Citicoline is unarguably one of the most talked-about nootropics in existence. lt is a primary ingredient in all of the best nootropics or “smart drugs” on the market today, and it has been found to have significant benefits when used in isolation too.
While there is still some debate over whether or not Citicoline is the best cholinergic for improving cognitive function over the long-run, it is clear to us that Citicoline has major benefits when used correctly.
Yet there is still a huge amount of misinformation online about Citicoline; how it works, what the benefits are, and the risks of long-term Citicoline use.
In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about Citicoline. We’ll cover the benefits of Citicoline, how it works, the ideal Citicoline dosage, the side effect risks, and how to use it for maximum cognitive improvements.
What is Citicoline?
Citicoline is a compound of two important neurochemicals: Cytidine and Choline. It is a naturally occurring substance found in the organs of all animals, although it is largely concentrated in the brain where it acts as an intermediary in the synthesis of acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine from choline.
You may have seen Citicoline referred to as CDP-Choline. Citicoline and CDP-Choline are exactly the same substance; CDP-Choline is the term we use when the compound is in the brain, while Citicoline is the supplemental form.
In high quality natural nootropic supplements, you will also see Citicoline presented as a compound called Cognizin. Cognizin is simply a highly standardized, pure and potent form of Citicoline. In other words, Cognizin is Citicoline in the purest and most bioavailable form you’re going to find it. Cognizin has the best scientific pedigree of all Citicoline brands. It has been tested in dozens of clinical trials and has been found to be highly effective as a cognitive enhancer as well as extremely safe and well tolerated.
So what does Citicoline do in the body exactly? How does Citicoline work?
How does Citicoline work?
Citicoline is a cholinergic. This is the name we give to compounds which effectively increase the availability of acetylcholine and other choline-dependent chemicals in the brain, or which mimmick those choline-based neurochemicals in action.
Citicoline has several different mechanisms of action which produce different benefits. The different ways Citicoline works include:
- Elevating acetylcholine levels
- Elevating phosphatidylcholine levels
- Elevating Cytidine levels
Citicoline’s main method of action is raising acetylcholine levels in the brain.
The evidence suggests that Citicoline is by far the most effective supplement for raising acetylcholine in existence. Consuming Citicoline leads to rapid and substantial increases in aceylcholine availability in the brain. This has huge consequences for cognitive performance.
Acetylcholine is the brain’s primary executive neurotransmitter. It is involved in all of your executive cognitive processes: verbal fluency, information processing, working memory, muscle contraction, decision making, and more.
Often, things like poor focus or brain fog can be attributed to low acetylcholine levels. By quickly raising acetylcholine levels, Citicoline rapidly sharpens focus, enhances working memory, and improves all-round executive cognitive function.
Citicoline also raises phosphatidylcholine levels. Phosphatidylcholine is a primary structural component of brain cell membranes.
Having higher phosphatidylcholine levels leads to greater brain cell membrane formation. This means more efficient brain cell maintenance and greater brain cell growth over the long-term.
None of this is to forget about Cytidine of course!
The Cytidine component of Citicoline also has some notable nootropic effects. Cytidine is needed for the formation of RNA. Without the raw materials to create more RNA, you cannot create new cells, which means reduced brain cell formation.
Supplementing with Citicoline leads to increased Cytidine availability, which in turn leads to increased cell membrane production, and ultimately a more efficient brain.
Does Citicoline raise dopamine?
No, Citicoline does not raise dopamine levels. Some supplement manufacturers have claimed that Citicoline raises dopamine because the Cytidine component is converted to Uridine in the body, and Uridine augments potassium-evoked dopamine release.
It has also been suggested that while citicoline may not directly influence dopamine concentrations, it may indirectly increase dopamine by increasing the quantity of dopamine released from a stimulated neuron. The reasoning here is that Citicoline improves the overall health of neuron membranes, thus allowing for more dopamine to be released from the neuron.
However, this is all a lot of supposition and theory!
In practice, we have never seen any evidence that Citicoline raises dopamine levels in the brain. There are no independent, peer reviewed clinical trials showing elevated dopamine levels following Citicoline consumption.
Anecdotally this makes sense. None of the benefits of Citicoline supplementation are associated with higher dopamine levels.
Is Citicoline a stimulant?
