New evidence provides hint that citicoline, a simple over-the-counter food supplement, may improve focus and memory

March 1, 2018

Can a food supplement help in stroke rehabilitation? Is it possible that a simple over-the-counter pill can be effective? Scientist wanted to find this out. Citicoline is a brain health supplement that the body produces in small amounts on its own. But it is also available as a food supplement. Assuming that citicoline supports memory, focus, and clear thinking and promotes brain cell health and communication, a group of researchers decided to put this supplement to the test in regards to stroke rehabilitation.

Six months after having a stroke, more than half of patients have some form of side effects in their brain. For example, thinking or reasoning might be affected. Ischemic stroke patients are particularly vulnerable to developing a form of dementia since an ischemic stroke occurs because a clot or blockage prevents blood from getting to the brain. So, given the role that stroke appears to play in dementia, it is in our best interest to know more about how we can prevent strokes in the first place. It is also essential that we learn how to manage recovery to help stroke patients experience fewer side effects.

Testing citicoline

Researchers have some questions about citicoline. Can a patient take it over an extended period (e.g., a year or more)? And, can it help stroke patients?

In a clinical trial, researchers from the US and Spain evaluated 347 patients separated into two groups. One group took citicoline (orally for 12 months), and another (control) group did not take the supplement. Patients from both groups received care from the same group of doctors and had similar treatment following their strokes. Patients included in the trial had a stroke less than 6 weeks before the trial start date. In addition to getting medical histories and conducting a physical exam of each patient, doctors also noted the patient’s age, sex, years of education, smoking habits, alcohol consumption, blood pressure, diabetic condition, and heart health.

Tests such as blood work, heart scans, or ultrasounds determined the cause of each patient’s stroke. In addition, a psychological assessment determined whether a particular area of the brain was affected by the stroke. Patients completed tests to measure attention and executive function (e.g., planning, organizing), memory, language and motor skills. Testing at 1,6, and 12 months evaluated the patients’ mental processes and recovery.

The findings

After a month, the control group and the citicoline group didn’t show any differences in mental processing abilities. However, at 6 and 12 months, patients in the citicoline group showed significant improvement in their attention and spatial and temporal orientation. This observation is notable since these functions, in particular, deteriorate with dementia. Also, the researchers found that for this specific group of stroke patients, it is safe to take citicoline for one year.

This study shows promising results. Improvements in attention and spatial and temporal orientation have a positive effect on function. However, further studies are needed to establish more confidence in the relationship between citicoline and improved patient function.


The lead author of this publication is Dr. Alvarez-Sabin from the Department of Neurology, Neurovascular Unit, Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, Hospital Vall d’Hebron, Barcelona, Spain.


What you can do with this information

Editorial note:

Stroke doubles the risk of dementia. However, reducing this risk is possible. Ask your doctor if citicoline could be for you.

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