Acetylcholine was the first neurotransmitter discovered back in the early 1900’s. You are probably well aware of how important the acetylcholine neurotransmitter is. It was originally described as “vagus stuff” by Otto Loewi simply because it was so important to so many mental and emotional actions.(1)
A neurotransmitter is a chemical messenger that allows our neurons to communicate with each other. We have several different neurotransmitters that have different functions. However, acetylcholine is used more abundantly in the brain and body than any other.
What Acetylcholine Does
It is vital for a good mood, mental alertness, concentration, focus, and memory. These are qualities that are dimmed or lost with cognitive impairment, dementia and Alzheimer’s – and greatly restored with acetylcholine!
Acetylcholine helps the brain connect different parts of memory together, such as a name with a face, as well as improved perception, concentration and verbal fluency. Wouldn’t that be a plus?!!
It also helps transmit nerve impulses from points of contact directly to the brain. Converted by the brain, choline can later become phosphatidylcholine which adds an extra layer of protection to cell membranes.
Acetylcholine is found in both peripheral and central nervous systems as well as in the cardiovascular and neuromuscular systems. These nerves pass through the cortex and hippocampus, areas of the brain. This means it also affects physical responses and, while we are asleep, it promotes the REM (rapid eye movement) stage of sleep. It also helps in the production of HDL (good) cholesterol.(2)
Brain Fog and Emotions
This is a very common problem when chronic fatigue is involved in an illness – such as Lyme disease! However, when you have higher levels of acetylcholine, it is easier for your brain to form new connections between neurons, to store new memories and to recall old memories. Higher concentration of acetylcholine in the cerebral cortex is what increases attention span, focus, and communication between the left and right hemispheres of your brain.
Acetylcholine also helps keep primitive emotions like anger, fear, and aggression in check so we don’t overreact to minor situations. This makes it easy to see why Alzheimer’s disease and other mental disorders related to mental decline are also linked to low levels of Acetylcholine.
Wow! It really helps when a person can think better as they are going through a disease protocol recovery! As you can see, ensuring that you have proper acetylcholine levels can play a big part in recovery and boosting brain power as well.
The Acetylcholine Process
Memory function starts in the parietal lobes. This is where acetylcholine controls brain speed and helps improve memory access. (“Brain speed” refers to how fast the electrical signals are processed from the brain to the body.) However, as much as 90% of the USA population is believed to not get enough of the acetylcholine building blocks in their diet.(3)
So, how do you increase the amount of acetylcholine in your brain? Well, there is no such thing as a single acetylcholine supplement that will do everything. A direct supplement for acetylcholine does not exist. Therefore, we have to increase acetylcholine production in the body is to give it what it needs to make acetylcholine naturally!
So, our IN-Focus includes several nutrients that help your body raise its level of acetylcholine. The #1 way to do this, of course, is to simply increase the amount of choline in the body since choline is the direct precursor of acetylcholine. Then, other supplements can increase acetylcholine levels by improving the effectiveness of how it is used in the body.
This can be done by diet, of course, but our IN-Focus offers a quicker and easier way to increase choline (and acetylcholine) levels while you are working on changing your diet. The nutrients we use do not compete with other nutrients for absorption like choline obtained from diets.
There are three basic types of acetylcholine supplements, called “cholinergics” – or, things that activate or liberate acetylcholine:
1. Acetylcholine Triggers.
These supplements trigger the areas of your brain to cause more acetylcholine to be released. They stimulate your acetylcholine receptors to release more of the stored neurotransmitter. Because of their unique activity, acetylcholine triggers are very effective at increasing levels of this neurotransmitter’s activity in the brain.
