has been shown to reduce brain fog, sharpen focus, enhance working memory, boost mental energy at the cellular level (by increasing ATP), and helping to attenuate the symptoms of cognitive decline.
One major benefit of Citicoline that often gets overlooked is its ability to protect against traumatic brain injury (TBI) related brain damage, as well as brain damage associated with stroke. Whether this is due to Citicoline’s effects on phosphatidylcholine levels, ATP levels in the brains, or RNA production isn’t clear. But however it works, Citicoline clearly helps prevent cognitive impairment following TBI and stroke.
What is Alpha-GPC?
Alpha-GPC is a shorthand name for L-Alpha Glycerylphosphorylcholine. It is a naturally occurring choline compound found in the brain, where it is a precursor in the synthesis of acetylcholine.
Like Citicoline, Alpha-GPC is a highly bioavailable form of choline supplement.
Alpha-GPC is an incredibly rich choline source; it is around 40% choline by weight, which is much more than Citicoline’s 20-25% choline content. However, the research suggests that Citicoline is slightly more effective than Alpha-GPC, probably owing ot the fact that it is better at crossing the blood brain barrier than Citicoline. That said, Alpha-GPC is still incredible effective at crossing the blood brain barrier and increasing acetylcholine levels in the brain, much more so than choline bitartrate or simple choline. This is why Alpha-GPC is said to be better than choline bitartrate.
Alpha-GPC is arguably more effective at increasing acetylcholine than Citicoline, since it is a direct biosynthetic precursor of acetylcholine. It is well tolerated and rarely causes any side effects whatsoever. There are no known drug interactions with Alpha-GPC, and it is not thought to have any long-term health effects.
Alpha GPC Benefits
So what are the main benefits of Alpha-GPC?
Again, similar to Citicoline, Alpha-GPC’s main beneficial effects are associated with its effects on acetylcholine levels in the brain. In more than one double-blind placebo-controlled study, Alpha-GPC supplementation has been shown to enhance focus, learning and working memory. In one observational study, researchers found that Alpha-GPC helped improve cognition in people with cognitive disorders, while other studies have found that it may help with age related decline in cognitive faculties.
As well as helping to maintain proper brain function, Alpha-GPC has other benefits. Because Alpha-GPC is a direct intermediary in the synthesis of acetylcholine, it can also be used by the brain to make more phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine. These two phospholipids help maintain the structural integrity of brain cells. Increasing the availability of these compounds is linked with improved cognitive performance over the long-term.
On top of cognitive benefits, Alpha-GPC supplementation is also linked with improvements in athletic performance. Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter responsible for controlling muscle movement. More acetylcholine means better mind-muscle connection, improved hand-eye coordination, and faster reactions.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of Alpha-GPC and Citicoline, it is time to compare their benefits and see how Citicoline and Alpha-GPC are different.
Differences Between Citicoline and Alpha GPC Benefits
Alpha-GPC and CDP-Choline are more similar than they are different. Both of them quickly cross the blood brain barrier and deliver a significant amount of choline. Both raise acetylcholine levels, which broadly enhances cognitive function across focus, learning, memory function, and reaction times.
Both CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC also enhance physical performance (since acetylcholine is what controls muscle movement). Both also support long-term brain cell health by boosting phosphatidylcholine levels.
Neither nootropic is associated with any real adverse effects. Both CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC are deemed safe to take in relatively large doses. There are no known drug interactions with either Alpha-GPC or CDP-Choline. Users of these nootropics very rarely report even mild side effects.
But there are differences between Citicoline and Alpha-GPC.
In one of the only comparative studies ever carried out on Citicoline and Alpha-GPC, researchers found that after administration of Citicoline, “plasma choline levels showed a similar time course but were considerably lower than those observed after the administration of Alpha-GPC”. In other words, Alpha-GPC actually leads to a greater increase in blood choline levels than Citicoline when both cholinergics are dosed the same.
At the same time, there are many studies showing significantly greater improvements in broad cognitive performance from Citicoline use compared to Alpha-GPC. How can that be the case when Alpha-GPC delivers more choline to the blood?
