Today’s post is an overview of the most well-known and preferred choline sources of nootropic users. Also: If you’re tight on money, I’ll show you how to raise your ACh on the cheap.
Anyway, many nootropic gurus and other psychonauts suggest that you add a source of choline before taking a substance like Piracetam or Pramiracetam due to their effect on choline uptake in the brain.1
The general idea is that when you take a substance like this, its effect in cognition is caused by or leads to an increased use in the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh), the major building block of which is the substance choline. When ACh is used up or otherwise diminished acutely, it can lead to the effects of brain fog, lack of ability to focus, and so on — These are all symptoms of diminished acetylcholine.
Therefore, it would serve one well to compensate for diminshed ACh caused by nootropic supplementation with a choline source.
Alpha-GPC as choline source
Considered by far to be the best choline source overall, Alpha-GPC does come with a catch: it is more expensive than other options.
Alpha-GPC 50% can be purchased at Powder City for about 50 cents a gram ($1.00 if you account for the fact that it’s 50%), cheaper if you purchase more in bulk.
If you can get it anywhere cheaper, do so. Just make sure they’re a reputable source.
Anyway, Alpha-GPC is purportedly able to cross the blood-brain barrier effectively compared to other choline sources.2 Examine.com also has this to say in regard to Alpha-GPC’s effect on brain acetylcholine levels:
Can possibly increase brain acetylcholine levels, although this may be localized to the frontal cortex. It is more reliable in preserving acetylcholine concentrations during stressors (such as anticholinergics) and Alpha-GPC is also implicated in increasing expression of the vesicular acetylcholine transporter3
Based on the above, Alpha-GPC is not known to totally increase brain acetylcholine, but it does so locally in the frontal cortex (the “conscious” decision-making center of the brain) and possibly a select few other areas.
Other benefits of supplementing Alpha-GPC:
- Alpha-GPC has been noted in one study to increase power output by 14% in resistance exercise (bench press).4
- In the same study above, it is noted that Alpha-GPC increases growth hormone response to resistance exercise.
- According to Examine.com’s page on Alpha-GPC, it is also notable for reducing cognitive decline and symptoms of Alzheimers.
CDP Choline (Citicoline) as choline source
Another heavy-hitter choline source, it’s just a little less expensive than Alpha-GPC but is often compared to it as a top-tier choline source because it can also cross that blood-brain barrier.
It can be purchased at Powder City for $1.45 per gram
CDP Choline is called a prodrug for choline and uridine by Examine.com5. This means the body simply breaks this substance down into those two components.6 Uridine on its own is known to have some nootropic/cognitive-enhancing effects. By extension, CDP Choline may contain the same benefits as both.
Other benefits of supplementing CDP Choline:
- May augment dopaminergic activity7 though higher doses (900mg injection) have shown to be antagonistic to dopamine (as acetylcholine tends to be).
- May help with cocaine addiction8
Phosphatidylcholine as choline source
Phosphatidylcholine is one of the components found in lecithin alongside phosphatidylserine. It’s also used by just about everything in the body.
As a fun fact, Alpha-GPC is basically phosphatidylcholine without the lipid element.9 It is unknown if it has the exact same benefits or properties, but the body can still break it down to use what it needs.
It’s also pretty cheap at about 9 cents per gram in bulk.
Other benefits of supplementing phosphatidylcholine:
- Preliminary studies on rats show some possible improvement in learning and memory.10
- Another study showed possible improvement in inflammatory gut conditions when phosphatidylcholine was administered11
DMAE as choline source
DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) is a precursory form of acetylcholine. Compared to other choline sources, it isn’t widely publicized or studied, but has been shown to be of some benefit.
It’s also very cheap, at 3 cents a gram!
Other benefits of supplementing DMAE:
- Improved mood12
- May be able to help induce lucid dreams13
- I have also already written about the benefits and effects of DMAE on its own.
Choline Bitartrate as choline source
Choline bitartrate one of the cheapest ways to supplement choline. It’s simply a derivative of pure choline.
At Powder City, choline bitartrate is about 3 cents a gram if you buy 100 grams in bulk. The capsules aren’t too pricey either.
While choline bitartrate does not have the benefit of crossing the blood-brain barrier, in theory getting enough dietary choline and taking ALCAR (which I’ll explain next) should do well enough for nootropic purposes on a budget.
Other benefits of supplementing choline bitartrate:
- If you are nutritionally deficient in choline (i.e. you don’t eat much fish, eggs or cauliflower) then choline bitartrate is an effective and cheap way to supplement it.
ALCAR as cholinergic
ALCAR (Acetyl-L-Carnitine) is the only one on this list that is not a true source of choline. It’s a form of the amino acid carnitine, itself a derivative of lysine. However, when combined with adequate intake of choline from diet or supplement, it can raise acetylcholine levels which is why it’s on this list.
That’s right: like the more expensive choline sources, ALCAR crosses the blood-brain barrier14 and acts directly to increase brain acetylcholine. What’s more, it’s about 6 cents a gram.
Some individuals have found that they can get away with simply supplementing ALCAR with their stack alone if they find that they are already “choline dominant.”15I’ve already written about the other benefits of ALCAR in my standalone post on the supplement.
Pill Scout’s choices and suggestions
If you have the money, go ahead and get CDP Choline or Alpha-GPC. As part of a basic nootropic stack they are excellent, and people take them because of their fast-acting effect on brain choline levels and their other benefits.
Personally, as a tightwad, I just take supplemental choline or lecithin and take ALCAR to boost acetylcholine. Choline on its own, while it may have its own host of benefits, is not necessarily effective for fast-acting nootropic purposes. However, ALCAR is effective.
Because of ALCAR’s ability to cross the blood brain barrier and work its magic like the more expensive supplements, I consider it a must-have addition for anyone messing with nootropics on a budget if you can go without the extra benefits of the more expensive CDP Choline or Alpha-GPC supplements.
A bargain nootropic stack would be the following:
You can pick up about a year’s supply of all 3 (assuming you stick to 500 mg of choline and ALCAR each and 10 mg doses of Noopept) for under $20.
PubMed – Effect of oxiracetam and piracetam on central cholinergic mechanisms and active-avoidance acquisition. ↩
Examine.com – Alpha-GPC – Neurological Kinetics ↩
Examine.com – Alpha-GPC – Cholinergic Neurotransmission ↩
JISSN – Acute supplementation with alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine [Alpha-GPC] augments growth hormone response to, and peak force production during, resistance exercise ↩
Examine.com – CDP Choline – Summary ↩
Effect of Oral CDP-Choline on Plasma Choline and Uridine Levels in Humans [PDF] ↩
Examine.com – CDP Choline – Dopaminergic Interactions ↩
Examine.com – CDP Choline – Addiction ↩
Examine.com – Phosphatidylcholine – Structure ↩
PubMed – DL- and PO-phosphatidylcholines as a promising learning and memory enhancer, 2011 ↩
PubMed – Lipid Based Therapy for Ulcerative Colitis—Modulation of Intestinal Mucus Membrane Phospholipids as a Tool to Influence Inflammation ↩
PubMed – Efficacy of dimethylaminoethanol (DMAE) containing vitamin-mineral drug combination on EEG patterns in the presence of different emotional states. ↩
PubMed – Use of DMAE (2-dimethylaminoethanol) in the induction of lucid dreams. ↩
PubMed – Acetyl-L-carnitine permeability across the blood-brain barrier and involvement of carnitine transporter OCTN2. ↩
Longecity – Cholinergic Mechanisms of ALCAR ↩