Alpha-GPC is a popular supplement gaining attention for its potential cognitive and neuroprotective benefits. It can increase levels of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the brain, which is involved in learning, memory, and attention. It might even benefit physical performance, making it appealing to people of all ages, like students, athletes, professionals, and older individuals.
Of course, as with any supplement, there is a list of side effects and risks that need to be taken into consideration. Read on to find out what the science says about its benefits, uses, and side effects, to see if it can work for you.
What is Alpha-GPC?
Alpha-GPC (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorylcholine) is a natural choline compound found in the human body and some foods, like eggs and dairy. It serves as a source of choline, an essential nutrient used in metabolism, brain function, and nervous system regulation.
While the liver can produce small amounts of choline, we need to get the majority of it from our diet. They’re particularly rich in poultry, fish, eggs, cruciferous vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. It’s also found in soy lecithin, which is what the alpha-GPC supplement is derived from.
How Alpha-GPC Works in the Body
One of the main functions of choline is that it increases levels of acetylcholine in the brain, which is an important neurotransmitter for mood, muscle control, memory, and other brain and nervous system functions.
Acetylcholine particularly plays a fundamental role in learning, attention, and memory function, making it an essential nutrient for people struggling with cognitive difficulties. It’s released in the central and peripheral nervous system, brain, and spinal cord, affecting many areas of the body. Overall, it’s also associated with:
- Causing glands to secrete substances (tears, saliva, sweat, etc.)
- Regulating heart contractions and blood pressure
- Contracting muscles that control near vision
- Activating the sympathetic nervous system
- Releasing adrenaline and norepinephrine
- Allowing skeletal muscles to contract
- Moving food through the intestine
- Causing an erection
- Releasing urine
Since alpha-GPC easily crosses the blood-brain barrier, it can deliver choline directly to your brain cells.
This makes it more easily accessible than other nootropics and possibly effective in reducing symptoms associated with low levels of acetylcholine, such as memory issues from Alzheimer’s disease.
Benefits of Alpha-GPC
While more research still needs to be done, many studies show promising benefits of alpha-GPC, including:
- Improved Memory and Cognitive Function
Alpha-GPC has been shown to support cognitive function and improve memory in both healthy individuals and those with cognitive decline. Since it increases levels of acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter involved in many brain functions, it can improve a variety of different cognitive symptoms.
One study in The American Journal of Nutrition showed that a 1391 sample of dementia-free participants had improved cognitive performance with a higher concurrent choline intake. Since choline is the precursor to acetylcholine, needed for memory function, it shows promise for alpha-GPC, a natural choline compound.
Acetylcholine might also enhance the encoding of new episodic memories and performance for spatial memory tasks. This is likely because the hippocampal region is especially important for learning, which is where cholinergic neurons are active and release acetylcholine.
- Boosts Mood and Motivation
Alpha GPC might help to improve your mood by working with dopamine, the ‘feel-good’ chemical.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone that helps you feel satisfied and motivated. If there’s something that makes you feel good, like cooking a great meal or earning money, it can affect your motivation to go after your desires. It’s directly tied to rewards, helping to make them feel more pleasurable. Overall, dopamine affects how you think, work, move, and sleep. It’s also a part of memory, learning, and attention.
Since alpha-GPC can increase choline and acetylcholine, which have a role in both the dopamine and serotonin systems, your feelings, reward processing systems, anxiety levels, and depression may all be affected.
In a recent study published in Nutrients, researchers showed that motivation increased with alpha-GPC and was significantly higher at night compared to the placebo group. Unfortunately, it didn’t show any effects on anxiety, but the possibilities for its effects on general mood and motivation are promising.
- Supports Long-term Brain Health
There’s the possibility that alpha-GPC has long-lasting neuroprotective effects on the brain. It may help to protect against cell death, stress, age-related cognitive decline, and neurological disorders.
It’s been widely accepted that a loss of cholinergic neurons may lead to impaired cognitive function, such as memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Vascular dementia, for example, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that has many patients with cholinergic deficits.
Another type of age-related dementia is focused on hippocampus-dependent learning, which is a part of the brain that forms memory. This area is heavily influenced by cholinergic neurons, where a deficit will affect the brain’s ability to function properly. Overall, both Alzheimer’s disease and dementia have been linked to a deficiency in acetylcholine.
Fortunately, cholinergic therapies have been shown to be helpful for Alzheimer’s dementia, making a great case for alpha-GPC as a neuroprotector that may help to reduce cognitive decline.
- Reduces Inflammation
Alpha-GPC has the potential to be an effective anti-inflammatory agent to help treat a variety of conditions. It can modulate the activity of immune cells and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory cytokines. This could be especially beneficial for autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular disease, and neurodegenerative diseases.
It’s also been shown to reduce oxidative stress, possibly by increasing the activity of antioxidant enzymes, enhancing mitochondrial function, or acting as an antioxidant itself, helping to prevent inflammation and tissue damage. Acetylcholine itself may protect cells from free radical toxicity and beta-amyloid-induced injury.
- Enhances Performance
There’s evidence that alpha-GPC can cause an increase in growth hormones which can help muscle growth and recovery.