The answer is that plasma choline levels are not as important as brain choline levels. A huge determinant of the effectiveness of any nootropic is how well it crosses the blood brain barrier. If the choline can’t enter the brain, it can’t help your cognition! Citicoline appears to be more effective than Alpha-GPC when it comes to crossing the blood brain barrier, meaning you can use a lower dose to get the same effects.
Citicoline is arguably better than Alpha-GPC for raising mental energy levels. Studies show that Citicoline consumption increases the number of mitochondria in brain cells. This means your brain cells can metabolise energy much more efficiently, which is why you will often see “enhanced brain metabolism” listed as a benefit of CDP-Choline.
Citicoline is also known to protect brain cells from damage from traumatic brain injury (TBI) and stroke; something that you can’t say about Alpha-GPC. Researchers have found that the pre-emptive and acute use of Citicoline in patients who suffered TBI helped preserve healthy brain function and reduced cognitive impairment.
Observational studies and clinical trials also suggest that Citicoline may reduce the risk of heart disease and fatty liver disease, as well as help treat fatty liver disease in some instances. However, much more work is needed before we can draw strong conclusions here!
Alpha-GPC, by comparison, is likely more effective for the targeted treatment of cognitive decline. Several clinical trials have found that Alpha-GPC is likely effective for improving cognitive function in cases of age-related cognitive decline or impairment, including in patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. This is not to say that Citicoline is ineffective in the context of cognitive decline, it is just that Alpha-GPC has been studied in this context far more thoroughly.
Some clinical trials appear to show that Alpha-GPC is also faster-acting than Citicoline. People often report experiencing benefits from Alpha-GPC in just 30 minutes compared to around an hour for Citicoline.
Then there are the peripheral benefits. This is where Citicoline really comes into its own. There are few benefits associated with the non-choline part of Alpha-GPC, whereas the cytidine component of Citicoline is potentially a nootropic in and of itself as it supports healthy brain cell formation.
Can you take Alpha-GPC and Citicoline together?
Both Citicoline and Alpha-GPC work primarily by increasing acetylcholine synthesis. They both work in roughly the same way; by crossing the blood brain barrier and delivering usable choline to the brain. While they both have unique benefits associated with their non-chlline content, this is mainly how they work. Doubling up on cholinergics like that is both absolutely pointless and likely to cause adverse effects. We strongly advise against taking CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC together. Just pick the right choline supplement for you and go with it!
Which is better Alpha GPC or CDP-choline?
Neither Alpha-GPC nor Citicoline is better than the other. Each has its own unique benefits and drawbacks which need to be evaluated alongside your own specific needs and goals.
Alpha-GPC is likely better than Citicoline when it comes to treating age-related cognitive decline, since there is much more research on the compound in this context.
On the other hand, Citicoline is better than Alpha-GPC for enhancing cognitive function on a day-to-day basis as it boosts mental energy as well as enhancing focus, memory and learning.
Rather than worrying about whether Citicoline is better than Alpha-GPC or vice versa, it is much more prudent to worry about the quality of the nootropic you are taking. Taking high quality nootropics from reputable manufacturers is more important than the actual type (when using highly effective cholinergics like this).You don’t need to use branded forms like Cognizin or AlphaSize to see benefits, but you should look for a pure cholinergic from a reputable source.
It is also much more important to consider the other natural nootropics you are taking with Alpha-GPC or Citicoline. Both CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC, in whatever form you use, are more effective when used alongside other nootropics which improve mental performance and brain health in different ways.
What is the Best Choline Supplement?
There are hundreds of dietary supplements on the market today promising to boost brain function by raising acetylcholine levels.
However, in most cases, these supplements will use a low quality source of choline, such as choline bitartrate. Some brain supplements like Onnit Alpha Brain will deliver very small amounts of choline per serving while claiming to be “powerful nootropics”. Some popular nootropics like Neuriva Brain Performance will not contain any choline at all!
So what is the best choline supplement on the market right now?
If your goal is to sharpen focus, accelerate information processing and boost memory function, then we strongly recommend using a comprehensive nootropic stack which combines either Citicoline or Alpha-GPC with a handful of other nootropics known to enhance cognition in different ways.
Our current top rated nootropics all use either high quality Citicoline or Alpha-GPC alongside a handful of other nootropics proven to enhance focus, memory, learning, and long-term brain health.
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.