Choline bitartrate is a common ingredient in pre-made nootropic stacks. You will most often find choline bitartrate in the brain supplements sold on Amazon or through high street retailers.
Generally speaking, choline bitartrate is not used by professional-grade, high-quality nootropics. These supplements tend to use more potent choline analogues like Citicoline or Alpha-GPC.
The general consensus today is that choline bitartrate is a weak cholinergic and an altogether ineffective nootropic.
But how true is this thinking?
Is choline bitartrate a good nootropic?
Does it improve cognitive performance?
In this article we’re going to answer these questions in as much detail as we can. We’ll explain what choline bitartrate is, how it works, and how effective it is for boosting brain power. We’ll highlight the main studies published on choline bitartrate and discuss what they tell us. We’ll also discuss any choline bitartrate side effect risks.
What is choline bitartrate?
Choline bitartrate is a cholinergic.
This is the name we give to substances which contain choline, and which raise brain choline availability when consumed. Other substances classed as cholinergics include Citicoline and Alpha-GPC, which most of you have probably heard of before.
Choline bitartrate is 41% choline by weight. This makes it the most choline-rich cholinergic used in nootropics today. That isn’t necessarily a good thing – more on that later!
Choline bitartrate is a naturally-occurring molecule; it is found in lecithin, which means it is found in many foods including eggs, grains, nuts, and animal organs.
Today, you are most likely to see choline bitartrate on the ingredients list of a nootropic supplement.
Over the last few years, choline bitartrate has become more widely-used by nootropics manufacturers. As mentioned above, you will not find choline bitartrate in top-tier nootropics. But it is a common ingredient in basic, low-quality nootropics.
In any case, choline bitartrate is a choline donor. It is used to raise choline availability in the brain. But why do we want to raise choline levels in the brain?
Benefits of Raising Choline
What are the benefits of having more choline available in the brain?
Choline is an essential nutrient. That means we need to consume it or we’ll get sick and eventually die.
Luckily for us, choline is found in a wide range of readily-available foods. The best dietary sources of choline include:
- Whole milk
- Kidney beans
- Beef liver
- Whole eggs
We could go on; choline is highly prevalent in the normal human diet.
Choline has several vital functions in the human body.
It is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
It is also needed to make two classes of phospholipids necessary for cell membrane formation.
In other words, without sufficient choline intake, you wont be able to make enough acetylcholine to carry out executive cognitive functions. Nor will you be able to make enough phosphatidylcholine to build new cell membranes.
Choline deficiency is so rare that it can be said to be virtually non-existent. You would have to be eating an absurdly restricted diet to be deficient in choline.
However, few people have optimal levels of choline.
So, to mazimize brain health and performance, people try to raise choline availability with substances like choline bitartrate.
What does choline bitartrate do?
Choline bitartrate is a cholinergic.
That means it acts as a choline donor.
In theory, the choline bitartrate you consume will be absorbed in the gut and transported to the brain. Once there, the choline component of choline bitartrate will be released and used to make either phosphatidylcholine or acetylcholine.
If you raise phosphpatidylcholine, you promote good brain cell health, neuron proliferation, and synapse repair. This has wide-ranging ramifications for memory, learning, and cognitive decline.
Raising acetylcholine levels will bring about dramatic improvements in focus, information processing speed, reaction times, and memory recall.
However, note that we said “in theory”.
In reality, choline bitartrate does not do any of this particularly well.
Does choline bitartrate really work?
In our opinion, choline bitartrate is not an effective nootropic at all.
Having looked at the clinical evidence, the anecdotal evidence, and having tried it ourselves, we can only conclude that choline bitartrate is – at best – a weak cholinergic.
Choline bitartrate is nowhere near as effective at raising brain choline availability as other cholinergics (such as Citicoline or Alpha-GPC).
This is because choline bitartrate cannot easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
The choline bitartrate you consume is absorbed well by the gut (as all choline sources are). Some of it is used by the enteric nervous system in the gut, and a fair bit of it does end up at the brain.
However, it isn’t able to actually increase brain choline levels by a considerable degree.
Molecules like CDP-Choline and Alpha-GPC have structures which allow them to pass into to brain very easily. So when you consume these substances, the vast majorty of wht you consume ends up in the brain making a difference to your cognitive performance.