No, Citicoline is not a stimulant. While Citicoline is known to increase mental energy, it does not do so by acting as a stimulant. Stimulants work by exciting the central nervous system, by releasing norepinephrine, and by blocking adenosine receptors to reduce tiredness and fatigue.Citicoline does none of these things.
Instead, Citicoline works by raising the amount of ATP in your brain cell mitochondria. This allows them to release more energy from food, and to do so faster. Citicoline does not keep you awake, does not prevent you from sleeping, and should not cause any of the side effects associated with stimulants.
What are the benefits of Citicoline?
So what are the benefits of using Citicoline?
As discussed above, Citicoline has many different mechanisms of action, many of them relating to the most basic functions of your brain cells. This gives Citicoline some very broad benefits which touch on almost every aspect of cognitive performance.
The main benefits of using Citicoline are:
- Enhanced focus and clarity
- Better memory function
- Protection from traumatic brain injury
- Increased brain cell energy
- Protection from certain neurodegenerative diseases
- Reduced anxiety
- Helps relieve symptoms of depression
We’ll now go through the main Citicoline benefits in more detail.
Focus & Clarity
Studies have found that Citicoline supplementation dramatically improves focus and concentration as quickly as 30 minutes after initial dose. Various clinical trials show that participants taking Citicoline exhibit better cognitive performance compared to control groups, with measurements taken across attention, short-term memory, verbal reasoning, and self-reported focus quality.
This is the benefit of Citicoline that people will typically notice first and be most struck by. It isn’t unusual for users to notice a significant increase in attention span and focus intensity within 90 minutes of taking Citicoline. This is the result of having much more acetylcholine to go around, and as a result, more raw brainpower!
Clinical trial after clinical trial has shown that Citicoline supplementation reliably improves memory function. Researchers have found that supplementing with Citicoline improves multiple different aspects of memory, particularly short-term working memory, verbal memory, and memory recall speed, as well as eliminating memory deficits.
It appears that Citicoline is especially effective when given to older people showing early or mild symptoms of age related memory impairment, those with memory disorders, and those showing a precipitous decline in memory performance. This may be as a result of Citicoline neuroprotective effects as much as its ability to promote acetylcholine levels and brain cell development.
Traumatic Brain Injury
Interestingly, Citicoline is believed to be highly effective for the treatment and prevention of traumatic brain injury (TBI). Multiple studies have found that Citicoline supplementation improves the cognitive state of patients with traumatic brain injury, and dozens fo countries around the world currently use Citicoline as part of their TBI recovery protocol. It is thought that Citicoline’s ability to spur the regeneration of brain cells and to increase brain cell membrane integrity is what produces the observed cognitive benefits of Citicoline use in TBI patients.
As well as traumatic brain injury, Citicoline use may well be useful for post-stroke recovery. Researchers have found that the adminstration of Citicoline in patients recovering from stroke greatly improves their cognitive performance. More on this later!
This is one of the most interesting benefits of Citicoline use. It has long been known by users of natural nootropics that Citicoline raises mental energy levels, with users typically reporting that Citicoline significnatly reduces brain fog and mental fatigue. Well, research has uncovered why, and it all has to do with ATP.
ATP, or adenosine triphosphate, is the ‘energy currency’ of your cells. Your mitochondria are like your cellular engines; they release energy from food by turning ATP into ADP (releasing a phosphate group). Once you run out of ATP, you convert ADP back into ATP and the cycle starts again, once you’ve recovered.
Citicoline seems to increase ATP availability in brain cells by as much as 14%. This leads to a significant increase in mental energy levels, allowing you to perform more mentally draining tasks for longer. Note that Citicoline increases energy levels at the cellular level by making your brain cells more efficient. It is not a sitmulant, and as such Citicoline will not keep you awake.
This is one of the more speculative benefits of Citicoline. More systematic reviews of the available literature are needed before we say with certainty that Citicoline may help with neurodegenerative diseases. But in more than one clinical review researchers have found that Citicoline appears to improve outcomes in neurodegenerative disease patients.
In one trial, published in Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology, researchers found that Citicoline supplementation improved cognitive performance, blood perfusion and the brain bioelectrical activity pattern in Alzheimer’s DIsease patients. The researchers concluded that Citicoline may be effective for Alzheimer’s Disease and related diseases (although its effect on vascular diseases is unclear).
