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Guide to better memory: what is acetylcholine & what does it do for your brain

Published May 23, 2024 | Updated Jun 17, 2024
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Your memory and learning chemical acetylcholine plays an important part in strengthening your ability to learn new things, remember them and use them in the future. Acetylcholine was first discovered in 1914 by an English chemist Arthur Ewins. Around 20 years later, an English pharmacologist and physiologist Henry Dale and colleagues developed the research on this brain chemical by researching how brain messengers work[1 Trusted Source 2008 - European Neurology Evidence review Henry Dale and the Discovery of Chemical Synaptic Transmission . He later received a Nobel prize for his important findings. Let’s take a look at what is acetylcholine and how to increase acetylcholine levels safely.

 

What is acetylcholine and how does it work?

Your memory and learning chemical acetylcholine is a brain messenger that acts as a mailman between brain cells and muscles.

How does acetylcholine work as a neurotransmitter? Your memory and learning brain messenger act as a key to a specific lock in the brain, triggering a chain of events inside the brain cells[2 Trusted Source 2009 - PLoS Biology Evidence review An Acetylcholine Receptor Keeps Muscles in Balance ,[3 Trusted Source 2022 - Journal of Neurorestoratology Evidence review Acetylcholine bidirectionally regulates learning and memory . Here's what they are.

What is the main function of the acetylcholine? The main function of acetylcholine as a neurotransmitter is to support your memory and learning capacities during mentally strenuous tasks. Let’s take a closer look at acetylcholine & what does it do when you’re working. When you start doing mentally straining tasks, acetylcholine gets released, boosting the speed of your information recall abilities and positively impacting your ability to temporarily remember information to do cognitive tasks like problem-solving[4 Trusted Source 2004 - Learning & Memory Evidence review Changes in acetylcholine extracellular levels during cognitive processes . It also helps you switch between tasks more efficiently[5 Trusted Source 2022 - Experimental Brain Research Animal study Interaction of cholinergic disruption and age on cognitive flexibility in rats ] .

Is acetylcholine excitatory or inhibitory or both? Acetylcholine both wakes up the brain cells with its excitatory function and buffers them down with its inhibitory function. This supports defining acetylcholine as a so-called neuromodulator since it indirectly changes the state of brain cells[6 Trusted Source 2012 - Neuron Evidence review Acetylcholine as a neuromodulator: Cholinergic signaling shapes nervous system function and behavior .   

What are the effects of acetylcholine on the body?

Besides contributing to your learning and memory, supporting productivity and cognition by building muscle are additional acetylcholine functions. As it boosts your ability to work longer and recall information faster, it can help answer the question of how to be more productive[4 Trusted Source 2004 - Learning & Memory Evidence review Changes in acetylcholine extracellular levels during cognitive processes . Acetylcholine effects your body’s growth hormone which is essential for repairing and building muscles[7 Trusted Source 2018 - Endocrinology Animal study Acetylcholine Modulates the Hormones of the Growth Hormone/Insulinlike Growth Factor-1 Axis During Development in Mice . To answer the question of how does muscle promote cognition, here’s a study on over 8000 older people that lasted for 3 years[8 Trusted Source 2022 - JAMA Network Open Human study Association of Low Muscle Mass With Cognitive Function During a 3-Year Follow-up Among Adults Aged 65 to 86 Years in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging . They found that those with lower muscle mass had a faster decline in cognitive skills over 3 years.


Where is acetylcholine produced and released?

Acetylcholine is produced and released in the brain cells where the building block of acetylcholine, choline, is transformed. What stimulates acetylcholine production? The production of acetylcholine can be stimulated by ingesting choline-rich foods. What foods are high in acetylcholine? While acetylcholine itself is impossible to ingest, you can boost its levels with foods high in choline including meat, fish and soy products. Let’s take a look at the top 5 acetylcholine-rich foods you can include in your diet[9 Trusted Source My Food Data Database sourced from the USDA Food Data Central Foods Highest in Choline .

Food (per 100 g)

Choline content (mg)

Fried beef liver

418

Fried eggs

317

Dried shiitake mushrooms

202

Ground mustard seeds

123

Cooked chicken breast

117

While choline made from food has a harder time crossing from the bloodstream to the brain, a potent form of choline called Alpha GPC can cross the blood-brain barrier. brain feed developed the world’s 1st 500mg acetylcholine’s building block Alpha GPC capsule containing 99% Alpha GPC.


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How does acetylcholine affect memory?

