Choline Supplements: What’s the Best Form for Focus?

Choline

Choline is an essential nutrient that provides the backbone of the learning neurotransmitter acetylcholine; learn which form is the best for your needs.

Choline is an essential nutrient for the human body required for the optimal functioning of all cells. It’s also a common ingredient included in all kinds of supplements, including pre workouts, intra workouts, and nootropic focus formulas.

Sadly, most individuals are sorely lacking in choline due to a poor diet, especially vegans,  since the foods with the highest concentrations of choline are typically animal-based (dairy, meat, eggs, and seafood).[1,2]

There’s several types of choline supplements available in standalone bulk supplements and as part of more comprehensive formulas. Knowing which one is the most effective can be tricky, and the same goes for knowing what the proper doses of these various forms are. We’ve got all that covered for you and more as we help you determine what form of choline is best.

But, before we get to the best types of choline, let’s do a quick refresher on what choline does with regards to enhancing your brain function and focus while training!

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What does choline do?

Choline Phospholipid Metabolism

Schematic drawing of choline phospholipid metabolism and its regulatory enzymes illustrates the metabolic reactions associated with modulation of choline-containing metabolites.[31]

As we stated up at the beginning of this article, choline is essential for the healthy functioning of virtually all cells in your body. It’s used in the synthesis of phospholipids, which support a cell’s structural integrity and signaling functions.[1] The human body can synthesize choline endogenously in the liver (as phosphatidylcholine), but the amount required by the body exceeds the amount it naturally produces,[12] which is why it’s important to get more choline through the diet or supplementation.

More pertinent to its role as a nootropic-enhancing compound, choline also serves as a precursor for the synthesis of acetylcholine (“the learning transmitter”).[1] Acetylcholine is vital to memory, mood, muscle control (i.e. the mind-muscle connection), and a number of other important brain and nervous system functions.[3,4] Those lacking adequate amounts of the compound may experience difficulty learning or recalling memories due to chronically low acetylcholine levels.

Choline Eggs

Eggs are one of the many foods where choline is plentiful, so feel free to enjoy!

Deficiencies of choline can impart serious consequences including complications of the liver, muscle, and lymphocytes.[1] Lacking in choline may also affect expression of genes involved in cell differentiation, proliferation, and apoptosis (programmed cell death), as well as adversely impact the development of the brain and nervous systems in growing animals.[1,5] When your diet is low in choline, you are literally programming your body to stop thriving and start dying.

Suffice it to say choline is something you DO NOT want to be deficient in, which is part of the reason it’s so widely available and commonly supplemented. But, there’s several different forms to choose from when purchasing a choline supplement, and knowing which is the most effective for your needs will go a long way to ensuring you choose the right one and consuming the right dose.

Types of Choline

  • Lecithin

    Certain such as eggs and soy products are naturally rich with lecithin. Some processed foods, including certain chocolates and even protein powder, contain added lecithin, but the choline content of these is generally on the lower end of the spectrum.

    Lecithin (derived from soy or sunflower) is really the only means vegans have for obtaining choline, but typically requires additional supplementation to significantly increase acetylcholine levels.[2] That being the case, lecithin is generally not regarded as an effective means to enhancing cognition or focus, or preventing certain neurodegenerative diseases like the other forms of choline which we’ll cover in a bit.[6] FYI, if you are vegan and want to use lecithin as your choline source, you’ll have to eat upwards of 100g lecithin to get any appreciable increase in choline concentrations.[7]

  • Choline Bitartrate

    Choline Bitartrate is the cheapest and most widely available form of choline for purchase. It contains 41% choline by weight, which gives you roughly 410mg choline for every gram of choline bitartrate that you consume. The bitartrate form is also the most commonly used form of choline in pre workout supplements and nootropic formulas, usually in the 500-1,000mg range. Research is mixed on its nootropic benefits, but it does yield some other  benefits for the body, particularly in regard to the liver.[8,9,10]

    Recommended dose: 1-3g per day

    PrimaForce Choline Citrate is the usual go-to for a high-value powder:

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  • Choline Citrate

    Choline Bitartrate Memory

    Choline bitartrate is incredibly affordable, but may not always deliver the best results as evidenced here in the graph showing that it did NOT perform better than placebo in memory testing.[10]

    Another cheaper salt of choline, choline citrate contains roughly 50% choline by weight, a bit more than the bitartrate version. Not much research has been conducted on the citrate form of choline in regards to nootropic benefits, but many users believe it is more effective than the bitartrate form due to increased uptake by the body.

    There is a study conducted in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) who were given 1200mg intravenously two times per week that showed improvements.[11] Subjects receiving the treatment experienced less paresthesia and greater muscle strength in lower extremities, as long as 3 years after the trial was conducted. Additionally, one of the patients was a commercial pilot who was able to return to flight duty.[11]

    Note that choline citrate powder is very sour, and is generally unenjoyable to use on its own unless added to something very sweet.

