An essential nutrient required for a myriad of functions, choline should be part of a well-rounded diet. Studies indicate that only about 10% of Americans consume enough dietary choline.
Additionally, endurance athletes, and people who regularly consume alcohol, are at risk of choline deficiency. Now is an important time to admit that you're probably among the looming majority of choline neglectors.
Choline is classified as an essential nutrient. While it can be synthesized within the body, we only produce insufficient amounts -- and doing so compromises the structural integrity of our cells. Phosphatidylcholine helps to compose the lipid membrane of cells, and when enough free choline isn't available, your body breaks this structure down to obtain the compound.
This is an interesting and vicious example of biological self-immolation -- a process that favors short-term performance at the behest of compromised long-term health. Supplementing choline into your diet may circumnavigate this issue. In other words, you can have your cake and eat it too. Below are a few benefits:
Improved global cognitive function
Choline is a precursor to the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is implicated in memory, intelligence, and mood. Animal studies suggest that high choline intake protects the brain's ability to form and recall memories despite the progression of age. In particular, "choline-supplemented older mice performed as well as young three-month-old mice." The supplemented mice were also observed to have increased communication within the hippocampus.
Heart health and depression
Dietary choline is an essential source of methyl groups for many biological processes. For example, one metabolite of choline is trimethylglycine, or betaine (an ingredient in many pre-workout formulations), which participates in the production of SAM-e. Deficits of SAM-e are implicated in Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and more.[27,28,29]
Higher dietary intake of choline is associated with lower inflammatory markers, and reduced symptoms of allergic rhinitis.
Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the entire body, responsible for muscle contractions. "Consumption of supplemental choline can also increase the release of acetylcholine from nerve endings, including those that cause skeletal muscle to contract," according to a study published in Pharmalogical Reviews.
Unsurprisingly, intensive exercise results in a significant reduction in plasma choline levels, particularly prolonged and strenuous activity. After two hours of exercise, participants lost about 40% to 50% of free choline.
The good news is that ingesting choline pre-exercise can not only prevent this loss, but raise it above baseline for up to two hours post-exercise (2g of free choline was used in this study).
In one study, individual performance was enhanced after choline supplementation compared to when the same individuals consumed a placebo.
Many different choline formulations are available. There is a huge price disparity between certain supplements. Some are very cheap and others comparatively expensive. Naturally, you would want potency to increase along with price -- which the expensive ones certainly do -- but the real advantage of CDP-choline (expensive) over something like choline citrate (cheap) is its fanciness.
All choline precursors follow the same protocol: choline bound with some other chemical. For the cheap supplements, the choline is bound to another relatively inactive compound, so you're essentially getting just choline. But the expensive acetylcholine precursors consist of choline bound with other biologically active compounds that enhance absorption or produce other reactions that work to multiply choline's effects. Below is a list of the most common formulations. Each has its own particular benefits and detractions.
Choline bitartrate and choline citrate
These two are thrown together because they are so similar in the most important respects. Simple choline salts are cheap as dirt, but have questionable potency. Users have complained of stomach aches because of the amount consumed for desired effects, but you get what you pay for.
You may ask why these compounds are not very potent. Technically free choline, due to its polarity, would not be able to cross the blood-brain barrier. While we have a choline transport system, it's sadly inefficient and seems to decline with age.
Hands down, this is the best choline source available. Multitudes of animal research and fair amounts of human research attest to the efficacy of CDP-choline, or citicoline.
Human studies have shown neuro-protective and neuro-regenerative effects
and a proven efficacy for improving the following conditions:
Age-related memory and learning deficits
Glaucoma-induced ocular damage
Traumatic brain injury
CDP-choline is more expensive than bitartrate and citrate, but generally cheaper than alpha-GPC.
A natural choline compound already swimming around your brain and derived from soy lecithin, this is probably the most bioavailable choline source, but also the most expensive. You should expect similar effects as you would with citicoline. One study found alpha-GPC more effective than citicoline for vascular dementia, with another showing higher plasma choline levels after alpha administration over CDP.
As you can see, alpha-GPC and CDP-choline are the two rock stars of acetylcholine precursors. Some studies suggest GPC is better, but there is just so much more research attesting to the efficacy of CDP-choline.
You may notice by now that you need an acetyl to go with that lonely choline for magic to happen. That is absolutely true, and a great addition to a basic choline stack is ALCAR, or acetylcarnitine.
Acetyl L-carnitine is great stuff -- no argument. It's naturally produced in your body during strenuous exercise, and supplementation has dramatic effects, irrespective of its role in energy production.
