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Choline is an essential nutrient. Our body needs it for a number of vital processes, including healthy brain function and development. The crucial role choline plays in the functioning of our brain is why almost every nootropic on the market right now contains some type of choline or choline variation (we call these compounds cholinergics). But what is the best type of choline to take? Which is the best choline supplement for enhancing memory and cognitive function?
After all, there are dozens of nootropics on sale promising to be powerful acetylcholine boosters. All of the best-rated brain supplements claim to use the highest-quality form of choline available. Is this realistic, or is the truth a little different?
In this in-depth guide, we are going to explain everything choline. We will look at the most common form of choline used in supplements today – Citicoline, Alpha-GPC, and Choline Bitartrate – to help you determine which is right for you. At the end, we will recommend our current favorite nootropic stack for boosting acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine, as well as improving brain function as a whole.
Don’t have time to read the full article?
The best choline supplement that we currently recommend is Mind Lab Pro. It contains the most bioavailable form of Choline – Citicoline – in addition to 10 naturally sourced and highly effective nootropic compounds. The cognitive-enhancing effects of Citicoline in Mind Lab Pro are augmented with Lion’s Mane Mushroom, Pine Bark Extract, 3 NutriGenesis® B vitamins, and a number of other thoroughly researched ingredients. Together with Citicoline, these ingredients make Mind Lab Pro the most complete choline supplement on the market – and one of the best nootropic stacks on the market in general. Learn more about MLP’s ingredients here.
What is Choline – And What Does it Do?
Choline is one of the most important nutrients for the human body. Your body needs choline to metabolize phosphatidylcholine and sphingomyelin, two phospholipids needed to make neuron membranes.
Chile also plays a role in other areas of our health, including aiding in removing fat from the liver. But its most critical job in the context of this article is actually as a building block for the brain chemical acetylcholine.
Acetylcholine is an extremely important neurotransmitter. It is the chief neurotransmitter of your sympathetic nervous system (the flight or fight system), your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest” system), and as a result is a vital neurotransmitter for your autonomic nervous system.
Acetylcholine is also the key neurotransmitter in our central nervous system. This is the part that we are most interested about when it comes to nootropic benefits. So what does this mean exactly?
It means that, essentially, acetylcholine is needed for all of your brain’s executive functions, including:
- Decision making
- Concentration and focus
- Information processing
- Learning & memory retention
Since acetylcholine is both a neurotransmitter and neuromodulator of different regions of your brain, it has a massive influence on cognition. Apart from executive mental functions, acetylcholine is also known to affect motivation and arousal, as the parts of your brain responsible for these things have cholinergic receptors which respond to acetylcholine.
Increasing choline in the human brain correlates with increases in both acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine. Therefore, supplementing choline should lead to the aforementioned benefits in terms of brain function.
But what do these elevations in brain chemicals mean for you in the real world? How does it feel?
Choline’s Nootropic Effects
What are the actual, observable benefits of increased choline levels in the human brain?
We’ve talked about what choline does in the brain and how it interacts with the body, but we haven’t really touched on the actual effects associated with supplementing choline.
So, what can the best choline supplements do for you? What are the benefits of taking a high-quality choline supplement?
The main benefits you should experience in your day-to-day from using a quality choline supplement include:
- Sharper focus and attention
- Enhanced learning ability
- Accelerated information-processing speed
- Elevated mental energy
- Improved working memory function
- Faster decision making
These are the main benefits linked to taking choline derivates or also known as acetylcholine supplements. These benefits come from having higher acetylcholine availability in your brain, which results in enhanced overall brain performance. More acetylcholine equals more raw brainpower – it really is that simple!
But ther are also long-term benefits linked to choline. The ones you may not necessarily notice in your day-to-day life – they are more subtle and tend to become more obvious over the long-term. As mentioned, choline is also used to create phosphatidylcholine, which is an integral part of your brain cell membranes.
In other words, more choline means you are able to make new brain cells faster, and protect your existing brain cells better when their membranes are compromised.
Then there are other benefits of choline, depending on the type of cholinergic you’re taking. Each choline supplement, depending on its type, has unique benefits and side effects that are a consequence of its particular structure.
With that in mind, let’s go over the most popular forms of choline used in nootropic supplements and as standalone products. Below are, in our opinion, the three best choline sources to use in a supplement today.
What Forms of Choline Supplements Exist?
