Alpha GPC is a readily available form of choline, the nutrient that’s become the cognitive enhancer of choice for many users of nootropics.

In case you’re wondering, GPC stands for “glyceryl phosphoryl choline,” normally written as a single 25-letter word. “Glyceryl” means that a component of the compound is derived from glycerol; similarly “phosphoryl” means “consisting of phosphorus and oxygen.”

“Glycerophosphate” represents approximately half of the Alpha GPC molecule, adding to the effectiveness of choline in helping to repair cellular structures. Alpha GPC is rapidly becoming recognised as the best way to augment the body’s essential supply of choline.

Sources and Levels

The human organ that normally supplies choline is the liver. If you eat a lot of eggs — or meat, poultry, fish, dairy foods, pasta, and rice — your own liver will extract enough choline to support an average lifestyle. In fact, taking too much additional choline in supplemental form could have some negative side effects such as drowsiness and lethargy.

An average adult needs at least 140 mg of choline per day to remain healthy. If the amount is lower — for example, 50 mg or below — you run the risk of choline deficiency, leading to liver and muscle damage as well as impairing the normal functioning of the body’s cells.

The medical profession recommends a much higher level of choline intake. The Dietary Reference Intake (DRI) specifies 550 mg/day for men and 425 mg/day for women.

These differing amounts have arisen because the choline requirement varies according to sex — and age. For example, postmenopausal women are more likely than premenopausal women to experience organ dysfunction as a result of not getting enough choline.

People who may need more choline are: anyone suffering from liver impairment — whether caused by hepatitis or alcohol; postmenopausal women; and vegetarians and vegans who do not get enough choline from natural sources.

For vegetarians and vegans here’s a rough guide. While one cup of soymilk will provide 57.3 mg of choline (an exceptionally high amount), a handful of boiled broccoli will deliver a still-respectable 31.3 mg, but a cupful of raw carrots will give you just 1 mg of choline. Without reference to a full list of vegetables and their choline content, there’s no guarantee that you are getting an adequate intake. A vegetarian diet can seriously deplete the choline level on which your body depends.

As regards exceptionally high levels of choline intake, for both men and women over the age of eighteen the DRI specifies 3,500 mg/day as the maximum level: the “tolerable upper limit”.

What Choline Does

Choline is essential for maintaining the structural integrity and signaling functions of cell membrane. It’s vital for both the body and the brain. In the body it ensures your muscles remain in good working order. In the brain and nervous system it helps to control such functions as breathing and heart rate.

A small amount of dietary choline — the choline we take in our food — is used to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. It’s this which is particularly important to the nervous system. It also affects those parts of the brain which govern memory and mood. For this reason, choline has become one of most widely used nootropics, with benefits for both body and mind.

Foetal Development

Choline is especially critical during the development of a human foetus. This is surprising because it’s more widely known that folate (folic acid) — the vitamin we get from dark green leafy vegetables and liver — is responsible for the closure of the neural tube, the embryo’s precursor to the central nervous system. Unless the neural tube closes, a baby may be born with the serious condition of spina bifida.

In fact, there’s a close relationship between folate metabolism and choline metabolism, as studies have shown. Both folate and choline are active as methyl donors — substances capable of donating a methyl group (CH3), such as betaine — and it’s the subsequent methylation reactions that appear to facilitate the closure of the neural tube.

Choline’s Key Role

Although it plays many roles in the body and brain, choline’s main role is to act as a precursor for the synthesis of membrane phospholipids.

As most readers will know, all fats are lipids (from the Greek “lipos”: fat), including bad metabolites of fat such as cholesterol. However, fats are not the whole story, because there are actually eight categories of lipids, namely: fatty acids, glycerolipids, glycerophospholipids, sphingolipids, saccharolipids, and polyketides. Of these, we’re talking about derivitives of the fatty acids, the phospholipids which are a major component of all cell membranes.

There is one particular class of phospholipids — as found in egg yolk and soybeans — called phosphatidylcholine which has a phosphate group at the molecular level. These molecules are “amphipathic” which means they’re hydrophilic at one end (able to bond with water molecules) and hydrophobic at the other (able to repel water molecules).

Most biological membranes have phospholipids as one of their main structural components, which makes them an extremely important feature of living organisms. Clearly, your body needs to be getting or making enough phospholipids to support the structural integrity of cell membranes — whether you’re a foetus or an adult.

GPC is a good source of phospholipids. While pregnant women should consult their doctors before ingesting any supplements whatsoever, other people — especially vegetarians or anyone who feels they may be suffering from choline deficiency — should seriously consider taking it.

Does Alpha GPC have cognitive-enhancing properties? It certainly has positive affects on rodents, but then, most human beings are not rodents — so the jury is still out on that one. High doses of Alpha GPC have been shown to reduce mild cases of Alzheimer’s disease, especially when used with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.

Alpha GPC enhances growth hormone production, a fact which makes it attractive to athletes. One study has shown an increase in power output when a 600 mg dose of Alpha GPC was taken just before exercise, but many more studies need to be done before there’s conclusive evidence.

In Summary

Alpha GPC is a very safe nootropic. It’s hard to OD on choline and the effects of doing so are not too serious unless you greatly exceed the stated dosages. If you’re at all deficient in choline, taking Alpha GPC is a “no-brainer” and your nervous system will quickly feel the benefit.