By donating the acetyl group, ALCAR enhances acetylcholine production.
Both ALCAR and L-carnitine stimulate muscle production.
It stimulates nerve growth factor release.
Improves neuronal membrane fluidity (more communication).
Acetylcholine receptor agonist.
Increases the utilization of glucose, ketone bodies, and lipid substrates in the brain.
Improves choline uptake (thus acetylcholine synthesis).
Aside from the pro-cognitive effects, ALCAR may have overall lifespan enhancing effects. Simply put, our mitochondria (powerhouse of cells) have to put up with decades of abuse, and they produce toxic reactive oxygen species (ROS), or free radicals. A damaged mitochondrion is leaky and our current understanding of the aging process points many fingers toward this compromised structure. "Acetyl-L-carnitine, a high-energy mitochondrial substrate, appears to reverse many age-associated deficits in cellular function."
This compound is frequently cited as a choline precursor, but it probably has little if anything to do with acetylcholine production. Rather, DMAE seems to bind with phospholipids that compose cellular membranes. Where phosphatidylcholine would be, phosphatidyl-dimethylaminoethanol now takes its place, increasing membrane permeability and antioxidant capacity.
Also known as meclofenoxate, this is basically supercharged DMAE (specifically an ester of DMAE). Though limited evidence suggests mental stimulation and memory improvement, it has beneficial phospholipid properties with little direct effects on choline or acetylcholine.
If you are taking any of the racetam derivatives, then you probably know that the cholinergic system is involved with their effects. Many people believe this means your brain on piracetam, for example, will consume more choline than otherwise. Two studies, conducted on rats, assert that piracetam and oxiracetam reduces hippocampal acetylcholine levels.[32,33] Regardless, other animal studies suggest a synergistic effect with racetams and a choline source. For many, choline and piracetam is like bacon and eggs -- it just feels right for them to keep each other company.
Although it's not technically a "racetam", Noopept is structurally very similar, and yields a piracetam-like effect, but many think it's even better.
It stacks incredibly well with choline -- you can read more on the Noopept blog post linked just above.
According to the Institute of Medicine, the adequate intake (AI) of choline is 425mg/day for women and 550mg/day for men. As a reference, any of the choline salts (bitartrate, citrate) are about 41% free choline. So something over 1000mg should satisfy your minimum daily requirements.
Remember that choline is present in many foods, most prominently in beef, beef liver, and eggs.
Hands down, CDP choline (citicoline) is the best choline source available.
It's difficult to determine what the optimal dose would be for cognitive function. The cholinergic system is tricky, and everyone is different. With that said, the most common dose for all choline precursors falls somewhere between 250mg to 2000mg.
None of these statements constitute medical advice. These supplements are not regulated or approved by the FDA. You should consult a medical doctor before embarking on self-treatment.
The side effects of choline supplementation seem few, mild, and transient. As mentioned above, people occasionally complain of stomach discomfort. If you happen to have the rare genetic disorder, trimethylaminuria, consuming too much choline will make your body exude the odor of overripe fish.
- Alvarez, XA; Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology; "Double-blind placebo-controlled study with citicoline in APOE genotyped Alzheimer's disease patients. Effects on cognitive performance, brain bioelectrical activity and cerebral perfusion;" 1999
- Secades, JJ; Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology; "CDP-choline: pharmacological and clinical review;" 1995
- Marti Masso, JF; Clinical Therapeutics; "Citicoline in the treatment of Parkinson's disease;" 1991
- Cubells, JM; Clinical Therapeutics; "Clinical trial on the use of cytidine diphosphate choline in Parkinson's disease;" 1988
- Babb, SM, et. al.; Psychopharmacology; "Chronic citicoline increases phosphodiesters in the brains of healthy older subjects: an in vivo phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy study;" 2002
- Antoni D?valos, MD, et. al.; American Heart Association; "Oral Citicoline in Acute Ischemic Stroke An Individual Patient Data Pooling Analysis of Clinical Trials;" 2002
- Lukas, SE, et. al; Psychopharmacology; "Effects of short-term citicoline treatment on acute cocaine intoxication and cardiovascular effects;" 2001
- Renshaw, PF, et. al.; Psychopharmacology; "Decreased activity of brain phospholipid metabolic enzymes in human users of cocaine and methamphetamine;" 1999
- Renshaw, PF, et. al.; Psychopharmacology; "Short-term treatment with citicoline (CDP-choline) attenuates some measures of craving in cocaine-dependent subjects: a preliminary report;" 1999
- Parisi, V, et. al.; Progress in Brain Research; "Evidence of the neuroprotective role of citicoline in glaucoma atients;" 2008
