Our brains are truly amazing machines. They are the master conductor of every living process in your body, both conscious and unconscious. There is never a moment when neurons – specialized cells that transmit electrical signals – aren’t firing to help us learn and remember, whether it is hot or cold outside, or if we just stubbed our toe and it hurts!
There are about 100 billion neurons in the brain alone. Each moment of your life, these neurons fire messages across trillions of microscopic gaps between cells, exchanging more information than the world’s biggest computer could ever begin to process! To accomplish all this, neurons have a very high demand for energy. Like other organs, our brains need food.
Busy Chemical Factories
Inside the cell is a busy little chemical factory where nutrients are burned to create energy. The “furnaces” where this occurs are called mitochondria. The main fuel consumed is glucose, the simplest molecule into which many carbohydrates and sugars are broken down. The neuron uses energy produced in its mitochondria to synthesize important enzymes and neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers with which cells communicate. The neuron also uses energy for the generation of electrical impulses that travel throughout the nervous system.
The fine-tuned ability of neurons to carry out their tasks can be compromised by a variety of factors. Environmental pollutants, stress, drugs, alcohol, and other toxins may damage cells. They may be impaired by lack of adequate nutrition or oxygen. The aging process itself changes neurons’ ability to manufacture neurotransmitters and other important substances.
With age, the accumulated effects of such changes begin to appear as forgetfulness and reduced processing of sensory stimuli. Memories are harder to access, especially recent memories. Reflexes slow down. Sounds, light and smells must be stronger in order to be perceived.
More Nutrients, Please
For these reasons, neurons in the aging brain may need more of certain nutrients than they once did. Citicoline is a brain nutrient that has been gaining increased attention in recent years because of its ability to support brain function and ameliorate some of the ravages of time. One way that citicoline supports brain health is by increasing the activity of the mitochondria in neurons to produce energy.
Several studies have been able to demonstrate this in animal models. In one study, investigators showed that citicoline significantly increased the levels of ATP, the high-energy compound produced by mitochondria, in both healthy and brain-damaged laboratory animals exposed to experimental cerebral ischemia. Citicoline also decreased the area of damage caused by the ischemia.1 In another study, administration of citicoline improved glucose metabolism in the brains of laboratory rats and restored their ability to produce an important neurotransmitter from glucose.2
Increased energy production in the neurons supports their work at the cellular level, such as repair and maintenance of membranes, synthesis of vital brain chemicals and propagation of electrical impulses. Healthier cell function in turn supports all the larger processes of the brain, which we experience as thought, memory, sensations and control of motor functions.
Improving Brain Energy
Supporting the findings of earlier animal studies, studies in human volunteers suggest that citicoline alters brain activity and improves brain energy.
The studies, conducted at the Brain Imaging Center at McLean Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, used brain scanning technology to monitor brain chemistry and activity in healthy middle-age subjects who took supplements of citicoline. After six weeks of supplementation, subjects showed increased levels of specific markers for ATP and increased activity in the frontal lobe regions of their brains.3,4
Positive effects of supplemental citicoline have been demonstrated in clinical studies of healthy older individuals as well as those with mild to moderate cognitive impairment.6 In healthy older adults (mildly forgetful but not senile), supplementation with citicoline improved both immediate and delayed recall of words and objects.5 Delayed recall is a measure of short-term memory.
In studies of older adults with various forms of cognitive impairment, supplementation with citicoline has been shown to improve a variety of measures of cognitive function, including short and long-term memory, attention, perceptual-motor capacity, and behavior and emotional control.6
These and many other studies have confirmed the benefits of citicoline in helping to preserve general cognitive function and memory in the aging brain. Thus, for aging Americans who want to boost their mental energy, dietary supplementation with citicoline may be a smart option.
1. Hurtado O, Moro MA, Cárdenas A, et al. Neuroprotection afforded by prior citicoline administration in experimental brain ischemia: effects on glutamate transport. Neurobiol Dis. 2005;18:336-45.
2. Kakihana M, Kato,J, Narumi S, et al. CDP-choline: Distribution of radioactive CDP-choline and effect on glucose metabolism in the cerebral cortex of rats with 30-min cerebral ischemia. Jpn Pharmacol Ther. 1985;13(9):241-53.
3. Silveri MM, Dikan J, Ross AJ, et al. Citicoline enhances frontal lobe bioenergetics as measured by phosphorus magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NMR Biomed. 2008;21(10):1066-1075.
4. Killgore WDS, Ross AJ, Kamiya T, Kawada, Y, RenshawPF, Yurgelun-Todd, DA. Citicoline Affects Appetite and Cortico-Limbic Responses to Images of High Calorie Foods. Int. J. Eat Disord. 2010; 43(1): 6-13.
5. Alvarez XA, Laredo M, Corzo D, et al. Citicoline improvise memory performance in elderly subjects. Meth Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 1997;19(3):201-10.
6. Secades JJ, Lorenzo JL. CDP-choline: pharmacological and clinical review, 2006 update. Meth Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2006;27(Suppl B):1-56.