Acetylcholine supports learning abilities and memory formation. Acetylcholine and memory are linked since this brain messenger gets released while you study or work, helping you support your working memory and recall. For example, taking an acetylcholine supplement in the morning will boost your acetylcholine levels in the brain. Acetylcholine will then get released first thing during a morning meeting, helping you store multiple pieces of information that your coworkers brought to the table. This will allow you to connect the dots and present your workload in connection with theirs by better recalling what has been said during the meeting so far. How does acetylcholine increase memory? Acetylcholine increases memory by firing up brain cells and supporting the adaptation and growth of brain cells, a process known as neuroplasticity[3 Trusted Source 2022 - Journal of Neurorestoratology Evidence review Acetylcholine bidirectionally regulates learning and memory ,[10 Trusted Source 2007 - The Journal of Neuroscience Human clinical study Focusing Effect of Acetylcholine on Neuroplasticity in the Human Motor Cortex . What is the role of acetylcholine in neuroplasticity? Acetylcholine contributes to neuroplasticity by supporting a process in which connections between brain cells become stronger with frequent activation[11 Trusted Source 2019 - Frontiers in Neural Circuits Evidence review Cellular, Synaptic and Network Effects of Acetylcholine in the Neocortex . It also promotes the process of growth and development of brain tissue known as neurogenesis which is part of brain plasticity[12 Trusted Source 2021 - The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology Evidence review Cholinergic regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis and hippocampus-dependent functions ] . This is why acetylcholine is frequently linked to conditions like period brain fog, menopause and memory loss, and cognitive decline conditions like Alzheimer’s disease.

Do people with Alzheimer's have too much or too little acetylcholine?

People with Alzheimer’s disease have too little acetylcholine due to the degeneration of cholinergic brain cells[13,14]. Acetylcholine and Alzheimer's are linked as part of the cholinergic hypothesis which suggests that the build-up of a toxic substance called amyloid beta decreases the production of the brain messenger[13 Trusted Source 2023 - Journal of Student Research Evidence review Alzheimer’s Disease: A Comprehensive Review of its Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment . Current Alzheimer’s therapies are based on protecting your brain by preventing the breakdown of acetylcholine[14 Trusted Source 2019 - Aging Cell Animal study Lifelong choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology and associated cognitive deficits by attenuating microglia activation

 

What are the symptoms of acetylcholine deficiency?

Symptoms of acetylcholine deficiency include memory deficits and inattention during mentally strenuous tasks and even cognitive impairment. Therefore, it’s important to ensure your body has enough of its building block choline.

What supplements increase acetylcholine? 

Supplements that increase acetylcholine focus on being high in it's building block, choline. A potent choline form Alpha GPC is one of the most efficacious acetylcholine supplementation forms. How can I increase my acetylcholine levels naturally? To increase acetylcholine levels naturally, consume enough choline-rich foods or opt for supplementation to ensure an adequate intake. There are different forms of choline, the most potent one being Alpha GPC[15 Trusted Source 2023 - Frontiers in Endocrinology Evidence review Choline supplements: An update ,[16 Trusted Source 2003 - Clinical Therapeutics Human clinical study Cognitive improvement in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia after treatment with the acetylcholine precursor choline alfoscerate: A multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial ,[17 Trusted Source 1991 - Journal of International Medical Research Human clinical study A Multicentre Trial to Evaluate the Efficacy and Tolerability of α-Glycerylphosphorylcholine versus Cytosine Diphosphocholine in Patients with Vascular Dementia . It’s one of the natural sources of choline that directly supports acetylcholine production and also crosses from the bloodstream into the brain, making it the best choline supplement compared to other choline forms like choline bitartrate and choline citrate. 

brain feed developed the world’s 1st 500mg acetylcholine’s building block Alpha GPC capsule containing 99% Alpha GPC.


Tax included

Size

821 in stock

Does l-carnitine increase acetylcholine?

L-carnitine is a chemical made by the human brain, liver and kidneys that helps the body turn fat into energy. A certain form of l-carnitine which is derived from it called acetyl-l-carnitine was found to cross from the bloodstream to the brain and support acetylcholine production[18 Trusted Source 2001 - The Journals of Gerontology: Series A Animal study Protective Efficacy of L-Carnitine on Acetylcholinesterase Activity in Aged Rat Brain ,[19 Trusted Source 1989 - Neuroscience Letters Animal study Acetyl-L-carnitine enhances acetylcholine release in the striatum and hippocampus of awake freely moving rats ,[20 Trusted Source 1990 - Neurochemical Research Study of chemical properties Acetyl-l-carnitine as a precursor of acetylcholine . However, all these studies on acetylcholine & l-carnitine were either animal ones or done in a laboratory outside of a living organism. Contrastingly, there are multiple human studies on Alpha GPC benefits that highlight the use of this potent choline form as the building block to your memory and learning chemical. 


 

All in all, acetylcholine is important for your brain health and your ability to learn and remember. Ensure its adequate levels by ingesting enough of its building block choline.

