If you’re into nootropics, you’ve probably heard of acetylcholine. It’s an interesting compound that supports cognitive function and makes brain processing and execution faster and smoother. But what other potential acetylcholine benefits are hidden around the corner?
An essential nutrient for acetylcholine synthesis is Choline, present in different foods like Brussels sprouts, egg yolks, and meat. But aside from choline-rich foods, how else can we increase acetylcholine levels in the brain to support memory, learning, and neural signaling?
What is Acetylcholine
Acetylcholine is an organic chemical, an important neurotransmitter found in the nervous system, especially the brain and motor neurons. It’s essential for neural signaling, thus allowing muscle movement, thinking, and all the other neural stuff. We’re talking memory, learning, movement, processing, etc. (1)
We can synthesize ACH by using an enzyme called choline acetyltransferase. This enzyme takes choline and acetyl-CoA, two important precursors for ACH, and makes acetylcholine. Done with the technicals, now let’s dive into some juicy stuff.
Once used, ACH is metabolized by an enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. Many supplements that inhibit its breakdown (acetylcholine inhibitors) increase acetylcholine in the brain. Some adaptogens like Bacopa Monnieri work on that mechanism to improve cognition and memory.
Acetylcholine works at the neuromuscular junction, helping with neural signal transmission. (2) It works for both the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, full-time, not 9-5. It helps us both activate and relax. It’s one of the chief operators of the parasympathetic nervous system.
Highly present in the brain, it modulates different brain activities and processes. It’s present in cholinergic areas, which are groups of neurons with high ACH presence that play a major role in activation, arousal, and motivation.
Acetylcholine can support the production of chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, which are the satisfaction-motivation, and relaxed-happiness hormones.
How To Increase Acetylcholine In The Brain
There aren’t any specific acetylcholine supplements straight out, that can increase its levels in the brain. Instead, many nootropic supplements work on:
- increasing choline – an important nutrient for the synthesis of acetylcholine
- inhibiting acetylcholinesterase function, thus reducing the breakdown of ACH
If you’re not into supplements, some great choline rich foods include:
- eggs, especially yolks
- red meat, beef
- liver and other organ meat
- seafood, salmon, cod
- chicken and poultry
- legumes, beans, quinoa
- nuts, especially almonds
- shiitake mushrooms
- cruciferous: broccoli, cauliflower
Aside from that, drinking coffee, eating fresh blueberries, and increasing magnesium intake may also help you increase acetylcholine naturally. Having an optimal level of vitamins and minerals does help too.
Working out and being active can also be a big one. Although ACH levels drop during strenuous exercise, working out can positively affect the breakdown of acetylcholine. (3)
The obvious one, supplements. The next section will uncover some of the acetylcholine boosting supplements that may aid in memory, support cognition, and improve brain function.
Top 3 Acetylcholine Supplements
When it comes to supplementation to increase acetylcholine levels, there are ACH-boosting supplements and those that inhibit its breakdown, leaving you with more circulating acetylcholine.
Alpha-GPC is a combination of choline + phospholipid. It looks as if Alpha-GPC is one of the most effective ways to increase plasma choline levels, even better than Citicoline in this study. (4)
Alpha-GPC can improve our ability to memorize, perform cognitive tasks and learn new things due to its acetylcholine-modulating effect. (5) It improved the results in certain assessment tests for cognitive function in people with mild impairment. (6)
On the other hand, Citicoline, also known as CDP-Choline works on the same mechanism. Once in the body, it’s separated into choline and cytidine and helps to make more acetylcholine.
Research shows Citicoline’s potential in improving psychomotor speed, arousal, vigilance, and even reducing oxidative stress. (7) In women, it effectively reduced attentional deficits and improved attention performance at doses of 250 mg to 500 mg. (8)
Some adaptogens like Bacopa Monnieri may improve memory, cognitive performance, and learning. Partially, this is due to their ability to inhibit acetylcholinesterase – the important enzyme that breaks down ACH. (9) We’re basically left with higher ACH levels in the brain.
Nootropic adaptogens like Bacopa Monnieri can inhibit the breakdown of acetylcholine, increasing its levels in the brain. On the other hand, Citicoline and Alpha-GPC can raise plasma levels of choline, thus potentially improving memory and cognition.
Acetylcholine is one of the main neurotransmitters and neuromodulators in our nervous system. It makes all the brain stuff that we do, both voluntarily and automatically, run smoother and faster.
From exerting skeletal muscle movements to encoding information, memory recall, and speaking – it works everywhere. It’s highly important for both activation (sympathetic NS) and controls relaxation (parasympathetic NS).
Let’s dive into some research to see what potential benefits and effects increasing acetylcholine may offer!
When it comes to cognitive performance, we’re concerned with information processing, memory, learning, thinking, etc. Choline is an essential nutrient for neural development, while acetylcholine is crucial for neural signaling. Seems like a pretty important combo to me.