People often use Acetyl-l-carnitine (ALC) to help with this process. ALC breaks down into a chemical called acetyl-COA which combines with choline to create acetylcholine. It has also been shown to improve learning and memory.(4) ALC is a great acetylcholine supplement because it helps make the conversion of choline into acetylcholine more efficient. It contributes to the production and release of acetylcholine in the brain and it also acts as precursor to acetylcholine in another way. ALCAR needs choline to create acetylcholine so it is often stacked with a choline salt for maximum effectiveness. As a bonus, it also is an amino acid that enhances energy production and is a brain antioxidant.(5)
2. Choline and Acetylcholine Sources.
It does not do much good to stimulate the release of acetylcholine if your stores of this neurotransmitter are too low to meet the demand. This is a common problem if you do not get enough nutrient acetylcholine producers in your diet. It is pretty easy to solve this problem by using a choline supplement or acetylcholine precursor. These allow more acetylcholine to be produced in the brain by supplying the raw materials of acetylcholine.(6)
Below are five of the most common Choline and Acetylcholine supplements. All are not needed and some are more effective:
Phosphatidylcholine and Soy Lecithin: Phosphatidylcholine is found in many foods such as eggs, meat, fish and dairy. Lecithin comes from soy products and has a smaller amount of choline. These are natural sources but, unfortunately, are not very concentrated.
Choline Bitartrate and Choline Citrate: If you buy choline supplements online, you are usually getting salt forms of choline bitartrate or choline citrate. They have the best absorption rates of the salt forms and are friendly on the digestive system. They are ok, inexpensive and will increase levels of acetylcholine but they are not very strong and not the best.
Centrophenoxine: Centrophenoxine is another potent acetylcholine supplement though less is known about its specific mechanism of action. It has been well documented to increase levels of acetylcholine in the brain.
*CDP Choline: This is very good (and expensive). It is more potent than most others and much more effective at increasing acetylcholine than other choline supplements. It crosses the blood brain barrier very easily helps your body makes more choline available for acetylcholine conversion. It has good penetration of the blood-brain barrier causes more acetylcholine to be produced in the brain than other choline supplements. It is also known for being very safe and has few associated side effects. This makes it our choice.
Alpha GPC: Like CDP choline, it is much more effective than other choline sources at turning into acetylcholine and is considered ‘nootropic’ alone. This is also very good as it directly breaks down into acetylcholine. It is known to improve memory function, make it easier to learn new concepts and it keeps your brain healthy by relieving oxidative stress. Alpha-GPC is used in Europe for Alzheimer’s and is derived from highly purified soy lecithin.(7)
3. Acetylcholinesterase Antagonists.
As much as we have built up acetylcholine, there is always a balance! Sometimes this enzyme needs to be suppressed to improve your brain function. Acetylcholinesterase is an enzyme that your body produces to naturally break down excessive quantities of acetylcholine. This prevents it from breaking down neurotransmitters in the brain. Most Alzheimer’s medications also limit the release of Acetylcholinesterase for the same reason.(8)
One of the best supplements that will give your body what it needs to do this is Galantamine, derived from the bulbs of snowdrop flowers. It has been used for decades in other countries to treat mild to moderate symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s.(9)
Huperzine A. is, perhaps, even better! It is derived from Chinese club moss and acts as a cholinesterase inhibitor. As a result, it raises acetylcholine levels in the brain. Research has shown it to be effective in improving cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s and in enhancing memory.(10-11)
(Also: It is good to take a decent multi-vitamin with the B complex or 2-4 caps a day of our Foundation to help the body use everything properly. Even so, we add some vitamin B-6, B-12 and zinc or our formula, all of which are needed in the synthesis of acetylcholine.)
1. Freberg, Laura, Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience: An Introduction to Biological Psychology, Cengage Learning, 2015, p.103.
2. Purves D, Augustine GJ, Fitzpatrick D, Neuroscience, 2nd edition, Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates; 2001.
3. Cheng DH. Huperzine A, a novel promising acethlcholinesterase inhibitor. Neuroreport. 1996 Dec. 20’8(1): 207-13
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6. Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition, Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999.
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9. J Neural Trasm.2009 Apr;116(4):457-65.
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11. Maung Kyaw Moe Tun, Seth B Herzon, The pharmacology and therapeutic potential of (-)-huperzine A Journal of Experimental Pharmacology, Dovepress, 2012.