 

References

[1] Todman, D. (2008). Henry Dale and the Discovery of Chemical Synaptic Transmission. European Neurology, 60(3), 162–164. https://doi.org/10.1159/000145336

[2] Jones, R. (2009). An Acetylcholine Receptor Keeps Muscles in Balance. PLoS Biology, 7(12), e1000268. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.1000268

[3] Huang, Q., Liao, C., Ge, F., Ao, J., & Liu, T. (2022). Acetylcholine bidirectionally regulates learning and memory. Journal of Neurorestoratology, 10(2), 100002. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jnrt.2022.100002

[4] Pepeu, G., & Giovannini, M. G. (2004). Changes in acetylcholine extracellular levels during cognitive processes. Learning & Memory (Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.), 11(1), 21–27. https://doi.org/10.1101/lm.68104

[5] Cammarata, C., & De Rosa, E. D. (2022). Interaction of cholinergic disruption and age on cognitive flexibility in rats. Experimental Brain Research, 240(11), 2989–2997. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00221-022-06472-x

[6] Picciotto, M. R., Higley, M. J., & Mineur, Y. S. (2012). Acetylcholine as a neuromodulator: Cholinergic signaling shapes nervous system function and behavior. Neuron, 76(1), 116–129. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuron.2012.08.036

[7] Lecomte, M.-J., Bertolus, C., Ramanantsoa, N., Saurini, F., Callebert, J., Sénamaud-Beaufort, C., Ringot, M., Bourgeois, T., Matrot, B., Collet, C., Nardelli, J., Mallet, J., Vodjdani, G., Gallego, J., Launay, J.-M., & Berrard, S. (2018). Acetylcholine Modulates the Hormones of the Growth Hormone/Insulinlike Growth Factor-1 Axis During Development in Mice. Endocrinology, 159(4), 1844–1859. https://doi.org/10.1210/en.2017-03175

[8] Tessier, A.-J., Wing, S. S., Rahme, E., Morais, J. A., & Chevalier, S. (2022). Association of Low Muscle Mass With Cognitive Function During a 3-Year Follow-up Among Adults Aged 65 to 86 Years in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. JAMA Network Open, 5(7), e2219926. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.19926

[9] Foods Highest in Choline (n.d.). My Food Data. https://tools.myfooddata.com/nutrient-ranking-tool/choline/all/highest/grams/common/no

[10] Kuo, M.-F., Grosch, J., Fregni, F., Paulus, W., & Nitsche, M. A. (2007). Focusing Effect of Acetylcholine on Neuroplasticity in the Human Motor Cortex. The Journal of Neuroscience, 27(52), 14442–14447. https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4104-07.2007

[11] Colangelo, C., Shichkova, P., Keller, D., Markram, H., & Ramaswamy, S. (2019). Cellular, Synaptic and Network Effects of Acetylcholine in the Neocortex. Frontiers in Neural Circuits, 13. https://doi.org/10.3389/fncir.2019.00024

[12] Madrid, L. I., Jimenez-Martin, J., Coulson, E. J., & Jhaveri, D. J. (2021). Cholinergic regulation of adult hippocampal neurogenesis and hippocampus-dependent functions. The International Journal of Biochemistry & Cell Biology, 134, 105969. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biocel.2021.105969

[13] Prabhu, A. (2023). Alzheimer’s Disease: A Comprehensive Review of its Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment. Journal of Student Research, 12(4). https://doi.org/10.47611/jsrhs.v12i4.5770

[14] Velazquez, R., Ferreira, E., Knowles, S., Fux, C., Rodin, A., Winslow, W., & Oddo, S. (2019). Lifelong choline supplementation ameliorates Alzheimer’s disease pathology and associated cognitive deficits by attenuating microglia activation. Aging Cell, 18(6), e13037. https://doi.org/10.1111/acel.13037

[15] Kansakar, U., Trimarco, V., Mone, P., Varzideh, F., Lombardi, A., & Santulli, G. (2023). Choline supplements: An update. Frontiers in Endocrinology, 14. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fendo.2023.1148166

[16] De Jesus Moreno Moreno, M. (2003). Cognitive improvement in mild to moderate Alzheimer’s dementia after treatment with the acetylcholine precursor choline alfoscerate: A multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Clinical Therapeutics, 25(1), 178–193. https://doi.org/10.1016/s0149-2918(03)90023-3

[17] Perri, R. D., Coppola, G., Ambrosio, L. A., Grasso, A., Puca, F. M., & Rizzo, M. (1991). A Multicentre Trial to Evaluate the Efficacy and Tolerability of α-Glycerylphosphorylcholine versus Cytosine Diphosphocholine in Patients with Vascular Dementia. Journal of International Medical Research, 19(4), 330–341. https://doi.org/10.1177/030006059101900406

[18] Rani, P. J. A., & Panneerselvam, C. (2001). Protective Efficacy of L-Carnitine on Acetylcholinesterase Activity in Aged Rat Brain. The Journals of Gerontology: Series A, 56(3), B140–B141. https://doi.org/10.1093/gerona/56.3.B140

[19] Imperato, A., Ramacci, M. T., & Angelucci, L. (1989). Acetyl-L-carnitine enhances acetylcholine release in the striatum and hippocampus of awake freely moving rats. Neuroscience Letters, 107(1–3), 251–255. https://doi.org/10.1016/0304-3940(89)90826-4

[20] White, H. L., & Scates, P. W. (1990). Acetyl-l-carnitine as a precursor of acetylcholine. Neurochemical Research, 15(6), 597–601. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00973749

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