Choline as a nootropic is extremely important for your brain.
It’s found in every single cell of your body and is vital for creating neuron membranes.
Your brain needs choline to make acetylcholine. This is the neurotransmitter which regulates memory, learning, and focus.
Without choline, you wouldn’t be able to think, read, or remember anything.
Not only that, choline deficiency can lead to anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. (12)
As for the benefits of choline as a nootropic, they include:
- Repairs and builds new neurons: choline is a building block for uridine. Uridine helps synthesize phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is a lipid that encases your brain cells. Basically, choline provides your brain with the raw building blocks for repairing itself and growing new neurons. This leads to improved memory, focus, learning, and overall cognition.
- Produces energy: ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is your fuel and energy currency. CDP-choline, a form of choline, is shown to increase ATP production in your brain cells. Thus helping prevent brain fog and mental fatigue.
- Optimizes mood and neurotransmitters: Choline helps your body create acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter which regulates your cognitive function. In addition, choline also improves your dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine system. Which directly translates to improved mood. (1, 2)
Here we’ll take a closer look at choline and how it affects your brain performance.
What is CDP Choline?
There is more than one form of choline.
Just like you have magnesium citrate, magnesium aspartate, or magnesium oxide. You also have CDP-choline, Alpha GPC, choline bitartrate, and choline citrate.
We’ll explain how they differ from each other (and which is the best) in a second.
For now, though, let’s briefly talk about CDP-choline.
See, CDP choline is a water-soluble nutrient related to B vitamins. It’s naturally occurring in your body.
However, your brain uses choline faster than your body can create, which makes it an essential nutrient to obtain from diet and/or supplementation. (3)
Once you ingest it, CDP choline converts to choline and cytidine.
But once it gets in your brain, it converts back to CDP choline. There it helps with the repair and growth of new neurons, along with affecting many brain pathways.(4)
Much like you need bricks, wood, and other material to build a house. You need choline to create neurotransmitters such as dopamine and acetylcholine. (5)
While acetylcholine affects your thinking and memory. Dopamine is the reward molecule which keeps you motivated to chase your goals.
So, what happens when you don’t have enough building blocks for your brain?
The answer may shock you, but, the brain starts eating its own choline molecules from cell membranes.
Over time, this can lead to low acetylcholine levels and neuron breakdown. Which translates to cognitive decline, memory issues, trouble learning new things, and difficulty with orientation.
What Does Choline do?
There are many functions of choline in the brain. But these are the three most important ones:
I. Choline helps with the production of neurotransmitters
Choline sources such as CDP choline convert to choline and cytidine in your gut and liver.
After these two pass the blood-brain barrier, they turn back to CDP-Choline. Once in the brain, CDP-choline helps to produce neurotransmitters that are essential for survival.
II. Choline repairs your brain cells
The outer membrane layer of your neurons is made of phosphatidylcholine (PC). PC is a source of choline, and it helps protect your brain cells and enhance their metabolism.
However, when your choline levels are low, your brain starts chipping away at the neuron membrane (PC) to get more choline.
If your neurons have to constantly give away its own reserves of PC (and choline), they lose their physical integrity. As a result, nerve function breaks down, leading to cognitive decline. (6)
III. Choline helps produce uridine
Besides being a building block for acetylcholine, CDP choline is also essential for the production of uridine.
Now, here’s why you need uridine:
If your body notices that its choline levels are running low, it starts consuming your phosphatidylcholine (PC) reserves from fatty cell membranes – as we said.
But when there’s enough uridine in the brain, this doesn’t happen. Because your body can synthesize PC from uridine.
Ultimately, this means that CDP choline repairs those same cell membranes that your body uses to produce more choline, thanks to uridine.
Sources of Choline: Which is the Best?
As I’ve briefly mentioned above, there are a number of choline sources.
These include choline bitartrate, Alpha GPC, choline citrate, and CDP-choline.
So, what is the difference between these?
Let’s take a closer look to find out:
CDP-Choline contains around 18% choline by weight.
CDP-choline’s advantage over choline bitartrate and citrate is that it can easily cross the blood-brain barrier.
This means that the choline you ingest actually gets absorbed and utilized by your body.
CDP-choline works on rebuilding fatty cell membranes, along with serving as a building block for acetylcholine.
Not only that, but CDP-choline also breaks down into cytidine when ingested.
In turn, your brain uses cytidine to produce uridine, which is essential for protecting and rebuilding your neurons.
Uridine enables you to think faster, have vivid memories, and remember things you learn. And CDP-choline is one of the best ways to boost its production.
Alpha GPC is obtained from sunflower lecithin and is naturally found in small amounts in your brain.
It contains about 40% of choline by weight which quickly enters your brain, thanks to its high bioavailability.