- Secades, JJ, et. al.; Methods and Findings in Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology; "CDP-choline: pharmacological and clinical review;" 1995
- Zafonte, R.; Journal of Neurotrauma; "The citicoline brain injury treatment (COBRIT) trial: Design and methods;" 2009
- Deutsch, SI, et. al.; Clinical Neuropharmacology; "First administration of cytidine diphosphocholine and galantamine in schizophrenia: A sustained alpha7 nicotinic agonist strategy;" 2008
- De Jesus Moreno Moreno, M; Clinical Therapeutics; "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;" 2003
- Di Perri, R, et. al; Journal of International Medical Research; "A multicentre trial to evaluate the efficacy and tolerability of alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine versus cytosine diphosphocholine in patients with vascular dementia." 1991
- Shigenaga, MK, et. al.; PNAS; "Oxidative damage and mitochondrial decay in aging;" 1994
- Na?ecz, KA, et. al.; Molecular Aspects of Medicine; "Carnitine: transport and physiological functions in the brain;" 2004
- Gibson, GE, et. al.; Biochemical Pharmacology; "Studies on the metabolic pathway of the acetyl group for acetylcholine synthesis;" 1980
- Aureli, T, et. al.; Brain Research; Aging brain: Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine treatment on rat brain energy and phospholipid metabolism. A study by 31P and 1H NMR spectroscopy;" 1990
- Angelucci, L, et. al; Journal of Neuroscience Research; "Nerve growth factor binding in aged rat central nervous system: Effect of acetyl-L-carnitine;" 1988
- Plovesan, P, et. al.; Brain Research; "Acetyl-L-carnitine treatment increases choline acetyltransferase activity and NGF levels in the CNS of adult rats following total fimbria-fornix transection;" 1994
- Precursors of acetyl groups in acetylcholine in the brain in vivo. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Biochim+Biophys+Acta.+1970+Jun%3B208(3)%3A538-40.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine as a precursor of acetylcholine. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Neurochem+Res.+1990+Jun%3B15(6)%3A597-601.
- Acetyl-L-carnitine and Alzheimer's disease: pharmacological considerations beyond the cholinergic sphere. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8239306
- Is 2-dimethylaminoethanol (deanol) indeed a precursor of brain acetylcholine? A gas chromatographic evaluation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/850128
- On the role of intracellular physicochemistry in quantitative gene expression during aging and the effect of centrophenoxine. A review http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0167494389900423
- Brain S-adenosylmethionine levels are severely decreased in Alzheimer's disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8752143
- Oral S-adenosylmethionine in depression: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2183633
- Choline and betaine in health and disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20446114
- Comparison of the efficacy of inhaled budesonide and oral choline in patients with allergic rhinitis. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15806211
- Zeisel, Steven; Annual Review of Nutrition; "Choline: critical role during fetal development and dietary requirements in adults;"
- Piracetam diminishes hippocampal acetylcholine levels in rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Life+Sci.+1981+Mar+9%3B28(10)%3A1091-3
- Effect of oxiracetam and piracetam on central cholinergic mechanisms and active-avoidance acquisition. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3594455
- Profound effects of combining choline and piracetam on memory enhancement and cholinergic function in aged rats. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7301036
- Wurtman, RJ; Pharmacological Reviews; "Precursor control of neurotransmitter synthesis;" 1980 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6115400
- Spector SA, Jackman MR, Sabounjian LA, Sakas C, Landers DM, Willis VVT. Effect of choline supplementation on fatigue in trained cyclists. Med Sci Sports Exerc 1995;27(5):669-73.
- Conlay LA, Wurtman RJ, Blusztajn JK, Covielia IJ, Maher TJ, Evoniuk GE; NEJM, "Decreased plasma choline concentrations in marathon runners;" 1986.
- The differential effects of meclofenoxate on memory loss in the elderly. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/329662
- Choline: an essential nutrient for public health.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19906248
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Proccor's Ultra Octane is a new stimulant free pre workout that packs in everything needed for enhanced performance, pumps, and recovery.
Jun 06, 2016 Blog Post:
BZERQ by AlphaOne Labs: Focused Pre Workout Down Under
BZERQ by Alpha One Labs is a new focus-based pre workout supplement in Australia that has a serious new stimulant Ozzies and Kiwis must try!
May 20, 2016 Blog Post:
Transparent Labs PreSeries STIM-FREE: Naturally Heavy Pumps
Transparent Labs PreSeries STIM-FREE is a comprehensive pre workout that offers pumps, focus, endurance, and power all without the use of stimulants.