As we’ve repeated, choline is an essential nutrient. It is naturally found in some foods, but many people don’t get enough choline every day to ensure optimal brain health and longevity. Luckily, choline supplements are there to help.
Obviously, not all choline supplements are the same. Some forms of choline supplements are of higher quality and more effective than others in terms of how they promote brain function and cognitive performance.
Our team has identified three cholinergic compounds that we believe are the most effective types of choline available for improving your cognition, enhancing mental energy, and promoting brain health. These are Citicoline, Alpha-GPC, and Choline Bitartrate. Below we explain each choline supplement and its main pros and cons.
In our experience, Citicoline is the single most effective nootropic for overall cognitive performance. Also known as CDP-Choline, it is the most efficient cholinergic for quickly raising acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine levels in the human brain. Dozens of randomized trials with human volunteers have shown that Citicoline usage significantly boosts mental energy, focus, learning, and information processing efficiency.
Citicoline contains 18% choline by weight. So in 100mg of Citicoline, you get about 18mg of choline. This might not seem huge, but Citicoline is the most absorbable form of oral choline we have today. As little as 160mg of Citicoline per day is found to have significant effects on brain performance and cognitive health.
What’s more, studies show that Citicoline helps protect your brain from damage caused by injury or inflammation. The cytidine molecule in Citicoline promotes RNA creation, which supports healthy neuron development and maintenance.
The highest quality and most effective citicoline supplement on the market is Cognizin. This is the cleanest, most potent Citicoline supplement available. However, all Citicoline is generally good-quality and effective for brain support.
Much like Citicoline, Alpha-GPC is a highly absorbable form of choline. It shares the throne with Citicoline as the most bioavailable form of oral choline supplement you can find anywhere.
A large body of clinical evidence shows that taking Alpha-GPC significantly improves over 5 different measures of cognitive performance, including learning, focus, information processing, memory retention, and mental energy. People who consume Alpha-GPC usually find that they can take in information quicker, and make sense of it faster. Their decision-making ability is also accelerated.
Like CDP-Choline, Alpha-GPC promotes long-range brain health, and some evidence suggests that high doses of Alpha GPC (over 1000mg per day) may be effective for staving off mental decline in elderly.
Alpha GPC contains about 40% choline. In other words, for every 100mg of Alpha GPC, you are getting 40mg of choline. Alpha GPC, like Citicoline, has many secondary benefits stemming from the non-choline part of the molecule. Alpha-GPC is, in essence, a phospholipid with a choline molecule attached. The phospholipid part of Alpha-GPC can be used to make “baby” neurons, thereby promoting long-term cognitive health and brain performance.
Since Alpha-GPC contains more choline than Citicoline by weight, you’d be forgiven for thinking it is better! The reality is that Alpha-GPC is less bioavailable than Citicoline. Taking 200mg of Citicoline will yield far greater results than if you would take the same amount of Alpha GPC. The key difference is in how each compound passes your blood-brain barrier, how it is metabolized within your brain, and how the other parts of the molecule are utilized by your brain cells.
Lastly, we have Choline bitartrate, the least effective of the three mentioned choline supplements when it comes to enhancing mental performance. Choline bitartrate has low bioavailability, as shown from the larger minimum effective dose. In addition, users often feel fewer effects from bitartrate than when they do taking Citicoline or Alpha GPC.
But this is not to say that choline bitartrate is ineffective at boosting your choline levels.
Evidence from several studies shows that choline bitartrate supplementation leads to a rapid elevation in focus, concentration, learning, and mental processing speeds. In higher doses, choline bitartrate is suggested to help fight the onset of age-related memory decline (though a lot more research is needed here).
The main issue with choline bitartrate is that it is significantly inferior to Citicoline or Alpha-GPC on a gram per gram comparison. In general, you need to take about 600mg of choline bitartrate to get the effects similar to 150mg of Citicoline.
Choline bitartrate is also deprived of the secondary benefits you get from Citicoline and Alpha-GPC. This includes extra brain cell health support as we get from the best choline supplements. Furthermore, no study shows rapid increases in mental energy from Choline bitartrate like we see with Alpha GPC or Citicoline.
Can You Just Use Plain, a.k.a, Regular Choline?
In a perfect world, we would meet all of our daily choline needs from dietary sources alone. With a diet packed full of choline-rich foods, your choline intake should be enough to ensure healthy levels of choline in your brain.
