The Importance of Maintaining Healthy, Well-Balanced Levels of Acetylcholine in the Brain

As we begin to age, we start to notice changes in how our brains function and respond to the normal aging process. This is especially true for athletes, persons that struggle with chronic health issues, people that are trying to lose weight and anyone that does not have an adequate level of daily nutritional intake to fuel their bodies and their brains. While some decline is part of the normal aging process, over time poor levels of vital physiological and neurological substances, like the neurotransmitter known Acetylcholine, can have long-term, and sometimes devastating, effects. If the imbalances aren't corrected the effects may become permanent.

Acetylcholine is the most abundant neurotransmitter in the brain. It is short acting, as it is easily deactivated by acetylcholinesterase. This happens because if it weren’t deactivated, the body’s muscles and central nervous system was remain is a constant state of stimulation. The drugs Eserine and Tensilon also inactivate acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine controls nerve impulses. It is a Vagus nerve stimulant. Acetylcholine is important to the learning process. It controls the thought process and affects the brain’s ability to store memories. It influences the body’s arousal response, moods, sleep patterns, and bladder response.

Common Causes of Low Acetylcholine Levels in the Brain

  • High endurance exercise
  • Lack of sufficient B vitamin intake
  • Excessive blood sugar levels
  • Prolonged stress
  • Exposure to PCB's
  • Exposure to Mercury
  • Exposure to pesticides and fertilizers
  • High levels of Lead and Aluminum in the blood

How Science is Helping Us to Better Understand Acetylcholine's Function in the Brain

In a study published in 1995, scientists were able to successfully demonstrate that Acetylcholine was crucial to learning and the brain's ability to create and process new memories. The experiment involved damaging the area of the brain responsible for learning and memory in lab rats. The scientists then implanted sections of brain tissue responsible for Acetylcholine production in the damaged areas of the rats’ brains. As a result of this experiment and study, scientists discovered that the rats that received the successful tissue implants showed restored, improved memory functioning and restored ability to relearn previous physical movements.

Symptoms of Acetylcholine Deficiency

  • Poor concentration skills
  • Poor listening skills
  • Difficulty forming or retaining new memories
  • Slow information recall and processing
  • In severe cases, a fatty liver caused by chronic inflammation
  • It is interesting to note that some believe that Alzheimer’s disease and some forms of Dementia may be caused by Acetylcholine deficiency. In Alzheimer patients, Acetylcholine levels can decrease as much as 90%, causing severe cognitive dysfunction.

Who is at an Increased Risk for Problems Related to Acetylcholine Imbalance?

  • Vegetarians
  • Athletes involved in any sport that requires the output of a high level of energy, such as Marathon Runners.
  • Heavy alcohol users
  • Anyone that fails to eat a well-balanced diet

How Does a Person's Diet Affect Their Brain's Levels of Acetylcholine?

Acetylcholine levels are a direct reflection of how much Choline is in an individual's daily diet. That is why it is so important to eat a well-balanced diet every day.

Things That Will Increase Acetylcholine Levels

Food – Especially foods that contain Lecithin, such as dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt, meat products, eggs, soybean products, chocolate, peanuts, Atlantic Cod, cooked Salmon, shrimp, Brussel Sprouts, Black beans, Kidney Beans, and other Legumes. It is recommended for individuals to consume between 425 mg to 550 mg. f Lecithin per day to ensure adequate Choline intake for the body to synthesize.

Talk with Your Physician – Discuss the issue of possible Acetylcholine deficiency with a qualified physician, preferably one that specializes in the effects the aging process has on the body.

Daily a daily B complex vitamin – Make sure to use a B complex vitamin that has B1, B6, and B12 in it. These B vitamins are crucial to the process creating, using, and maintaining proper Acetylcholine levels.

Supplements – Choline, CDP-Choline, GPC-Choline (L-alpha-glycerylphosphorycholine), Ginseng, and Ginkgo Biloba are recommended to help boost Acetylcholine production in the brain.

The essential fatty acid known as Phosphatidylserine helps by affecting the rate that brain cell membranes release neurotransmitters in the brain.

Another recommended supplement is DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone.) It is sometimes given to older people who are experiencing signs of cognitive decline to help improve and maintain their cognitive reasoning skills and to help slow memory loss. Certain Amino Acids, such as Acetyl-N-Carnitine and Taurine may also help.

Something To Keep in Mind

On the opposite end of the spectrum, it is worth knowing the signs and symptoms of excessively high levels of Acetylcholine in the brain. The important thing to realize is that for optimum brain performance and function, it is crucial to strive for balanced Acetylcholine levels. It is only by achieving this balance that our brain can perform at its best.

Signs of High Acetylcholine Levels in the Brain

  • Depression
  • Heightened confusion
  • Lack of motivation or enthusiasm
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Severe mood swings
  • Blurred vision or visual disturbances
  • Difficulty controlling bladder function
  • Increase in sleep difficulty
  • Frequent, disturbing nightmares
  • Increased anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased sensitivity to smells

If you start to notice cognitive changes in your day-to-day life, especially if those changes become bothersome or start to interfere with your daily activities, it is important to discuss the issue with your health care provider. There are treatments available, both prescription and over-the-counter, that can help. Your healthcare provider can assist you in choosing which treatment options will work best for your situation.

The Bottom Line

We all want to enjoy life as much as we can by continuing to function to the best of our ability, for as long as we can. Thanks to modern advances in medical science, we now understand much more about how our bodies and brains function internally. This knowledge, coupled with advances in nutritional supplementation, enables us to take better charge of health.