People with greater choline levels showed better scores for cognitive performance. Actually, the risk of performing poorly on this cognitive test was tripled in the low-choline and low-B12 group. (10)
- In 1391 subjects, a higher intake of choline was associated with better performance on the verbal and visual memory tests. (11)
- Acetylcholine may help modulate neural signaling, an important mechanism for maintaining spatial or working memory. It seems that both episodic and spatial memory are heavily regulated by cholinergic action, (12) in which ACH is the main actor.
Higher choline levels in people lead to better cognitive performance and it was associated with greater verbal and spatial memory.
Memory is about retrieving information in a group of neurons. Acetylcholine is very important for both learning and memory. Higher ACH is associated with better learning capacity. Guess what follows after better learning? Stronger neural pathways aka better memory.
Creating memories heavily relies on cholinergic neurons. It’s in the hippocampus that acetylcholine is highly present, helping with the creation of episodic and semantic memory. (13)
It’s known that the degeneration of these neurons can impair our ability to memorize. Cholinergic activity is associated with both anti-inflammatory effects and better synaptic activity, both of which are important in preventing or slowing down neurodegeneration and cognitive decline. (14)
Acetylcholine mediates processes in neural signaling, affects receptors, and the release of growth factors like BDNF. It plays a strong role in memory, neuroplasticity, and potentially preventing or slowing down cognitive decline. (15)
Acetylcholine is the main cholinergic neurotransmitter. Cholinergic activity is very important for creating memories, and ACH may also help increase BDNF factor and prevent cognitive decline.
Learning and memory are tightly related. It’s about encoding new information, storing it, and retrieving it later. How can acetylcholine help with this? Well, it helps with arousal. Learning new things requires stimulation, and the ability to focus depends on arousal.
Well, Acetylcholine smoothens out these cognitive processes. It allows better brain signaling due to its ability to affect synaptic signaling, which helps create new neural pathways. (16)
The mechanisms behind acetylcholine’s effect on learning have to do with controlling theta Rhythm oscillations, activating mechanisms for neural signaling, and modification of synapses. (17)
Weaker cholinergic activity translates to poor cognition, which can be partially restored by increasing acetylcholine. (18)
By enhancing neuroplasticity and synaptic signaling, acetylcholine can support learning and creating new memories. Lower cholinergic activity is associated with poor cognition.
As with anything, better function, engagement, and training means progress. Think muscles, brain, or lungs. The more you lift, the more they grow, the more you learn, the more you know, the more you run (breathe) the more oxygen you can use.
Acetylcholine can by improving cognitive performance, learning, and all that brain-jazz, enhance the ability of our brain to process, learn or memorize information. And what’s a better way to ward-off cognitive decline than to keep the brain learning and adapting?
Decline in neurotransmission, which is mediated by cholinergic activity – is related to a decline in cognitive processes like learning and memory. (19)
Most compounds that try to act anti-Alzheimer work on a mechanism that tends to stimulate presynaptic cholinergic function. (19)
If ACH can help improve blood flow in the brain, it will be a potent neuroprotector. Why? Since better brain circulation means more energy, nutrients, and oxygen. But also less plaque accumulation which leads to neural inflammation.
While there is some research connecting acetylcholine with improved circulation, some of it is related to improved cerebral flow (20) and some with improved skin vasodilation. (21) which is too weak to draw any conclusions. We definitely need more specific research on that topic.
Cholinergic activity and optimal acetylcholine levels are important for cognitive function. By maintaining it, ACH may help slow down age-related cognitive decline by keeping our brain more adaptable, for longer.
Many herbs and nootropics can alter the levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, which can boost our mood. This means we’re feeling more satisfied, happy, relaxed, or motivated.
Acetylcholine, when binding to the nicotinic receptors may increase the release of dopamine in mice. Both of these are very important for motivation and goal-setting, as they rely on the reward mechanism. (22)
Choline is one of these nutrients which in higher concentration has been shown to positively affect anxiety. Research has shown those with the lowest levels of choline were more anxious. (23)
Citicoline is an acetylcholine-booster. In 50 people with depression, citalopram (an anti-depressive) showed better effectiveness in reducing depression when combined with Citicoline. (24)
Higher cholinergic activity and choline levels are associated with better mood in some studies. Animal models show that ACH may increase the release of dopamine, an important hormone for satisfaction and motivation.
To pay attention is extremely important in learning new information. A longer attention span is a trait of highly intelligent and successful humans. To be able to focus means to filter out distractions.
It seems that cholinergic activity, which is of course dependent on acetylcholine levels is of high importance for attention. Especially in the prefrontal and parietal cortex, and somatosensory regions, ACH plays an important role in controlling attention. (25)
A study in 60 healthy women ages 40-60, showed citicoline’s benefit on attention in only 28 days. They were split into three groups, a placebo, 250 mg, or 500 mg of citicoline. The citicoline group improved attention and had more correct responses. (26)
Acetylcholine may reduce attentional deficits, improve learning, and encoding of new information. There’s high cholinergic activity (and ACH) in the prefrontal cortex, which is especially important for attention.