Needless to say, we don’t live in a perfect world! It is highly improbable that you will get enough choline to promote optimal cognitive performance from food alone. Attempting to dramatically increase your choline intake from dietary sources alone can actually be harmful for many reasons.
Some of the best sources of choline include egg yolks, pork chops, and beef. Eating more of these foods every day will raise your choline blood levels, but it may also raise your heme iron levels, sodium levels, and cholesterol levels to a point where it becomes unhealthy.
The choline from food is also not as bioavailable. You do not absorb and utilize every milligram of choline that you ingest. What you do absorb may not end up in the brain at all, as your enteric nervous system in the gut also uses choline.
So what about taking plain oral choline supplements?
Unfortunately, taking straight-up regular choline is not linked to the same benefits as those you would get from the cholinergics mentioned above.
For now, it looks like taking normal choline does not substantially raise choline levels in the brain. This is due to the fact that choline doesn’t pass the blood-brain barrier easily; your brain looks to prevent its choline from leaving! And this is precisely why we use cholinergic compounds like Citicoline.
Optimal Choline Dosage – Explained
How many mg of choline should I take? What is the optimal choline intake for brain function and cognitive improvement?
These are interesting questions without a single, clear answer. The amount of choline you need to ingest per day to maintain optimal brain performance and long-term cognitive health is still up for debate. One thing is for certain, however; food intake of choline is unlikely to be enough to support optimal cognitive function.
For that reason, most people will have to take choline supplements to really maximize their choline levels.
The ideal dose of choline per day to aim for depends on your goals, your diet, and your environment, as well as the type of choline supplement you are taking.
Needless to say, if you suspect you have choline deficiency, you need to dramatically up your intake of choline; ideally by taking quality supplements. Taking 200-300mg of CDP-Choline(Citicoline) is an effective way to offset the negative consequences of choline deficiency, such as impaired cognition and memory decline.
If you are using Citicoline, the most effective and the most bioavailable form of choline supplement, you should experience significant improvements in brain function with a dose of 200-250mg per day. People taking Citicoline daily should stick to the lower end of the spectrum (200mg) as higher doses don’t lead to more benefits.
If you are taking Alpha GPC, the recommended dose is 300-400mg per day. This slightly larger dosage is needed to achieve similar effects as 200-250mg of Citicoline. This is due to lower bioavailability of Alpha-GPC. Using more than 400mg of Alpha-GPC, however, is known to produce diminishing returns and increase the risk of side effects.
If you are taking choline bitartrate, you will need even higher doses to get the same effects. The minimum effective dose of choline bitartrate is abound 400-500mg. To see noticeable improvements in your focus, memory, and learning, it’s recommended to take 1,000mg per day. Some studies have used doses as high as 3,000mg of choline bitartrate, but this didn’t seem to produce any extra benefits.
Choline Dosage for Memory
The optimal dosage of choline for memory is 250mg if you are taking Citicoline, 300mg if taking Alpha GPC, and 750mg if taking Choline Bitartrate.
Choline Dosage for Fatty Liver & Weight Loss
If taking choline specifically for fatty liver and weight loss, then the best form of choline for that purpose is Choline Bitartrate, at doses of 1-2g per day.
Choline Dosage for Depression
The optimal choline dosage for symptoms of depression is shown to be around 200mg per day if taking Citicoline (CDP-Choline), 300mg if taking Alpha-GPC, and 650mg if taking Choline Bitartrate.
What is the Best Form of Choline?
So what is the single best type of choline? What is the best source of choline to take?
The most effective way of increasing your intake of choline is to use the most bioavailable cholinergics available.
As we’ve explained in this article, consuming plain choline (either through supplements or food) will raise your choline levels, but nowhere near as much as cholinergics. This is how absorption works; you consume thousands of milligrams of choline, but if it can’t pass your blood-brain barrier, it is pointless for brain support!
Without a doubt, the single most effective cholinergic for raising your brain choline levels if Citicoline.
Not so far behind is Alpha GPC. Either of these two should substantially improve your ability to focus, your mental energy, and overall cognition, as well as boost the crucial brain building block phosphatidylcholine.
If you are looking to improve overall brain performance and cognitive well-being, then you should look for a nootropic stack that contains a large dose of Citicoline, ideally, combined with other proven nootropics to support your brain from all angles. or our current recommended nootropic supplements with Citicoline, why not check this guide by clicking here.