    Recommended Dose: 1-3g per day

    There is very little choline citrate on the market anymore after research has shown the next two forms to be so much better, but your best shot is with SNS Choline Citrate:

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  • Citicoline (CDP-Choline)

    Citicoline, chemically known as Cytidine 5′-diphosphocholine (CDP-Choline), is one of the premium forms of choline that has quite a bit of research in animals as well as humans demonstrating its nootropic and neuroprotective benefits. It’s only 18-19% choline by weight, but is able to pack a nootropic punch because it’s essentially two nootropics in one (uridine and choline).

    Citicoline Metabolic Pathway

    Here’s the metabolic pathway of Citicoline in the body.[14]

    Upon digestion, Citicoline is broken into cytidine and free choline.[13] Cytidine is quickly converted to uridine which can cross the blood-brain barrier and exert its own nootropic benefits. CDP-Choline also is naturally-occurring in the body and used as an intermediary in the synthesis of phosphatidylcholine.

    Research into Citicoline is rather extensive and impressive. It’s shown great efficacy in studies regarding cognitive decline associated with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s, as well as the impairment brought on by cerebral ischemia, stroke, and other traumatic brain injuries.[14]

    Citicoline also potentiates neuroplasticity, increases cognition, improves learning, and boosts production of norepinephrine and dopamine levels in the CNS.[15] While this is an awesome form of choline, CDP-choline is more expensive than bitartrate and citrate.

    Recommended dose: 250-500mg / day

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  • Alpha GPC

    Mid Thigh Pull Results

    Alpha GPC isn’t just good for enhancing brain function, it can also deliver some big strength gains (when dosed at 600mg).

    The last form of choline you’ll come across most commonly is L-alpha glycerophosphocholine (Alpha-GPC). Like citicoline above, Alpha GPC is one of the more bioavailable and well-studied forms of choline. The big difference here is that Alpha GPC is 40% choline by weight, while CDP is 18-19% – a sizeable difference. Alpha GPC can be found in the brain as well as dairy products, but it’s typically synthesized by purifying soy lecithin.

    Similar to CDP-Choline, Alpha GPC has been studied rather heavily and brings a number of nootropic benefits as well as a few other interesting ones. In regards to nootropic effects, Alpha GPC has been shown to increase acetylcholine production, enhance cognition, combat neurodegenerative disease, and improve memory.[16,17,18,19]

    As for some of its other fringe benefits, Alpha GPC also has been noted to increase strength and power during training and elevate post-workout growth hormone (GH).[20,21,22] It might also exert a mild stimulative effect due to its ability to increase dopamine in the brain.[23]

    Recommended dose: 200-600mg per day

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Which form is best?

Ultimately, the “best” form of choline really comes down to how much you’re willing to spend. You can get the nootropic benefits from citicoline or alpha GPC at a much lower dose than the bitartrate form, but the former two are more costly. If you do choose to go the cheap route and purchase bitartrate, just know you’re going to need at least 2g to experience any significant nootropic effects from it.

AlphaSize Alpha GPC

Though it is more expensive, Alpha GPC is well worth the extra money for the cognitive benefits it provides and is only rivaled by Citicoline in our opinion.

There is one study comparing Alpha GPC to CDP-Choline which found that Alpha GPC was superior for improving cognition markers, though both were effective at reducing symptoms of dementia.[30] The catch here is that the choline forms were given intravenously, not orally, so we’re not comparing apples to apples. By avoiding the gut, Alpha GPC may have experienced increased efficacy since it’s believed that some portion of Alpha GPC is metabolised during digestion.

From personal experience, we’ve noticed the most pronounced effects from supplementing with either CDP-Choline and Alpha GPC. Although these are a touch more expensive, they’re potency and effectiveness more than make up for the cost.

Shawn Wells (@ZoneHalo) uses Alpha GPC!

Listen to industry veteran formulator Shawn Wells talk about Optimizing Brain Performance on the PricePlow Podcast — right away we cut to the part where he discusses using full dosed Alpha-GPC three times a day!

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Stacking Choline

While choline is great on its own, it also benefits from being stacked with a number of other ingredients which synergize with it and potentiate its effects in brain.

  • Caffeine + Choline

    Alpha GPC Caffeine Jump Power

    Caffeine and Alpha GPC are great for brain boosting, but they’re also awesome for enhancing performance.[22]

    Caffeine is awesome for everything — energy, mood, focus, and it’s also great to pair alongside choline, which is why some many of our favorite nootropic formulas include caffeine and choline-based ingredients together.