Choline bitartrate does not have a structure which allows it to readily cross the blood-brain barrier.
Hence why it is such an ineffective nootropic!
How effective is choline bitartrate?: A look at the clinical studies
Time to stop beating around the bush – let’s look at some choline bitartrate studies to see how much of an effect it really has on memory, focus, and learning.
Does choline bitartrate really work?
Numerous studies have looked at choline bitartrate’s ability to enhance cognition. Most of them have returned results that are less than promising.
In one trial, published in the Canadian Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology in 1986, found that choline bitartrate supplementation was unable to increase brain acetylcholine levels (source).
The researchers in that study did find that choline bitartrate did prevent the depletion of acetylcholine levels during periods of unusually high neuron firing.
However, this is nothing to get too excited about. If you’re looking to enhance cognition, you want to raise choline availability to super-physiological levels.
Other studies on choline bitartrate have found similar results.
In this trial, researchers found that choline bitartrate did not significantly enhance performance in any memory tasks. Amazingly, the study participants were given 2-2.5g of placebo, and still no difference in cognitive performance was seen between them and the placebo group.
There are dozens of studies showing the same thing.
If you take the time to read them, you’ll see that choline bitartrate is not the powerful focus booster that supplement manufacturers would have you believe.
Is choline bitartrate an effective nootropic?
Not in our opinion. Certainly not when compared to the likes of Citicoline or Alpha-GPC!
Side Effects – Is choline bitartrate safe?
Choline bitartrate is a safe supplement to consume so long as you are taking reasonable amounts.
None of the studies looking at choline bitartrate mention the participants experiencing serious side effects. In fact, none of the studies we’ve looked at mention side effects at all.
The only side effects that you might experience while using choline bitartrate will come from over-consumption. Eating too much choline can sometimes cause the following side effects:
- Lack of focus
- Loss of motivation
- Muscle cramps
- Muscle spasms
However, these side effects generally come when using cholinergics which cross the blood-brain barrier, or Huperzine A. Choline bitartrate is unlikely to cause such side effects as it doesn’t enter the brain!
The only other side effect concern with choline bitartrate is with potential heart disease risk.
One study found that choline bitartrate consumption raises trimethylamine N-oxide levels (source). Elevated trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) is a marker for heart attack risk.
However, we don’t think this is a serious concern for the vast majority of you. This is a single study, and the mechanism is not well understood.
All things considered, choline bitartrate is safe and it almost never causes even mild side effects.
Should you use choline bitartrate?
Choline bitartrate is a poor cholinergic.
It is ineffective at raising choline levels in the brain compared to other cholinergics like Citicoline or Alpha-GPC.
Studies have shown that choline bitartrate consumption is unable to improve performance in cognitively-demanding tests. This is true even when people are given 2.5g of choline bitartrate.
In other words, choline bitartrate is not a good nootropic.
There is no reason why you would use it when there are so many effective alternatives available.
If you want to enhance your focus, increase concentration and ramp up information processing speed, use a more effective cholinergic such as Citicoline. This is the nootropic used in all of the best nootropic supplements on sale right now.
What does choline do in your body?
Choline is an essential nutrient which has several vital functions in the human body. The reason it is found in so many nootropics is that it is necessary for the synthesis of acetylcholine – an important neurotransmitter – and phosphatidylcholine; a lipid used for the construction of new cell membranes.
Is choline bitartrate the same as choline?
Choline bitartrate is in many way the same as choline. Choline bitartrate contains choline, but it also contains bitartrate, which is an anion (a negatively charged ion). This makes it a distinct and separate molecule. However, choline bitartrate and choline have essentially the same degree of bio-availability, and as such they have very similar effects on the brain.
Does choline help with anxiety?
There is no evidence that choline helps with anxiety. Neither choline nor cholinergics like CDP-Choline or Choline bitartrate have ever been found in clinical trials to alleviate symptoms of anxiety. Increasing acetylcholine or phosphatidylcholine would not influence anxiety levels, as anxiety is largely controlled by hormones and different neurotransmitters (cortisol, serotonin and norepinephrine being the key players).
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.