Neuronutrient Citicoline Supports Cognitive Function & Longevity — Here's How*
When you've got errands to run and emails to read, thinking about taking care of your brain can feel like a drag. And yet, brain health is precisely what will help you power through these tasks, especially as you get older.
That being said, it's never too early to be proactive about protecting your brain and optimizing cognitive longevity. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to nourish your noggin, from prioritizing sleep to eating an antioxidant-rich diet.
You can also take it one step further by adding a potent brain nutrient to your supplement lineup, such as citicoline. As one of the main active ingredients in brain guard+ (mbg's advanced nootropic supplement), citicoline might be just what you need to sharpen your mind.*
What is citicoline?
First, a quick primer on choline, a nutrient that's vital for brain health: Choline is an essential precursor to acetylcholine and phosphatidylcholine1—two critical brain compounds.
Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter (i.e., signaling molecule) involved in basic cognitive processes, while phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid (i.e., fatty-acid-containing molecule) that's necessary for healthy cell membranes.
Essentially, choline "feeds major metabolic pathways for brain function and structure," integrative neurologist Romie Mushtaq, M.D., tells mbg. So, it's no surprise that healthy choline levels are associated with overall cognitive function and performance.
Your liver can produce some choline, but it's not enough to meet the body's needs, so it's important to get enough via food and supplementation. And while it's found in some foods—like salmon, shiitake mushrooms, eggs, Brussels sprouts, and almonds—most Americans don't get enough choline from food. (This is where the supplement citicoline comes in.)
According to Mushtaq, citicoline is the ingredient form of cytidine-diphosphocholine (CDP-choline). Both citicoline and CDP-choline consist of choline; in fact, they're chemically identical.
The only difference? Citicoline is a supplement, while CDP-choline naturally occurs in humans, explains Mushtaq. But since the latter is only found in foods like liver and organ meats, a citicoline supplement might be ideal if they aren't a regular part of your diet.
According to Danielle Citrolo, PharmD, vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs at Kyowa Hakko USA, citicoline has been widely used in the United States as a nutritional ingredient since the early '90s.
Citicoline is primarily used to support brain health and can be found in single-ingredient supplements or paired with other nootropic ingredients, as seen in mbg's brain guard+. In this advanced brain nutrient formula, citicoline is delivered as Cognizin® (the clinically researched, premium form) in the full-potency, clinically studied dose of 500 milligrams.
Given the nationwide choline gap and limited food sources of choline/CDP-choline, citicoline has a place in every brain-friendly routine. As Mushtaq notes, "Most people could benefit from supplementation of citicoline to fulfill their metabolic demand for choline."*
Benefits of citicoline.
As a powerhouse neuronutrient, citicoline is worth keeping in mind (pun intended). Here's what the ingredient does to help bolster your cognitive health and function:
If you're looking to increase your mental RAM (random access memory), consider citicoline. Here's why:
"Citicoline is a critical step in our body's metabolism of phosphatidylcholine," explains Eri Nakazaki, Ph.D., lead researcher at Kirin Central Research Institute. Phosphatidylcholine is a phospholipid that's found in brain tissue and critical for healthy brain function. Giving your body more citicoline helps it make more phospholipid membrane components, as proven by clinical research.*
Nakazaki expounds further: "It's incredibly important to increase cell membrane turnover in the brain, as this helps membrane fluidity and plasticity, fortifies cell membranes and structures, and enhances neuron communication. Phospholipid turnover helps to support the structural integrity of neurons, which then support how they function." This includes critical brain functions such as—you guessed it—memory.
However, the brain begins to lose phospholipids in one's 20s, reaching a 10% to 20% loss by 80 to 90 years old in healthy individuals, Nakazaki tells mbg. Citicoline can help enhance those phospholipid levels, ultimately supporting memory and brain health over time.*
The memory benefits of citicoline have been frequently observed in research. For instance, in a 2021 clinical trial2 published by the Journal of Nutrition, 12 weeks of citicoline supplementation as Cognizin® (500 milligrams) improved overall memory, particularly episodic memory.* In another study3, citicoline enhanced verbal memory in older adults.*
Bolsters neuronal health & function.
As citicoline supports phosphatidylcholine formation, it also helps protect the neurons (i.e., nerve cells) in your brain.* Remember, phosphatidylcholine is a major component of our brain tissue, making up about 30% of our brain's phospholipids, says Nakazaki.
Phospholipids maintain the main building blocks for cell membrane integrity, thereby controlling what comes in and out of the cell. However, "if there are not enough phospholipids, brain cell function can slow down," notes Nakazaki.
Increases mental energy.
According to Karen E. Todd, MBA, R.D., registered dietitian and vice president of global brand marketing at Kyowa Hakko USA, another benefit of citicoline as Cognizin® is mental energy support.*
In one clinical study from NMR in Biomedicine, six weeks of Cognizin® supplementation (i.e., a daily 500-milligram dose) increased energy reserves and utilization in the brain; specifically, the study observed a 14% increase in ATP, aka cellular energy, after this regular routine of citicoline supplementation.*
Citicoline also supports the health of mitochondria, the energy-producing centers of the cell.* This is crucial for keeping your brain fuel in check, as the brain uses 20% of the body's energy (at rest!).
As citicoline supports memory and mental energy, it can also enhance your brain's ability to learn.*
For example, in a randomized clinical trial4 from Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, CDP-choline (which is, again, chemically identical to citicoline) improved verbal learning.*
In another clinical trial5 published by Nature Communications, older individuals that took 500 milligrams of citicoline every day for six weeks performed better on a learning test.* This effect was attributed to the citicoline-induced rise in phospholipids.
Enhances cognitive performance.
Citicoline benefits also extend to overall cognitive performance.
As mentioned, the nutrient elevates levels of crucial neurotransmitters—most notably, acetylcholine, which regulates cognitive functions like focus, attention, and concentration.* Citicoline also maintains the healthy activity of nerves related to acetylcholine, ultimately supporting the brain's communication circuits.*
But take note: Citicoline as Cognizin® isn't just a performance ingredient, says Todd. It's a brain nutrient that provides proactive cognitive support throughout life to promote brain longevity and support a healthy brain span.*
Potential side effects.
"Overall, citicoline is a very well-tolerated ingredient," shares Citrolo, adding that the side effects observed in studies are similar to those seen in placebo groups.
That said, there are no reports of serious side effects related to citicoline. If side effects do occur, they're mild and resolve without intervention. (Examples include a transient headache and a slight tingling sensation.)
Citicoline is a potent brain nutrient that's found in supplement form. In the body, it metabolizes into choline, which maintains important neurotransmitters and protects cell membranes. This translates into a plethora of brain benefits—including memory support, mental clarity, and improved cognitive performance.*
To get the most out of citicoline, look for a supplement with the clinically researched, full-potency dose of 500 milligrams.
You'll find this exact amount of citicoline (delivered as Cognizin®) in mindbodygreen's brain guard+, along with the kanna botanical for stress resilience and mood balance, plus polyphenol resveratrol for antioxidant benefits and brain blood flow support.* Together, this advanced neuroprotective formula makes it easy to flex your brain span—today and down the road!*
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle journalist based in Beacon, New York. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition from Texas Woman's University and Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from SUNY Oneonta. Kirsten specializes in nutrition, fitness, food, and DIY; her work has been featured in a variety of publications, including eHow, SparkPeople, and international editions of Cosmopolitan. She also creates recipes for food product packaging.