In fact, Alpha GPC might be your brain’s favorite source of choline.
When your brain choline’s reserves run low, as we said, the brain starts breaking down the phosphatidylcholine (PC) from your neuron membranes. This PC then gets converted into Alpha GPC – a form of choline.
However, when you supplement with Alpha GPC, you directly give your brain the fuel it needs. Which means it doesn’t need to eat its own neurons to get choline.
If you’re on a tight budget and want to supplement choline, choline bitartrate might be your best option.
This is an economical source of choline, containing around 40% of choline by weight.
However, this form of choline has low bioavailability. Meaning, only a small amount of it crosses the blood-brain barrier.
Therefore, you won’t experience the same nootropic benefits as you’d get from CDP-choline or Alpha GPC.
Still, choline is very beneficial for your liver. It helps your liver process fat more easily, thus preventing fatty liver disease.
Choline citrate is simply choline combined with a citric acid ester.
The citrate part is important because it plays a role in the transport of acetyl units from mitochondria to the place where it’s synthesized to acetylcholine.
Another economical source of choline, choline citrate is made up of 50% choline by weight. This means that it’s an excellent source of raw materials for creating acetylcholine.
By now, you know that acetylcholine is important for brain function.
But did you know that it also essential for your muscles?
That’s correct – acetylcholine helps prevent muscle fatigue and soreness after a workout.
This makes choline citrate not only a great nootropic but also a training recovery supplement.
Choline Brain Benefits – The Research
There’s a lot of research behind choline as a nootropic and its brain benefits (which we’ll cover in a second).
But perhaps the most impressive is the anecdotal evidence of people who’ve had a stroke.
Many stroke survivors who supplemented with CDP-choline reported a decrease in the effects of the stroke.
In fact, some even reported that their muscle weakness, spasms, and paralysis completely disappeared!
On the other hand, regular nootropic users report that they can focus on tasks better thanks to choline. Their overall cognition improves, too.
In fact, there are more than a few people who use choline supplements instead of stimulants for their ADHD.
Choline is also a favorite nootropic amongst people with depression. It appears to ease the symptoms of this mental illness by enhancing neurotransmitters.
With that in mind, here we have a look at the actual scientific evidence of choline benefits:
Study #1 – Choline Helps Improve Focus and Reduce ADD
A study from Utah, USA, had 75 teenage males take either 250mg of CDP-Choline, 500mg of CDP-Choline, or a placebo pill every day.
28 days later, each group did a series of tests.
It turned out, the groups that took CDP-Choline had a much sharper focus, improved psychomotor speed, and greater attention span.
Also, their impulsive behavior was significantly reduced.
Meanwhile, the placebo group experienced no benefits whatsoever.
“Individuals receiving citicoline exhibited improved attention and increased psychomotor speed compared with those receiving placebo. Higher weight-adjusted dose significantly predicted increased accuracy on an attention task, improved signal detectability on a computerized attention task, and decreased impulsivity.”
This research underlines the benefits of choline as a nootropic in people with ADD.
And shows that this nootropic isn’t just for seniors, but can benefit younger age groups too. (7)
Study #2 CDP-Choline Boosts Memory and Brain Energy
A study from Japan gave a group of men and women either 500 or 2000mg of CDP-choline daily for 6 weeks.
The study participants then went under an MRS brain scan to see if there were any changes. And guess what…
The researchers found that these men and women had a 14% higher production of ATP in their neurons.
Their membrane phospholipids, including PC and PS, were raised by more than 26%. (8)
But do you know the most interesting part?
These increases in phospholipids and ATP production were seen specifically in areas of the brain associated with cognition.
In other words, choline boosted their brain function in all the right places. Which led to better memory, focus, and learning.
The best of all, these effects were the strongest in people who took the lower dosage of CDP-Choline, 500mg.
Ultimately, the study concluded that there’s a lot of cognitive benefit to taking choline. It doesn’t just improve memory but also helps prevent age-related cognitive decline.
These experts also concluded that choline boosts brain energy production, which helps prevent mental fog and fatigue.
Study #3 – Choline Enhances Cognition Across All Boards
This study, which was published in Food and Nutritional Sciences, tested the effects of choline on 60 healthy, middle-aged women.
The experts gave these women either 250mg, 500mg, or a placebo daily for 28 days.
As for the results, both choline groups showed a major improvement in their overall cognition.
The placebo group, on the other hand, showed no improvements.
What can we take from this study?
According to researchers, choline as a nootropic helps improve overall cognitive performance. It’s especially effective at eliminating attention issues and CNS disorders.
Choline wasn’t always considered an essential nutrient. Prior to the 1990s, researchers found that our bodies produce choline on its own, which led to a conclusion that it wasn’t essential in our diets.
But it turned out, they were wrong.
