You’ve probably heard about the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, the two neurotransmitters primarily associated with mood regulation. But there’s another important neurotransmitter our brains make of which relatively little is known about, Acetylcholine (ACh).
Acetylcholine works in a variety of ways to support our working memory, our linguistic skills, our ability to reason and use logic, and our creativity. It’s also crucial for muscle memory, coordination and mobility.
Read on to find out how ACh works in your body and what you can do to increase ACh production for peak brain health.
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Acetylcholine and the Nervous System
Though ACh was the first neurotransmitter discovered, there is much less known about it than it’s more popular counterparts, dopamine and serotonin. It was originally called “vagusstoff” (vagus stuff) when its discoverer realized that it stimulates the brain’s vagus nerve.
Our vagus nerve is a part of our parasympathetic nervous system, which is essentially responsible for “resting and digesting.” So through the vagus nerve, ACh helps us to regulate heart rate, digest food, and coordinate muscles for both movement and speech, to give a few examples.
Here are some examples of other ways it helps us in day-to-day functions:
- In the autonomic nervous system, which is primarily responsible for our organs, it can affect adrenaline-related systems.
- In the peripheral nervous system, which carries messages from our senses to our brains, ACh helps to activate our muscles in voluntary movement.
- In the central nervous system, which controls our brains, ACh helps us with wakefulness and focus.
Acetylcholine and Memory
Recent research points to the brain’s ability to repair and even grow new cells well into adulthood, whereas previously it was thought that brain growth primarily happens in childhood. The brain’s ability to essentially repair itself and form new connections over time is generally referred to as neuroplasticity.
Studies show that ACh can promote neuroplasticity. Brain repair and regeneration of this type is possible after it has been damaged by, for instance, drugs or injuries. And as it relates to cell generation in the brain, neuroplasticity is correlated with learning and memory.
A growing body of research also shows a strong correlation between a lack of ACh and cognitive decline. Some Alzheimer’s patients are reported to have acetylcholine levels up to 90% lower than average. Thus, it’s likely that memory loss is closely linked to some sort of ACh production decline or deficiency.
Boosting Acetylcholine Production with Choline
Choline makes acetylcholine in our brains and is therefore associated with various aspects of focus, stamina and learning. We get our choline mostly through animal products such as egg yolks, meats, milk and yogurt.
Adults should ingest at least 425 mg of choline per day, but most don’t get that through diet alone. Choline deficiency has been linked to fatty liver disease, some types of cancer, and problems with brain development in the womb.
If you are interested in improving your focus, concentration and energy you may want to consider taking a cholinergic compound supplement such as alpha-GPC, choline bitartrate, choline citrate or CDP choline. Other cholinergics that may help brain function include Acetyl-L-Carnitine, Ashwagandha, Ginkgo biloba, and vitamin B.
Each of these compounds can have different effects, so ask your healthcare practitioner which is the best for you.
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The Connection Between Choline and Acetylcholine
Here are some significant ways that choline supplements can help with acetylcholine production to benefit our brain and body:
By helping the body process fats and use them to create cell walls and organelles, choline helps to ensure that our cells can maintain their structure.
Choline makes DNA, and thus is responsible for gene expression and passing on our genes to our children.
Choline impacts many cognitive functions: memory, learning ability, linguistic skills, logic and math skills.
Choline may help to slow the development of cognitive decline and prevent diseases like Alzheimer’s.
Choline may help restore energy to people who have chronic fatigue.
- Choline is necessary for the healthy growth and development of infants and children, especially from the time they are in the womb.
Can more Acetylcholine help our memories?
If you think that your memory is going due to age-related decline, you should definitely get checked out by a doctor. But another thing you may want to consider as an easy way of improving your memory is supplementing your diet with choline for better ACh production.
Symptoms of ACh deficiency are not as obvious as, for example, symptoms of dopamine deficiency, which typically would include fatigue and a lack of motivation as linked to depression, for instance. However, the following list is an example of the types of symptoms one may experience with a choline or ACh deficiency.
You have a hard time finding the proper words during speech or writing
You have difficulty doing math problems or using logical thinking
You easily lose your train of thought during conversations or presentations
You have a hard time staying focused on the storylines in movies or books
You have a hard time remembering things that you’ve just finished reading
You frequently lose things
You’re constantly tired
Your reaction time is slower than average
You have symptoms of ADHD (restlessness, lack of focus, agitation, hyperactivity, rambling thoughts)
You have a bad sense of direction or often get lost
- You have bad muscle tone and crave fatty foods
Though many of us have some of these symptoms now and then, it’s important to note that a supplement as simple as choline can help to improve ACh synthesis and thus help our overall brain functioning.
Related Content: Could You Have A Serotonin Imbalance?
Acetylcholine is one of the most prominent and powerful neurotransmitters in the brain. It’s necessary for almost all aspects of our cognition, and plays a huge role in our memory, language skills, logical abilities, and more.
If you’re struggling with minor brain fog or forgetfulness, you may be able boost your focus by adding more choline to your regular diet.
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