    Caffeine has been shown to potentiate the effects of choline in the body, as well as inhibits acetylcholinesterase, resulting in increased production of acetylcholine that also stays active longer in the body.[24,25]

    Recommended dose of Caffeine: 100-300mg depending on your preference / tolerance

  • Acetyl-L-Carnitine + Choline

    Combining ALCAR and Choline is like matching Louisiana red beans and rice… it’s a match made in heaven. These two contribute the two halves of acetylcholine, with ALCAR supplying the acetyl group and choline-based compounds providing the back half. As a bonus effect, you also might experience some increased fat loss and muscle gain too, at least if you were already carnitine-deficient (vegans and elderly).[26]

    Recommended dose of ALCAR: 1-2g

  • Huperzine A + Choline

    Acetylcholinesterase

    Acetylcholinesterase breaks down our acetylcholine. Huperzine A helps slow this process down.

    Huperzine is a potent inhibitor of acetylcholinesterase, the enzyme that degrades acetylcholine. Using huperzine along with a choline supplement not only increases production of acetylcholine, but also ensure the amount that is produced also stays around longer to exert its effects in the body.

    Recommended dose of Huperzine: 100-200mcg

  • Noopept + Choline

    We’ve written extensively about Noopept before and its awesome nootropic power. So click there if you want all the info on Noopept. The drawback to using noopept on its own, is that it can cause rapid depletion of the body’s choline stores and can lead to headaches.[27] This is why it’s often recommended to stack choline alongside noopept.

    Recommended dose of Noopept: 10-20mg

  • Racetam + Choline

    Racetams are another class of nootropics that have been popular for quite some time. There’s a wide variety of racetams (including phenylpiracetam), but for our purposes here, we’ll limit the discussion to piracetam, which is the most researched of the racetam family.

    Piracetam is frequently used to combat decline and/or impairment, but it’s also been shown to be effective for healthy adults too. Studies giving healthy individuals 2.4g / day (either in a single dose or split into three 800mg doses) resulted in better verbal learning and cooperativity of brain processes, as evidenced by decreased EEG complexity). [28,29]

    Recommended dose of piracetam: 2.4g

Takeaway

Choline Brain Power

It’s time to electrify your brain and get it working overtime with Choline!

Whew! Did you make it to the end?

Choline is simply awesome stuff and you should want it as part of your daily supplement regimen, even if you’re not a big nootropic nerd like we are.

As diets go more extreme – from vegan to keto – certain ones put you in severe deficiencies. In this case, it’s vegans who are at risk, and choline is most definitely something that you do not want to be deficient in. But basically everyone benefits from supplementing this compound.

We prefer to go with Alpha GPC or CDP-Choline as those two seem to exert the most potent / noticeable effects in terms of heightening focus, attention, and cognition. You can get by with choline bitartrate, but you’ll need a whopping dose to get the job done decently. Whichever way you go, one thing is certain — get your choline in daily, and don’t fear those egg yolks!

