Do Citicoline drinks and gels sharpen mind, boost energy? In today’s globalized and hypercompetitive world, people need to speed up just to keep pace. This culture of speed is driving the demand for energy drinks and supplements, marketed on claims that drinking them clears your mind and helps you focus.
Last year, Americans spent about US$9 billion on energy drinks, according to the Council for Responsible Nutrition. In most of these drinks, caffeine or sugar provides the energy jolt.
But a growing number of energy drinks—including the popular 5-Hour Energy Shots and the new Nawgan — are being made with citicoline (better known by its brand name Cognizin), an organic stimulant, the Washington Post recently reported.
In addition, a variety of dietary supplements containing citicoline — in the form of gels and capsules — has also cropped up under the brand name Cognizin, sold by Kyowa Hakko USA, a unit of Japan’s Kirin Holdings.
“What you drink when you want to think,” reads the label of Nawgan, made by Nawgan Products LLC.
“It helps with alertness and concentration by providing nutrients the brain needs for alertness,” ABC News quoted Nawgan’s CEO Jim von der Hoyt as saying.
The St. Louis, Missouri-based company claims that its drink, which contains alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline, lycopene and d-alpha tocopherol acetate (natural vitamin E) and citicoline, sharpens memory and brain processing speed, which tend to decline as people age.
“Research has shown that the levels of acetylcholine (alpha-glyceryl phosphoryl choline), lycopene and d-alpha tocopherol decline in adulthood, leading to poorer memory and thinking skills,” it says on its
A study on the company website also claims citicoline can help improve focus and mental energy, and even manage symptoms of attention deficit disorder. On its site, it also invites consumers to track their mental performance with an online memory and focus test.
“Recapture the bright, alert feeling you need to power through your day,” reads the label on a can of 5-Hour Energy drink from Living Essentials LLC, Farmington Hills, Michigan.
Meanwhile, gel packets by Go GungHo Inc. targeted at gamers, are marketed with the slogan, “Ninja like focus” and Healthy Origins brand sells 250-milligram Cognizin capsules for “memory function and health cognition.”
But are the claims backed up by facts?
So far, the jury is out. Scientists believe citicoline, an organic molecule found naturally in the brain, speeds up formation of brain cell membranes and boosts production of neurotransmitters essential to brain function.
It’s sold as a prescription drug in some European countries to help regenerate the brain after a stroke. But the United States Food and Drug Administration didn’t approve citicoline as a prescription medicine when clinical trials it was no more effective than a placebo, the Washington Post reports.
In the U.S., a liquid form of citicoline called CerAxon is sold as a “medical food” for use in patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury. CerAxon, sold by Ferrer Group of Barcelona, Spain, doesn’t require a prescription, but is intended to be taken in two daily doses of 1,000 milligrams, under a doctor’s direction.
Makers of beverages, supplements and medical foods in the U.S. are not required FDA approval. But their labels must be truthful and the FDA does require companies to ensure their products are safe before going to market. Once on shelves, they can also be subject to a post-market safety review.
So far, aside from the occasional mild gastrointestinal upset reported as a side effect, Citicoline appears safe.
Does it sharpen the brain? Catherine Ulbricht, co-founder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration, a Cambridge, Mass., scientist-owned group that evaluates natural therapies says her group gives citicoline a grade of “C” or “unclear scientific evidence”
Does it minimize damage from stroke? Ulbricht says the group gets a “B” “positive scientific evidence.”
There’s evidence that citicoline “has a positive effect on memory and behavior at least in the medium term,” concedes Cochrane Collaboration, the respected scientific group, after a review of 14 studies. The review, last updated in 2010, found citicoline benefited most patients whose memory loss was caused by tiny strokes.
Despite inconclusive results so far, citicoline is a “reasonable” option for stroke patients because clinical trials have showed promise — such as improvement in brain scans in some patients, says Lee H. Schwamm, vice chairman of the neurology department at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Doctors who conducted a study of more than 2,000 people funded by Ferrer — the largest ever on citicoline for stroke — say it may provide definitive evidence. The results will be announced in May, Ferrer says.
And as for improved brain performance, a new study of 60 healthy women found a month-long regime of daily doses of citicoline brought improved attention and fewer errors on a cognitive test compared with placebo, says co-author Deborah Yurgelun-Todd, a scientist at the Brain Institute at University of Utah in Salt Lake City. The hitch, though, is that she is a paid consultant to Kyowa — which also funded the study.
Do it the natural way
If you want to boost energy and brain performance, try the natural way, doctors urge.
Citicoline may be worth a try, says Gary Small, Longevity Center director at the University of California, Los Angeles, but “I would urge caution.” Small has no connection with the company selling citicoline.
Exercise and a diet rich in antioxidants are likely more important for healthy people simply interested in boosting their brain function, advises Dr. Small.
“If you need energy, you might need more sleep, not a drink,” said Keith Ayoob, associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City.
Because the body creates the citicoline naturally, a healthy diet is more important to support daily function than consuming an energy drink.
“If somebody’s worried about brain function, what they don’t need is a drink,” said Ayoob. “They need to put efforts towards physical activity.”