It can also prevent exercise-induced reductions in choline levels and increases endurance performance and growth hormone secretion. That means it may improve overall physical performance and increase power output.
A study done in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition showed that a group of healthy, college-aged males taking 250 mg alpha-GPC improved their maximum velocity and mechanical power.
Another study on 13 college-aged males showed that 600 mg of alpha-GPC taken daily for six days improved speed and power in muscle performance.
Alpha-GPC Side Effects: Understanding the Risks
Alpha-GPC is generally considered safe for healthy adults when taken in appropriate doses. However, as with any supplement, there are some risks to be aware of.
These are some of the most commonly reported side effects of alpha-GPC:
- Nervousness or anxiety
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Low blood pressure
- Stroke or cardiovascular disease
Side effects are more likely to happen when just starting to take a new supplement or increasing its dosage.
They’re usually mild and temporary, and can be reduced or eliminated by adjusting the dosage or taking it with food. However, a drop in blood pressure is much more likely if you have a history of medical conditions or are taking any medication.
Increased Cardiovascular Risk
A study following over 12 million individuals aged 50-plus, with over 100,000 using alpha-GPC for at least a year, showed that there was a higher risk of stroke over the next 10 years in alpha-GPC users.
Another study showed that the supplement promoted atherosclerosis in mice, which is when plaque builds up inside the arteries. This condition can lead to stroke, vascular dementia, heart attack, and erectile dysfunction.
About half of Americans aged 45 to 84 have atherosclerosis without knowing it, which shows just how crucial it is to get a full check-up before starting any supplement — you can never be completely certain as to how it will affect you.
Who Should Consider Using Alpha-GPC?
Alpha-GPC can work well for a variety of people, including:
- Adult students — may help to improve academic performance with added memory attention, increased focus, and attention span.
- Professionals — can create improved focus and productivity throughout the workday.
- Older adults — may reduce natural cognitive decline associated with aging.
- Cognitively impaired individuals — may reduce issues resulting from a stroke, aging, or other health conditions affecting brain health.
- Athletes — can increase strength, power, and endurance.
Of course, the effects of alpha-GPC will vary from person to person. It’s not a magic pill and it can’t cure a health condition or make you run like Usain Bolt. But, it can be helpful to a certain degree, especially if you’re suffering from a mental or physical health condition. But as always, your doctor will be best to determine if it’s right for you and what dosage would be best.
When To Avoid Alpha-GPC
There are certain circumstances where alpha-GPC should be avoided, this includes individuals or health conditions such as:
- Low blood pressure
- History of cardiovascular disease
- Expectant or nursing mothers
- Medical conditions
- Other medications
- Soy allergies
Again, since you can never be sure how a supplement will affect you, it’s always better to be on the safe side and talk to your doctor first. This is especially the case for those that fall under any of the categories above since it’s highly possible that alpha-GPC will cause a negative reaction.
As for medications, alpha-GPC specifically interacts with acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, anticholinergic drugs, and blood thinners. It’s also often derived from soy lecithin so people highly allergic to soy need to avoid this supplement.
How to Use Alpha-GPC Safely and Effectively
While alpha-GPC is usually well-tolerated by most people, there are still certain precautions you should take, such as:
- Talk to your doctor: Get a full check-up with blood work before starting any new supplement. If you have a history of certain medical conditions or are taking any medications, your doctor will likely tell you to avoid it. If they give you the green light, they’ll be best able to tell you what dosage to start with.
- Start with a low dose: It’s always best to start with a low dose and gradually increase it over time. A typical starting dose for alpha-GPC is about 300 mg per day. However, keep in mind that the FDA hasn’t established a healthy dosage since it’s a supplement and not a medication.
- Take it with food: As with most supplements, alpha-GPC is best taken with food to reduce the risk of gastrointestinal side effects.
- Follow the recommended dosage: It’s important to follow the recommended dosage since taking too much can increase the risk of side effects. Most people typically take between 300-1200 mg per day, divided into two or three doses, for up to six months.
- Avoid taking it late in the day: Alpha-GPC may interfere with sleep in some individuals, particularly if taken later in the day. It’s best to have it with breakfast or lunch.
- Watch for side effects: Mild side effects may naturally dissipate after you begin and your body adapts, but if you experience any severe or persistent side effects, you should stop taking the supplement and talk to your doctor.
If you follow these tips, you’re more likely to use alpha-GPC safely and effectively to support your cognitive function, brain health, or physical performance.
While alpha-GPC shows some promising results in research studies focused on performance, memory, and learning, much more research needs to be done before we can confirm its supposed benefits.
It might be particularly helpful for people suffering from cognitive issues associated with dementia, but your medical professional will be better able to choose any medication or lifestyle changes needed.
In general, the healthy population is better off focusing on eating nutrient-dense foods rather than taking new supplements. The possible risks, including stroke and other cardiovascular issues, are too severe to be ignored.
As always, speak to your doctor and get a full check-up before starting any supplement, no matter how healthy you are. If you have a health condition or are taking any other medications or supplements, it’s better to err on the side of caution and avoid supplements needing more research.