Food & Fitness After 50: Citicoline for brain health?

In 2015 I wrote a post on a dietary supplement called citicoline. For the post click here.

HealthyBrainIn the post I wrote about learning of citicoline at a conference and was given a sample. My husband had been experiencing some trouble finding the right word when he was speaking so he wanted to try the supplement. From that day on he has continued to use the product. Although his report of improved brain health is anecdotal (one person’s subjective experience does not equal a fact) there is some research to support the positive effects of the supplement. He is such a disciple of citicoline that many of his family and friends now take it. But, should you?

I was interested in finding additional and more current, research since the 2015 post was written but didn’t find much. One reason might be that dietary supplement companies tend not to invest in rigorous experimental research trials because they are not required to do so to market a supplement. Unlike drugs, dietary supplements don’t have to prove they work to be sold; that’s why there are so many supplements readily available.

Chemical structure of citicoline

To begin, citicoline is a naturally occurring brain chemical. It is not found to any great extent in foods (there is some in organ meats) but when taken as a supplement it is broken down into choline (a B-vitamin) and a compound called cytidine which is then metabolized to uridine. That’s important because citicoline can’t cross the protective blood brain barrier but choline and uridine can. Once in the brain the compounds convert to citicoline, sometimes called CDP-choline. In turn, citicoline increases the brain chemical phosphtidylcholine that helps brain function and increases the number of chemical messengers in the brain.

When I first reviewed the literature the small number of studies that had been published cautiously suggested that supplemental citicoline could be an effective treatment for mild cognitive impairment but more research was needed to see if the effect was long term (most studies are short term…a few weeks to a few months) and if it could slow the progression to dementia.

A study published in 2012 was well-controlled: by a well-controlled study I mean the participants in the study were randomized to treatment and it was double-blind…neither the researchers nor the participants knew who was getting the citicoline or placebo. The researchers studied 60 healthy women, between the ages of 40 and 60, and showed that when given either 250 or 500 milligrams of citicoline both groups improved on tests to measure mental attention compared to the placebo group. However, this was another short-term study; just 28 days.

My quest to find more current research was unsuccessful so I turned to Natural Medicines Database for their review. The conclusion, which was last updated in November of 2019, was that citicoline is “possibly effective” for a decline in memory and thinking sills that occur with normal aging. Supplemental citicoline “seems to help memory loss in people aged 50 to 85 years.” The review noted there is insufficient evidence to say it prevents or reverses memory losses in those with Alzheimer’s Disease. There are minimal side effects, although some people report trouble sleeping, headache, or nausea.

The dose of citicoline ranges from 250 milligrams to 2000 milligrams a day, but the range of 250 to 500 milligrams is a usual dose used the research studies.

If you choose to try citicoline, it is always recommended to discuss with your health care provider. And, be sure to include all over-the-counter medications, including dietary supplements, when your doctor asks about medications you are taking.

CDP_suplrgI found over 150 products marketed that contain citicoline, some with fanciful names, liked Active Mind or Brain Wave that claim to “speed up your brain.” Many of those products also contain caffeine; the likely source of “speeding” the brain. If you get the blessing from your physician and want to try it, stick to one that just contains citicoline. Two reputable products are Cognizin (Kyowa Hakko) and Citicoline CDP choline (Jarrow). The Jarrow formula is the one that my husband takes.

As for me, my memory is good and I haven’t found a reason to try a supplement, but my husband believes it has helped him.

To learn more about dietary patterns and supplements for those 50, 60, 70, and beyond, check out Food & Fitness After 50available on Amazon and other booksellers.

Disclosure: I have no financial connection to any dietary supplement, including the citicoline brands mentioned in this article.


Copyright © 2019 [Christine Rosenbloom]. All Rights Reserved.