New dietary supplements promise energy shot for the brain

For people looking for a dose of mental edge, a purported brain enhancer called citicoline is popping up in beverages and dietary supplements.

"What you drink when you want to think," says the label of Nawgan, a drink from Nawgan Products LLC. The St. Louis company's website invites consumers to track their mental performance with an online memory and focus test.

Go GungHo Inc.'s gel packets carry the slogan, "Ninja like focus" and the Orem, Utah, company hopes its newly introduced product will be popular with gamers.

Citicoline is an organic molecule found naturally in the body, particularly the brain. Scientists believe citicoline speeds up formation of brain cell membranes and may boost production of neurotransmitters essential to brain function.

In some countries, citicoline is sold as a prescription drug to help regenerate the brain after a stroke. But efforts to gain Food and Drug Administration approval in US were stymied when clinical trials found citicoline was no more effective than a placebo.

In October, citicoline hit the US market in liquid form as a "medical food" called CerAxon for use in patients with stroke and traumatic brain injury. Medical foods don't require FDA approval but their labels must be truthful and they can be subject to a post-market review, the FDA says.

Among a bevy of dietary supplements and energy drinks aimed at healthy people, citicoline is frequently found under the brand name Cognizin, sold by Kyowa Hakko USA, a unit of Japan's Kirin Holdings. Healthy Origins brand sells 250 milligram Cognizin capsules for "memory function and health cognition." It is currently selling for $48 for 150 capsules.

The popular 5-Hour Energy drink from Living Essentials LLC, Farmington Hills, Mich., contains citicoline in a "proprietary energy blend," but the company won't say how much. The company's website says it helps "recapture the bright, alert feeling you need to power through your day." The 1.93-ounce 5-Hour Energy shot sells for $3 to $5.

About 250 milligrams of Cognizin are in each shot of Go GungHo, now on sale for $30 for a box of 12, and in each 11.5-ounce can of Nawgan, which sells for $2.39.

Citicoline so far appears safe -- with an occasional mild gastrointestinal upset being the main reported side effect. As for whether it works for sharpening the brain or minimizing damage from a stroke "the jury is out," says Catherine Ulbricht, co-founder of Natural Standard Research Collaboration, a Cambridge, Mass., scientist-owned group that evaluates natural therapies.

For treating memory loss, the group gives citicoline a grade of "C" or "unclear scientific evidence"; for stroke it gets a "B" for "positive scientific evidence."

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