Citicoline has been repeatedly linked with reduced anxiety, improved mood, and positive changes in people suffering from depression. Several studies note that participants using Citicoline on a daily basis report markedly improved subjective mood and reduced anxiety levels. While researchers rarely look at Citicoline’s effect on anxiety in isolation, anxiety is usually monitored as a secondary variable, and in most trials people using Citicoline find they feel less anxious and stressed.
This effect may be a result of Citicoline’s slight influence on dopaminergic systems. While Citicoline does not raise dopamine levels itself, it does improve the health of neuron membranes. If your anxiety results from having impaired dopamine receptors at the neuron membrane, then taking Citicoline would help reduce anxiety and get your dopamine system running optimally again in fairly short order.
This is one of the more interesting Citicoline benefits to talk about, but it is the one benefit of Citicoline that most often gets completely overlooked. Despite being so frequently ignored, the ability to fight depressive symptoms is one of the most robustly proven of Citicoline’s benefits.
Studies have found that Citicoline is immensely effective at improving mood and reducing depressive symptoms, particularly in people overcoming drug addiction or substance abuse issues. In one study, researchers found that Citicoline dramatically reduced markers of depression in people living with bipolar disorder and depression resulting from methamphetamine addiction. In that study, Citicoline increased study completion rates as well as subjective measures of depression. The researchers concluded that Citicoline likely has antidepressant-like effects in the broader population.
Does Citicoline help with ADHD?
Citicoline is arguably the most effective natural nootropic for treating ADHD/ADD.
As discussed above, Citicoline is extremely effective when it comes to increasing focus, concentration, and mental clarity. By rapidly raising acetylcholine levels in the brain, Citicoline significantly sharpens focus, increases attention span, and promotes effective learning. This makes it ideal for people with ADD or ADHD, as the primary symptoms of these conditions are lack of focus, a short attention span, and difficulty processing and storing information.
This isn’t just theory. Several clinical trials have shown that Citicoline supplementation can have a measurable impact on the symptoms of ADHD.
In one study, which looked at the effects of a combination of Citicoline and Caffeine on people with ADHD, found that: “Results of the present study propose that 250 mg of citicoline, when combined with caffeine, results in significant improvements in measures of sustained attention and working memory.”
How much Citicoline should you take?
How much Citicoline should you take per day for optimal results?
The optimal dose of Citicoline really depends on the form of Citicoline you’re using and what it is you’re looking to accomplish.
Citicoline is water-soluble, with more than 90% oral bioavailability.
While only a small percentage of a total Citicoline dose crosses the blood-brain barrier as choline and cytidine, the utilization of these vital precursors in brain tissue for phospholipid and neurotransmitter biosynthesis is extremely efficient.
This is partly why Citicoline is the best cholinergic; it is far more efficient than Choline bitartrate and Alpha-GPC, meaning you don’t need to use anywhere near as large a dose.
But not all Citicoline is the same. Some forms of Citicoline are far more bioavailable and potent than others.
Generally speaking, the gold standard of Citicoline supplements is Cognizin. This is a branded, standardized, highly potent form of Citicoline. All of the best nootropics will use Cognizin Citicoline as standard owing to its superior purity, quality and bioavailability.
So assuming you’re using Cognizin, how much do you need?
Citicoline Dosage For Cognitive Enhancement
For cognitive enhancement, we recommend using 200-250mg of Cognizin Citicoline per day.
Clinical trials have shown significant improvements in focus, clarity, working memory function and overall cognitive performance using as little as 200mg of standard Citicoline. A daily dose of 200-250mg of high-quality Cognizin reliably produces noticeable benefitsn in almost everybody.
Citicoline Dosage For Brain Injury
For recovery from brain injury, much larger doses of Citicoline are typically recommended as benefits need to be seen immediately. In cases of traumatic brain injury, clinicians will generally recommend taking 500-2,000mg of Citicoline per day. This is thought to be the safest dosage range for Citicoline while simultaneously keeping side effects to an acceptable level.
Citicoline Dosage For Memory Decline
The usual daily therapeutic dosage of citicoline in humans is 500–2,000 mg. In other words, it is recommended to take 7–28 mg/kg in a person of average bodyweight (70 kg). However, the clinical literature shows signficiznt benefits from 500mg per day, and it is unclear if larger doses actually produce greater benefits.