Later on, it was found that our bodies can’t produce enough choline to meet the body and brain’s hefty requirements.
As a result, choline has become an essential nutrient, with experts advising to consume foods that contain choline on a daily basis.
In fact, choline deficiency is a real thing. And it can cause a lot of problems for your brain.
If you ever felt like you’re in a haze and irritated, or had trouble with focus, memory, and learning, low choline could be to blame.
Choline deficiency links to:
- Poor learning, focus, and memory
- Mood swings
- Cognitive decline (over time)
Not only that, but low levels of choline can also lead to fatty liver disease. A condition where too much fat is stored in your liver’s cells.
This makes your liver susceptible to further damage and scarring if it’s not addressed on time.
Choline Deficiency Anxiety
Yes, it’s possible to experience anxiety from choline deficiency. There are a couple of reasons for this:
First off, your neuronal network isn’t able to function optimally without enough choline.
Brain cell integrity falls apart, the communication between neurons suffer, and all sorts of mood disorders ensue. Including anxiety.
However, that’s not all.
Choline also enhances neurotransmitter pathways in the brain, which include dopamine, serotonin, and acetylcholine.
Without enough choline, your dopamine is one of the first neurotransmitters to get out of whack.
Dopamine imbalance is a well-known cause of anxiety disorders.
Citing a PubMed study (9):
“There are evidences that dopamine plays an important role in anxiety modulation in different parts of the brain. Some evidence has shown that the mesolimbic, mesocortical and nigrostriatal dopaminergic system are involved in anxiety. Both dopamine D1 and D2 receptor mechanisms are important in mediating anxiety.”
Choline Deficiency Depression
It’s not just anxiety that can occur from choline deficiency in your brain.
Since it negatively affects your neurotransmitters, choline deficiency can also induce other mood disorders – depression being one of them.
See, dopamine and serotonin imbalances are known for causing depression in people.
For example, studies link dopamine dysregulation with a wide range of major depressive disorders. (10)
On the other hand, low serotonin is one of the major problems with depression. (11)
That’s why many SSRI antidepressant drugs work on the serotonin system, inhibiting its reuptake in the brain. Which in turn improves mood.
Alongside the brain, choline deficiency can also affect your liver.
A study with 57 healthy adults gave people a low-choline diet to see how their bodies would respond. The study was done under strictly controlled conditions.
It turned out, 80% of postmenopausal women, 44% of premenopausal women, and 77% of men in the study slowly but surely developed muscle damage, fatty liver, and liver scarring/damage.
But here’s the most interesting part:
The damage was reversed after these people re-introduced choline into their diet. (13)
This shows us that when it comes to choline deficiency. Many of its symptoms can be avoided, prevented, or even reversed by adding more choline to your diet.
Curious to know which are the best choline food sources? Read on to find out…
Choline Food Sources
Foods that contain choline include:
- Pasture-Raised Eggs – Eggs are among the best brain food due to their high choline content. On average, an egg contains 115mg of choline. Just make sure to eat eggs that come from pasture-raised chickens, as they have a superior nutrient profile to commercial eggs.
- Beef liver – if you’re a fan of organ meats, you’ll love to know that beef liver is arguably the best dietary source of choline. 5oz of raw beef liver contains a whopping 423mg of choline. However, make sure to eat liver from grass-fed animals as they have higher amounts of anti-inflammatory omega-3 compounds, which are essential for your brain.
- Fresh milk, kefir, and yogurt – these all contain around 40mg of choline per 8 ounces.
- Roasted soybeans – half a cup of roasted soybeans will give you 20% of your daily value of choline.
- Mushrooms – half a cup of shiitake mushrooms will provide you with 58mg of choline.
- Chicken breast – 3oz of chicken breast contains about 72mg of choline.
- Cod Fish – 3 ounces of cod will give you roughly 71mg of choline.
Other notable sources of choline include: wheat germs, kidney beans, Brussel sprouts, cottage cheese, broccoli, quinoa, tuna fish, and roasted peanuts.
Generally, the recommended daily choline dosage is 550mg for men and 425mg for women.
For pregnant and breastfeeding women, it’s advised to take between 450-550mg of choline daily.
For young children, between 200-375mg of choline is recommended. The recommended dosage is a bit lower for infants – 125-150mg per day.
You may ask, what is the safe upper limit for choline?
The answer (again) depends on your age and other factors.
For children 1-8 years old, it’s 1g of choline daily, 2g for children 9-13 years old, and 3g for children 14-18 years old.
For adults, the choline upper limit is set at 3.5 grams daily. (14)
The following choline doses have been scientifically tested in various conditions:
For Fatty Liver
In a study with 57 healthy participants, those who received 550mg of choline daily successfully reversed the negative effects of a choline-restricted diet.