May 10, 2016 Blog Post:
BPI Best PRE Workout – A Keto Diet Pre Workout?
BPI Sports has a new keto-targeted product tilted Best Pre Workout, using the keto-inducing power of BHB to help you burn fat for fuel during workouts
Apr 26, 2016 Blog Post:
Momentum Nutrition Formula 56: High-Powered Fat Burner
Formula 56: Momentum Nutrition has just released their 3rd supplement, a transparently dosed fat burner to help with the summer cut.
Apr 15, 2016 Blog Post:
Proccor Pre-RX – Workout Enhancement for Focused Athletes
Proccor has upgraded their monster pre workout Pre-Rx and it's the perfect prescription for your workout.
Apr 13, 2016 Blog Post:
Pumped Sports Loaded – A Solid Pre from Far Away
Pumped Sports is an up and coming New Zealand supplement brand with big things! Loaded is a comprehensive pre workout that is packed with goodies.
Mar 28, 2016 Blog Post:
Olympus Labs ELIX1R of the Gods & Goddesses
Olympus Labs ELIX1R is a focus and energy supplement that's great for everyone from the gym to the gamers. Everything we could ask for all in one!
Mar 28, 2016 Blog Post:
Komodo Katana v4 – A Sharper Sword w/ Moderate Stims
Komodo Katana v4 is out, and it's a pre workout supplement that perfectly balances energy, focus, pumps, and endurance for low/moderate stim users!
Mar 16, 2016 Blog Post:
Hemavo2 MAX Upgraded (2016)! Get Your Guns Ready!
The King of Pumps is back! iForce Nutrition has reformulated Hemavo2 Max to include a whopping dose of HydroMax and Nitrates.
Feb 08, 2016 Blog Post:
Magnum Rocket Science – Research-Backed Energy Capsule
Rocket Science from Magnum Nutraceuticals is a research-backed capsule based pre workout that increases energy, focus, and alertness.
Jan 14, 2016 Blog Post:
PreSeries BULK – $49 Pre Workout Has Industry Abuzz…
Transparent Labs PreSeries Bulk is a serious pre workout, with efficacious doses of everything you'd want in a pre workout. But is it worth $49?!
Jan 06, 2016 Blog Post:
Alpha GPC for Strength CONFIRMED: 600mg/day for Legs!
Alpha-GPC for strength CONFIRMED! A new study found that 600mg daily of Alpha GPC significantly improves leg strength, and possibly more!
Dec 29, 2015 Blog Post:
Olympus Labs TR1UMPH: Next-Gen Muscle Builder
Olympus Labs TR1UMPH is an all new formulation muscle-builder that's retooled to be all natural for gains and recovery, based on phosphatidic acid!
Dec 02, 2015 Blog Post:
Conqu3r Unleashed by Olympus Labs: Balanced Perfection
Olympus Labs Conqu3r Unleashed has hit the market! Get the full scoop on just what's inside this super balanced high-powered pre workout supplement
Nov 25, 2015 Blog Post:
Nitramine 2015: Myokem’s Reformulation for MORE Focus
Myokem Nitramine has been updated as the popular focus pre workout removes picamilon in favor of L-Theanine and Theacrine, and adds ALCAR over LCLT.
Nov 24, 2015 Blog Post:
Modern PRE: The Next Generation USPLabs Pre Workout
Modern PRE is the new USPLabs pre workout supplement that's slated for late 2015 / early 2016. Rumor has it that it will be LOADED!
Nov 23, 2015 Blog Post:
Rich Piana’s MENTALITY – Cognitive Booster Leaves *Nothing* Out
Rich Piana's Mentality is a cognition boosting supplement that contains virtually every nootropic and amino acid to elevate memory and mental function.
Nov 04, 2015 Blog Post:
Best Sleep Aid Guide: Supplements, Ingredients, & Herbs
What's the Best Sleep Aid? It depends if you want a full-blown sleep aid supplement, or just a single-ingredient herb or compound. We cover it all!
Nov 02, 2015 Blog Post:
Olympus Labs Conqu3r Unleashed Stim-Free: Loaded to the Gills!
Conqu3r Unleashed Stim-Free is the Olympus Labs caffeine-free pre workout unveiled with 5 patented ingredients all clinically dosed.
Oct 29, 2015 Blog Post:
Myokem Pyroxamine: Everyone’s Favorite Focus Fat Burner
Pyroxamine is the Myokem fat burner with focus! They've unveiled the new formulation of Pyroxamine, replacing picamilon, adding theanine and theacrine
Oct 21, 2015 Blog Post:
C4 Neuro – Cellucor’s C4 with FOCUS
C4 Neuro is the latest incarnation of Cellucor's pre workout that packs a lot of the things you love about the standard plus of a potent nootropic blend.