Can you take Citicoline every day?
Not only can you take Citicoline every single day, but you should be using Citicoline on a daily basis if you want maximum benefits from this nootropic.
Citicoline has immediate benefits resulting from the dramatic increases in acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine it elicits. We also see immediate increases in mental energy levels when using Citicoline due to the effect it has on cellular ATP (explained above).
But the beauty of Citicoline is that its benefits just get more pronounced when you use it every day.
Having constantly elevated phosphatidylcholine levels will support health brain cell formation and maintenance over weeks and months. This will, in turn, produce lasting, long-term, permanent improvements in brain function.
So while it may be tempting to think of Citicoline as a short-term focus booster, it is absolutely a long-term nootropic that gets more effective when used daily over many weeks and months.
How long should you take Citicoline?
As mentioned above, Citicoline is most efctive when used on a daily basis.
Citicoline supports brain cell maintenance and formation, and it makes your brain cell mitochondria more efficient. Because of this, taking Citicoline every day produces permanent improvements in brain health and functionality, which enhances cognitive function in a deep, lasting way.
So how long should you take Citicoline for before taking a break?
Are breaks even necessary with Citicoline?
For best results, we recommend using Citicoline for at least 3 months before considering a break. This is long enough for Citicoline to have made lasting changs to your brain by supporting brain cell development.
The research does not suggest that breaks are even needed with Citicoline.People do not develop a tolerance to Citicoline, and the risk of side effects does not seem to increase with proloned use.
Cycling is only necessary for certain nootropics; some, like Citicoline, can be taken daily for prolonged periods of time without worrying about tolerance, side effects, or dependency.
What are the side effects of Citicoline?
Citicoline is not though to have serious side effect risks or any long-term health risks. Even with long-term, daily use, Citicoline does not appear to cause serious side effects.
Most importantly of all, Citicoline has been thoroughly studied in clinical trials. Dozens of studies have been carried out on Citicoline, and in none of them has Citicoline been found to pose serious health an safety risks.
The study of 4,191 Korean patients confirmed a high level of safety for citicoline (500–4,000 mg/day for 6 weeks or longer) with an incidence of 37 adverse events in 31 patients (only 0.73% of patients experienced adverse events).
When adverse effects do occur from Citicoline, they are typically mild, and tend to disappear when Citicoline use stops.
The side effects associated with Citicoline use include:
- Loss of focus
- Blurred vision
- Eye strain
- Muscle cramps
These side effects are usually linked to dosage, with larger doses (above 1000mg) more likely to cause side effects in the short-term. It is important to avoid high doses as the increase in positive effects is minimal with doses above 500mg.
If you’re using doses of Citicoline found in most high-qualuty nootropic stacks, then you aren’t likly to experience any side effects of any kind.
Citicoline and brain injury: Is it effective for stroke?
Yes, Citicoline is effecive for post-stroke recovery. Long-term treatment with citicoline is safe and effective, improving post-stroke cognitive decline and enhancing stroke patients’ functional recovery.
The therapeutic effects of Citicoline in the context of stroke are well established. Studies note beneficial effects on focus, learning, verbal acuity, attention, and memory function in stroke patients in as little as a few weeks of daily Citicoline supplementation.
This makes perfect sense. Not only does Citicoline improve short-term cognitive function by increasing acetylcholine availability, but it also acts as a powerful neuroprotective drug, bolstring brai cell membrane integrity and promoting better brain cell maintenance.
What is the best Citicoline supplement?
If you’ve read our full Citicoline guide up to this point, then you’ll be well versed on the benefits and risks of this incredible nootropic drug.
We believe that Citicoline is easily one of the best natural nootropics in existence. It should be the cornerstone of any nootropic stack designed to enhance focus, learning, clarity, and memory.
Furthermore, Citicoline has lasting, long-term benefits when used daily for long periods of time. It suppots brain cell health and development, boosts bain cell energy, and may help prevent age-related cognitive decline.
So what Citicoline supplement should you use?
The best form of Citicoline to take is Cognizin. This branded, standardized, highly-potent form of Citicoline is easily the most thoroughly studied form of Citicoline on the market today. Many of the best nootropics contain Cognizin as a central ingredient.
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.