So, choline dosage for fatty liver appears to be around 550mg per day. (13)
Dosage for Weight Loss
Choline dosage for weight loss is the same as the general recommended dose for choline, which is 450-550mg of choline, depending on your age, gender, and other factors.
How Much is Too Much?
As with anything, too much choline can actually harm you.
Studies link high intakes of choline with low blood pressure, fishy body smell, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea. (15)
So, how much is too much?
Depending on your tolerance, you might be able to tolerate as much as 3,5g of choline per day, or just 400mg. Always start with the lower dose and go from there.
“Choline side effects” isn’t something you’ll hear often in the nootropic community.
Choline is naturally occurring in foods, and in normal quantities, most people have no issues tolerating it.
That said, supplementing higher doses of choline can result in headaches for some people. As I’ll explain briefly below.
The last thing you’d expect from choline as a nootropic is a headache. But the irony is, that’s exactly what can happen if you over-do it with this nutrient.
This usually doesn’t happen as a result of eating too much food containing choline. More often, choline headache is a result of too much supplementation.
Stick to the recommended dosages and slowly work your way up from there. This way, you’ll see which dosage gives you perfect results without any side effects.
Your Questions Answered (FAQ)
Can choline cause anxiety?
Most studies show that choline is an essential and safe nutrient in our diet. Choline doesn’t cause anxiety in healthy individuals who adhere to the daily recommended allowance of this nutrient.
Can choline cause depression?
In safe doses, choline doesn’t cause depression. In fact, studies have shown that adequate choline intake helps alleviate symptoms of depression. That said, extremely high doses of choline can cause a whole host of side effects, including depression. (16)
Too much choline – is there such a thing?
While getting too much choline through food is difficult, it’s possible to over-do it with choline supplementation. The tolerable upper limit for choline in adults is set at 3,5 grams per day.
Does choline cause headaches?
Yes, you may experience headaches from supplementing too much choline at once. It’s advised to start with a low dosage of choline and spreading it in multiple doses throughout the day.
Are there vegan choline sources?
Vegan choline sources include: soybeans, soymilk, broccoli, quinoa, and tofu.
How much choline in eggs?
An average egg contains about 115mg of choline.
Does choline work?
In terms of brain function and choline as a nootropic, choline does work and is essential for healthy memory, learning, and overall brain performance. Our brain uses choline to build neuron membranes, and for creating acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that regulates memory and thinking. Choline is also essential for extracting fat from your liver – a deficiency in choline is linked to fatty liver disease.
Choline as a nootropic helps you think clearer, encode memories, and maintain stable mood and energy levels.
Your brain produces acetylcholine from choline. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter which regulates your cognitive function.
Choline is an essential nutrient not just for your brain, but organs such as the liver, too.
Choline deficiency is a serious problem. It can cause cognitive decline, memory loss, mood swings, and even liver damage.
You can prevent choline deficiency by eating foods rich in this nutrient. These include:
- Beef Liver
- Cod fish
- Brussel sprouts
You can also take choline as a supplement. However, make sure to stick to what the supplement label says – don’t overdo it.
The recommended choline dosage for adults is between 450-550mg daily. The tolerable upper limit is 3,5g per day.
Some people report headaches from supplementing too much choline at once. That’s why it’s best to take a lower dosage if you’re new to the supplement.
By introducing more of this essential nutrient into your diet, and by being smart about the dosage, you will help your brain to perform at its best.
Changes in brain biogenic monoamines induced by the nootropic drugs adafenoxate and meclofenoxate and by citicholine (experiments on rats). (source)
Cytidine(5')diphosphocholine enhances the ability of haloperidol to increase dopamine metabolites in the striatum of the rat and to diminish stereotyped behavior induced by apomorphine. (source)
Choline: an essential nutrient for public health. (source)
CDP-choline: neuroprotection in transient forebrain ischemia of gerbils. (source)
Citicoline: neuroprotective mechanisms in cerebral ischemia. (source)
Choline metabolism as a basis for the selective vulnerability of cholinergic neurons. (source)
The Effect of Citicoline Supplementation on Motor Speed and Attention in Adolescent Males. (source)
Cognizin® Citicoline Increases Brain Energy (ATP) by 14% and Speeds up the Formation of Brain Membranes by 26% in Healthy Adults. (source)
The Modulatory Role of Dopamine in Anxiety-like Behavior. (source)
Dopamine System Dysregulation in Major Depressive Disorders. (source)
The neurobiology of depression—revisiting the serotonin hypothesis. II. Genetic, epigenetic and clinical studies. (source)
Supplemental dietary choline during development exerts antidepressant-like effects in adult female rats. (source)
Sex and menopausal status influence human dietary requirements for the nutrient choline. (source)
Choline - WebMD. (source)
Choline - National Institutes of Health. (source)
The University of Rochester - Choline. (source)