Oct 01, 2015 Blog Post:
Carbon PREP – Layne Norton’s Pre Workout DOA
Carbon Prep is Layne Norton's debut nearly-stim-free pre workout for his brand new supplement line, Carbon. Let's see what's in store (it's LOADED!)
Sep 23, 2015 Blog Post:
MuscleSport Rhino Black – High Energy & Pump Pre Workout
Rhino Black is the newest high energy, pump-centric workout from MuscleSport specifically tailored to give razor focus and skin-splitting pumps!
Sep 08, 2015 Blog Post:
CT Fletcher’s Pre Workout ISYMFS by iSatori Analyzed
CT Fletcher's pre workout supplement, ISYMFS, is finally here from the YouTube fitness star and iSatori! Will it make you an "IRON ADDICT"?
Aug 11, 2015 Blog Post:
OxySport Black: MusclePharm’s Fat Burning Goes to the Dark Side
OxySport Black is the latest fat burner from Musclepharm as part of their GNC-exclusive Black Line of products that boasts focus, energy, and fat burning.
Aug 04, 2015 Blog Post:
BPI Burn XS – Stim-Free Focus Fat Burner
BPI Burn XS is the newest one-pill weight loss solution from BPI that promises "mind bending clarity" in addition to weight loss, but no stimulants
Jun 09, 2015 Blog Post:
Noopept Mega Guide: Enhancing the Smart Within
Noopept is a nootropic (cognitive brain enhancer) that's gaining huge popularity. We discuss the best noopept benefits, dosage, and side effects here
Apr 30, 2015 Blog Post:
Altius Pre Workout Review (Jacked Factory)
ALTISU PricePlow is back with a full in-depth review of Jacked Factory's fantastic pre-workout, Altius.
Apr 29, 2015 Blog Post:
Controlled Labs White Rapids – Feel the Rush!
Controlled Labs White Rapids is a new pre workout supplement meant to replace the White Flood franchise. The ingredient label is open and looks great!
Apr 03, 2015 Blog Post:
ONWARD: Flag Nor Fail’s Unique Health Supplement
The ONWARD Supplement is a new daily immune/energy/focus/mood booster from Flag Nor Fail's Rob and Dana Linn Bailey. But is it worth the price?
Mar 31, 2015 Blog Post:
Altius Pre-Workout by Jacked Factory: The G.O.A.T?!
The Altius Pre Workout by Jacked Factory is an Amazon product that is absolutely LOADED and has tons of great reviews. We analyze the ingredients.
Feb 12, 2015 Blog Post:
SAN MegaTron – Stim-Free Supplement as Good as its Name
SAN MegaTron is a stimulant-free pre workout supplement that has exciting doses of both nitric oxide boosters AND focus enhancers. And what a name!
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Choline Deals & Price Alerts
The following deals are still active:
- Apr 13, 2018: Jarrow Formulas Citicoline 60 Capsules dropped by 9.7% to $14.43 at Amazon.com
- Apr 13, 2018: Jarrow Formulas Citicoline 120 Capsules dropped by 9.4% to $27.18 at Amazon.com
- Apr 12, 2018: Nature's Way Choline & Inositol 100 Capsules dropped by 13.0% to $9.39 at AllStarHealth
- Apr 11, 2018: Twinlab Choline & Inositol Caps 100 Capsules dropped by 12.3% to $8.89 at AllStarHealth
- Mar 22, 2018: NOW Alpha-GPC 60 Vcaps dropped by 12.5% to $16.19 at DPS Nutrition
- Jan 13, 2018: Twinlab Choline Caps 100 Capsules dropped by 7.1% to $9.19 at AllStarHealth
- Dec 22, 2017: PrimaForce Choline Bitartrate 250 Grams dropped by 9.5% to $21.72 at iHerb.com
- Nov 28, 2017: Country Life Phosphatidyl Choline Complex 100 Softgels dropped by 7.0% to $11.48 at Best Price Nutrition
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Choline Reviews & YouTube Videos
Oct 03, 2017: Brain Boosting Smart Drug ?!? | AZOTH NOOTROPIC V2
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Choline Topics in the PricePlow Forum
- Mar 14, 2018: Sparta Nutrition Cogni Keto Review
- Nov 03, 2017: Anastasis Konnect -- The Professional's Nootropic
- Sep 29, 2017: Choline Supplements: What's the Best Form for Focus?