Nootropics: Citicoline

Key Takeaways:

  • It’s been suggested that citicoline prevents memory impairment that stems from environmental agents.
  • Oral citicoline breaks down into choline and cytidine, eventually forming phosphatidylcholine (PC), which is shown to increase brain activity and memory function.
  • Rather than the common idea that they are synonymous, citicoline and phosphatidylcholine are sequential.
  • Choline, whether from an animal source, from greens, or otherwise, has been implicated in cardiovascular issues - making the argument that supplementing with PC for brain function is more efficient and offers fewer additional health risks.

Mental health and functionality are at the forefront of minds everywhere lately, and with them, brain-enhancing supplements. One ingredient in particular that is featured in many is Citicoline (cdp-choline, cytidine diphosphate-choline). This molecule is an intermediate in the endogenous (inside the body) manufacture of phosphatidylcholine from choline. Citicoline is famous for dealing with a broad array of conditions associated with symptoms of neurological dysfunction. It’s important to cell membrane phospholipids, where it enhances structural integrity and cell signaling, as well as eventually serving as a methyl donor.

Citicoline as a Nootropic Ingredient 

It’s been suggested that citicoline prevents memory impairment that stems from environmental agents. In the lab, at least, it’s been shown that citicoline increases the density of dopamine receptors (Giminez, 1991), the neurotransmitters that play a role in the motivational component of the brain’s reward system. Here, anticipation of a reward increases dopamine, as many recreational drugs might do. At least one other dopamine task directs motor control, a job that is easily disturbed by environmental or physiological insults. 

Choline is a dietary component that can be produced by the body in tiny amounts, amounts so small that dietary intake is necessary. Choline supports acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter important in the stimulation of muscle tissue and, in the central nervous system, of cognitions.

How does it work?

Oral citicoline breaks down into choline and cytidine, the latter a molecule made from cytosine and ribose. Cytosine is a nucleic acid factor of DNA; ribose a sugar in RNA.  Although beneficial, this citicoline process is also a bit complicated..Its chief benefit is in the manufacture of phosphatidylcholine, the primary phospholipid in cell membranes, particularly of neurons. Citicoline holds one of the pyrimidines that constitute DNA and RNA. Citicoline converts diacylglycerol to PC. 

It may seem a little counterintuitive for a person to take citicoline and wait for it to break down into choline, only to then form PC, when taking PC removes the stress on the liver of having to combine all the ingredients in the first place. 

Besides, there are too many chances for a metabolic misstep to rely on citicoline alone to do what it’s advertised to do. You can eat flour, milk, eggs, butter and sugar, or you can just buy the cake. Why complicate a simple matter? 

Phosphatidylcholine as a Nootropic

As a nootropic, PC enhances brain activity not only as a reservoir for acetylcholine, but also by increasing membrane fluidity and permeability to improve cell signaling*. It is known to reduce age-related memory decline and to protect against neuropathological changes (Blusztajn, 2017)*. Japanese tests on memory retention in populations with cognitive disorders realized a 33 percent improvement in related mental state examinations (Nagata, 2011). Where acetylcholine was deficient in laboratory animals bred to mimic human CNS, the addition of PC improved memory acquisition and retention (Moriyama, 1996). 

PC may be extracted from egg yolks, but that contains an overload of saturated fat that encourages rancidity. Commercial PC, instead, comes from soybeans. In North America, less than a handful of true phospholipid PC products are available. Most commercial phosphatidylcholine products consist of triple lecithin, getting the pseudo-PC designation because it contains PC as a constituent, but at a small fraction of the amount in true phosphatidylcholine. The remaining fraction includes ancillary fats / oils - nutrients that stop the authentic phospholipid from forming a liposome and travelling past the digestive system. It never reaches the cell membranes. True phospholipid PC maintains its integrity as a liposome, allowing it to reach and take up residence in the cell membrane. Learn more about true PC here. 

Starting in utero, memory requires a nutritional base for its eventual expression.  Mothers’ intake of these important compounds, and the neonates’ continuation of intake directly affect brain development and results in permanent changes in brain function.  The unadulterated choline afforded by PC enhances memory and learning function throughout a lifetime. Conversely, deficiency during this special period of life affects long-lived cognitive adversities. The bottom line of PC intake entails DNA methylation, gene expression and changes in stem cell proliferation and differentiation (Zeisel, 2006). Hippocampus development appears to depend on it. 

That the incidence of dementia is a burgeoning concern should come as little surprise, given that dietary and environmental insults are more the norm than not. Thus far, there is no promising drug to help dementia. On the bright side, PC has been shown to enhance learning, memory and cognitive performance in both animals and people (Nishizakia, 2013), with an especially strong showing in the nutritionally impoverished (Teather, 2006)*. In laboratory animals whose senescence was accelerated by chemical interventions, those treated to a PC cocktail that included vitamin B12 exhibited stronger hippocampus and cellular energy transfer activity (via protein kinase C) than those deprived of the cocktail (Hung, 2001). 

Supplementation for brain support is growing rapidly and it is important to understand that choline is not the same thing as phosphatidylcholine, and that citicoline is a precursor to PC. Though held to be a required nutrient, choline, whether from an animal source, from greens or otherwise, has been implicated in cardiovascular issues. It is not a phospholipid and cannot restore, support and maintain the cell membrane, whose orderly function animates the whole person. So, although citicoline is a beneficial nutrient for cognitive function, it is one in a chain of many. And without the others, namely PC, overzealous supplementation of it may do more harm than good.