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How CDP Choline (Citicoline) Protects Your Brain

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There are a number of compounds that play an integral role in protecting the body’s everyday functions. One of these is a naturally-occurring compound called cytidinediphosphocholine. Also known as cytidine-5-diphosphocholine and cytidine diphosphate choline, we’ll keep things simple and refer to this compound as CDP Choline (or its generic pharmaceutical name: citicoline) for short.

CDP Choline is a rather important compound, as it plays a role in protecting the brain — one of our body’s most vital organs. But how exactly does a compound with such a long-winded name complete this important task? To find out, let’s explore CDP choline’s journey through various systems of our body and discover its ultimate purpose along the way.

Producing CDP Choline

CDP Choline can be found in every single cell within your body, and especially within the cells that make their home in your brain (neurons). But to produce CDP Choline in the first place, the compound must undergo a number of transformations along the way. And it all starts by binding a choline molecule to a cytidine molecule. Let’s explore that process in more detail.


Choline is a molecule that’s metabolized by the powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria. When this first occurs, choline is metabolized by choline oxidase, and then again by betaine aldehyde dehydrogenase (both of which are enzymes that speed up chemical reactions in the body).

As a result, trimethylglycine is produced, which is an amino acid found in quinoa, spinach, beets, and other nourishing plant-based foods. Additionally, choline is turned into acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that plays a pivotal role in memory, muscle movement, regulating heartbeat and other basic functions.

More importantly, however, is the fact that trimethylglycine plays an integral role in the process of methylation. During methylation, the body’s cells donate methyl groups to other processes of the body, which include maintaining neurotransmitters such as dopamine and serotonin. As a result of methylation, our genes naturally adjust during our lifetime without doing so on the genetic level. Instead they simply change physically.

Choline can be found in foods like eggs, peanuts, and meats, but it can also be purchased as a supplement ever since the National Academy of Sciences deemed it a necessary part of one’s diet in 1988.


Cytidine is what we call a nucleoside molecule, meaning it plays an integral role in forming the genetic information that’s stored in all living cells. Cytidine is formed through the bonding of cytosine to a ribose ring, a structural component of ribonucleic acid, or RNA. This essentially means that cytidine is a major component of ribonucleic acid.

Though it’s not quite the same as DNA, RNA still plays a major role in our body’s genetics. RNA’s duty is to convert the genetic code in our DNA, and make it more capable of protein production.

Because cytidine is a part of the whole that makes up RNA, it’s easy for us to find cytidine in foods that have a high RNA content. Think of animal products, and especially organ meats, as the type of food that would contain large quantities of RNA. Yeast just so happens to be another great source as well, so don’t feel so guilty if you decide to grab a beer.

Choline & Cytidine

Now that we’ve outlined the basics of choline and cytidine, it’s time to break down how these compounds work in harmony and how they contribute to brain health. When choline and cytidine combine, they form CDP choline, a natural constituent of the brain’s chemistry that is essential to normal, healthy brain function.

Found heavily in both the organs of animals and choline-rich foods like eggs, beef, and poultry, CDP Choline provides neuroprotection against mental conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia, head trauma, cerebrovascular diseases like strokes, age-related memory loss, Parkinson’s disease, attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and diseases that lead to cognitive impairment.

Yet because CDP Choline isn’t present in food in high enough quantities, we can assist the body’s natural production of CDP Choline by taking it as a dietary supplement in citicoline form. Remember that citicoline is the very same thing as CDP Choline, only it is in supplemental form.

CDP Choline and Your Brain

We’ve discussed in brief the neuroprotective effects that CDP Choline has on the body, but let’s further examine these benefits in more detail, along with the common side effects that one may encounter along the way when consuming CDP Choline in supplemental form.


CDP Choline has been used for a multitude of reasons ever since it was originally developed in Japan to treat stroke patients and those suffering from brain injury. Since then, the naturally-occurring compound has made its way across the country, where Europe now uses it as a prescription drug to increase circulation within the brain tissue. It is seen by many as a nootropic, meaning it may improve cognitive function and increase dopamine levels in healthy individuals.

In the U.S., however, CDP Choline remains a dietary supplement because it has not been approved for clinical use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While research using clinical trials has suggested that CDP Choline increases blood flow to the brain and bioelectrical activity patterns in those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, there’s not enough concrete evidence showing that this is the end result for all patients.

Despite the FDA’s resistance to CDP Choline, healthcare providers do recommend it for the elderly population or for those looking to boost cognitive performance. CDP Choline seems to slow the process of memory loss in those aged 50-85 years, increase blood circulation within the brain, and prevent major damage caused by stroke.

Those who consume citicoline by mouth after suffering an ischemic stroke (cerebral ischemia) within 24 hours of the stroke itself are more likely to completely recover within 3 months. And those who take citicoline intravenously within 12 hours of a stroke and continue to do so for 7 days will also notice short term recovery.

While these are the most popular and noteworthy uses for CDP Choline, other uses have been noted as well, though many of these rely on insufficient evidence that requires further clinical review.

For instance, CDP Choline is said to help treat glaucoma by improving vision, it may reduce cocaine use in people with bipolar disorder and cocaine addiction, and it can boost memory performance alongside cognitive function and verbal memory. But again, these claims require more concrete evidence to prove their merit.

Side Effects

As is the case with most dietary supplements and medications we put in our body, CDP Choline has its own share of potential side effects that one must consider before using a citicoline supplement.

Most medical research recommends you only consume the citicoline supplement by mouth over the short term, for up to 90 days. While most individuals report no side effects when taking citicoline, others have noted trouble sleeping (insomnia), headaches, diarrhea, low or high blood pressure, nausea, blurred vision, and chest pain.

Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also avoid taking citicoline entirely, as research and evidence on the effects of citicoline on pregnant women and their unborn children is unreliable. If you’re considering taking the citicoline supplement, consider speaking with a healthcare professional before doing so, especially if you have any history of previous medical conditions.

CDP Choline and You

Like many dietary supplements that seek to aid one’s cognitive abilities while improving brain health, CDP Choline is a supplement that’s well-suited for certain populations, but may not be for others. Those who are elderly, suffering from a stroke, or battling addiction will likely see the greatest benefits. Others, however, would do well to consult a healthcare professional while ensuring their diet, exercise, and even sleep efficiency are up to snuff before using citicoline as a cure-all for any ailments.

When used responsibly, CDP Choline is a powerful compound with some amazing capabilities, but be sure to consult your physician and consider what effects it may have on you before consuming it in any form.

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