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References

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  2. USDA Database for the Choline  https://www.ars.usda.gov/ARSUserFiles/80400525/Data/Choline/Choln02.pdf
  3. Institute of Medicine. Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Folate, Vitamin B12, Pantothenic Acid, Biotin, and Choline. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1998. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK114310/
  4. Zeisel SH. Choline. In: Coates PM, Betz JM, Blackman MR, et al., eds. Encyclopedia of Dietary Supplements. 2nd ed. London and New York: Informa Healthcare; 2010:136-43.
  5. Michel V, Yuan Z, Ramsubir S, Bakovic M. Choline transport for phospholipid synthesis. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2006;231(5):490-504. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16636297
  6. Higgins JPT, Flicker L. Lecithin for dementia and cognitive impairment. Cochrane database Syst Rev. 2003;(3):CD001015. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD001015. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12917896
  7. Hirsch MJ, Growdon JH, Wurtman RJ. Relations between dietary choline or lecithin intake, serum choline levels, and various metabolic indices. Metabolism. 1978;27(8):953-960.doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/0026-0495(78)90139-7. http://docdro.id/KlUmRO1
  8. Wallace JMW, McCormack JM, McNulty H, et al. Choline supplementation and measures of choline and betaine status: a randomised, controlled trial in postmenopausal women. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(7):1264-1271. doi:10.1017/S000711451100674X. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22172554
  9. Cohen BM, Renshaw PF, Stoll AL, Wurtman RJ, Yurgelun-Todd D, Babb SM. Decreased brain choline uptake in older adults. An in vivo proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy study. JAMA. 1995;274(11):902-907. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7674505
  10. Lippelt DP, van der Kint S, van Herk K, Naber M. No Acute Effects of Choline Bitartrate Food Supplements on Memory in Healthy, Young, Human Adults. Ito E, ed. PLoS ONE. 2016;11(6):e0157714. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0157714. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4920398/
  11. Muss C, Stejskal V, Titel E. The effectiveness of choline citrate infusions monitored by lymphocyte transformation test (LTT) in multiple sclerosis. A new approach to the diagnosis and treatment of the disease. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2009;30(3):331-334. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19855355
  12. Zeisel SH. Choline. In: Ross AC, Caballero B, Cousins RJ, Tucker KL, Ziegler TR, eds. Modern Nutrition in Health and Disease. 11th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2014:416-26.
  13. Wurtman RJ, Regan M, Ulus I, Yu L. Effect of oral CDP-choline on plasma choline and uridine levels in humans. Biochem Pharmacol. 2000;60(7):989-992. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10974208
  14. Gareri P, Castagna A, Cotroneo AM, Putignano S, De Sarro G, Bruni AC. The role of citicoline in cognitive impairment: pharmacological characteristics, possible advantages, and doubts for an old drug with new perspectives. Clinical Interventions in Aging. 2015;10:1421-1429. doi:10.2147/CIA.S87886. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562749/
  15. Secades JJ, Lorenzo JL. Citicoline: pharmacological and clinical review, 2006 update. Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2006;28 Suppl B:1-56. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17171187
  16. Armah CN, Sharp P, Mellon FA, et al. L-alpha-glycerophosphocholine contributes to meat’s enhancement of nonheme iron absorption. J Nutr. 2008;138(5):873-877. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18424594
  17. De Jesus Moreno Moreno M. Cognitive improvement in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia after treatment with the acetylcholine precursor choline alfoscerate: A multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Clin Ther. 2017;25(1):178-193. doi:10.1016/S0149-2918(03)90023-3. http://www.clinicaltherapeutics.com/article/S0149-2918(03)90023-3/abstract
  18. Canal N, Franceschi M, Alberoni M, Castiglioni C, De Moliner P, Longoni A. Effect of L-alpha-glyceryl-phosphorylcholine on amnesia caused by scopolamine. Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther Toxicol. 1991;29(3):103-107. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2071257
  19. Tayebati SK, Tomassoni D, Nwankwo IE, et al. Modulation of monoaminergic transporters by choline-containing phospholipids in rat brain. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets. 2013;12(1):94-103. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23244432
  20. Bellar D, LeBlanc NR, Campbell B; “The effect of 6 days of alpha glycerylphosphorylcholine on isometric strength”; J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2015; 12(1):42; Retrieved from http://www.jissn.com/content/12/1/42
  21. Ziegenfuss T, Landis J, Hofheins J. Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2008;5(Suppl 1):P15. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-5-S1-P15. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3313098/
  22. Parker AG, Byars A, Purpura M, Jäger R. The effects of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, caffeine or placebo on markers of mood, cognitive function, power, speed, and agility. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. 2015;12(Suppl 1):P41. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-12-S1-P41. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4595381/
  23. Trabucchi M, Govoni S, Battaini F. Changes in the interaction between CNS cholinergic and dopaminergic neurons induced by L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine, a cholinomimetic drug. Farmaco Sci. 1986;41(4):325-334. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3709792
  24. Johnson DA, Ulus IH, Wurtman RJ. Caffeine potentiates the enhancement by choline of striatal acetylcholine release. Life Sci. 1992;51(20):1597-1601. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1435067
  25. Pohanka M, Dobes P. Caffeine Inhibits Acetylcholinesterase, But Not Butyrylcholinesterase. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2013;14(5):9873-9882. doi:10.3390/ijms14059873. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3676818/
  26. Hongu N, Sachan DS. Carnitine and choline supplementation with exercise alter carnitine profiles, biochemical markers of fat metabolism and serum leptin concentration in healthy women. J Nutr. 2003;133(1):84-89. http://jn.nutrition.org/content/133/1/84.long
  27. Ostrovskaya et al. (2007). The nootropic and neuroprotective proline-containing dipeptide noopept restores spatial memory and increases immunoreactivity to amyloid in an Alzheimer’s disease model. Journal of psychopharmacology, 21(66): 611-619; Doi: 10.1177/0269881106071335. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17092975
  28. Kondakor I, Michel CM, Wackermann J, et al. Single-dose piracetam effects on global complexity measures of human spontaneous  multichannel EEG. Int J Psychophysiol. 1999;34(1):81-87. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10555876
  29. Dimond SJ, Brouwers EM. Increase in the power of human memory in normal man through the use of drugs. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1976;49(3):307-309. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/826948
  30. Di Perri R, Coppola G, Ambrosio LA, Grasso A, Puca FM, Rizzo M. A multicentre trial to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine versus cytosine diphosphocholine in patients with vascular dementia. J Int Med Res. 1991;19(4):330-341. doi:10.1177/030006059101900406. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/1916007
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