Is it possible that a simple over-the-counter food supplement could help in stroke rehabilitation? Scientists are pretty sure of it. 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. This supplement promotes brain cell health and communication between these cells. In turn, it supports memory, focus, and clear thinking. Knowing this, a group of researchers decided to test citicoline for stroke recovery.
Cognitive side effects after a stroke
Six months after having a stroke, more than half of patients have some form of cognitive side effects. Thinking or reasoning might be affected. Or, in the case of ischemic stroke patients, dementia can develop since blood is prevented from getting to the brain. Given the role that stroke appears to play in dementia and other cognitive problems, it is in our best interest to learn how to manage recovery to help stroke patients experience fewer side effects.
Researchers had some questions regarding citicoline. Can this supplement help stroke patients? And can a patient take it over an extended period of a year or more?
In a clinical trial, researchers from the US and Spain evaluated 347 patients who experienced a stroke less than 6 weeks before the trial began. They separated the patients into two groups. One group took citicoline orally for 12 months, and another 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.
Tests such as blood work, heart scans, or ultrasounds determined the cause of the patients’ strokes. 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. The researchers tested the patients at 1, 6, and 12 months to evaluate the patients’ mental processes and recovery.
After a month, the two groups 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, their ability to understand 3D spatial relationships (spatial orientation), and their ability to order things in time (temporal oriention). 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 was safe to take citicoline for one year.
This study shows promising results through improvements in cognitive functions. However, further studies are needed to establish more confidence in the relationship between citicoline and improved patient outcome. In the meantime, ask your doctor if citicoline could be an option for you to help you along in your recovery.
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.